Lesson 7

Taming the Tongue

(James 3:1-12)
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Introduction: James previously counseled us to be quick to listen and slow to speak ( James 1:19), to keep a tight reign on our tongue ( James 1:26) and that our words are a consideration in the judgment( James 2:12). This reflects a statement of Jesus in Matthew 12:37 that our words will acquit or condemn us. Clearly, our tongue is a very important part of living a life in accord with God's will. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more about it has to teach us about our words!

  1. Teachers


    1. Read James 3:1. What is the most common reason you hear about why some no longer attend church? (Someone insulted them. Someone decided to "teach" them something about how they should live.)


      1. What warning does James give to teachers? (They will be judged more strictly.)


      2. What does teaching have to do with the tongue? (Teachers are concentrated tongue users!)


      3. What does James mean when he says "not many of you should presume to be teachers." What do you think he means by "presume?" (Don't take it on yourself to teach. Be sure you are called to teach. Teaching is a spiritual gift. Romans 12:6-7.)


    2. Look again at James 3:1 and James' statement about being judged "more strictly." If we are saved by grace, and not by obeying the law, what is James talking about? Does he mean unsaved teachers are judged more strictly?


      1. Is it possible that he is talking about being judged by humans rather than God? (That makes sense to me. My wife u sed to be unhappy when someone would harshly criticize one of my sermons. I was volunteering my time to preach, she knew I worked hard on the sermon, and she thought criticism was unfair. My thought was that if I was going to put my thoughts before others, they had a right to judge them.)


    3. Read 1 Corinthians 3:10. What does Paul mean when he calls himself an "expert builder?" (He is referring to his teaching.)


    4. Read 1 Corinthians 3:11-13. Who are these people who are building with gold, straw or something in between? (Teachers. The foundation of all Christian teaching is Jesus. However, teachers vary greatly in the quality of their teaching. The quality of the teaching will be tested by fire.)


    5. Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. Let's consider this reference to "fire." What does it mean for a teacher's work to be consumed in "fire." Is this the final judgment James is talking about? (It certainly is a judgment, but I tend to think it is a judgment on the teaching as applied in the lives of the students. When trouble comes, whether the teacher is building with gold or straw will make all the difference in the life of the student.)


      1. What happens to a "straw building" teacher? (He escapes! His students might not make it, but the teacher does.)


        1. How is that consistent with James' statement about being "judged more strictly?" (It certainly shows that the quality of teaching has a great impact on students, thus the judgment is "more strict" in the sense that is has a greater impact. However, Paul gives us the sense that the lousy teacher might survive while his students do not.)


          1. What is the lesson in this for the student? (Test the teacher!)


    6. Read James 3:2. Is James telling us that teachers are perfect? (No. He says (including himself) "we all stumble." When we are testing our teachers, we should keep this in mind. We should not expect them to be perfect.)


      1. What is his point about teaching, stumbling and judging? (Teachers will stumble "in many ways." When we do, we can expect to be "judged more strictly." We all know this is true.)


  2. Tongue


    1. Read James 3:3-4. James says something hard to understand: your tongue is like a "bit" or a "rudder." In what way is your tongue like a rudder or bit? (A reasonable conclusion is that what we say affects how we think. Our tongue steers our body.)


      1. Read James 1:15. We discussed this in some detail before. James says that evil works arise from evil thinking. That would mean that evil works came from evil thinking, not evil speaking. Has James just contradicted himself? (James is certainly correct in saying that sin begins in the mind. But, it appears that our mind listens to our words, and it is affected by what we say. It is a two way street - what we think influences what we say, and what we say impacts what we think.)


      2. Have you ever heard someone say that if you want to have a good day, then be nice to others, say nice things to others? (I believe that our speech has an effect on our thinking, just like our thinking has an effect on our speech. It may be that when we verbalize something we make our thoughts on that subject stronger. Thus, our tongue plays an important part in how we think.)


    2. Read James 3:5. This seems to be different than James' bit and rudder statement. What do think this means about the tongue? (Words can great huge problems. The "spark" of a word "burns" your life.)


      1. Have you experienced this?


    3. Read James 3:6. James repeats some of what he said so far: the tongue affects the whole body, and the tongue affects relationships. What other concept does James add? (I think he adds that the effect of the tongue on the person is not just temporary, rather it can set the course of a person's life "on fire.")


    4. Read James 3:7-8. What is the purpose of warning us about the tongue, if there is nothing that we can do about it? (Since James has warned us of the terrible danger of our tongues, I think his point here is to suggest that we constantly evaluate what we say.)


  3. Salty Tongue


    1. Read James 3:9-10. James just told us that our tongue cannot be tamed, and here is proof of it, right?


      1. How many of you (no need to raise your hand) can identify with these verses? (I don't often "curse" men (I get annoyed with fellow car drivers), but I know that not everything I say is something I would want to repeat in my Bible class.)


    2. Read James 3:11-12. If you, like me, confessed that our tongues are not always producing fresh water, are we doomed? (In James 3:8 he says producing all fresh water (taming the tongue) is not possible for a human. Perhaps there is a legal loophole here. James says a "salt spring" cannot produce fresh water, he does not say a fresh water spring cannot produce salt from time to time.)


      1. What should we conclude? What can we do, especially if you don't like my legal loophole? (Two things. First, what is impossible with humans is possible with God. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our words. Second, I think James is trying to encourage us to pay attention to our speech and realize it reflects our nature.)


    3. Read John 15:5. I attend a small weekly Bible study where I'm not in charge. We were discussing some of James' more difficult statements, such as James 2:24, "a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." One of the members of the study pointed to the illustration of the vine and branch in John 15:5-8 and said this visual helped her in understanding the relationship between faith and works. If we are "hooked up" by faith to Jesus, we naturally produce works. We can take no credit for the works, but the works demonstrate the "hook up." What do you think of this illustration?


      1. Look again at James 3:12. Is this another "hook up" statement by James? (I think so. James admits we are not perfect and our tongues are difficult problems. He says our words reflect our connection. Either we have a saltwater source, or we have a fresh water source. Either we are hooked up as branches to the vine, or we are not. What we produce reflects the connection of our life.)


    4. Friend, what do your words say about you? If you don't like the result of this self-examination, why not, right now, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life and repair your connection with Jesus?


  4. Next week: The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom.

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