My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1, NKJV)
James sets his context for mature control over the tongue (Jas. 3:2-5). The teacher of God’s word will be judged for the teaching he does and the words he uses in that work. Every responsibility one has will be judged; James is not singling out teachers expect to emphasize that teaching comes with judgment – an incentive to be mature in the use and control of our tongues. 1) God will judge what a teacher teaches. We must teach the revealed word of God, not opinions, and the will of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Acts 20:20-27). Teachers must be careful to speak God’s word (2 Tim. 4:2; Gal. 1:8-9). Teach truth, not error. 2) God will judge how a teacher teaches. Paul explained this to Timothy: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Coupled with “rightly dividing the word of truth,” Timothy would know how to teach effectively. 3) God will judge why a teacher teaches. Paul continued, “if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We teach the gospel to save souls, not to commend ourselves before men (1 Cor. 1:23-24; Col. 1:28; Matt. 23:6-8). As teachers, may our tongues speak words that honor God and accomplish His will in the hearts and lives of men. Be careful teachers; judgment is coming.
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2–3, NKJV)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21, NKJV)
The tongue is very powerful. With it we can bless God and curse men – almost at the same time (although it ought not be so, Jas. 3:9-10). Solomon assures us we will reap what we sow concerning the words we speak. Since this is true of the spoken word, it is also true of the words we speak online. Posting on websites and social media gives us no license to be rude, crude, unkind, profane and hurtful to others. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are too frequently launching pads for hateful assaults, bitter criticisms, and malicious attacks. Words can cut deeper than a knife, often maiming or killing a person’s good reputation, a friendship, a marriage, or even a life. So, be careful what you post on social media. Our words reveals our hearts, and God is the great heart-knower to whom we all are accountable (Matt. 12:34-35; Acts 1:24; Heb. 4:13). Monitor your words online – what you post will be there for a very long time. Will your words bear the fruit of death or life?
14 Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, 15 to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 14–15, NKJV)
Enoch’s prophecy against those who abandon God’s truth makes it undeniable that God will convict and execute judgment against sinners. A clear description of God’s judgment against the impious, irreverent person is set before us here. The character of the ungodly is condemned because they “are ungodly” (v. 15; Hebrews 4:13). The ungodly are convicted are condemned for their deeds. “All their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way” will be judged by God (v. 15; Romans 2:6-11). And, the words of the ungodly will be judged by God. All the “harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” will be exposed to divine wrath on the day of God’s judgment (Matthew 12:37). Truly, God’s judgment against the ungodly will be comprehensive. The character, deeds and words of the ungodly do not escape God’s notice and will not escape God’s judgment. May we strive to live “soberly, righteously and godly” to receive the hope of glory and not the certainty of wrath on the great day of God’s judgment (Titus 2:11-13).
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29, NKJV)
Acceptable profanity has reached an appalling level in America. Profane language is common place in the home and on the job. It is used in classrooms (from teachers as well as students), on social media, in popular music, movies, television and the internet. Just about everywhere someone is talking, profanity is given a place. Profanity adds nothing constructive to a conversation. Indeed, it distracts from it. Profane speech does not enhance clearer, more concise communication. It is spoken casually and mindlessly, as filler without context and without character. It is profoundly meaningless, useless and rotten (“corrupt”). Profanity does it “impart grace” to those who hear it, nor does it bring honor to the person who uses it. It disrespects God and shows contempt for others. Its companions are often anger and wrath (Eph. 4:31). Let us remember that our words show what is in our hearts. Jesus said that. And, He said our words will either justify or condemn us in the last day of judgment (Matt. 12:33-37). We must take great care to control our hearts, to control our tongues and avoid corrupt words.
Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20, NKJV)
Do you know someone who seems to be an “expert” on just about every subject that comes up? Give him an opening, and he will be sure you know it! He will tell you the best car to buy, the best food to eat, the best place to live, the best…everything! And, the alternatives are always inferior – because he knows what is best! Except for the occasional renaissance man and woman, it is much wiser to be deliberate in choosing our words before we speak. People will soon tune out from listening to the person if they believe that person’s high opinion of himself drives most everything he says. Carefully choose your words, for it will be words “fitly spoken” that convey value and wisdom (Prov. 25:11). The fool is rash and rapid with his words, causing disruption and disturbance in his wake. By contrast, inspiration instructs us to “let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6).
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. (James 3:5–6, NKJV)
There is amazing power in your tongue. Of course, that is to say, there is great power in the words we choose to speak. Like a small match that sets an entire forest ablaze, the small tongue can do enormous damage. With it, one can engulf the whole body with the defilement of sin. Sinful habits are reinforced and perpetuated by sinful words that are put into action. Words have meaning, and the words we choose can hurt many souls, or conversely, our words can speak truth and build up the brokenhearted. Jesus said that our words either justify or condemn us before God on the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Just as we are careful when using a campfire in the forest, let us be careful not to use our tongues as daggers flung at an opponent, to disrupt, damage and destroy. Let us speak kindly, with gracious words that impart kindness and respect to others (Eph. 4:29).
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Proverbs 21:23, NKJV)
Our words are the expressions of our soul. The deepest recesses of the heart are exposed by the words of our mouth. Truly, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). For example, guard your mouth against speaking corrupt words. There is no place in the Christian’s life for profanity, for it exposes a profane heart. Guard your mouth against speaking lies. Half-truths, misdirection and other forms of deception are not a trait of the pure in heart. “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor” defines the followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:25). Guard your mouth against angry words. These flow out of a heart that is bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Guard your mouth against speaking false doctrine. The Spirit of truth has spoken truth to us through Christ’s apostles (Jno. 16:13). Therefore, speak “as the oracles of God,” not with the wisdom and will of men (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 2:8). By cleansing your heart of profanity, deceit, anger and error, your soul will be protected from trouble. That’s what repentance is; changing your heart. Rather than opening wide your mouth to pour out evil things, guard your soul from the troublesome results of an uncontrolled tongue. May we recall and live what the children sing, “Be careful little mouths what you say.”