Practical Faith – Speech (James 3:1-12)

Bible Passage: James 3:1-12

For many people, speech can be one of the most challenging issues as they strive to grow in their walk with God. It has been said that the average person speaks enough words to fill a fifty page book every day. With all of this verbal output, there is doubtless much that is good and plenty that is not. Taming the tongue rarely happens overnight, but it is one of the key signs of Christian discipleship and it is as we help people get to grips with the issue that we will see growth occur. This is the focus of the next section of James’ letter. Much of the passage is taken up in exploring the relationship between our speech and our life. As we will see, this is a two-way relationship.

Our Speech Sets the Course of Our Life (v1-10): James begins by using a few illustrations to help us to understand the way the tongue can control the direction of our entire life. His first illustration is the bit in the mouth of a horse. The bit is piece of wood attached to a bridle that goes on the horse’s head, which in turn is attached to reins held by the rider. This is designed so that a slight adjustment to the reins will turn the bit, which will cause the horse’s head to turn and sets a new direction for the horse. James argues that the way our tongue works is similar. Though only a small organ, if we can adjust the way we speak, it will have much bigger consequences for the entire direction of our lives.

Secondly, James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship. The rudder is part of the steering mechanism. It is in the water and usually attached to a hinge. As the rudder is turned, more water is diverted to one side of the hull than the other, causing the ship to turn.

The final illustration is that of a forest fire. It only takes a small amount of flames to do an immense amount of damage. Likewise, though our words can seem small the potential they have for harm or for good is vast. Each of the illustrations is making the same point. The way we use our speech has disproportionate impact on the course of our lives.

Whether we choose to use our words to praise God and encourage people, or to speak profanity and curse others, our lives will follow the directions our mouth sets. What James is particularly concerned about is when we try to go in two different directions at once. It is possible that we use our tongue to praise God and also to speak harshly to other people. This is like trying to pull the head of a horse in both directions at once. As James says, it ‘should not be so’.

Our Heart Sets the Course of Our Speech (v11-12): Having highlighted the problems our speech can cause, James then shows how difficult taming the tongue is. Though human skill has enabled us to capture and tame all kinds of wild beasts, no human has by their skill and patience been able to control the tongue. The reason, as James suggests, is that the tongue flows out of a different pool. If our speech is polluted, that pollution has occurred upstream. This is why contradictory patterns of speech don’t make sense. If our heart is polluted, then our speech will be. If our heart is pure, it will come through in the way we speak. In the gospel, God renews the heart. It is here that the tongue can be tamed. As God changes us from the inside out, we will find that our previous ungodly patterns of speech are changed, and by this our life is taken in a new direction.

Potential Applications:

  • This is a convicting passage and there may need to be a call for us to repent from the way we have used our words in destructive ways that do not honour God.
  • There will also be people who have experienced hurt from the words spoken by other people. You might want to have a ministry time where you pray for healing from the scars such wounds have caused.
  • Change of speech comes from change of heart. You could have a time praying that the Spirit will bring transformation from the inside out.