The Words Within

Jesus is Alive!

Governing (Bridling) the Tongue James 3:1-12

(Watch Your Words)

There is a story about a woman in an Indian village that maliciously gossiped about another lady and her family in the village.

A day came along when she realized that she was totally wrong about this lady & her family & had a change of heart.

She went to the wise man of the village and asked what she could do to undo the damage that she had done.

The wise man told her to go home & kill all her chickens & then pluck all the feathers from the chickens and put them in a bag.
After doing that, she was to go back & see the wise man, but on her way back to see him, she was to scatter all the feathers that she had plucked.

The lady left & did all she was told to do.

When she got back to the wise man he told her to now go back & pick up all the feathers that had been scattered.

Needless to say, the woman was rather confused by this strange command.

Because by now the wind would have scattered all the feathers throughout the village & beyond.

The wise man then told her, “And so it is with your careless words. They are like the feathers scattered by the wind. You cannot retrieve them.”

With that the woman walked away feeling broken hearted because of her careless words.

But from that day forward, she was determined to Watch Her Words

The words, which we speak to one another, are powerful.
They have lasting effects.
The words we speak can give life, hope & love.
But they can also bring death, division, & destruction.
Prov. 18:21 tells us “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (King James Version)

Once a word has gone forth out of the mouth, it is too late.
The damage is done.
That is why James tells us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. 1:9

Another way to put it is, we should engage the mind before we engage the mouth.
It important, you will see to not let what you say be the result of anger.
When we are angry we say things that we should not have said, & often regret having said after the fact.

The tongue you see is a wet place & it can easily slip.

We have a stern warning given us by Jesus in Matthew 12:36 & 37 which says;

“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (King James Version)

Take note of this.
Every word that you speak is an accurate gauge of your life.
Every word spoken will form the basis for condemnation or acquittal.
How great for example will be the condemnation of the Pharisees for their vile & contemptuous words they spoke against Jesus.

And think on this as well.
In the case of believers, the penalty for careless speech has been paid for by the blood of Jesus.
However, our careless words if unconfessed, and un-forgiven, will result in the loss of rewards at Christ’s Judgment Seat.

James also tells us that the bridling of the tongue verse 1:26, is the main ingredient to pure religion.
An unbridled tongue he says makes ones religion useless.
In other words, the uncontrolled tongue is inconsistent with the Christian faith.
You can measure the maturity of a Christian by the content of his speech.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:11: ”When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (King James Version)

You might ask, why must I watch what I say?
After all they are merely words, and besides, I am just kidding.
Words, James says are significant.

In Chapter 3, James tackles the problem of the unbridled tongue head on.
The problem of the tongue is a common theme throughout scripture.
This is seen particularly in Proverbs.

James illuminates the problem of the tongue with a series of illustrations, which would have been common in his day and in which we can easily identify with today.

First of all James approaches the problem of the tongue with a warning about the teaching office.
In the early church, teachers played a prominent role within the body of the church.
In Paul’s writings we find that he lists teachers as one of the top three gifts of the church.
(1 Cor. 12:28 & Eph. 4:11)

The teaching office was a popular office for those seeking prestige in those days.
After all, this was a society where very few people could read, & there was very little room for advancement.
The concern of James here, I believe was that because of the prestige attached to this office, many people were flocking to this ministry for all the wrong reasons.
Thus the warning by James,”My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” James 3:1 (King James Version)

This meant not that teachers would be judged more strictly than other Christians, but rather that the teacher took on an added responsibility.

It meant that because of this prestigious office, they would be under the constant scrutiny, not only from God, but from man as well.

Therefore he had to be careful to live and to practice what he taught.

His greater knowledge brought with it the responsibility to live according to that knowledge.
A teacher who does otherwise is prone to leading others astray.
Being a teacher carries with it great responsibility.
In a similar manner today, especially with the electronic media, the government and other high profile people carry a responsibility to lead a clean and moral life.
Because whatever they say & do will be heard on the six-o-clock news.
And of course we can see that whatever they do is often copied by others who think that whatever they see these people doing must be right.

The warning of the uncontrolled tongue is not only directed at teachers in this chapter.
In fact from here on, James seems to move away from teachers to “WE” in verse 2, where he says, “For in many things we offend all” (King James Version)
To paraphrase, ”We all make mistakes, we are all prone to stumble.”

The emphasis here is not on the # of sins, but rather on the variety of sins.
In contrast though, James says “we offend all”. (James 3:2 KJV)

Name one person if you can who has never spoken on ill word of another, nor ever sworn, nor ever said one impure word.

Even with the best intentions we often slip with the tongue saying things we had no intention of saying.

However in contrast to all of us James tells that the one who can control his tongue is perfect and is able to bridle the entire body.

In other words, if you can control the use of your tongue, he says that you are a well-disciplined person having control over all areas of your life as well.

Do you know any such persons?
I know one, me.
No, I mean Jesus Christ.
He is the only one ever born who had perfect control over all He said & did.


Now James goes on to paint for us 5 pictures, which portray the power & danger of the tongue.

In the 1rst two pictures we see that though the tongue is but a small thing, it is very powerful & able to control the whole body. V:3
Because the tongue is but a small instrument, we think it rather insignificant.

The use of a horse is used here to illustrate something small controlling something large, which would have not been something new to the people of the day.
In the 5th century B.C. the playwright Sopholces had one of his actors say,
 ‘ I know that spirited horses are broken by the use of a small bit.”
Picture if you will the size and power of a 2 to 3,000 pound stallion horse.
A 95 pound jockey rides on its back and controls the entire movement of this immense powerful beast with nothing more than a small piece of steel in the horses mouth & a few skinny straps of leather.

Likewise your tongue controls the direction of your life wherever you want to go, and a few sounds forming words can change your life and or that of another.

Like the tongue, the bit is but a small instrument, & depending in which manner you use it, it to can control the entire body.
David in Ps. 39:1 also used the illustration of the bridle in relation to the use of the tongue.
He said: ”I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” (King James Version)

It is only too easy to go flying off at the mouth when others treat us unjustly.

Jesus gave us an example as to how to conduct ourselves when others are slandering & abusing us with the tongue.

When He was before the throne of the governors, He kept silent as others were slandering & cursing Him & giving false witness against Him, even while they spit upon Him.

As difficult as that is, we to should keep silent before those who would also abuse us with the tongue.

A second picture of the power of the tongue is given us in the illustration of the rudder of a ship.

Even though it weighs only a minute fraction of the weight of a ship, it has the power to make the ship turn this way and that.

For example the Queen Elizabeth weighed 83,673 gross tons.

The rudder only weighed 140 tons.

That is less than 2/10’s of one percent of the total weight of the ship.

Yet when it is turned, it is able to turn the boat in any direction

It seems so incredible that such a small instrument is able to control something so huge, even against the wind.

In application to the believer, the tongue is but a small hidden instrument in comparison to the whole body.

Yet it can boast great accomplishments, both good & evil.

Look at the accomplishments of man through the ages.

Napoleon nearly conquered an entire continent, as did Hitler.

Man can boast of having stepped off his home planet and walking on the moon.

Look at what the astronauts have accomplished over the years.

Several years ago some astronauts chased the Hubble space telescope for 8,370 kilometers and did some repairs to it.

And since then they have done much more.

Twenty or more years ago such ideas would have nothing but dreams or the makings of a good comic book strip.

As the bit in a horses mouth and the rudder of a ship can determine the direction of each,
Likewise if a believer controls his tongue, he to can control his whole life in its proper chartered course and be looked upon by God as being a perfect man.
But when the tongue is not restrained, as small as it is, the rest of the body also becomes uncontrollable & the whole body becomes defiled & undisciplined.

In the second half of verse 5, James produces a transition from the disproportionate power of the tongue to the destructive potential of fire.

In this next simile the tongue is compared to a small fire, which causes great destruction.
Prov. 16:27 compares the speech of an evil or foolish man to a burning fire.

Similarly a small match when thrown carelessly can begin a small brush fire, which in turn can destroy an entire forest & leave a charred mass of ruin & devastation.

All it takes to destroy an entire forest is a small spark.

James says that the tongue can equally destroy lives.

Gossip is one of the worst things that another can be guilty of participating in.

One idle word can destroy a marriage, ones career, ones reputation, the church, a friendship.

One of the greatest catastrophes of history was the Chicago fire of 1871.

Reportedly, the fire was started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over her lantern.
Whether this was true or not, the fire burned for days & over 3 ½ square miles of the city was burned.
It killed 250 people, left 100,00 people homeless, & destroyed property valued at the time about  $175 million.

The tongue is like a small match.
The potential for wickedness & destruction is infinite.
James refers to the tongue as a world of iniquity in vastness of potential destruction.
James 3:6

Jesus states that, “that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” (King James Version) & continues to explain that the mouth expresses the heart in which are found evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness & blasphemies.” Matt. 15:11,18,19

The tongue can defile the whole body
It is easy to see how a person’s entire personality can be corrupted when one resorts to slander, abuse, lies & cursing others.

Somebody by the name of Clovis G. Chappell once wrote this about such people.

“The faultfinder injures himself.
The mudslinger cannot engage in his favorite pastime without getting some of the mud he slings upon his hands and upon his heart.
How often we have come away from such an experience with a sense of defilement!
Yet that was not our intention at all.
We were vainly hoping that by slinging mud upon others, we might enhance someone else’s estimate of our own cleanliness.
We were foolishness enough to believe that we could build ourselves up by tearing another down.
We were blind enough to imagine that by putting a stick of dynamite under the house of a neighbor we could strengthen the foundation of our own.
But this is never the case.
In our efforts to injure others we may succeed, but we always inflict the deeper injuries upon ourselves.”
(from "Sermons from the Psalms" by Clovis G. Chappell, 1931)

Oh how very true.

James goes on to say at the end of verse 6 that all this destructive power comes from hell of which the main man there is Satan himself.
Is it no wonder then that the power & destruction caused by the tongue is so deadly?

Just think of the damage that can occur if someone falsely accuses you of molesting a child.
The damage caused could last a lifetime.
It could be the cause of one losing everything, car house and all.
It could be the cause of some innocent person to lose everything that they have worked so hard to achieve for so many years.
It could cause an innocent person to lose a business.
It could all disappear by the stroke of a pen in the court of law.
All because of a false accusation or gossip.

Remember what proverbs 18:21 said?

It said: ”Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (King James Version)

The tongue can entirely ruin the life of an innocent man & his family forever.

Would you want that hanging over your head?

Again James 3:6 says of the tongue it ”sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (New International Version, ©2011)

Ones idle word can create a chain reaction of destruction that cannot be stopped once started.

You can idly say something without intentionally meaning any harm, which could be the cause of great damage, which could spread like wildfire taking down the equivalent of an entire town nor worse.

Here is an example of a chain reaction.
Perhaps not likely, but possible.
You come home from work & you are tired & grumpy & cranky.
The husband walks in and yells at the wife.
The wife yells at the oldest kid.
The oldest kid yells at his baby sister.
The baby sister goes out and kicks the dog.
The dog goes and bites the cat.
The cat comes in and scratches the baby.
The baby bites the head off her Barbie doll.

Would it not have been much simpler if the husband just waked in and bit off the head of the Barbie doll?
The baby would have scratched the catch.
And the cat would have bit the dog.
And the dog would have kicked the baby sister.
And the baby sister would have yelled at her oldest brother.
And the oldest brother would have yelled at his mom.
And his mom would have yelled at the husband.
And the husband would have bit the head off his wife named Barbie.
And the wife…

Okay, that is not likely to happen, but you get the picture.
One idle word can start an avalanche of destruction, which cannot be stopped.
Proverbs 21:23 tells us: ”Those who guard their mouths and their tongues
   keep themselves from calamity.” (New International Version, ©2011)

In other words, if you want to stay out of trouble be careful what you say.

The old childhood saying comes to mind when talking about how we use our tongue to hurt others.

I am sure you are all familiar with it unless you were born just yesterday.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
In reality the opposite is true.
The wounds from sticks and stones can heal.
But the wounds caused by the tongue can last a lifetime.

Paul gives us some practical advice in Eph. 4:29-30
This taken out of the old King James Bible 1611
“Let no communication proceed out your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
verse 30 ”And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”

Paul is saying that when we use words that tears people down rather than building them up we are grieving the Holy Spirit of God.
God is not pleased with our words because they are not building up the body of Christ.

Hear the words of he Psalmist in Ps. 19:14
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (King James Version)

When was the last time you said something to uplift and encourage a brother or a sister, a husband or a wife?
Don’t you think it is time to start again?

The fourth picture which James likens the tongue to wild animals.
All kinds of wild beasts from birds to reptiles and animals of the jungle have actually been tamed.
But the tongue of a man, no one has ever tamed.

Most of us have been to the circus at one time or another or watched it on TV.
We have witnessed how the largest land animal the elephant can be trained to perform various circus acts or carry lumber or other kinds of labor in movies.

Man has tamed the wild Bengal tigers to be playmates just like a dog.
What about the African lion?
Man has trained it to perform all kinds of circus tricks from jumping through circus hops to riding it horseback style.

And most amazing of all is that man has trained them to open up their mouths wide while the trainer sticks his head inside the cavernous mouth of the lion.
Man has even trained the giant Boa Constrictor to wrap its body around the slender body of a woman without any fear of being crushed, which it easily could.

But James says that this same success which man has had with animals he cannot do to his own tongue without the grace and strength of God’s help.

Since the fall of man way back in the Garden of Eden, man has lost dominion over that one small piece of flesh.

Yet he has no problem to tame wild animals.

The tongue James says is a restless evil full of deadly poison. Verse 8.

It is humanly impossible for man to train the tongue.
Only God can do it.
The tongue is like poison.
The Greek used here is literally “snake venom”
Just a few drops can kill you.
You can assassinate some one with your words assassinate their character.
The tongue is a deadly weapon.
The description of he tongue as being like a deadly poison is also used in the O.T. teachings of the evil man which says’

“They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips.” Psalm 140:3 (King James Version)

The tongue used for evil purposes can easily destroy the character of a man.

How often have you heard gossip & maybe have passed it on knowing full well that it is wrong to do so?

I think that if I were to ask for a show of hands, you would likely all raise your hands to admit that you have gossiped or passed it all if you were being honest.

I know that I have been guilty of it.

Sadly it happens all the time in churches including here at Northland.

I know because I have heard several times.

Lev. 19:16 clearly condemns any form of gossip.
It says: ”Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD.” (King James Version)

How often have we engaged in mudslinging to get even with another?
How often do we belittle others, criticize & downgrade behind closed doors?
How many have had to leave the fellowship of a church because of slanderous rumors.


When we belittle others, we belittle ourselves when we stoop to such behavior.

Is it no wonder that the church of today is so empty as compared to ten and maybe twenty years ago?

People looking in from the outside look at us and they see people who are just the same as they are.


And rightly so.
I am greatly ashamed of what we are as a body of Christ when we use our tongues to hurt and cause trouble.


In the last few verses James paints one final indictment of the tongue.
That of double mindedness.
In James 1:8 we read: “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (King James Version)

This theme is carried on again & manifested in partiality in James 2:4 and again in the failure to produce justifying works. James 2:14-26

And of course, double mindedness is magnified in the use of the tongue by some.

You may have heard of the fellow of whom it was said that he was a saint abroad & a devil at home.

James tells us it is inconsistent for the Christian to use the tongue for both good and for evil purposes.

In one breath a man blesses and praises the Lord and then in almost the same breath he is cursing others who are in the image of God. Verse 9

These things aught not to be done James tells us. Verse 10

It is only in the tongue that we see these inconsistencies.

The tongue that blesses and praises God should rather than cursing others be used to help others, to uplift them.

Did you know that to curse someone in the O.T. was to desire that they be cut off from God and experience eternal punishment?

Is that what we really wish for one another, especially among fellow brothers & sisters in the body of Christ?

Jesus gave us an example to follow when others use their tongues for evil purposes against us.

“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” Luke 6:28 (King James Version)

In Rom. 12:14 Paul wrote something similar when he said;
“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” (King James Version)


A person’s speech is a barometer of his spirituality.
It reveals what is in his heart.

Concerning the use of the tongue Jesus gave us this stern warning: Matt. 12:36-37
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (King James Version)

A person therefore who is inconsistent with regard to the things of God in his speech will be double minded and be inconsistent in his speech.

James illustrates the incompatibility of a pure heart and impure speech in 3 final pictures.
Each is painted in a rhetorical question, expecting the answer to be no.

1) Does a spring bring forth both sweet and bitter water?
Of course not. A spring is consistent.
It is either good or bad or indifferent, but always consistent in producing the same kind of water.
It is likened to Ps. 64:3 & Pr. 5:4 where speech is often said to be bitter.

2) The 2nd image is that of a fig tree.
Can it bear olives? Of course not.
Likewise a pure heart is unable to produce false, bitter, harmful speech.

3) And lastly, James once again returns to the analogy of water.
This time though the comparison is between salt and fresh water.
Again the fountain cannot produce both salt and fresh water.
I was on the east coast a couple of years ago and had he unpleasant experience of tasting salty water in the ocean while swimming.
But while in the water I neither tasted fresh water.
No it was always salty.
Likewise I have been all across Canada and through many parts of the States and swam in many inland waterways.
In none of these spots did I ever taste salty water.
No the water always tasted fresh unless otherwise polluted.

The obvious conclusion to these three analogies that a good heart always produces good speech, and the evil heart, evil speech.
Only therefore a renewed, born again heart will produce pure speech.

Many will come up excuses when they say something mean or hurtful.
They’ll say that they didn’t mean it, or that is totally out of character for them to have said such a thing.
James would say, yes, it is. It is just like you. You meant it. Quit kidding yourself.
What is inside is going to come out.
You do not have a spring that one minute gives spring water and the next salty.
That’s inconsistent.
It’s a natural law.
What comes out of a well is what is inside.

Jesus said in Matthew 12:34: “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (King James Version)

Jesus explained many years in advance what is known as the Freudian slip.
He said whatever is inside a man is going to come out.

Ones tongue displays what one is really like on the inside.
It displays who you are and what is in your heart.
It reveals your true character.
“for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (King James Version)

All that comes from the mouth should perhaps be put to three-fold test with the answering these three questions.

1) Is it true? If something you say is not true, then it should not be said.

2) Is it kind? If something you wish to say is not kind and uplifting, then it to should not be said.
What my mother used to say to us as children still rings in my ear today.
She would say: “If you have got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

3) Is it necessary? If you wish to say something, and it is not necessary, or maybe not the best time to say it, then say nothing.

We should be constantly on our guard & pray to God to set and watch before our lips.

And we should pray to that “the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” Ps. 19:14 (King James Version)

And remember one last thing.

We should present our tongue as well as the other members of our body as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable unto God.

Here are just a few more verses to meditate upon regarding the use tongue.

Prov. 13:3  “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.”

Prov. 21:23 “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”

1 Pet. 3:10  “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.” (all King James Version)

The solution to a hurtful tongue can be found in Ezekiel 18:31
Which says: “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit….” (King James Version)

Let us pray



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