James 3:1-12 Beware of the Tongue

In chapter two of James verses fourteen through twenty-six, which we covered last, there was much discussion on good works. A thorough explanation was given to the effect that Christian behavior is a direct result of God’s working in a believer. If you don’t have a heart for the helpless and needy of this world, especially your fellow Christians, then there is a problem. If you do not do everything you can when you see a brother or sister in need then James says your faith is dead. And we know that faith is the only means of accessing grace, justification, righteousness, and salvation from the wrath that is to come.

Now James moves from a discussion or works to something that is closely related- words. We will see how dangerous the tongue can be and that is why I have titled the sermon, “Beware of the Tongue.” James will start by warning teachers and those who want to teach, then describe the might of something so small, the difficulty in controlling the tongue, and finally give the evidence of an evil tongue. This subject has relevance for Christians of all times.

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Teachers Beware of the Tongue (vv1-2)
James introduces the next issue by warning those people who want to be teachers. He also includes himself in the discussion. He uses the word “we” and speaks of teachers first, which includes him as a pastor/teacher.
1. There shouldn’t be many teachers
First of all, there can’t be that many that are qualified. Second, the work of a teacher is drastically different than say an early church prophet. A prophet was given a direct revelation from the Lord of what to say to the assembly. A teacher is entrusted with the responsibility of expounding the truth of the Gospel found in Scripture. There is more freedom for a teacher and more room to fail and be found guilty of the horrible sin of false teaching.
2. Teachers will be judged more strictly
All will be judged by the words of their mouth, especially teachers.
b. A few weeks ago Vernon brought up the verse that says we will be judged by every idle word. Let’s look at (Matt 12:36). This is the verse the haunted me growing up! And don't forget the verse that says, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Lk 12:48)
3. We all stumble, especially in word
Do you know what one of the marks of a fool is in Proverbs? “A fool’s mouth is his undoing and his lips are a snare to his soul.” (Pr 18:7) The goal is to be mature, yet this cannot be done without God’s working.

A concern about people wanting to teach leads James into a general warning about the tongue. The concern is not to talk people out of teaching who are called and gifted for it, but to impress the seriousness of that task upon those people. Then, by extension, there is a warning given to the entire church about the seriousness of speech.

The Tongue is Incredibly Powerful (vv3-6)
v5 summarizes this next point- “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things.”
Can something so small have such a massive impact, Can it really impact our spiritual condition?
Each of these next few illustrations were known widely in the ancient world and are still well-known in the modern world.
1. Small bits in Horse’s mouths steer the large animals
2. Large ships are turned by small rudders, despite strong winds
3. A little fire kindles an entire forest
This last illustration bridges us to the next section. The tongue has great, destructive potential. In fact your tongue can defile your whole body, your whole life. The tongue has the power to condemn a person. It is not surprising that James uses this wild-fire illustration for his next point. The OT compares the speech of a scoundrel to a “burning fire.” (Pr 16:27) The Bible often uses fire as a symbol for destruction. So not only can the tiny tongue to considerable things, but it also the potential to cause considerable damage. It appears that what James is getting at is that the tongue, our speech, can actually destroy true Christianity. It can destroy entire churches. “It defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”

The tongue boasts this great power and the frightening thing is that it is difficult to control; as we all know.

Powerful as it is, the Tongue is Extremely Difficult to Control (vv7-8)
It is unusually demanding and challenging to control the tongue. The sinful nature that inspires evil words is beyond our control. This was already touched on in verse two. As said before, only by the work of sanctification by God’s Spirit can we rid ourselves of this problem.
1. Many things can be tamed, but not the tongue
2. The tongue is an unruly evil
3. The tongue is full of deadly poison

The Tongue’s Sinfulness is Evidenced by “Doubleness” (vv9-12)
Remember in 1:8 when James condemned doubleness?
1. Bless God, Curse Men
What hypocrisy it is to praise God and curse men who are created in His image.
2. Does a spring send forth fresh and bitter water from the same opening?
3. Can a fig tree bear olives or a grapevine figs?

There is no greater example of this type of doubleness than the Pharisee in the Lord's parable of Luke 18:9-12.

Sins of the tongue can destroy you, others, a church. Thoughtless chattering, lying, arrogant boasting, gossiping, and slandering are all examples of destructive speech. There is no room for this in the Christian life, especially in the church. We must be careful what comes out of our mouth. James said in chapter one, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”