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James 3:2-12 ESV

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Most people these days know about the abbreviation, “CCW.” If you don’t, well, it stands for, “Concealed Carry Weapon,” or some form of that idea. It’s a reference to the permit or license a state may issue, which allows you to carry a deadly weapon in a concealed manner. This permit is usually issued after a person submits to some level of training, which one is required to pass, before being cleared to carry the deadly weapon.

After reading chapter three of James’ letter found in the New Testament, the thought might drift across a person’s mind that the government should start issuing training, and permits for the use, and carry of the tongue.

As I was reading through the passage this morning, James’ words, and the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. It was as if James was calling my attention to three principles we should consider, and put into practice when it comes to the idea of controlling the tongue.

  • We all have trouble controlling what we say, so we must forgive others when they fail.

The very first thing James reminds us of is something we should never forget. He wrote, “For we all stumble in many ways.” Let’s just stop right here for a moment, but not dwell too long. The teaching of God’s Word is filled with the idea of love, grace, and forgiveness. Even as great as Paul was, he still declared to Timothy that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that he (Paul) was the chief. In other words, Paul basically said, “I’m the head sinner.” “I’m the worst one, when it comes to sin.” Paul knew he was a sinner, and in need of salvation just like everyone else.

James quickly ties this thought into a specific situation involving what we say. At the end of the day, the tongue is just a muscle, but it is instrumental to us in the area of speech. We all know it is our minds that actually controls the things we say, so, obviously, James is warning us about not being in control over what comes out of our mouths.

We are taught from childhood that our words can be horribly hurtful. It is absolutely no surprise that James spends nine of these eleven verses comparing the tongue, and the damage it can cause, to other earthly things like a horse’s bit, a ship’s rudder, and a fire capable of burning down a forest. Well, we get the picture.

Referring back to verse two, James reminds us we all sin, and if we could control what we say, we would truly be perfect. We are all in need of forgiveness. We all have trouble controlling our tongues. We all say hurtful things. This morning, a new thought popped into my mind in-light of including verse two with this Scripture, which warns us about our deadly tongues. The thought was, “Remember, we all have trouble controlling what we say so we all must be willing to quickly forgive those who say hurtful things to us.”

Of course, the obvious lesson also stood out in the reading.

  • We all have trouble controlling what we say, so we need to diligently work to control what we say.

Most of this passage is warning us about how deadly our words can be. As the church, we are called to love, support, and build one another up. Our words, left uncontrolled, will often do the opposite. It’s really just calling our attention back to a very prevalent teaching in Scripture. That teaching is self-control. James does a great job in his letter warning Christians about the destructive effect our words can have, so there really isn’t much need to expound on this idea.

One final thought regarding the teaching from James.

  • We all have trouble controlling what we say, so we need to evaluate what’s going on inside.

This was one of the new thoughts James put in my mind this morning. Verses nine through twelve reminds us that blessings, and cursings coming from the the same mouth could be an indication of a problem. James uses more real-world illustrations to drive this point home. Can a spring bring forth fresh water, and salt water? Of course not. Can a fig tree produce olives? Again, that would be a, “No.”

James has already talked a lot about true religion, and true faith. We know from other biblical passages that what is going on inside us usually spills out from us, and often times through our mouths. Is James subtly reminding us that our minds, and who we are, is actually the control center? Is he not drawing attention to the fact that if we are not controlling what we say in a manner that is pleasing to God, this might be an indication that something is spiritually wrong within us?

James describes the tongue as an instrument of destruction, if it is not controlled, and used for the purposes intended by God. If we’re having trouble in this area, maybe we should get some training to keep things under control, or just leave those deadly words at home. We don’t need to walk around armed with such destructive tools readily available.



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