Summary: Jesus said what is in a person’s heart inevitably comes out of his mouth. As water flows from a well, words from your mouth reveal the source’s purity. Knowing that, it makes sense that James would make the tongue test a test of true faith.

1. The first characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is condemning. (1-2)

2. The second characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is controlling (3-5a)

3. The third characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is consuming (5b-6)

4. The fourth characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is corrupting (7-8)

5. The fifth characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is compromising (9-12)


At 29:45 past 5 AM on July 16, 1945, something spectacular happened. In northern New Mexico, the still dark early morning sky became as bright as the noonday sun. In that one blinding flash, the Atomic Age had begun. The atomic fireball shot upwards at 360 feet per second. First pulsating orange, then bright red, then dark red, then black and rolling. The characteristic mushroom cloud formed at 30,000 feet. All that remained on the ground at the blast site were chunks of green radioactive glass that had been created by the incredible heat of the explosion. What power. What awesome, unbelievably destructive power was unleashed that day. Just 21 days later, that horribly destructive power was brought to bear on our enemy as one of our B29 Superfortress bombers dropped an atomic bomb named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. As he looked down at the explosion, Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay said, “What have we done?” On December 20, 1951, something else spectacular happened. In Arco, Idaho, the still dark sky was brightened with light as well. Not nearly as bright as the New Mexico sky was 6 years before. But it was brightened just the same. It was brightened by light bulbs powered by the first electricity produced from nuclear energy. Today, 1/5 of America’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. Electricity that powers homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and churches. The uranium that is used in the nuclear reactor that produces that electricity, is the same uranium that is used in the atomic bomb. The exact same science is used in the reactor and the bomb. The exact same atoms and electrons and reactions and physics are used in each. So what’s the difference? It’s how they’re used. When used one way, atomic energy produces tremendous good. But when used another way, it produces the most terrible destruction imaginable. In our passage this morning, James talks about another extremely powerful object—the tongue. Like atomic energy, the tongue is capable of wonderfully beneficial things. But it is also capable of some of the most destructive things you can imagine. That’s why it is such an accurate test of our faith. An object as powerful as the tongue can only be controlled by the most powerful being in the universe—the Holy Spirit of God. When left to our control, the results can only be disastrous. On more than one occasion, Jesus said that what is in a person’s heart inevitably comes out of his mouth. Just like water flowing from a well, the words that come out of your mouth accurately reveal the purity of the source. If the source is the Holy Spirit, the words will be pure. If the source is a sinful heart—they will be impure. Understanding that, it only makes sense that James would make the “tongue test” one of his tests of true faith. Over the last few weeks, we have seen that if your faith is genuine, you will pass the Bible test, the preference test, and the works test. This fourth test is one of the most challenging. But it’s also one of the most revealing. This morning, I want each of us to display genuine faith by passing the tongue test. I want us to allow the Holy Spirit to harness the tremendous power of our tongues. Like the other tests James lists, we can’t pass this one alone. The only way we can pass the tongue test is by our active submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And the only way that happens is by God’s grace through our faith. In order for us to display genuine faith by passing the tongue test, James shows us the opposite. He shows us what a test-failing tongue looks like. He shows us five characteristics of a test-failing tongue. The first characteristic of a test-failing tongue is that it is condemning. Look with me at verses 1-2:

JAMES 3:1-2

A test-failing tongue is condemning. A lot of people like to pull out this verse when the nominating committee is going around looking for new Sunday School teachers. It is true that when James uses the word masters here, he’s talking about teachers. But is he really saying that we should shy away from being teachers? If you pull the verse out of its context, you might think that. But that’s the only way that interpretation would make sense. In its context, what James is saying is that by nature, our tongue condemns us—all of us. I want you to picture a teacher in your mind. What does that picture look like? My picture looks like Miss Mayfield—my 6th grade teacher. She immediately comes to mind as the prototype of what a teacher is supposed to be. But who did I learn more from, Miss Mayfield or my parents? Miss Mayfield or my grandparents? Miss Mayfield or the boys I hung around with? Miss Mayfield or Pastor Jerry Polk or my Sunday School teachers or the parents and kids of Boyd Avenue Baptist Church where I publicly professed faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior? The point is, Miss Mayfield carried the title “teacher”. And in sixth grade, if you had asked me who my teacher was, I would’ve said, “Miss Mayfield.” But there were a whole lot more teachers in my life than just her. And there were a whole lot more influential teachers in my life than just her. Only a very few teachers actually carry the title of teacher. Whether you like it or not—you’re a teacher. Somebody in life is paying attention to the way you live yours. Somebody is paying attention to the words you use. A little boy was leaving church one Sunday morning when he slipped a dollar bill into the pastor’s hand. The pastor looked at him confused and asked him, “What’s that for?” The little boy looked up at him and said, “Cuz I felt sorry for you and want to help you out.” That confused him even more, so he asked, “Why do you feel you need to help me out?” Then the boy said, “Cuz my daddy says you’re the poorest preacher he’s ever heard.” Most of us would be surprised at the lessons we teach with our tongues. Are the lessons you teach uplifting and encouraging? Or are they offensive and condemning? James says that because we teach with our tongues, we’re responsible for those lessons. And when those lessons are offensive—we will receive greater condemnation. The greater the influence, the greater the condemnation. If by the words you use, people are not pointed to Christ, they will be pointed to condemnation. That’s the test. Does your tongue lead people to Christ or to condemnation? There’s really no in between. A test-passing tongue leads people to Christ. A test-failing tongue is condemning. But not only is a test-failing tongue condemning, it is also controlling. Look at verses 3-5a:

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Mike Reed

commented on Jan 15, 2014

Excellent thoughts on this subject. Thank you for sharing this sermon so others can benefit from it. Mike Reed, Winter Haven, Florida

Russell Lyon

commented on Jul 23, 2014

Outstanding message! Much appreciated!

Cody Mummau

commented on Apr 13, 2016

Great message. I was doing research on this passage and came across your message. Adapting much of it to fit my message to our students. Well written and researched. Thanks!

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