The right TOOLS for the job
My Mouth Reflects My Heart!
There’s no other thing that has the power to tear down or build up as much as our words. Taming our tongues or managing our mouths can become one of the most difficult things to get control over. One of the marks of maturity is managing our mouths. James helps show us the power of the tongue and how to handle it.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being 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 human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Share with the group about a time when you spoke too soon and ended up saying something you regretted.
According to James, what does the tongue reveal about our hearts and our minds?
What do our words have to do with being a mature person?
How have you experienced your tongue and your speech making a big impact, either positively or negatively?
Why do you think James considered the tongue uncontrollable by our strength alone?
God, please give me the strength to manage my mouth and control my words this week. Please forgive me where I have hurt others with my words. Help me to lift others up and worship you with my mouth as I learn to mature in you. Amen!
Under what circumstances are you most likely to allow your mouth to harm yourself or others?
Is there anyone you can think of you’ve harmed with your words recently? Make the effort to reconcile this week.
3:1. James was deeply concerned about sins of speech. He referred to them previously in the book and will do so again. Evidently, there were many believers who wanted to teach, but not all were qualified or equipped. Some selfishly may have wanted the prestige, recognition, and honor the teacher’s role afforded. James warned against allowing believers to become teachers simply because they wanted such a position. He knew they first needed a firm grasp of the gospel’s contents and applications for living.
3:2-3. His words apply specifically to teachers, but also generally to all Christians. He declared all believers stumble. Note he included himself. The Greek word translated “stumble” means “to make a false step,” thus “to commit error.” It can have the stronger ideas of offending or transgressing. Here it has the sense of sinning or failing in speech. “In many ways” means “often” or “many times.” James declared that a person who can continuously avoid sinning in speech is a mature man. Being careful in what we say and in how we express ourselves shows we are maturing as believers. In verse 3 James moved to the first of three illustrations that stress the power of speech. The bits enable riders to guide the whole animal. James’s point is that small bits could control large, powerful animals. Bits have power out of proportion to their size.
3:4-6. James next used ships that were very large to present the disparity between size and power. When huge ships encounter a storm and are driven by fierce (“stiff,” “harsh”) winds, the ships’ pilots use very small rudders to guide the vessels in the desired direction. The tongue is a small part of the body but has tremendous power and influence of speech—for good or bad. James pointed out a small fire could start a raging inferno that engulfs a huge forest. In the same way, uncontrolled speech can be almost unlimitedly destructive. The Greek word translated “corrupts” means “stains” or “soils” and has the further sense of contaminating. The tense conveys continuous action: Uncontrolled speech goes on contaminating the whole body—the total personality. Also, such speech sets the course of life on fire. The phrase “the course of life” (literally, “the wheel of life”) likely refers to a person’s span of life from birth to death. Uncontrolled speech cuts a path of destruction throughout a person’s entire lifetime.
3:7-8. Though humans have tamed or domesticated all kinds of creatures, we still have trouble taming the tongue. James described the tongue as a restless evil. “Restless” conveys the sense of instability. It has the idea of impulsiveness, unpredictability, and inconsistency. Though not evil in itself, the tongue (or our speech) is capable of great evil (see v. 6). In fact, it can be death-dealing. “Deadly” literally is “death-bringing.” Poisonous speech strikes with venom comparable to that of the world’s deadliest viper.
3:9-12. James presented a devastating contradiction to emphasize believers’ deadly misuse of speech. Christians continuously verbalize praise to God, who is Lord and Heavenly Father. The Greek term for “praise” gives us our word eulogy—“a good word.” James’s scathing indictment is that believers turn from the highest use of speech— praising God—to the lowest—cursing people. In verse 11, James drove home the necessity of believers’ maintaining consistency of speech. His first illustration from nature concerned water, a precious commodity. A spring gushing out of a fissure in the earth does not produce both sweet and bitter water, does it? His second illustration concerns food-producing plants. These plants produce after their kind, do they not? Fig trees produce figs, never olives. Grapevines produce grapes, never figs. As a third illustration, James returned to the subject of water. A spring produces one kind of water. A saltwater spring, such as those in the Dead Sea area, could not yield fresh water— always at a premium in the promised land. James focused on nature’s consistency to emphasize that believers’ speech needs to be consistent with their new nature in Christ and not inconsistent with it.