James 3:2-12 – The Unbridled Tongue

by | Updated August 2nd, 2021

James is dealing with the unbridled tongue. Most people’s tongues are completely out of control, even Christians. How often do we speak words that tear down rather than build up? If we could master our speech, it would revolutionize the church, our life, and the world.

Proverbs 64:3 – “They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.”

Proverbs 12:18 – “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

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“In Balaam’s day it was a miracle for an ass to speak, but today it’s a miracle when he keeps quiet.” – Dr. J. Vernon McGee

“It takes a baby two years to learn to talk and fifty years to learn to keep quiet.” – Dr. J. Vernon McGee

The tongue is a badge, we wear it and it identifies us. It’s the table of contents of our lives. Our tongue gives us away. It tells who we are. “Thy speech betrayeth thee” (Matthew 26:73).

Someone put it this way. “Thou art master of the unspoken word but the spoken word is master of you.” Once we have said something it’s beyond our control. We can’t do anything about it. If you haven’t spoken it you can’t be responsible but once you’ve spoken it it can condemn you and destroy others.

The Offensive Tongue

James 3:2 – “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”

  1. Teachers of the Word. The context this is speaking of and to teachers of the Word. Often well-meaning pastors and teachers offend because they want to maintain a particular position. If it is not causing us to compromise the Word of God, sound doctrine, or the person of Christ, we must think twice before letting something bring offense.

    Erroneous teaching can be an offense that brings with it eternal consequences. If not eternal, an offense in a believer’s life and walk with the Lord. Our teaching must be that which builds up our people’s faith and not discourage faith. We must minister life and not death. We are to “hold fast the form of sound words… in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

  2. The body of Christ. This also deals with the church, body of Christ as whole, individual believers, and mankind in general. How often do the words flowing from our tongue cause irreparable damage. We speak words that tear down rather than build up (Ephesians 4:29). We say things which hurt, bring division, pierce people’s hearts like daggers, and cause conflict rather than peace.

    What a difference it would make if we could bring the tongue under control. What if we spoke words that built up rather than tear down, words that bring peace rather than tension and turmoil, solved conflict rather than instigate it, and encouraged rather than discourage?

    “The same is a perfect (mature) man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” This is a mark of true maturity. Maturity and Christ likeness is the ultimate goal. The degree to which we are able to control the tongue and what we say reveals our level of maturity.

    Ephesians 4:13 – “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (mature) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

    Romans 8:29 – “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

    Galatians 4:19 – “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.”

Restrained and Controlled Guidance

James 3:3-4 – “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.”

What if we could control our tongue as a bit and bridle controls and gives direction to a horse or like a rudder controls and directs a ship? All too often our tongue runs out of control like a horse that’s spooked or like a mighty ship in a terrible storm. In which case shipwreck, injury, destruction is possible if it is not brought under control.

If we can control the tongue we can control every other aspect of our lives. A bit and bridle controls the horse, its direction, speed, and demeanor. A rudder controls the direction and course of a ship as the pilot of the ship directs. Even so, we can choose, by our words, the course and direction of our life. The tongue, being so very small, has the ability to direct the entire course of our life.

Destructiveness of the Tongue

James 3:5-6 – “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”

Using fire as an analogy, the tongue can be a very positive or a very negative thing. Fire can be used to warm us, cook our food, melt metals to be molded into various forms for the use of mankind, and many other things. Fire can also be very destructive. Such a little fire, when out of control, can cause forest fires, burn down buildings, businesses, and homes, etc. It sets on fire the very course of nature.

Proverbs 64:3 – “They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.”

Proverbs 12:18 – “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

  1. Teaching. As we’ve learned from the context, our words and the use of our tongue in teaching can and should build up and strengthen the faith of God’s people. However, if teaching is poorly used or misused in deceiving, leading astray, and propagating false doctrine it can be a very deadly thing spiritually, as well as causing ramifications in the natural.
  2. Counseling. In counseling situations hopefully our words and counsel will be uplifting, giving direction, hope, and encouragement to the counselee. Wrong counsel, however, can have devastating consequences in a person’s life. Like the teacher, the counselor has a grave responsibility.

    James 1:19 – “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

    Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

  3. Gossip. Gossip is a very destructive thing. The devastation it has caused is incomprehensible.

    Proverbs 17:9 – “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.”

  4. Criticism. How many believers and followers of Christ have a critical spirit. This can be and is very deadly.

    Romans 14:4 – “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”

    Romans 14:10 – “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

    Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”

    James 4:11 – “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.”

  5. Bitterness. A bitter tongue is a deadly one. Bitterness, if not brought into check, will soon come out of one’s tongue and daggars piercing hearts and lives. Like a spark in a forest begins to burn and is soon out of control. It is actually set on fire of hell and can destroy an entire body of believers (church).

    Romans 3:10-18 – “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

    Ephesians 4:31-32 – “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

    Hebrews 12:15 – “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

The Untamed Tongue

James 3:7-8 – “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

The tongue is uncontrollable. It’s amazing how people can simply not shut up. It’s unruly and full of deadly poison. It’s a poison that when released into the body can make the body sick and even bring about death. As poison is to the natural body so can the uncontrolled tongue be to the body of Christ.

Romans 3:13 – “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.”

The Double Tongue

James 3:9-10 – “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

How often we talk out of both sides of our mouth. On minute we’re worshiping God and the next minute we’re cursing people who are made in the very likeness of God. It really doesn’t make sense. How can this be? Yet, it is nonetheless so. Someone does us wrong, we get mad, and there it goes. We’re blessing one minute and cursing the next.

Have you ever been in a position or situation where the joy of the Lord was filling your soul and praise was flowing from your lips? Then something goes wrong and next thing you know you’re cursing. Perhaps not cussing but cursing nonetheless. Unwholesome words flowing out of our mouth as freely as praise was a few moments ago.

The Source of the Tongue

James 3:11-12 – “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

The bitter deadly poison that flows from our tongue comes from the heart. It comes forth from our old, sinful, corrupt nature. When we’re born again we receive God’s’ divine nature, the Holy Spirit, but we still struggle with the old Adamic nature. There’s a battle raging within the soul of every man (James 1:13-14). There’s nothing we are incapable of left to our own devices.

Luke 6:45 – “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

This is why it’s imperative we are continually renewing our mind, seeking the face of God, asking Him to fill us with His Spirit, learning how to crucify the flesh and yield our members as instruments of righteousness to God. We must take our old nature to the cross daily and yield ourself completely to Him day by day and moment by moment.

Romans 6:11-12 – “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Ephesians 5:18-19 – “Be (being) filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves (one another) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

The Power of the Tongue

  1. Justification or condemnation. We will one day be judged by what we have said. That’s why the first thing we must do after trusting Christ as Lord and Savior is to confess Him as Lord before men.

    Matthew 12:36-37 – “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

    Romans 10:8-10 – “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

  2. Death and life. Our words either bring them life or death. According to what we say either death or life will flow from our tongue. There’s power in our words.

    Proverbs 18:20-21 – “A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled. Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

    Deuteronomy 30:14-15, 19 – “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

  3. The Holy Spirit. There’s power in yielding our most unruly member to the power of the Holy Spirit. Allowing Him to control our tongue through the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with other tongues may very well be a major step in allowing the Spirit to control our tongue in all matters of life.

    Acts 2:1-4 – “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

    Acts 4:31 – “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”

    Acts 10:44 and 46 – “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.”

    Acts 19:6 – “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”

  4. Victory. Our testimony of Christ and what He did for us on Calvary brings with it victory over the enemy. Also confessing and declaring the Word of God. We can actually frame our world by God’s Word.

    Revelation 12:11 – “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”

    Job 22:28 – “Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways.”

    Hebrews 11:3 – “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

  5. Edification. Our words either build up or tear down, edify or destroy. If we’ll allow Him to fill us with His Spirit and begin speaking life we will find our words begin to lift up, encourage, and strengthen others instead of tearing them down.

    Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

Prayer:Lord, we take our tongue to the cross and crucify it and ask You to fill us with Your Holy Spirit and cause us to begin to speak words of life from this day forward. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

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