“But no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” (vv. 8-9)

James 3:1-12 Saturday 16 November 2013


James begins this chapter by discouraging too many peoplebecoming teachers in the Christian community. It may be that such avariety of teaching has developed that people are being confused byit. He recognises the responsibility of teaching, in encouragingand enabling the spiritual growth of others, and includes himselfin the severe judgement that teachers will undergo if they fail intheir tasks. Yet he recognises that all can make mistakes, andcannot control their words. His illustrations of how horses andships can be controlled by small bits or rudders leads into histeaching about using words correctly (verses 3-4).

Those illustrations speak of large things being controlled bysmall ones, and James then goes on to describe how something assmall as our tongues can have an influence out of all proportion totheir size. The vehemence of his teaching suggests that he has beenat the mercy of others' tongues. If careless talk and gossip was afeature of the life of the early Church, then we must say thatnothing much has changed. James does say something positive aboutthe tongue - that with it we can praise God (verse 9), but hebalances that by saying that we can also use our tongues forspeaking abuse.

James uses two further illustrations in this passage, about theimpossibility of a spring producing different types of water, ortrees producing other than their own kind of fruits, to underlinehis teaching in verses 9 and 10 about inconsistency. The tragedy ofthe tongue is that it can speak both good and evil. Only a renewedheart can produce pure speech. There are links here with hisearlier teaching about faith and actions. There must be consistencybetween words and deeds.

To Ponder

  • "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurtme". What experiences have you had that cause you to disbelievethat proverb?
  • How can you learn to control your tongue?
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