The Tongue


by Ed Jansen and Trish Gaffney

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.Or take ships as an example.Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body,sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


What mental picture comes to your mind when you hear these words, “It keeps going and going and going.” Do you see the little pink rabbit with sunglasses? Do you hear the drumbeat from his little tin drum and picture him moving across your TV screen, going and going and going? Well, if you do, then the people who created those Energizer Battery commercials have accomplished their purpose! Actually, when you stop to think about it, batteries are a pretty boring thing to advertise, but most of us remember, with smiles on our faces, that this particular brand of batteries keeps that crazy bunny going and going and going.

Well, today’s lesson is about our tongue (or the words we speak). It can be like an Energizer battery; it keeps going and going and going. You see, it’s good to have a battery that keeps us going. It’s also good if our words help others to keep going and going and going.  In human terms, what kind of batteries keep us going? Hope?  Support?  Faith?  Courage?  What else?

Many people, including ourselves, can suffer from discouragement.  God has a plan to overcome all this: “Encourage one another daily.” Think about that word encourage, “courage in”. This means we can literally support put courage in someone who needs it, offering them our own faith and hope to help them keep going and going and going.


In Hebrews 3:13, the writer says “encourage one another daily.

When we become an encourager, we become the energizer of the people in our lives; our families, our schools, the place we work, everywhere! And in our high-pressure, “I’m too busy” world, a lot of folks around us are suffering from a severe deficit of encouragement. So they’re slowing down emotionally. Their batteries are losing power. They need a gift we can give them. It’s easy to get discouraged, to have our heart start to doubt, to lose faith, or for a once soft heart to start turning hard when others speak to us in discouraging words. So let’s look at our lesson for the day and see how we can help the pink bunnies in our lives keep going and going and going:


The Command

1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my sisters and brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

James begins by acknowledging the high calling of one who teaches. What a teacher says affects many. Parents are teachers.  Aunts, uncles, lawyers, doctors, bosses, and friends.  We are all teachers in our own way, and others will learn from us what we “teach” them, in our actions and in our words.  The question is not so much “if” as it is “what” we choose to teach.  I believe James is laying the groundwork here for understanding the power that the spoken word and effect that those who are teaching have over those who are listening.  Teachers will be held to a higher standard because they have the power and responsibility to choose words that encourage rather than discourage.


Jesus, speaking to the teachers of the Law said this: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matt 23:14 )


And again, Jesus had this to say about anyone who teaches and leads any of the little ones to stray: But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt 18:6 NKJ) Jesus promises a special place in Hell for people, who, by their words and deeds, cause our children to stumble and fall. Teaching is an awesome responsibility. May I suggest that one of the primary roles that we have as teachers, in service to our Lord, is to energize those who are under our influence?  What are those who learn from you each day learning?  What does your example teach, by words and actions?  What would someone learn about love and service, if you were the only Christian they had in their life?


Three Characteristics of the tongue


The tongue is small but powerful

 3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

James uses three illustrations to compare the relationship of the tongue to the rest of the body: It is small but powerful.


·     A big horse can be made to obey with a tiny bit in its mouth.

·     A large ship driven by strong winds can be steered by a small rudder.

·     A large forest can be set afire by a small spark.

As small as the tongue might be, it has tremendous power. Use it with care, intention and consideration of the impact of your words on others, for better and for worse.


The tongue is necessary but dangerous

 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Even though the tongue can and should be used for to energize others, it can also be used in destructive ways. James is telling his readers that the whole world of darkness finds its expression through the tongue; pride, arrogance, anger, condemnation, the tongue communicates them all.  When speaking, consider your motive and intention; be aware of the fires set by prideful arrogance and angry condemnation.

7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8abut no one can tame the tongue.

We now have an image of a three-ring circus where beasts of the wild are tamed by those with training in how to do so. No person can tame his or her own tongue; without the help of God it is impossible. Jesus, commenting what is possible had this to say:With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Our hope in being energizers of people in the world doesn’t come from within; it comes from above.  Seek first the will of God for your words, and speak them with the care of a faithful servant who relies on his guidance and “training”.


The tongue is helpful but inconsistent

 9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My sisters and brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


James is hammering home the point about how inconsistent we are. With our words we have the power to build up or destroy; to express love or hate, to give someone a boost or to push them down.


A traveling priest in India was once teaching the Bible to a group of Hindu ladies. Halfway through the lesson, one of the women got up and walked out. A short time later, she came back and listened more intently than ever. At the close of the hour the priest inquired, “Why did you leave the meeting? Weren’t you interested?” “Oh yes,” the Hindu lady replied. “I was so impressed with what you had to say about Christ that I went out to ask your driver whether you really lived the way you talked. When he said you did, I hurried back so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.”


Remember that our words define who we are, and all things are visible to God.


Everybody’s quick to point out the things that we do that are wrong. I don’t think we need to join the “Chorus of Discouraging Voices.” Wouldn’t it be better to look for the things the people in our world are doing right and acknowledge them more often? And when we need to deal with something negative, let’s always lead with the positives first.  Let us first communicate what we appreciate and only then speak of a disappointment as well.  Let’s let the small things go, asking “will this be important two days from now?” Let’s become people of praise, people who complement rather than complain and those who can express gratitude quicker than dissatisfaction. I wonder if we asked the people who live with us or know us really well, if that’s how they’d describe us? Do people feel important after they’ve been with us or diminished and small? Do they get courage and confidence from being around us – or do they lose it? Do they feel believed in or distrusted? Do we make them feel heavier inside or lighter?


We can all be encouragers. With all that’s wrong in the world today, encouragers are desperately needed. But it doesn’t happen naturally. That’s why we need God directing us to do it through him. Well, if I may be so bold, consider this lesson as a directive from God: “Choose this day to walk around handing out encouragement.” And how often should you do this? “Daily.” Each new day the people around us need encouragement for that day!


Some might say, “I need some encouragement too!” Well, the best way to get encouragement is to give it. We reap what we have sown.  Today, in your family, your workplace, and your relationships, there are people who are dying for encouragement. They’re slowing down, running out of emotional energy. But with some help from a human energizer, with some more encouragement from you they can – say it with me now – keep going and going and going.


+In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love in Christ,

Ed and Trish

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1 Response to The Tongue

  1. Barbara says:

    I have mentioned to you several times that James is my favorite book in the Bible. Sometimes I feel like I could stand at a pulpit or an altar and pound these scriptures out!! lol.
    The tongue is indeed a terrible thing for some people. I can be painful, humiliating, or downright deathly for some. Along with the encouragement of people there should be humility. Two stand offs do not make a for an encouraging situation. Someone has to be the one to lower their head and say: can we talk? I’m sorry, how can I fix this?
    I know it is hard for me, especially if I think I was right or the other person “wronged” me with the words they spoke. I have to reach down deep to get that from God.
    Encouraging words to me are empowerment. It empowers that person to see that they are capable of things that they thought were not attainable. No matter how many times a person or people come from a “failed” attempt at something I would always try to encourage them. Hoping to empower them to try again and persevere!!

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