The Book of James

Lesson 6 - "Taming Your Tongue" (Part 1)

by Pastor Frank J. Cuozzo

Pastor Frank Cuozzo

James 3:1-5, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”


-Introduction:

Have you ever thought much about your tongue? It is really just a small slab of muscle that enables us to taste, chew, talk, and swallow. However, our tongues can be as hurtful as they are helpful. If you hit your thumb with a hammer or let someone hurt your feelings, that slippery, slimy, little creature in your mouth will suddenly show the bad side of your nature. That's why we need to remember what James has already written about our tongues in James 1:26 where he says, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.”


Because our tongues have tremendous power to help or hurt, we need to understand some principles in this passage about taming our tongues. To tame our tongues, we must use them unselfishly, carefully, and beneficially. Let’s look at each one,

#1) We must use our tongues unselfishly.

James 3:1,   “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. “

James begins by addressing presumptuous teachers: My brethren, be not many masters. The word translated masters refers to instructors or schoolmasters. James is writing we should not rush to be teachers, even though that is the natural tendency for many people because they want the reputable position of a teacher. To Jews, the highest calling and most respected position was rabbi or teacher.


Since teachers primarily teach through verbal communication, it is vital for them to control their tongues. Sometimes teachers promote their own agendas and opinions so strongly they cause chaos, disputes, and factions in the church. Spiritual teachers always teach things that promote harmony and unity. I Peter 3:8 says, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another.”


James warns us about being too ambitious for a teaching position because teachers will receive the greater condemnation, meaning they will receive a stricter judgment. For some people it is exhilarating to be the teacher of the hour in a group of people. However, being a teacher can bring judgment if done for selfish ambition or a personal agenda.


Why will teachers receive a stricter judgment? It’s because of his or her influence in the role of a teacher. If we claim sufficient knowledge of God's Word to explain it to others, we are more accountable to teach it correctly and set an example by obeying it. Increased influence means increased accountability.


James is not discouraging us from becoming teachers; he is just reminding us of the great responsibility and potential problems that accompany teaching. The immature desire to be in the spotlight and be looked upon as a person of authority is as much a problem today as it was then. We must help immature believers grow and mature before they become teachers. That's why we find the requirement for a bishop or pastor in 1 Timothy 3:6 which says, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”


Immature people may want to teach so they can be in the spotlight, push their own agendas, or have more influence. However, if we want to tame our tongues, we must use them unselfishly and...

#2) We must use our tongues carefully.

James 3:2, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”


Referring to our tongues, James writes: For in many things we offend all. The word translated offend means to trip and is a synonym for sin. We all sin with our tongues. As someone has said, "The quickest way to cut your own throat is with a sharp tongue." How many ways can we sin with our tongues? We can gossip, say hurtful things, lie, deceive, etc. But according to Exodus 20:7a, one of the most serious sins we commit with our tongues is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”


There was a saying in World War II: "Loose lips sink ships." "Loose lips" also destroy lives. They destroy lives through malicious talk and gossip. We gossip anytime we repeat the private affairs of others when it doesn't help or protect. It doesn't matter if the information is true or not, if you are not sharing it to help someone or to protect someone, it is nothing but slimy gossip that destroys reputations and even lives. That's why gossip is one of the most frequently and harshly condemned sins in the Bible, and nothing has promoted it like the use of the telephone and i-phones. Many Christians spend hours each week on the phone gossiping about their brothers and sisters in Christ. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that , “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”


No wonder God put our tongues where we could bite them once in a while. An untamed tongue can cause us to sin in many things. On the other hand, James writes: If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”

The word translated perfect here means mature or complete in character. The ability to control our tongues is a sure sign of spiritual maturity because that means we are able also to bridle our entire bodies. The word translated to bridle introduces the analogy James uses to make his next point.

We said that to tame our tongues, we must use them unselfishly, carefully, and...

#3) We must use our tongues beneficially.

James 3:3-5 says, “Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”


Now James talks about bits in horses' mouths and rudders on ships. What do bits and rudders have in common? They both give direction to something much larger than themselves. James uses them to point out the tremendous power of our tongues.


To illustrate the power of our tongues James writes: Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. In the same way that bits are used to control large and powerful horses, if you have control of your tongue you have control of your entire body and its desires. We don't pass out bridles at our church because of this exhortation from Psalm 32:9 which says, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.”


The nature of a horse is to run away, and the nature of a mule is not to move at all. The Lord doesn't want to handle us like dumb animals; He doesn't want to have to bridle our tongues. He wants us to present our tongues willingly and lovingly to Him as living sacrifices. In this way, we will say what He wants us to say. Therefore, we are to let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths. The word translated corrupt means rotten or foul. On the other hand, what should come out of our mouths, according to Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”


Like a horse without a bridle, an untamed tongue means our entire life is out of control. To further illustrate the power of our tongues, James writes: Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. A slight move of a ship's helm, or rudder, will control the course of the entire ship. The phrase fierce winds adds another dimension to James' point. No matter how difficult the circumstances, if the rudder can be controlled by the helmsman, the entire ship will stay on course.

In the same way, if we control our tongues in a group of people when the conversation takes a sinful course, when we are tempted to gossip, or during times of anger, we can maintain control of our entire bodies. To control our tongues in difficult circumstances, we need to practice the principle found in Psalm 39:1 which says, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.”


That's what it takes. A tight, conscious bridle on that little muscle in our mouths! My grandmother used to tell me: "If you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything at all." That's great advice. Try to go a week without saying anything critical or bad about anyone, and then try for a month. That's how you learn to muzzle your mouth.


A helmsman can direct the entire ship to keep it on a safe course, or be careless and wreck it in rocky waters. Likewise, we can make careless statements that wreck reputations, ruin friendships, damage marriages, or destroy our Christian witnesses. Because of the tremendous power of our tongues, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 12:36, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”


James sums up his point here in James 3:5 where he says, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.” Just like the small bit in a horse's mouth or the small rudder on a ship, the little tongue boasts great things. This means it can do "beneficial things." Just as the sins of the tongue can be enumerated, so can its benefits. The tongue can encourage, comfort, build up, teach God's Word, compliment, express love, share the Gospel, etc.


Your tongue has tremendous power for good or evil, and you decide every day if it will be a day for taming your tongue. To do that, you must use your tongue unselfishly, carefully, and beneficially.

Let’s pray.



Lesson 7  —>