Summary: Sometimes we say things that we really don’t mean to say. Sometimes we are downright mean in our speech. James outlines four critical truths about taming your tongue in James 3:1-12.
An elderly man had serious hearing problems for a number of years. His family tried again and again to convince him to get a hearing aid. Finally he relented. He went to the doctor and was fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear 100 percent.
A month later he went back to the doctor. The doctor said with a smile, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”
The old man replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. They still think that I cannot hear, but I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”
All of us say things that we later wish we did not say. I am not aware that someone has changed a will because of what I have said, but speaking appropriately is a constant struggle for me.
In our text today, James is concerned about taming your tongue. He wants your speech and mine to be winsome and gracious. So, with that in mind, let’s read James 3:1-12:
"1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
"3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
"7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
"9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." (James 3:1-12)
Sometimes we say things we really don’t mean to say! Perhaps you have seen the following questions from lawyers, which apparently were taken from official court records nationwide:
• “Was that the same nose you broke as a child?”
• “Was it you or your brother that was killed in the war?”
• “The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?”
• “Were you alone or by yourself?”
• “Do you have any children or anything of that kind?”
• “Were you present in court this morning when you were sworn in?”
• “Now, doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, in most cases he just passes quietly away and doesn’t know anything about it until the next morning?”
These questions were asked by well-meaning lawyers simply trying their best to be clear and concise. And although slips of the tongue can be funny, far too often they are anything but funny.
Journalist William Norris was often quoted because of his unique ability to put in rhyme and jingle sayings that were worth remembering. This piece is often quoted from his works:
If your lips would keep from slips,
five things observe with care:
To whom you speak, of whom you speak,
and how and when and where.
The taming of your tongue is anything but an easy task! In verses 7-8 of our text James writes, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
We can train Flipper and Trigger and Shamu and Lassie. We can train falcons to land on our wrists, pigeons to carry our messages, dogs to fetch our papers, elephants to stand on rolling balls, tigers to sit on stools and alligators to turn over and get their bellies rubbed. But James says that “no man can tame the tongue”! It’s a battle some people just seem never to win!