Summary: This is the 6th of 11 Studies in the Book of James and it talks about the importance of controlling the way we use our tongues, and the ill-effects of being careless with the use of our tongues. Special caution is suggested to those who are teachers of God's word.

James 3:1-2

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

After talking about the importance of possessing a faith that results in works or action, James then goes on to talk about another important aspect, which is connected with communication and he goes into great detail to explain how we can actually do something about it if we want to. It concerns the use of our tongue, which is the main tool in verbal communication.

He begins by saying that not all of us should strive to become teachers because we who teach will be held accountable far more than those who are taught. We who have received more instruction and teaching, and teach others, will be judged more strictly than others who have received less. Since we are teaching, we should be the ones who lead by example. We cannot afford to teach one thing and practice the total opposite of what we teach. We would be hypocrites and though it might seem like we are deceiving those we teach, the only ones we are really deceiving are ourselves.

James goes on to say that we all make mistakes and commit sin in various ways, but if a person does not commit sin by the things he says, such a person is considered a perfect person and able to control the whole body. He seems to be saying that the most difficult thing to control in our bodies is our tongue. We can control the use of every other part of our bodies much easier than we can control the use of our tongues.

James 3:3-4

3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

James then begins to draw analogies from horses and ships, the two main modes of transportation back in the day. The horse was a fast means of transportation on land and the ship, a means of transportation at sea. Both these are powerful and bigger than man and yet man can control the direction both these move in a very simple way.

Bits are used in horses’ mouths to control the direction the horse moves. If we want the horse to obey us, we use a bit placed in its mouth to do that. That small little piece of metal helps turn the whole body of the animal in whichever direction the rider chooses. Be it a race or a battle or just moving from one place to the other, the direction the horse moves, can be controlled by that small bit in its mouth.

Likewise, ships are huge vessels, and back in the day were driven by winds and not by engines as they are today. But yet the direction of such mighty ships, both then and now, is controlled by a rudder. When it comes to airplanes, the pilot uses the control wheel to turn the plane to the right or left, but that happens with the use of a small section on the planes’ wings called ailerons, which causes the turn in the aircraft. It’s similar with other modes of land transport that we use today, where it’s either a steering wheel or a handlebar that helps turn a car, bus, motorbike, cycle, etc. Wherever the ship captain, plane pilot, or car or bus driver chooses to turn the vehicle, all he does is turn one small part of the vehicle and the entire vehicle turns.

James 3:5-6

5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

In our bodies, there’s a small little member that can alter the direction our lives take – it’s our tongue. It can make boast of great things. How easy it is for us to boast about things we accomplish, or about the knowledge we possess or the things we possess, or the people we know, the skills we possess, etc. Before we know it, we’ve given rise to envy, coveting, fighting, and a whole lot of trouble.

James uses another analogy – this time a destructive one – it’s that of a forest fire. A very large forest fire usually starts off with a very small spark or small fire. This left unchecked can rage out of control causing destruction of lives and property in its path. We hear of so many forest fires happening across the globe today, some of them explained and some unexplained but all of them caused by a spark or a fire.

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