Sunday Messages

James 3:1-18 by Pastor Dan Walker
In this message from the book of James, we learn of the incredible power of our words, both for good or for evil. Discover the secret to taming your tongue so that it brings peace and healing to others. With God's help, we can speak the truth in love in all areas of our lives.
Duration:33 mins 44 secs

Today, we’re continuing in our message series Life Lessons. In this series we’re learning practical lessons from the book of James about putting our faith to work. This morning our message is entitled “Tame the Tongue.” The importance of our tongue lies in the words that it speaks. Our words can be spoken audibly or they may be written down to be read by others.

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)  There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

This verse in Proverbs tells about two types of people and the results of their tongues. The first person is a foolish person who speaks rash or reckless words. These words are destructive like sword thrusts, they injure and hurt those who hear them. The second person is a wise person and the effect of their words is quite different. Rather than hurting others, the words of the wise bring healing. So, we see from this verse, the power of the tongue both for good or for evil.

Words are very powerful because they convey ideas and communicate thoughts between different people.

God Himself shows us the power of words in the Bible, which is the very Word of God. God’s Word is God communicating His truth to us in written form.

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

In this verse the word of God is likened to a sword, but this sword is not one that brings destruction. God’s Word is able to make things clear and bring conviction of the difference between right and wrong.

John 15:7 (ESV)  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Jesus said that if we let His words abide in us, that is, we believe them and live by them, it will change our very hearts to have the heart of God. When that happens, we can ask whatever we wish in prayer and God will answer our prayers. Why? Because the words of Jesus impacted our hearts and desires.

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Our words should be the words of the wise, communicating the truth of God in love. Truth spoken in love will be encouraging and uplifting. Jesus said that one day, we will have to give an account for every word spoken. Wow! Let’s watch a video simply called “Your Words.”

Today, we’re going to learn that even as believers, our words have great power, either to build someone up or to tear someone down. We can even be speaking the truth, but using it in an unloving and destructive way. Today, we’re going to talk about taming our tongues. Taking control of our tongues with God’s help to use our words constructively for God’s purposes. So, let’s get started with James 3.

1. Control your speech

James 3:1 (ESV)  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

This third chapter of James is primarily about how we should use our words. James begins by addressing teachers, which are leaders in the church. A teacher or pastor in the church uses words to teach groups of people about God’s Word. Often, many people want to be teachers so that they can be recognized as leaders. However, James warns us that the words of those who teach will be judged with greater strictness than the words of those who are not teachers. Why? Because the words of a teacher that teaches false things impacts many more people than the words of a person who is not a leader. The church in the time of James and the church today is filled with false teachers. People who teach incorrect and destructive doctrines that are not biblical. So, the church must be careful who they allow to teach and we must be careful who we allow to teach us.

James 3:2 (ESV)  For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

Now James moves on from those who aspire to be teachers to all the believers in the church. They all sin or stumble in many different ways. Then James makes the amazing statement that if someone does not sin in their speech, they would not sin and be perfect. So, if we can learn to control our speech, we will be able to exercise godly self-control over the rest of our lives. On the other hand, if we cannot control our speech, the rest of our lives will be out of control as well. James then gives us two illustrations of the great power of the tongue.

James 3:3-4 (ESV)  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.  Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

A small bit only a few inches long within a horse’s mouth directs the entire animal. In the same way, a relatively small rudder on a large ship sets the direction of that ship. Both these illustrations are positive, thus when the tongue is controlled, the rest of the body will go in the right direction.

James 3:5a (ESV)  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

Although the tongue is small, it can speak and boast of great things. Boasting is associated with pride. Those who boast of doing great things are sinning and often putting others down with those boasts. So, we see in this first section of James 3, the need to control our speech. When our speech is controlled, the rest of our lives our in God’s control. When our words are out of control, then our words are destructive.

Throughout this chapter we’re going to see the need for discipline in our speech. One of the fruit of the Spirit that we’ve been talking about on Sunday mornings with the children is the fruit of self-control. Our words can be either righteous or unrighteous, holy or sinful. Much of this chapter deals with the need to avoid sinful speech. The Bible has much to say about what types of speech to avoid. The view that words don’t really matter is not true.

Ephesians 5:4 (ESV)  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

For the believer, swearing, using vulgar terms or slang, crude jokes of any kind or even just foolish speech is not appropriate. Not only does this kind of speech reflect poorly on your witness, it also negatively influences others. This verse also indicates that this type of sinful speech is wrong not only in itself, but because we should rather be using our tongues to give thanks to God. 

If we want to exercise more self-control in our speech, what can we do? First of all, we need to recognize that we have a problem with our speech. According to James, we all have issues with our speech. If you’re not sure what types of speech you need to change, ask your spouse or a friend.

Once we identify some of the issues with our words, we must repent and ask God to help us. Changing our speech is not just a matter of stopping certain words, it’s a matter of replacing the ungodly words with godly words. We also need to pay attention to the words that we are listening to, whether from friends, workmates, things we read or watch and listen to. If you constantly listen to ungodly speech, you’re going to have problems with your own speech. But with God’s help, we can grow in control our speech. In case we haven’t realized how important controlling our tongues is, God wants us to

2. Understand the destructive power of words


James 3:5b-6 (ESV) How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

Now James likens the tongue and the words that it speaks as a spark. A spark has two characteristics. First of all, it is very small, but it can create an enormous forest fire. Secondly, once a spark ignites a fire, it is very difficult to put it out. So, too, words when spoken are impossible to retrieve. Their impact on others can be enormously destructive.

The tongue can not only impact others, it can also corrupt or stain the whole body of the one who has not learned to tame their tongue. The destructive words of the tongue can destroy an entire life. And what is the origin of the tongue’s evil power? The tongue can be set on fire by hell or Satan himself, the father of lies. So, when we are seeking to control our speech, we are battling the hosts of hell.

James 3:7-8 (ESV)  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Even though ferocious beasts like lions have been tamed, James tells us that no person can tame their own tongues. The poison of an untamed tongue can spread death to those who listen to it. If no human being can tame the tongue, how can we have hope? Again, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. To have self-control of your tongues is to tame the tongue. Not in your own strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 3:9-10 (ESV)  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Now James turns, I believe, to an example of what was going on in the churches. People would come to church and praise and bless God together. However, during the week, they would curse other people who had offended them. James reminds us that every person has been created in the image of God. To curse another person is therefore in essence to be cursing God, which is sin. Not only is this sin, in and of itself, it shows there is something wrong in the heart of a person whose tongue both blesses God and curses people.

James 3:11-12 (ESV)  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James then gives three examples of what he called double mndedness in James 1. Can a spring produce a stream of fresh and salt water at the same time? The obvious answer is no, because a stream can only produce one result and the same is true of James’ other examples. The point is that a heart of a believer should not produce speech that both blesses God and curses people. There is something wrong with such a double-speaking heart that needs repentance and some work on by the Holy Spirit. Notice, that again James refers to his readers as my brothers. Indicating that they are believers who need to adjust their hearts and speech habits. We need to understand the destructive power of speech.

 A common saying which does not come from the Bible is “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” From our study today, is that statement true or false. It is false. Words can hurt people and destroy lives, families, churches and nations. What other kinds of poisonous words can hurt people? Calling people negative names, gossiping about others, lying and breaking promises, being overly critical and discouraging others and the list could go on and on. There is a place for godly rebuke or correction, but that should be always done by speaking the truth in love.

Words can hurt people. We all do that from time to time, especially to those we are closest to. Don’t dismiss your words with an excuse like “I really didn’t mean to say that.” Hurtful words come from sin in the heart and are always a result of negative thoughts about others. Ask for forgiveness from God and the other person. Begin to ask God to help you think positive things about others and to pray for others. As your thoughts become more godly and encouraging, so will your words. Understand the destructive power of speech.

3. Speak wisely

James 3:13 (ESV)  Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

In this final section of James 3, the topic shifts to wisdom. Wisdom will express itself in godly speech. If someone considers himself to be wise, then that wisdom will be demonstrated in his works, which includes his speech. You’ll remember that James previously spoke negatively of the tongue boasting. Here he speaks of the meekness or humility of wisdom that will express itself in words.

James 3:14 (ESV)  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

Now James turns to the root of ungodly speech in the heart. The two examples from the heart are jealousy and selfish ambition, both are sinful. They result in prideful boasting and lying, which are certainly destructive.

James 3:15 (ESV)  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Again, James shows us the origin of the sin in the heart and the tongue. It certainly does not come from heaven, but is demonic, coming from Satan and his temptations. And now James takes us further to show the results of this lack of self-control.

James 3:16 (ESV)  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

Now, we need to remember here, that James’ concern is not with sinful behavior in the world. He is concerned with sinful behavior within the church. Can there be jealousy and selfish ambition within a church or between churches? Absolutely yes. And what are the results of such attitudes and the resultant speech? This verse says they will result in disorder and all kinds of vile or evil practices. Families, churches and businesses can be harmed or destroyed when this type of demonic wisdom is allowed and practiced.

James 3:17-18 (ESV)  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Having spent most of chapter three on the destructive aspects of the tongue, the chapter ends with the positive. He describes godly wisdom with a series of positive adjectives. All of these adjectives can be used to describe godly words. A tongue that is tamed and under God’s control will speak pure words, gentle words, reasonable words, merciful words, sincere words, words that don’t show partiality. The fruit of godly speech will be good. The final sentence of the chapter speaks of a harvest of righteousness that comes from peacemakers. You see, ungodly words of any kind produce conflict between people and promote evil. We must grow in speaking wisely.

In today’s world, ungodly speech is everywhere and growing worse every year. Ungodly words are demonic and fuel hatred and division between people. These negative words reveal the sin that is in the hearts of people who use them. Sometimes, we excuse using ungodly words by saying, oh, that just slipped out, I didn’t mean to say it. Well, if we use that kind of excuse, we’ve just lied as well. Ungodly words come from sin in our hearts that needs to be owned and repented of.

To speak with godly wisdom requires courage as you will be in the minority. As believers, God calls us to be leaders for Him. Leaders do not give in to peer pressure, they say the right things, even though everyone around them is saying the wrong things. Quite frankly, unwise speech is part of many believer’s vocabulary. First of all, we need to look at our own hearts and learn to tame our own tongues. Then we can speak the truth in love to help others speak wisely as well. 

Today, we’ve learned about taming the tongue. A tamed tongue not only does not speak the wrong things, it always speaks the right things. We can’t learn to control our speech by sheer will-power. Much of our speech patterns are habitual. We need the Spirit’s help to develop new, godly speech habits. Part of learning to change in the use of words is to realize the destructive power of words. God wants us to use our words to speak His wisdom into every situation.

Do you want to know what godly speech looks like? The Bible is filled with God’s Word, which by definition is godly speech. Look at how Jesus addressed situations and people and seek to follow His example. Make a decision to be a leader in your speech, not afraid to be different. As we do, God will help us be peacemakers and influence a lost world for Him.