“If all that we say in a single day,
With never a word left out.
Were printed each night
   in clear black and white
‘Twould prove strange reading, no doubt.

And then, just suppose,
   ‘ere our eyes we could close,
We must read the whole record through;
Then wouldn’t we sigh,
   and wouldn’t we try
A great deal less talking to do?

And I more than half think
That many a kink
Would be smoother in life’s tangled thread.
If half that we say in a single day
Were left forever unsaid.” - Unknown

What a sobering thought. If we were to have to write everything we said down… I don’t want to recall all the stupid, hypocritical, and useless crap that comes out of me in one day, even on my best day. But I suppose this is exactly James’ intentions when he speaks about the tongue. 

 He is making us feel really uncomfortable because it is a topic that is highly convicting. He breaks the subject down into sections. There are some distinct points he makes about the tongue. 

They are:

  • Responsibility of use
  • The power of its use
  • The abuse of its use 
  • How to use it and not abuse it 

Verses 1-2

In discussing chapter one we learned in that first chapter James gave us a little taste of what he was going to talk about in chapter three. 

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.”

If you are a Christ follower you have a certain responsibility to control your tongue. Remember this was one of the three things that James said are essential to “True religion” they were focused around a controlled tongue, a compassionate heart, and a clean life.

So a crucial step in the Christian process is learning how to control your tongue. No, it’s not fun at all, but it absolutely needs to be done in order to have a life that is pleasing to God. 

“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.”

You will be judged for your speech…  

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

You will be accountable for the way you use your tongue. It says that you’ll be judged even more so if you teach because those listening to your words will be impacted by it. You have the responsibility to speak in truth so that you are not deceiving yourselves or others.  Now James is not saying that you have to be perfect and that if you slip up you will be judged and go to Hell…just like in the Bible it tells us to be holy because God is holy… it doesn’t work like that. We can’t be holy because only God is able to do so, just as we will always have moments where we slip up in what we say. 

Just as you have a responsibility to control your tongue you have the responsibility to use it.

Verses 3-6

“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 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. 5 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! 6 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.”

The tongue is capable of so much influence. James gives us these examples because he wants us to be able to fully grasp the power that the tongue has. It can be extremely misleading or extremely encouraging. 

 “A formidable power dwells within each of us. This power has changed the course of nations. It is capable of starting and ending wars. And it has made men rich and women famous. It has the means to commend or corrupt—to bless or to blame. It is the power of the tongue.”

As Tony Evans says in this quote, the tongue is powerful. James’s analogies focus on one main thing. The tongue leads. Wherever you direct your tongue the whole course of your life follows. So if you speak the words of wickedness you will lead yourself in the wrong direction. It is not so much the fleshly tongue. Obviously the tongue can’t literally crush a person’s spirit but what the Bible means and what James means here is the words we use.

Your heart and life have the tendency of following where your tongue leads

Verses 7-9

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 7-9)

We have the responsibility of being people who use their words wisely to speak wisely. James points out here that we do not speak wisely. In fact we are hypocrites when we speak because we abuse our tongue. Out of the same mouth we bless and we curse. When we ought to be furthering the kingdom we are using our tongues in the wrong way. 

James is bringing us to a point of conviction where we can identify the real issue here. See he is not saying that the tongue is absolutely bad. He is saying that it has great power and that the sin that corrupts the tongue is a restless evil. It is not the actual tongue that is sinful. Sin and deadly poison are in the mouths of those who abuse how their words are used. 

Verses 10- 12

“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.”(James 3:10-12)

Now we know that the tongue has power, we know that it is abused, and we need to figure out how to control it. How do we use it and not abuse it?

As Christ believers it is not right of us that we go around saying things that do not reflect the character of God. In chapter 5 we learned that it is in our speech that a person’s spiritual life is visible. Our words have a certain transparency that gives others a clear view of our character.

James brings up this wonderful little analogy of a fig tree. Is it possible for a fig tree to produce anything but figs? No of course it can’t. James is saying exactly what we learned earlier. That a person’s real conduct is determined by how and what they speak. 

Your words are the fruit of your lips. It will always give you away. The genuine believer will not contradict his profession of faith by the regular use of unwholesome words.

Unwholesome words could look like:

  • Slandering others
  • Speaking negatively over yourself/others
  • Speaking in pride/boasting
  • Cursing/ swearing/ making vows (I swear on my mother’s grave…I swear to God)
  • Complaining 
  • Coarse joking/inappropriate humor/humor at the expense of someone else

These are just some of the things that are unwholesome and not of the Lord. 

“With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied; He will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” - Proverbs 18:20-21

Whatever you speak is the fruit of your heart. Your speech is a manifestation of what is truly going on in your hearts. If something is wrong in your spiritual life it will produce negative speech. 

The tongue is the spokesman for your heart

Ending thoughts

The tongue has not only a great impact and power over others lives but it has a particular power over your own life as well. It is a scientific fact that the things you tell yourself have a great impact and influence on your health and your actions. 

I learned this one the hard way this week when a hardship happened to me I said “This is just my luck” in my distress I started to work myself up until my mind was clouded and my judgment was misleading. I kept verbalizing “of course this would happen to me” and “I can’t deal with this right now”. However, this whole time in the seat next to me someone stayed silent. When I was done throwing my tantrum my friend began to explain to me…that the very thing that I often preach about was one of my biggest struggles. See, I verbalize all the time about how “unlucky I am”, I offer useless declarations and complaints that don’t do anything but lead me astray. I had to step back and realize that my negative speech over myself was increasing negative situations. The more I speak negatively about my problems the more problems I seem to have. I was increasing my anxiety as well. I’ve had mouth sores and stomach ulcers, migraines and attention deficit disorder…why? Because of my negative heart that was encouraged by my negative speech. My own words have worked against me. And I am sure your own words have worked against you.

The devil knows he can make you your own worst enemy because he wants to distract you from the real enemy, himself.

We spend so much time speaking that it is time we start to quite ourselves. If we could keep our mouths shut and not say everything that is in our hearts we would be a whole lot better off. We need to properly control our tongues.  


The taming of the tongue is impossible but the controlling of the tongue is practicable

Steps to Controlling your tongue:

  • Make a habit of thinking before you react to situations.
  • Try to speak less, try restraining how much you talk. If it is not necessary to say than try to withhold it.
  • Change your motives, if you are only speaking to get attention or speak selfishly then maybe you should evaluate why you are speaking.
  • And the most important…Be quick to listen.

This week, focus as hard as you can to not only listen to others but listen to God. I feelwe spend so much time asking, and speaking to God in prayer but we don’t often spend enough time listening to God. 

When we learn to listen to God, we waste less time speaking useless words better left unsaid

Lord, I pray that we learn to speak less and that “less” that we do say would mean more. I pray that I not speak in negativity. I reject the unwholesome talk that I have been guilty of. God search my heart and tell me if there is any wicked way in me. I pray that I can work on whatever wickedness you find there. I pray that my speech represents my heart. Help me listen to you! I pray my tongue be a faithful ambassador to my godly spirit. In my tongue I have the power of death and life, help me use it well. Amen.