Summary: If we want to pursue true holiness, we must begin with our tongue.


Text: James 3:1-12


1. Illustration: A man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, "Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that’s how we sell them!"

"You mean," she persisted, "that after all the years I’ve shopped here, you won’t sell me half-a-head of lettuce?"

"Look," he said, "If you like I’ll ask the manager."

She indicated that would be appreciated, so the young man marched to the front of the store. "You won’t believe this, but there’s a lame-braided idiot of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce."

2. No other part of the body can get us in as much trouble as our tongues. Listen to what James has to say about the tongue.

3. Read James 3:1-12

Proposition: According to James, if we want to pursue true holiness, we must begin with our tongues.

Transition: James tells us that...

I. Holiness Begins With the Tongue (1-4)

A. We All Stumble

1. In verse 2, James says, "For in many things we offend all."

a. What he is saying is that we all stumble in many ways.

b. The word translated "offend" means "to stumble, to err, to sin.—Louw & Nida: NT Greek-English Lexicon

c. Rm. 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

2. However, even though we agree that we all stumble and fall, that doesn’t mean that we just give up and stop trying. Holiness is our goal.

3. He tells us "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."

a. If we want to pursue holiness with God, we must start with our tongues.

b. A perfect control of the tongue would mean a perfect life. - New International Bible Commentary, Pradis CD-ROM

c. If we can get control over our tongues then we can get control over our whole bodies.

d. Spiritual maturity requires a tamed tongue.

4. In his commentary on James, John Calvin warns us to beware of those who try to act spiritually mature and yet are constantly running others down with their tongue (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 22, 319).

5. 1 Pt. 3:10 For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit.

B. Two Illustrations

1. To illustrate his point James uses two examples. The first one is that of a horse and bridle.

2. In verse 3, he says, "Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body."

a. Illustration: A few weeks ago, I was visiting with Bill Crow and we were talking about a horse that was in his yard. He told me to watch out for his because he was still unbroken.

b. Now one of the most important steps in breaking a horse is getting him to accept the bit in his mouth, because once you have the bit in his mouth it is possible to control him.

c. A horse is a powerful animal, but once you have the bit in his mouth you are in control of his power.

d. Likewise, once we get control of our tongues we are able to control the rest of our bodies.

3. The next illustration that James uses is that of a ships rudder.

a. Three factors made ships of that day difficult to control: they were "so large"; they were "driven by strong winds"; and they were "steered by a very small rudder."

b. The rudder was a small blade on the end of a tiller, extending through a form of oarlock from the rear of the ship. - Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM

c. Compared to the size of the vessel and the power of the gale, the rudder was but a minute part; yet it guided the ship "wherever the pilot [wanted] to go."

4. James’ point seems clear: little things can control big things. If we control our tongues, we can control the whole body.

Transition: However, there is one problem...

II. The Tongue is Powerful (5-6)

A. The Tongue Boast Great Things

1. In verse 5, James proclaims, "Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things."

a. His point here is that the tongue is small but powerful.

b. The tongue "can do great things, whether of a good or evil kind." —Adam Clarke’s Commentary

c. We can use our tongues to proclaim the goodness of God, or we can use our tongues to run someone else down.

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