Who Can Tame the Tongue?

The beginning of James chapter three is a perfect reminder that this is a letter! It was not written with chapter divisions or sub-headings. James was writing his thoughts as the Holy Spirit inspired them.

So, in verse one, he switches gears and warns those who would want to be teachers:

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

Teachers…(and everyone else!) Be Careful What You Say

This verse stops me in my tracks! 

As the wife of a pastor/teacher and someone who has been in ministry for many years, I understand the warnings against poor, or worse yet, false teaching. I shudder to think of the judgement some will incur as a result.

In this use of the word “teacher,” the dictionary explains that James isn’t only referring to the official “office” of Teacher, but also “those endowed with the teaching gift who ministered in an unofficial capacity. As distinct from the exhortations of prophets, the instruction given by teachers would be an exposition of the OT and of the words and acts of Christ.”

So when it comes to my own attempts to help someone else understand God’s Word, I take James’ warning very seriously, knowing that I MAY not always get EVERYTHING correct.

James understands this: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (v. 2)

This verse is confirmed by Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” But James focuses here, and for the next few verses, on way that we stumble, and that is with the use of our tongues.

The Power of the Tongue

James gives seven – (that’s a lot!) – illustrations of the tongue’s power, comparing it to a:

  1. Bit in a horse’s mouth.
  2. Rudder of a ship.
  3. Small flame that starts a fire.
  4. Restless evil full of deadly poison.
  5. Fountain of both fresh and bitter water.
  6. Fig or olive tree producing the opposite fruit.
  7. Sea producing both salt and fresh water.

These illustrations remind us that the words of our mouths steer our lives. 

We also learn here that with our tongues, we use words that both bless and curse.

James exhorts us, “My Brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

Guard Over My TongueWho Can Tame the Tongue?

Well, in verse 8, James say that NO ONE can. We will battle its power every day this side of heaven.

So how then do I GUARD my tongue? 

I must ask the Holy Spirit to help me. Two verses in the Psalms 19 (one that I’ve heard many pastors pray before they teach) come to mind as cross references.

I make these my prayer every day:

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

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