tame the tongue

today was another amazing sermon on james!  the topic was something that i know every one of us struggles with so i thought i’d share my notes with you again.

if you want to start by listening to the sermon, you can do that here.

we’ve all said stupid things, hurtful things and things we regret.  in this humbling text and message, james alerts us to the deadly power of words and what to do about it.

james 3:1-12

1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

   See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men,who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

we’ve all heard the saying “stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.  this is not true.  in fact, words can and do hurt.

as we’re looking at james, we are looking at what it means to have a living faith.  a living faith has everything to do with what we say.

1.  the truth about our words

james 3 begins with a warning – let not many be teachers.  this is serious, not to be taken lightly.  to be a teacher of God’s word means to approach each message with fear and trembling.  we must beware of the person who wants the mic, who longs for the stage.

but this warning is not just for teachers.  james 3:2 says we all stumble in many ways.  matthew 12:36 – 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.  

as women, we must be extra careful to bridle our tongues.  its said that men speak about 8,000 words a day, but women speak about 20,000.  that is a lot more words that we nee to be mindful of.  totally made me think about monks and vows of silence, how much less sin would be in our lives if we didn’t speak!

some ways that we misuse our tongues:  arguing, innuendos, lying, slander, rude joking, complaining, gossiping, profanity, self promotion, belittling, criticism, taking God’s name in vane.

a.  the tongue is powerful (3:1-6) – although the tongue is relatively small, it has great power.

– like a horse’s bit (vs. 3) – it directs the entire body; great force and strength is controlled by a small bit

– like a ship’s rudder (vs. 4) – has the power to control a massive ship; if it breaks the ship loses control; it sets the course of our lives

– like a fire’s spark (vs. 5) – all it takes to light an entire forest (or a friendship, a marriage, a community)

much of our sin usually involves our tongue in some way.  want to know where the sin is in your life?  trace your words.

 b.  the tongue is fickle (3:9-12)  – we bless and curse with the same mouth.  as today is palm sunday, this is especially timely.  at the beginning of the holy week, Jesus was welcomed by the people of jerusalem with praises upon their lips.  by the end of the week, those same people were shouting “crucify him!  crucify him!”
look at when you tend to be loose with your tongue:  when you’re tired, stressed, with certain friends, around your family, with coworkers…
c.  the tongue is untamable (3:7-8) – full of deadly poison.  who have you bitten or struck out at?
so where does that leave us and what do we do?
– each chapter and verse must be looked at in light of the entire context of the bible.  if you can’t see the gospel in it, widen your scope.  it must be interpreted in light of Christ.  james 3 needs to be looked at in the entire context of james, which needs to be looked at in the context of the new testament, which needs to be seen in light of the whole bible.

2.  applying God’s gospel to our words

– verse 8 leaves us hopeless and despairing, so we must run to the gospel, run to Jesus.  since we don’t see that here, we have to broaden our scope.  in james 4:6-10, the gospel shines and is the center point of james.
6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
a.  but He gives greater grace (4:6) – greater than what?  greater than all our sin!  all that james points out throughout his entire letter.  this is done through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
– because Christ shut His mouth and was obedient at the cross, there is grace for us when we sin with our mouths.
1 peter 2:21-25
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
– none of us can tame the tongue, but there is One who did.  because He shut his mouth tightly and was obedient at the cross, he gave a greater grace.
b.  humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord (4:8-10) – how do we experience gospel grace?  we humble ourselves every time we slip up!  we need to live broken before the Lord and each other, before those we have harmed.
– this implies and involves humbling ourselves in the presence of one another.  say sorry and ask for forgiveness.
– be specific and explicit in your confession and brokenness.  avoid generalization, rationalization, minimalizing – call a spade a spade.  grace flows when we are humbly broken before the Lord and each other.  humility unlocks and allows to flow God’s grace in Christ.
c.  submit therefore to God (4:7) – that means your tongue.  be specific, literally submit your tongue.
romans 6:12-14
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

ways that we can use our tongues in a positive way:  encouragement, exhortation, sharing your gospel story, sharing Christ with those open to it, prayer, give thanks to the Lord, loving confrontation


no one can tame their own tongue, but God, through the gospel, can tame it.


  1. 1

    Hi Lindsey!
    I love this! I just finished Beth Moore’s Bible Study on James…it was amazing. so convicting. so good!

    Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. I am going to introduce your giveaway on my blog on Wednesday. I am soooo excited…just wish I could win it. :)

  2. 2

    Thank you.

  3. 3

    A great reminder. Thank you!

  4. 4

    Perfect timing! I have begun studying James in a girls devotional-esque book and it’s amazing the insight of the passages when broken down verse by verse. I’d love to do Beth Moore’s rendition of it, but there’s no women’s Bible Study in these parts.

    Taming the Tongue, one speech bubble at a time..

  5. 5

    thanks that was a great way to start my day!

  6. 6

    This was so timely for me. I am a bit shy by nature, so I don’t always struggle with my words in a public setting. However, I am not careful with how I speak to my husband, my children, or my extended family. Thank you for reminding me what God’s word says about the power of our tongue.

  7. 7

    Thanks for sharing. One of my fav verses says….may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight….It always reminds me the same thing about my tongue. And often what comes out of my mouth shows where my heart truly is! Great blog today!

  8. 8

    Timely and Timeless . Thank you for sharing!

  9. 9

    wonderful notes, thank you so much for sharing. boy! i wish we knew to be quieter and less wordy when we were younger and didn’t have to wait until we were ‘older’ to learn that you don’t always ‘have to say something’ :)
    thanks again!

  10. 10
    Destiny says:

    Yes, yes, and YES!

  11. 11

    A bit belatd, but wanted to thank you for posting this… in such detail.

    Being in the middle of situation where witnesses and testimony are swirling about, this has been on my mind lately… how much power our words have.

    God is so gracious – when we use our words to tear down so often. I had a talk with my kindergartener the other day, telling him that everyone sins every day. He just couldn’t believe it. Yet somehow, I think that the vast majority of sin in our lives comes simply from our words that show what our heart really thinks.

    Thanking HIM that He is greater than this world and can transform our hearts!

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