Summary: 3rd in a 5 part series from the book of James on making practical application to real problems.



JAMES 3:1-12


Finish this statement for me. "Sticks and Stones may _____ __ _____, but _____ ____ ______ ____ ___." How long did it take you to learn that little saying may be the dumbest..and the most untrue statement? Probably not very long. I mean when we were little we might shout that to other kids just after they had called us an ugly name, and then we run home crying. Because those names, "fatso," "skinny," "four-eyes," "chicken," really were painful. So we said that little ditty to cover up how deeply it hurt. In fact, I’m sure some of you here today can mentally replay a time or two when derogatory comments were made about you. You remember the pain. I read where someone rewrote that saying more truthfully when they wrote: "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but they can soon be mended. But names and words hurt my soul and the damage has never ended." Prov. 18:21- "...the tongue can kill or nourish life."(NLT)

Well, in this 3rd chapter, James offers another of his prescriptions for a healthy soul- taming the tongue. He tells us that this small muscle in our mouths can be an terrible troublemaker because it has awesome power. And he insists that just as a Doctor asks us to stick out our tongues and say “Ahhhh....” to check for physical health, Jesus, the Great Physician does the same thing and measures spiritual health by what our tongue speaks. Now, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey, from just checking this whole God thing out or a follower of Jesus for many years, this is a message where all of us can benefit. Because like the other studies in this book, this is very practical and demonstrates once again a religion that really works.


James begins by telling us that the tongue has positive power. Human speech has its dangers but the ability to speak well can be a tremendous blessing. For example, it has the power for instruction. Vs:1- “My friends, we should not all try to become teachers. In fact, teachers, because of their talk, will be judged more strictly than others.” Now, James is not saying that no-one should teach. We need those who will give us proper and positive instruction. He is simply saying that teaching is a serious responsibility because there is such power in teaching- to mold, to mature and on a spiritual level, to offer salvation. 2 Tim. 4:16 says, “Watch how you live and what you teach...because if you do these things you will save the people who listen to you.” (SEB) In other words, it’s from our words that they learn about God’s love and how He wants them to be with Him forever. So, James is not saying, “don’t teach,” but to recognize the responsibility that comes with teaching because what we say, especially to those who are looking to us for instruction, can have such power, both positive and negative. That’s why he says teachers will be judged more strictly. How and what we teach is an awesome responsibility.

And the tongue not only has power for instruction but also has the power for direction. Look at vss:3 & 4- “We put a bit into the mouth of a horse so we can turn the horse in different directions. 4It takes strong winds to move a large sailing ship, but the captain uses only a small rudder to make it go in any direction.” James uses these metaphors to make the point that the tongue, although a small membrane, has large power to direct our character. This was interesting to me as I studied it because we don’t normally think of the tongue as controlling us, we normally think of the tongue as reflecting what is really down inside of us. Even Jesus said in Lk.6:45 - "Your words show what is in your heart." (CEV) In other words Jesus was saying that the most ready expression of what you are on the inside is what is flowing out from your tongue. That’s why the old saying, "The mouth is the billboard of the heart."

But James makes the point that there’s another side to that coin. Just as our speech reveals our character, our character can also be controlled by disciplining our speech. Vs: 3 says you control a horse by a bit. When we lived in Tennessee back in the 80’s, I helped at a stable and so got to ride horses quite a bit. One day I was given a hackamore bridle to try. Now those of you that have some equestrian experience will know that a hackamore bridle has no bit. It controls the horse by exerting pressure on the nose and it works well on a horse that has been trained by it. Unfortunately this horse hadn’t been trained and no one told me. It didn’t take but a moment for that animal to realize that he didn’t have a bit in his mouth and for me to realize I was in trouble. How I wished for that small piece of metal because I needed it in order to control which direction the horse would go. Just as with a rudder of a ship, the bit may be small but I had no control without it. And the tongue is certainly small but our character is controlled by how we use it. Alex Montier said about this principle: "Control of the tongue leads to master control of our lives. The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity, it is the means to it." James says it this way in vs:2 “...if you control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.”

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