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James #5- Taming the Beast

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Text: James 3.1-12

Thesis: To learn the why and how about controlling one’s tongue in order to honor God properly

              with it.


(1)    Doctor’s office – sticking out your tongue

(2)    Hence, James deals with this problem in chapter 3.

(a)    He begin by cautioning those who would become teachers (vv. 1-2).

(1)    Teachers – most likely referring to public teachers (mainly, elders) – no contradiction with this verse and verse such as Matt. 28.19 – 20.

(2)    He says this not to discourage people from becoming teachers but rather to exhort them to “work with careful restraint over their tongues” (Shelly 58).

(3)    Here, he emphasizes 2 things:

i.                    Do not become teachers from the wrong motivation.

ii.                  Do not become teachers without preparing yourselves (Roper 58).

(b)    In verse 2, he emphasizes that “Christian maturity is directly tied to the ability to control the tongue” (58).

(c)    His point is basically: “Teachers are more susceptible to judgment than others because they regularly engage in that activity which is hardest to keep from sin – one’s speech” (Moo 150).

(4)  Now let us continue to study what James has to say about our tongues:


I.                   The Tongue is Small but Powerful (vv. 3 – 5a.):

A.    Here James utilizes 2 illustrations:

1.      The bit in the horse’s mouth

2.      The rudder on a ship

-          His point is that the tongue is extremely powerful despite its size

B.     We talk a lot.  One estimate is that we speak enough words in one day to fill 50 pages in a book and that in a year’s time, we could fill 132 books of 400 pages each. 

1.      Needless to say, we often say things that we shouldn’t say.

2.      Sometimes we even boast (v. 5a.) – Guy N. Woods has said that “it is a characteristic of this little member of the body to talk big, to be arrogant and boastful in its action” (162).

C.     “Sticks and Stone”

D.    James is saying that “a man who can control his tongue - - the most unruly part of his whole body - - can control his entire being” (Shelly 59).

II.                The Tongue is Necessary but Dangerous (vv. 5b. – 8):

A.    Hear these verses from The Message:

“It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.”

B.     Here, James the “absolute necessity of having control over one’s tongue is emphasized when he sees the danger and harm of a tongue out of control” (Shelly 59).

C.     The tongue is described as a fire:

1.      “Like fire when it is controlled, the tongue held in check is a power for great good. But out of control, what havoc both can cause” (Swindoll 103).

2.      It is like a fire in damage for at least 2 reasons:

a.       It is wide-ranging.

b.      It is quite uncontrollable (Barclay 100).

3.      Fire in the woods

D.    The tongue must ever be guarded because it cannot be tamed (vv. 7-8).

E.     Listen to God’s Word:

1.      Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21)

2.      Evil words destroy (Prov. 11:9)

3.      A harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1)

4.      Reckless words pierce like a sword (Prov. 12:18

III.             The Tongue is Helpful but Inconsistent (vv. 9 – 12):

A.    Here, James describes the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendency” (Swindoll 105).

B.     Consider this short poem entitled “Power of Words:”


A careless word may kindle strife

A cruel word may wreak a life

A bitter word may hate instill

A brutal word may smite and kill


A gracious word may smooth the way

A joyous word may light the day

A timely word may lessen stress

A loving word may heal and bless


C.     Here is a 4-way test from the Rotary International:

1.      Is it the truth?

2.      Is it fair to all concerned?

3.      Will it bring good will and better friendship?

4.      Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


1.      Are you in control of your tongue/life?

2.      The only way truly to be in control is to turn all control over to Jesus, will you?

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