Taming the Tongue James 3.1-12

Here are the notes from yesterday’s sermon.


3rd of our series of James
– return to theme raised in first chapter – how relationship with Jesus will affect what we say
– James’ letter – not like Paul – building extended argument e.g. Romans – keeps coming back to 3 key issues raised at the beginning – if hearers of the word and doers be seen in
1. what we say
2. concern for needy
3. following God’s values not those of world

today consider what James say re taming the tongue – James argues we should learn to control our tongues because
– key to living holy lives
– words are enormously powerful
– what we say is a window into our hearts

The tongue is the key to holy living

If stop to think about it most sin is rooted in words we have or haven’t said
– sins of speech are the most common – hasty word – untruthful statement – sly suggestion – harmful gossip – inuendo or sexual suggestion
– Genesis – first sin result of words – Eve listened to serpent’s words and ate the apple – Adam blamed Eve when God asked him why they were hiding from him

James begins by reminding us that we all make many mistakes
– recognising this = first step to faith
– 1 John 1.8 ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’
– acknowledging that we make mistakes and need Jesus’ help is essential if we are to live as Christians controlling words is key factor in living lives that reflect Jesus’ example
– having reminded us that none of us is perfect, James argues that those who keep tongue in check will gain control over their lives

Why is controlling our tongue so important?
– our lives –  full of words – shaped by words
– probably only small percent of our words are spoken out loud – think in words – plan in words – imagine in words – write in words – resent in words – express our self-pity in words
– George Orwell – 1984 – fully understood role of words – New Speak – Big Brother ltd vocab – control thoughts and emotions as well as speech
– if learn to control our tongue it will have an impact on our thoughts and deeds too
– not underestimate seriousness – tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison…it is set on fire by hell – Jesus commands Peter ‘get behind me Satan’ because of something Peter has said’ (Mark 8.33)
– James illustrate point with two powerful images to explain how small organ such as tongue have such a big impact
1. bit – a rider can control whole body of horse through small bit in its mouth
2. rudder – small part of boat but control its direction with very little effort by pilot
–  Aristotle use same image to explain science of mechanics – ‘A rudder is small and it is attached to the very end of the ship, but it has such power that by this little rudder, – and by the power of one man – and that a power gently exerted – the great bulk of ships can be moved’.
–  true for small sailing dingy
– true for Seawise Giant – considered overall largest ship ever built – over 1500ft long – 226 ft wide – too big for English Channel – over 800,000 tons when full – controlled by rudder weighing just 230 tons

Power of Words

I like words…love words
– not surprise – wrote for IVN in Feb
– wonder how many words I use each day? –  say – think – write

surrounded by words – take them for granted but but they are powerful things
– James – spoken about how controlling our words – bring good – make us more Christ-like – also speaks about harm an uncontrolled tongue causes

words can achieve
– great good – e.g ‘heard Peter tell Jesus in Gospel reading ‘You are the Messiah.’ (Mark 8.29)
– great harm – e.g. in courtyard of high priest Peter says 3x he doesn’t know
– bring life – e.g ‘I do’ at a wedding – covenant
– bring death – e.g. command to fire given to execution
– ‘swarms of migrants’ dehumanises – ‘refugee crisis’ leads to acts of compassion

‘sticks and stones…’
– stupid saying! – words can cause more lasting damage than stones
– words easy to say but once uttered we cannot – control damage – undo damage

Forest fire – James cp. tongue to fire
– great devastation of forest fires caused by small spark
– our house fire – electrical fault – not control damage – could repair, replace etc but not reverse damage
– cp words – may wish words unsaid – apologise – cannot cause person to forget heard them
– not always predict what harm they cause
1. Henry II – may/not said ‘Is there none of the knaves eating my bread who will rid me of this turbulent priest!’ – may/not have wanted Thomas a Becket dead – 4 knights took king at his word and murdered the Archbishop in his Cathedral
2. Dad ‘miss is as good as a mile’ – not intend any harm – 99% vs 1%
3. ‘careless talk costs lives’

Taming Tongue

 People put great effort into taming wild animals so they become useful – James encourage us to put some effort into taming our tongues

All make mistakes but not mean we give up
– Emma breaking foals – time – persistence – patience
– will not become perfect in this life but called to work towards it
– relationship with God – cause us to grow in wisdom and love
– HS – enable us to exercise self-restraint

How train our tongues?
– self-awareness and confession are the beginning – Isaiah – vision of God in the Temple – ‘ And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ (6.5). Seraph touch coal to lips and cleanse sin so Is able to say ‘Here I am, send me’
– recog that what we say matters
– recog that we need to control our tongues
– ask God to help us


– James – walk the walk
– Jesus – be known by our fruit – be recognised as Christians by what say and do
– James – fig trees can’t bear olives – same tongue that blesses God shouldn’t curse people – ‘From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so’
– true believer in Jesus not be able to cannot praise God with tongue one minute and then
curse God’s beloved children the next
– coffee conversations after service


 fruit of Spirit ‘is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ Gal 5.22-3
– a little salt in water turns all of it brackish
– our words reflect our character – Matt 12.34 J ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’
– important – one day have to give account for our words – Matt 12.37 – especially teachers e.g me, Alex and Amanda
– a spring either gives pure water or salty – let’s remember God hears all the words we utter – spoken and thought – let’s ensure we only us words we want God to hear – let’s choose to control our tongues so that they speak words of life and reflect our love of God.

‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,  O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.’ (Psalm 19.14)

Revd Rebecca Fardell




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