Summary: The tongue is powerful; control it. The tongue is pernicious; contain it. The tongue is polluted; clean it up.

A couple of hunters were out in the woods of New Jersey when one of them fell to the ground. He didn’t seem to be breathing, and his eyes were rolled back in his head. Terrified, his friend whipped out his cell phone and dialed 911.

“My friend is dead! What can I do?” he cried over the phone.

In a calm, soothing voice, the operator said, “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.”

There was a moment of silence, and then the operator heard a single shot.

The guy's voice came back on the line: “Okay, now what?” (;

When you’re giving directions, you have to be very careful what you say. Otherwise, there could be disastrous consequences. In times of trouble, people need very clear directions, but that is also the time when people have trouble communicating. They say things they later regret, or they don’t know what to say, if anything.

Do you want to learn to communicate well in times of trouble? Then turn with me, if you will, in your Bibles to James 3, James 3, where God shows us how.

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

God holds teachers in the church to a higher standard. He will be more strict in His judgment of the church’s leaders than anybody else. That’s because they have more influence than the average church member.

Consider the famous author, Mark Twain. He was hostile to Christianity because of the negative influence of church leaders. Growing up, he watched elders and deacons in the church abuse the slaves they owned. He saw church leaders speaking piously in church on Sunday, but using foul language and dishonest business practices during the week. He even listened to pastors use the Bible to justify slavery. He saw genuine love for the Lord in his mother and his wife, but he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders that it prevented him from embracing the Christian faith (Bible Illustrator #1790; 10/1987.5)

If you’re a leader in the church, your words and deeds can draw people towards Christ or drive them away. So don’t be too quick to become a teacher or a leader. Don’t be too quick to take charge especially in times of trial…

James 3:2 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. (ESV)

If you can control your tongue, you can control your body. And if you can control your body, then just maybe you can be in a position to lead and influence others. So if you want a position of leadership, you must…


You must not stumble in what you say. You must bridle that tongue, because the tongue is very powerful! Though very small, it wields a tremendous amount of influence. It sets the direction of your life and the lives of others.

James 3:3-5 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. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (ESV)

Just as a bit directs a horse, just as a rudder directs a ship, just as a spark starts a forest fire, so the tongue influences your life and the lives of others.

Let me give you another example of the power of a little thing like the tongue.

On an ordinary winter day in 1961, Edward Lorenz, an MIT meteorologist, ran some routine experiments and found some unusual results. Lorenz discovered that seemingly tiny and insignificant changes in his data could produce huge differences in the final result. At first, Lorenz called this “the sensitive dependence on initial data,” which he later called “the butterfly effect.”

In 1972, Lorenz presented a scientific paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?” According to Lorenz's theory, the butterfly's wing-flapping doesn't actually cause a tornado, but it can start a chain reaction leading to giant changes in world-wide weather patterns. In other words, even tiny, insignificant movements or actions can produce huge changes that affect millions of people. (Kenneth Chang, “Edward N. Lorenz, a Meteorologist and a Father of Chaos Theory, dies at 90,” New York Times, 4-17-08;

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