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James 3_2-18Sermon

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James 3:1-18 ‘Tongue fusion’


How serious do we take warning signs?

Warning signs

Warning and explanation (3:1-2)

Our tongue is powerful & Destructive (3:3-8)


Our tongue is compromised (3:9-12)


Solution to our tongue problem (3:13-18)

                         All about wisdom

                                Two kinds of wisdom


                                From heaven




 How often do we pay attention to warning signs? 

Do not tumble dry

This product may contain traces of nuts

Speed camera ahead

Slippery when wet.

Warning signs are everywhere aren’t they; if we ignore them it could spell out a whole lot of trouble. Behind each one there is explanation.

Warning speed camera ahead, explanation: cause if you continue at the current speed and are caught by the camera you will cop demerit points and end up with a fine. This may mean that you may lose your license and then have to catch public transport which would be a pain.


Warning and explanation (3:1-2)

Warning: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers

Explanation: People who teach will be judged more strictly then those who don’t.

The reason is because teaching involves using your tongue. The tongue is a dangerous thing and can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Welcome to James 3 is a warning not just to teachers or want-to-be-teachers but for all of us. In the previous chapters James has already strongly laid the foundations of a person who has been saved by the gospel, how they have had the word planted in them and that it has impacted their life and therefore how it should impact and change our lives. So James begins here with a warning to those who teach or who want to teach.

This is good for me since I am now speaking to you. Why single out teachers here? Well we must realize that in the first century they did not have the completed NT nor did they have books. They relied on their leaders to remain faithful to the gospel and to be truthful and consistent in their teaching because if they sin then it will lead people astray. Although he starts with teachers and then unleashes an explanation that follows is really a warning for all of us.

So let’s peel away the warning label and see what’s behind it.


Up to fifty percent of the bacteria in the mouth live on the surface of our tongue.

There are approximately 9,000 taste buds on the tongue.

85% of the population can curl their tongue into a tube.

You can pierce them

Poke them, burn them, bite them, we can roll them and without them we can’t speak. Women are actually a lot better at using them but this applies to the men here too.

In verse 2 James says that there are two things the tongue is capable – 1.  Enable us to be perfect and 2. Keep the whole body in check.

There are many ways to stumble James in chapters one and two makes it clear – we show favoritism, we hear the word of God and do not put it into practice. This is all evidence of someone who isn’t living consistently as a Christian.   

But there is something special about not stumbling, not sinning when we speak, it means that that person is so self controlled that they will be perfect not sinless. James is talking about a mature Christian not someone who is double minded falling in and out of belief. So this could read like this. We all stumble in many ways if anyone does not stumble in this way is perfect and has control of his or her body.  Some people describe the tongue as a barometer or measure. I think that this is a helpful way of describing the tongue.

You see our words reveal who we are don’t they?; it shows when we are angry, upset, we tell people when we are excited and when we show gratitude. While our tongues can direct us to maturity as Christians, we do slip up. I know that I say things that are hurtful are insensitive and betray a sinful heart, sometimes sarcastic and I realize that is a heart thing that we need to keep check.

James reminds us of

Our tongue is powerful & Destructive (3:3-8)

Here we see that our tongue is not our friend. He makes 3 points on the tongue. The first 2 points are built in to verse 2 but the third point introduces a frightening new aspect of the tongue.

The first point is that the tongue is small and powerful he uses everyday examples like horses and ships to illustrate this. They are both big but are directed by something so small. It amazes me that they can be directed by something so small as a rudder and a bridle. Turn the rudder or pull the bridle and suddenly the ship or horse moves in a totally different direction.

The second point James makes here is that the tongue is boastful. Now the word ‘boastful’ is often thought of negatively but here it is more likely that the tongue is simply boasting how powerful it really is. Like a match that start a huge bushfire. We’ve seen or heard of bushfires here in Australia. It doesn’t take much to start up and the effects it has on homes, wildlife, and people are a horrible thing. One cigarette, one match, one small spark then we have a huge raging, out of control fire. That’s just like the power of the tongue – a small spark causing a great fire. So far James hasn’t said anything too bad about the tongue; he has just reminded us how powerful it is. Like a horse or ship directed by a bridle or rudder, a spark that starts something so small and can become something so big.

His third point is a little more shocking. He says that the tongue is a fire. We aren’t talking about a cozy, toasty, comfortable, marsh-mellow roasting fire but a roaring, raging uncontrollable fire. This is the heart of James’s central message.

6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. [1]

The tongue isn’t just powerful it is powerful and destructive it is own world of evil. I don’t know if you have been caught in a fire I’m sure the firefighters here may have some involvement. I was once involved in lighting one, as a kid you get into trouble and sometimes I think even as we age it hasn’t really changed. I lived in Hong Kong for a period time, went to school there and lived in an apartment complex on the bottom level. I thought it would be interesting to see the bed in the main bedroom go up in flames what I didn’t realize was how quick the bed flamed up and almost caused a bigger fire which would have affected all the units in the complex especially if it got to the power.. it burned the bed and almost destroyed the room, I could imagine the destruction if we hadn’t gotten the fire out.

James says in verse 7 & 8 that we control everything – the animals, birds, sea creatures but we can’t control or tame the tongue. It in fact controls us it is a raging, roaring, unstoppable fire.

There is a saying that sticks and stones may hurt me but words will never hurt me. We use to say that to kids in the playground when they are bullied but we know that the saying is a lie. Words can be hurtful; they can cut deep to the heart, cause disputes and fights, cause division and breakdowns in relationships. 

Often this could involve gossiping, complaining, being angry or being negative about friends or church. What about when we score how the senior minister is performing during a church lunch. All this is destructive bushfire talk. This is just stuff that we do behind each other’s backs what about things we say to people in their face, or via the internet – facebook, twitter, myspace etc or email. How often we regret we we’ve said in the email after we have hit the send button. Friends this is what our tongues are capable of. How can we then live uncompromised lives? Should we just give up? Should we just become verbal arsonists and just say whatever we want, when we want without caring for the consequences?

One last warning about our tongue -

Our tongue is compromised (3:9-12)

James accuses us of some sort of double speak – in one way we praise God and then we curse people. It has great effect on all our relationships and especially our one with God. Praising God is the purest form of speech it is when we sing pray at church or bible study, it tells others how good God is contrasted with cursing. Now cursing in the ancient world wasn’t just abusing people it was literally telling them to go to hell. This meant they would be cut off from God and his blessing and be sent to hell. It can also mean that we put people down, we make ourselves look good and they look bad.

10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salta water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. [2]

Good things don’t come from bad; if we use our tongues to curse people and yet we praise God will become empty and worthless. I don’t think we really tell people to go to hell but we may be thinking how much better we are then a particular person, you may have said things to belittle them and make yourself just that little bit better?

Saying you idiot to the person who cuts it a bit close when they move into your lane.

That stupid call centre person who doesn’t listen.

Getting angry at the Maccas person cause service is so slow.


9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers & sisters, this should not be.[3]

Wow this is tough, having fun? I know I found this passage really difficult to prepare for because of the warnings James is pointing out to us. During preparation I realized that I needed to reflect on how I use my tongue. I’ve become conscious of my words and how I use my speech and understanding also that I have no control over my tongue I need to come to God for forgiveness and his wisdom. I’ve been reminded that I can’t do this alone I need to come to God and use the ‘word planted in me’ as James says and here he shows what the solution is in my fourth and final point.


Solution to our tongue problem (3:13-18)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. [4]

The end of chapter 3 is like a soothing balm after being bashed and bruised. James tells us that our tongues can steer us to be uncompromised, mature Christian men & woman of God.

Wisdom from earth leads to selfish ambition, bitter envy, evil, and is from the devil.

Example of Earthly wisdom: pg152

Wisdom from heaven is pure, peace-loving, considerate…

Example of Heavenly wisdom: pg153



This wisdom has along with the word of truth – the gospel will control our tongues if we seek God’s wisdom it will transform us into peacemakers.

Peacemakers don’t look for fights, peacemakers don’t tear down relationships, don’t show favouritism and belittle others.

 Friends we need to take James’s words very seriously. We must be aware of the power of our tongues and be alert to its destructiveness and be attentive to its double speak. We must resist the temptation to be verbal arsonists and be committed instead to the peace process. We need to turn back to God and his wisdom. To show his wisdom by our works and good life we lead by our pure and uncompromised speech by being peacemakers. Seek this wisdom my friends to transform your speech, to reorient your words to be on the path to maturity.


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jas 3:6

a Greek bitter (see also verse 14)

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jas 3:10-12

[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jas 3:9-10

[4] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jas 3:13-18

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