The Book of James: The Book of James: The tongue is a dangerous instrument.

Class Outline:

Wednesday March 8, 2023


Pray before you teach. Don’t bury the opening. Get to the point and stay there.


Whiskey Row fire of 1900 was started by a candle falling off its holder.



James preempts his discussion in chapter 1


JAM 1:19-20

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;


These, quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, speak of humility and self-control. We’ve already seen that proper hearing (hearing the word implanted with faith) results in good works. James’ caution was a lack of works in the believer’s faith. And, what usually occurs when there is an absence of works is an abundance of words. There is a lot of talking about the faith, but noting is actually done. Today we look at “slow to speak,” which is going to produce control of the whole body.


Now, staring in chapter 3, James is going to get into some specifics and the first area is our speech.


JAM 3:1-12

The tongue is a dangerous instrument.


JAM 3:1-2

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.


According to Jam 3, we all stumble in many ways, but if we don’t stumble in word, we are able to control our whole bodies.


This is a bold statement. If we can control what we say, meaning that we speak that which God wants us to speak, then we have achieved the self-control of the whole body.


James gives us the best treatise on the control of speech ever written. It is the Holy Spirit’s assessment of human speech, and according to Him, most of us talk too much.


The grace of the Bible admits that none of us will ever be continuously sinless. We all stumble in many ways. The Greek verb means to fall or stumble.


JAM 2:10

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.


We are all sinners, but as believers in Christ we are cleansed and given new life. We will not become sinless but we can overcome sin through God’s word and Spirit and that is just what James is exhorting his readers to do. One writer described it as being flawless, not sinless, but not possessing flaws. Be quick to hear, James has already described as being a doer of the word and not a hearer only.


JAM 3:1-12

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 [mature or complete], 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 [we speak of our own accomplishments with pride and boasting. Better not to mention them at all].


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.


The tongue makes grand speeches (vs. 5).


We love to boast of our accomplishments, but Scripture tells us that if we’re going to boast about anything, boast in the Lord.


GAL 6:14

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.


That is using the tongue as a witness.


Then James uses striking imagery:


JAM 3:5-6

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.


Verbal arsonist - uses words to damage hearts and relationships.


What James describes is a verbal arsonist. The tongue speaks sinfully and the brushfire is begun, which slowly spreads. The careless word, the purposely hurtful word, the gossip or slander, the venting of anger, the venting of jealousy or hate, all set fire to relationships.


The Holy Spirit’s overall assessment of mankind’s use of language is that it has set the world on fire and that hell has used it to its advantage.


There is an emphasis by James on just how small the tongue is (like the bit, the rudder, the small fire). But it creates great damage to people.


All of us can think back to things people said to us that hurt us, and the damage was deep. Thinking of this myself when preparing, I instantly thought of several of these, and then I was able to think of the times that I had done it to others. You can’t take the words back. The damage is done and hopefully the person can forgive you, but the greatest defense against the tongue is preparing your whole soul with growth and living virtue, long before the temptation comes.


To play loosely with the tongue is to play with fire.


The phrase, “and sets on fire the course of our life,” means that our entire lives will be affected by how we speak.


If you believe that, you will be very careful.


The word “course” is a Greek word that literally means “wheel.” Pictured is your life on the axis of time, spinning, moving forward, and once it finishes its course, it spins no more. What would we want that course to look like? Love, Sabbath, the mirror of glory, joy in trials, divine good deeds … or, the fires of hell.


The tongue is set on fire by hell. Satan uses the sin and evil that embeds itself in language to his end of destruction, hate, ugliness. After the Lord told them that He would die a violent death, Peter spoke, “God forbid it Lord.” [how beautifully ironic that he would give Jesus a command and then call Him Lord] Jesus’ response, “Get behind Me Satan,” means that Peter’s tongue was set on fire by hell.


No one can tame it, it is a restless evil, full of poison (vs. 8).


PSA 5:9

There is nothing reliable in what they say;

Their inward part is destruction itself.

Their throat is an open grave;

They flatter with their tongue.


PSA 10:7

His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression;

Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.


PSA 73:8-9

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;

They speak from on high.

9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,

And their tongue parades through the earth.


[No one can control it: even Moses, one of God’s greatest and humblest servants, couldn’t always contain it.]


PSA 106:32-33

They also provoked Him to wrath at the waters of Meribah,

So that it went hard with Moses on their account;

33 Because they were rebellious against His Spirit,

He spoke rashly with his lips.


PSA 140:3

They sharpen their tongues as a serpent;

Poison of a viper is under their lips. Selah.


MAT 12:34

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”


COL 3:8-9

But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another,


COL 4:6

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.


The evil usage of the tongue will be one of the characteristics of the beast.


REV 13:5-6

There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.


And James shows that we use the tongue for hypocrisy.


With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men made in His likeness.


The Christian needs to remember that everywhere he goes he carries in his mouth a potentially venomous viper that cannot be controlled except by the power of God within the heart.


EPH 4:25

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.


EPH 4:29-32

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.


EPH 5:1-5

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.


3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.


The Christian life is to be preparation and prevention and not always reaction. We are to always be preparing ourselves long before the temptations come. We are to be studying, applying and praying in light of increasing our fruitful experience of God’s virtues.


Peter uses the same verb (stumble) and reveals how we prepare not to stumble.


2PE 1:8-11

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.


Not stumbling into sin is a matter of preparation long before the temptation comes.


Preparing not to fall:

We make certain about who we are in Christ, our election, by practicing God’s virtues and increasing their quality in us.


Not falling in terms of speech is the height of self-control.