In the first chapter of the epistle, we learned that practicing God’s word involves controlling our tongues (1:19, 26). After an extensive discussion on faith and works, James now returns to the subject of the tongue and applies the principle of faith and works to this area of daily life. He warns us of the unruly nature of the tongue and teaches us why we as believers must control our speech.
Did You Know...?
1. Teacher (3:1): “The privilege of anyone speaking—thus “teaching”—in the meetings of the early groups of Jewish Christians was a carry over from the Jewish synagogue services, where even strangers were allowed to speak. Recall from the gospels how Jesus took advantage of this opportunity (Matt. 12:9 ff.; Mark 1:39; Luke 6:6 ff.). The book of Acts also reveals that the apostles used this synagogue privilege to preach the gospel (e.g., Acts 13:15 ff.).” [ref]
When James says, “Let not many of you become teachers,” does he have in mind those who have the divine gift to teach in the church? (cf.
1Tim 1:6-7).Hide Answer
The ability to teach is a divine gift that the Holy Spirit distributes to individuals in the church according to His will (Rom 12:6-8;
1Cor 12:28-30; Eph 4:11). James’ command has to do with those who have not been given the spiritual gift to teach but presume to be teachers.
What motive is James warning us against by this command?Hide Answer
Teachers were in a position to educate the congregation and speak out against the wrongdoings of individuals. Those who presumed to be teachers probably desired the prestige associated with this responsibility or the opportunity to judge others.
What should be the correct motivation for teachers?
Why would teachers receive a stricter judgment?Hide Answer
Teachers are supposedly more knowledgeable of God’s word. Having more knowledge, more will be required of them (Lk 12:47, 48). Their own teaching will also judge them (Rom 2:1). Furthermore, if they are not careful with their tongues but mislead others with wrong teachings, they will be judged all the more severely.
How does that fact that we all stumble in many things relate to the command in verse 1?Hide Answer
Since we all stumble in many things, especially in our speech, no one should take the role of a teacher upon themselves. But if we have been given the divine gift to teach, we should teach with humility because we ourselves have many shortcomings.
Why is a person who does not stumble in word able to also bridle the whole body?Hide Answer
Since the tongue is the most difficult to control, anyone who is able to control his tongue and not sin in his speech would be able to also keep himself from committing other sins.
Think of common mistakes we make with our tongue.
What illustrations does James use to describe the tongue?Hide Answer
Bits that bridle horses; rudders that turn ships; fire that kindles a forest.
What do these illustrations teach us about the tongue?Hide Answer
Although it’s small, the tongue can have a great influence. With the tongue, a person can mislead multitudes or turn the course of events by “boasting great things” (5).
How does the tongue “defile the whole body”?Hide Answer
The tongue itself, in the sense of a physical organ, cannot defile the body. Rather, this verse refers to the wicked mind that causes the tongue to sin that is able to defile the person (Mt 15:10, 11, 16-20).
What does it mean that the tongue “sets on fire the course of nature”?Hide Answer
“Course of nature” is also translated as “course of life.” The tongue can have a life long destructive influence. Another translation renders the phrase as “whole round of existence” (The New Berkeley Version). This existence may include the entire human existence. In other words, the tongue is able to impact the whole human race.
What is the source of the tongue’s destructive power?Hide Answer
The source of the tongue’s destructive power is hell (6). In other words, this power comes from the evil one (cf. Mt 5:37).
Based on your own experience, what damages can the tongue do?
Why is man able to tame beasts, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures, but unable to tame the tongue (8)?Hide Answer
Man’s inability to tame his tongue shows that no one has power over his sinful nature (See verse 2, which states the universality of sin: “We all stumble in many things”).
What are some examples of speech that carries “deadly poison”?
According to James, why is it wrong for a believer of God to curse others?Hide Answer
A person who curses his fellow human beings, who are created in the likeness of God, despises God Himself. Praising God while cursing others constitutes hypocrisy and false worship.
How does it help us in our daily lives to remind ourselves that everyone is created in God’s image?Hide Answer
We will love everyone equally with the love that God deserves from us.
What lesson does James want us to learn from nature?Hide Answer
James wants us to learn the consistency in nature. We cannot have double standards in our speech and actions.
Should we just keep quiet all the time in order to avoid stumbling in our speech? Knowing the source of the tongue’s destructive power, how can we let our tongues bring a positive influence?Hide Answer
Since evil speech comes from evil thoughts, controlling our tongues starts with having a pure heart (Prov 4:23). If our hearts are filled with God’s love, and if our mind always meditates on the word of God, we will naturally speak words of edification.
Think of examples in the Bible where the tongue is put to good use.Hide Answer
Gideon (Judg 8:1-3); Abigail (1Sam 25:26-34); the wise woman of Sheba (2Sam 20:15-22); Naaman’s servant girl and servant (2Kgs 5:1-3, 13, 14); Philip (Jn 1:43 46); Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-40). Besides these examples, the prophets and apostles have left us good examples where the tongue was used for God’s glory. The greatest example of all is the Lord Jesus Christ, who spoke with authority and grace (Lk 4:22, 32).
What guidelines do you use to help you decide what speech is appropriate for you as a Christian?