Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Wisdom from Above
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3 Commentary
by Hank Workman
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a load of bunk. Since when has this ever been true? Cutting words have slaughtered people for a lifetime well after a broken bone would have healed. What words have been spoken by and to us can last a long time. So easily our words of sarcasm or criticalness can inflict deep injury on another; yet also a word of encouragement or compliment can inspire a person for the rest of their life.
The truth is what we say or don’t say are both important. It’s not just about saying the right things at the right time, it’s also about controlling what we should and shouldn’t speak. There are those who speak and just let the chips fall. In fact, ironically they almost boast in this. More times than not they do incredible damage to relationships by their words and opinions.
As James reckons the tongue to a fire that can set an entire forest ablaze, such a small part of the body can do some serious damage to others. A true mark of maturity is one who controls their tongue in all situations. There is nothing to be proud of when it comes to our ‘come what may’ attitude in regards to our speech. Many of us have set fires within others lives and situations because of the words spoken. We have also felt the heat from others words.
I remember a conversation with someone seeking advice after a Bible Study. She said she struggled with speaking her mind and often was hurtful. She would often speak first before thinking because by her own admission she wanted to be right. She went on to admit that she would get hateful and threatening as her pride would not let someone else get the upper-hand. There was obviously more at hand here than just speaking ones mind and controlling the tongue. The conversation she related this to was between her and another Believer in the community who had differing thoughts theologically!
She couldn’t relate to my practice of waiting before responding. I told her it has taken years and years to get to this place with praying like mad even during a situation as to what to say and how to respond. I shared how I made all kinds of foolish mistakes over the years by responding verbally first. There were a lot of messes I ended up cleaning up as well. I was regretful and completely embarrassed by this.
But as the Holy Spirit convicted me so much, I began to pray more fervently for wisdom and discernment. Specifically when to speak and when to shut up. Oh for certain, I’ve still reacted in the flesh with this aspect of speaking first, but through the Holy Spirit I have felt pricked in my spirit many times to hold off, stay silent; I do everything I can to listen to Him and get myself out of the way when it would be easier to simply lay my words out let it go however it goes. Sadly for this woman, she still is setting fires in speaking before thinking and often destroying others in the wake of her pride.
The enemy uses the tongue to bring huge division to the Body of Christ and yes, outside the walls of the church. The tongue pits one against another, fosters emotional wounds. What is said cannot be taken back. The damage is done.
There is a deep need for us all to be in prayer over our speech and reactions. Only He can give instructions and enable us to have wisdom and discernment. It’s up to us to follow what He leads us toward. Self-control is needed in all aspects of our walk, our tongue is no different. Many times in the heat of the moment we fail to recognize we represent the character of Christ and it must radiate in all we do and yes, say.
James 3 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
- “Name-It Claim-It” Theology – believers have the power to speak anything into existence. You just have to have faith.
- Universalism – everyone is saved as long as they believe in some form of higher power because God is universal.
- Tongues – every believer should speak in tongues, and if you don’t, you aren’t really saved.
- Prosperity Gospel – every believer should be healthy and wealthy.
- Legalism – in addition to faith in Jesus, you must obey a subset of rules in order to keep your Salvation.
- Hyper-Grace – Jesus loves me and will always forgive me, therefore, I can live however I want.
Most likely all of us have experienced at least one of these false teachings in our lives. The interesting fact to consider is that every false doctrine on this list was formulated and carried on by a host of false teachers over the years. When an influential, charismatic leader steps in to proclaim one of these “new” insightful doctrines, it can almost always be traced back to a false teacher who introduced the idea thousands of years ago. It’s the same pig with new lipstick.
This is precisely why James cautions believers who are considering becoming teachers. False doctrine comes from false teachers.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.James 3:1 ESV
Over the entire chapter, James helps us to follow a common thread.
As humans, we are prone to following our own mind and our own ways (Jam 3:2). When our lives are consumed by bitterness, selfish ambition, and jealousy, (Jam 3:14-15) our tongues become a spigot spewing all kinds of deadly poison (Jam 3:5-6).
If you are reading this, you most likely have had a “church hurt” moment in your life. Everyone does. In fact, most people have several. I would estimate that nearly every form of heresy, division, and moral failure of the church throughout history can be attributed to a teacher who was consumed by self and never fully yielded to Godly wisdom, humility, and/or accountability.
Now with your story in mind, consider why James verbally ambushes this topic? This is the reason why he is cautioning (even recommending) that not many should become teachers. The accountability that is avoided in this life with be dealt back to such a person on the judgment seat before Jesus Christ. The phrase ‘greater strictness’ implies that Jesus will stoke that seat to a much higher temperature as compared to the lives of others.
As a teacher myself, this verse has always made me uneasy. Not because I am intentionally disobedient to it, but because each time I speak or write, I must consider the stubborn nature of my flesh which has the potential to influence my teaching. Sometimes I find myself upset at a particular person and want to use my platform to correct them. This is wrong. Sometimes I find myself seeking people’s approval and wanting their praise. This is wrong. This is why it is absolutely critical to be living a life of submission to the Spirit and to be held accountable by other faithful believers. We all have the potential to stumble by embracing the sinfulness in our hearts and lashing others with our words.