Our Tongue is a Dangerous Weapon (James 3:1-12)

James 3:1-12: Our Tongue is a Dangerous Weapon

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, May 17, 2020

I want to tell you about a weapon that causes a lot of harm. This weapon is allowed on airplanes, you don’t have to check the weapon prior to boarding the plane. This weapon is allowed in schools. The teachers try to keep this weapon controlled by the students, but the teachers cannot, and do not, remove the weapon. The weapon is in the White House and all the other places of government. They have this weapon in other countries as well. Infants have this weapon, though they have not mastered its use. This weapon has been around as long as humanity. This weapon is the tongue.

The tongue allows us to form words.

Words can make us laugh.

The tongue forms words and words can make us cry.

Words can hurt.

Words can lie:

When I was about 4 years old my dad got a new car. My dad worked for a company that provided company cars for their employees. Now I was on the sidewalk in the front yard when my dad arrived home. I saw the car and thought, “this car would look better with a stripe down the side.” I had some keys which somehow, I had acquired. My parents were about to regret that I had acquired those keys. I took a key and scratched the car all the way down the side. Later on, my dad would mention what happened and I said that the cat did it. My dad always knew that the cat didn’t do this and later on the truth would come out. My point is that I lied. With my tongue I could have told the truth, but I didn’t.

Words can share important information.

Words can make us feel good.

Words come from the tongue.

Let’s read James 3:1-12 and see what James says about the tongue.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 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. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

  1. In verse 1 James introduces a way the tongue is commonly used, to teach.
    1. Do not be too quick to become a teacher.
    2. By this time, it has been at most 15 years since Jesus’ resurrection. The church was young.
    3. Maybe they had a problem appointing teachers too hastily.
    4. James says that teachers will be judged more strictly.
      1. Wow! James used the “J” word. James talks about judgment.
      2. The Bible affirms that there will be a judgment and the New Testament affirms a high bar for spiritual leadership. To ignore that and teach something contrary to Scripture is a grievous mistake.
    5. In verse 2 James gets to the argument about our speech.
      1. Notice how James doesn’t talk down to them. He uses the inclusive first person pronoun “we.” We all stumble. We all mess up. He includes himself.
      2. Look at the rest of the verse: If anyone is not at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
      3. James introduces the idea that what we say can control our whole body.
  • In verses 3-12 James talks about the tongues ability to cause great danger and our lack of ability to tame the tongue.
    1. Look at verses 3-4:
      1. We can control big horses with a bit in their mouth.
      2. We can control big ships with a small rudder.
    2. In verse 5 James says the tongue is small too. The tongue is small like the rudder that guides a ship or the bit that guides the horse. Yet, the tongue causes great danger.
    3. James compares the tongue to the spark that starts a forest fire.

A fire can begin with just a small spark, but it can grow to destroy a city. A fire reportedly started in the O’Leary barn in Chicago at 8:30 p.m., October 8, 1871; and because that fire spread, over 100,000 people were left homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, and 300 people died. It cost the city over $400 million.

  1. How are you doing right about now?
  2. Have you started any forest fires with your words? Proverbs 26:20: for lack of wood the fire goes out and where there is no whisper the gossip stops.
  3. The tongue forms our words and our words can start a fire of gossip. Have you been guilty of this? Have we been guilty of this? These days this can also happen through Facebook, email, twitter, or text messaging.
  4. We all best take this warning. We all should be careful with our communication.
  5. A few years ago, I was upset with the way someone said something in a meeting. I didn’t say anything for a few days, but then after sitting on it for so many days; I realized that I was not going to let it go. I sat down and typed a very harsh email to the individual. I don’t think the email said anything untrue, yet it was too much truth and too little grace. It was unloving.
  6. Our conversations can get this way, even in church. We may have a responsibility in the church and others must help with this responsibility. Well, when we think that someone else is not taking it seriously, we let them have it, all truth, and no grace. That is wrong. That is really what James is writing about, being hurtful to someone else.
  7. I don’t know if you have seen the movie, The King’s Speech. There is an amazing moment where the main character enters a room and sees his daughter (the young, not yet Queen, Elizabeth) watching the news on filmstrip. She is watching Hitler speak in German. “What’s he saying daddy,” she asks. He says, “I don’t know but he seems to be saying it well.”
    1. Destructive regimes use the voice and use the pen. They use words, they use the tongue, and they start a forest fire.
    2. That is why James writes verse 6: And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 
  8. Skip to verse 9: with the tongue we praise our Lord and we curse men.
  9. When I was in youth group I was told that this passage is where we get instructions not to use curse words, or cuss words, or swear words.
  10. This passage is not about any particular list of words. This passage is about using our words against people.
  11. Sure, if I am using a word that is generally considered a cuss word against someone else; this verse applies.
  12. James concludes this passage by stating that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth.

Close: Words can curse or bless

The Language of God, Francis S. Collins pages 159-160

Francis Collins writes:

My Junior year in college, 1968, was full of deeply troubling events. Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia; the Vietnam War had escalated with the Tet offensive; and Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated. But at the very end of the year, another much more positive event occurred that electrified the world— the launch of Apollo 8. It was the first manned space craft to orbit the moon. Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders traveled through space for three days that December, while the world held its breath. Then they began to circle the moon, taking the first human photos of Earth rising over the moon’s surface, reminding us all just how small and fragile our planet appears from the vantage point of space. On Christmas Eve, the three astronauts broadcast a live television transmission from their capsule. After commenting on their experiences and on the starkness of the lunar landscape, they jointly read the first ten verses of Genesis 1. As an agnostic on the way to becoming an Atheist at the time, I still remember the surprising sense of awe that settled over me as those unforgettable words— “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” —- reached my ears from 240,000 miles away, spoken by men who were scientists and engineers, but for whom these words had obvious powerful meaning.

Shortly afterward, the famous American atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit against NASA for permitting this Christmas Eve reading of the Bible. She argued that U.S. astronauts, who are federal employees, should be banned from public prayer in space. Though the courts ultimately rejected her suit, NASA discouraged such references to faith in future flights. Thus, Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 arranged to take communion on the surface of the moon during the first human lunar landing in 1969, but that event was never publicly reported.

The astronauts used their words to bless, while the atheist used words to curse.

Let’s use our words to bless. Let’s pray that we can use our words to bless. You’ll mess up, we all will, when we do, use our words to apologize then try to do better.




[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jas 3:6

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