Summary: The theme of this sermon is surrendering your tongues to the control of the Holy Spirit.


--James 3:5-12

by R. David Reynolds

The Japanese give us two proverbs we should never forget. The first one says, “The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a person six feet high.” The second one warns everyone: “The tongue is more to be feared than the sword.” [--

Japanese/2/]. This last one is parallel to a statement by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras who said, “A wound from a tongue is worse than a wound form a sword; for the latter affects only the body, the former the spirit.” [--“Slander, “]. The Japanese and the Greek Philosopher are in harmony with the message which James, the brother of Jesus, shares in our text this morning.

Recall with me the petition in the prayer Jesus taught us which requests, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Evidentially for Jesus this was the most important part of the prayer for all of his disciples. Why do I believe that? The reason lines in that fact that upon conclusion of this “Model Prayer” Jesus returns to this particular portion dealing with forgiving others but makes no additional reference to any other portion of the Prayer. To Jesus forgiving others was tremendously important, but to us it is often the hardest thin He asks us to do. One reason for that is because “people talk,” and their talk often hurts. Because talk hurts, we all would do well to learn to control our tongues. In doing so e would save many a friendship and be much more like Jesus.

How harmful is the human tongue? James paints a frightening picture of just how disastrous a force our tongues can be. He calls the tongue a fire. The fire he describes is not the cozy warmth of a fire place on a cold winter’s night but a vivid video, on the spot picture of a destructive forest fire, perhaps like those we see portrayed on the nightly news each summer that destroy millions of acres of forests in our own Western United States. He goes on to say the tongue is “set on fire by hell.” Those devastating forest fires often begin with one small match or cigarette that is carelessly tossed aside but mushroom into infernos that destroy an entire forests. So often it is the same with our tongues. Small, careless gossip so often devastates lives of individuals, families, and groups, even Churches and ministries. The fiery tongue is dubbed “the very world of iniquity.” The tongue is so deadly, because it so often utters unjust, unrighteous, and wicked words.

Of all our body parts, the tongue is the one member which “defiles the entire body.” Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 15:11, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” A defiled disciple of Jesus is unfit for use as an instrument in influencing others to follow Christ.

James continues building his case against the tongue by calling it a “restless” or “unruly” meaning it is an unrestrained, an uncontrollable evil. From this point he makes perhaps his strongest argument against the tongue by declaring, “It is full of deadly poison.” He is now talking about the venom of a poisonous snake. James might as well come right out and say the tongue is a “cobra” or an “asp,” for that is the exact implication he makes. The victim of a vicious tongue is in a worse condition than one actually bitten by a cobra. The Psalmist literally prays for divine rescue from such venomous tongues in Psalm 140:

“Deliver me, O LORD, from evildoers;

protect me from those who are violent. . .

“They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,

and under their lips is the venom of vipers.”

[--Psalm 140:1, 3]

There is nothing I detest more in the world than a snake. I won’t

usually go into the “Snake House” at the Zoo. To me, “The only

good snake is a dead snake.” I most likely have a phobia when it comes to snakes. James and David are saying that the cutting, backbiting, gossiping, slanderous words one human being speaks against another are just as fatal as the deadliest snake bite. As much as I hate snakes, I would sooner be bitten by a snake than be the victim of a vicious, biting, human tongue.

The tongue does have one redeeming quality, for “with it we bless our Lord and Father.” With our tongues we sing God’s praises. With our tongues we offer Him our prayers of Thanksgiving and our testimonies of praise for His goodness to us. The problem is that we then turn right around and curse our brothers and sisters who are the very image of the One we praise.

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