James 3

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

It can be a challenge to control what we say. James describes the tongue like a poisonous and evil beast we can’t tame. He says that it’s a fire that sets the whole cycle of nature ablaze. That’s a lot of power to ascribe to one small part of the body. How can it be so powerful?

James gives us two potent analogies for how this works. You can put a small bit in a horse’s mouth and be able to steer them wherever you want, and you can steer a large ship with a small rudder. It’s the same with the tongue. It’s a small part of the body, but it has great “steering power.”

Have you ever met someone who is just always a positive thinker? It’s equal parts encouraging and annoying how they can always manage to put a positive spin on things. On one side, it seems like they’re not acknowledging the reality of the situation, but on the other, they might have a deeper handle on reality. There is something I can learn from this kind of person. Thinking and saying positive things is like a small investment in those truths. It signals that we are aligned with them and committed to them, and when that is the case, we’ve paved the road for positive actions.

The same could be true for negative thoughts, words, and actions. If you’re putting your chips down on your dismal predictions, you want to be right. Sometimes we want to be right more than we want things to be right, so we can say, “See, I told you so.”

The influence of your tongue goes far beyond just yourself. Imagine you are having a conversation with someone you care about. Somewhere along the line, you start interpreting each other incorrectly (which happens all the time), and one or both of you gets triggered by what the other says. In such a moment, especially when you are angry, it is like all control of the tongue goes out the window. You are suddenly saying hurtful things that you are wishing you didn’t say—even before you finish saying them. The tongue takes over and starts steering the conversation into a fiery disagreement. This is real. You know it’s real because you’ve experienced it. This is the wildfire James is talking about.

For moments like those, it is appropriate to remember to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19). When my pastor, Michael Hoffman, talks about this verse, he says that is why God gave us two ears and only one mouth. If only this was something I could remember more in the moments that count. When you really put effort into hearing people, you take some of the destructive ammunition away from the tongue.

These days, we have quicker and easier ways to cause wildfire than James could ever imagine. I’m pointing at social media. The internet is an amazing innovation and it’s hard to imagine my life without it, but we were clearly not ready for it as a species. Now we are dealing with a beast more ferocious than just the tongue. Now anger, polarization, fear, disillusionment, disinformation, and pure stupidity can be spread across the world in just a short moment with a comment, tweet, post, video, or what-have-you. Those who see or hear it will likely not react or filter themselves as if they are interacting with a real human, and their response will reflect that. It’s a terrible feedback loop. To make it worse, there are algorithms lurking in the background making sure you see the things that are most likely to trigger you. If the tongue is a wildfire, social media is uncontrolled nuclear fission.

Somewhere around 10 years ago now, I realized that social media was not a healthy thing for me, for various reasons. I imagined what would happen if I just quit using it. So one day I quit, and I’ve never missed it. I’m not saying you should do the same, but if you ever find yourself burdened or distracted by it more than you know is healthy, consider it.

The things we say really do affect us. They ripple out and affect our families and friends. They touch our communities and influence our world in ways we don’t even comprehend. This is the reality that James recognizes and wants to warn us about. And given how fast and wide technology allows our communication to spread, that means we have an even higher level of responsibility for what we say.

-Jay Laurent


1. When was the last time you started a wildfire with your words?

2. Are there any strategies you could use to help tame the beast that is your tongue?

Words, Works & Wisdom

James 3

The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom.  Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader.  And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words! 

James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”

“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)

The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth.  The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider.  The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size. 

James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue. 

“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.”  (verse 4)

A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process.  But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small. 

  • Small bits control/direct—large horses
  • Small rudders control/direct—large ships
  • Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!

“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 unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole 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 among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)

Tell us how you really feel, James!  Oh, he did!

Our tongues can get us into so much trouble!  Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started.  It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished. 

Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.” 

Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer.  Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life.  NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues. 

 “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)

What a humbling reprimand!

James finishes this serious warning with another word picture.  “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”  (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.

James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father.   Worldly versus Heavenly.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)

Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve.  Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?”  Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.

These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue.  As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.”  If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.” 

What constitutes the wisdom from above?  “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  (verse 17)

When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others. 

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)

Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.   

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3

The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart

Proverbs 17-18

The book of wisdom says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21). I understand this scripture to mean that we have the power to speak words to others unto life or words unto death, so we should choose our words carefully. If we love to talk, we better make sure our speech represents who we are because we become what we speak (eat your words). Our words are death and life to our own bodies.

I keep coming back to the issue of the heart. I know we need to have a heart for God if we desire to be with him and his son in the Kingdom of God. But how do we really know if we have a heart for God? The heart can be seen in the things we do that correspond with Jesus’ commandments (love) that we must do to enter in. Works are fruit but works can be deceiving if the heart behind the works is not motivated by love. Mathew 7:15 – 23 says:

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

The people speaking to Jesus in this passage are shocked that Jesus doesn’t know them. The works mentioned in this passage do outwardly appear to be good fruit. Fruit can look good on the outside but can be rotten on the inside.

It can be difficult to identify bad fruit sometimes. If you really want to know if you’re producing good fruit or not, there is one particular fruit that’s pretty transparent, at least to the people we’re around the most. Our words are a good indication of what’s in our hearts.

Here’s a similar passage from Luke’s perspective in Luke 6:43-47:

43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 

Jesus has a little more to say about the mouth in Mathew 12:30-37:

  30“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.

      31“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

      33“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart35“The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

James gives us even more clarity about the power of our speech in chapter 3:5-12:

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 unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole 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 among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Are you noticing as I am that some of the scariest, most convicting verses in the bible for a supposed Christian regard our speech? We must tame our tongue. To tame the tongue we must change our hearts.

By examining our own words, we can tell if we have a heart for God or not. I think it’s a really good indication about our destiny too. If you really want to know if you are producing good fruity speech, ask those who are closest to you how they perceive your speech towards them. If they aren’t on the receiving end of your good fruity speech, that’s not good. Be prepared with your response. If you don’t like what you hear, how will you respond? Choose your words wisely.

If you know you will have trouble responding with good fruit, prune your speech! You might find it helpful to practice not saying anything at all. Proverbs is chock-full of verses that tell us that there is wisdom in keeping our mouths closed. Even a silent fool is considered wise if he keeps his mouth shut. We can use that silent time to pray for wisdom and words of life and in the meantime, practice our sacrifice of praise to God, which is the fruit of our lips that give thanks to his name.

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Proverbs 18

Follow Your Heart – or Not?

Proverbs 16-18

Proverbs 16 3 4 NIV

For those of you that don’t know, I love Disney.  Like, a lot.  But one thing that often bothers me about many of the movies is the message to follow your heart.  It sounds nice, but I know if I always followed my heart, I would not be in a good place.  The beginning of Proverbs 16 reminds me of this.

If we just follow our hearts, we are likely to go the wrong way.  We need to seek the LORD, and He will establish our steps (16:9).  When we set our hearts on the LORD, then we become the wise.  When we are the wise, then we become the discerning (16:21), the ones who say what is right (16:23).  There are examples of many kinds of people in these chapters, but one thing is clear – all of the good things come from God.

A couple other of the lines of these proverbs stood out to me:

17:6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.

I have a daughter, and I know how much she is loved by her grandparents.  I may have even heard them say something like grandkids are better than kids.  What really struck me in this one is that parents are the pride of their children.  Am I living a life that my child would be proud of?  I mean, she is almost 2 right now – she loves everything I do.  But give it a few years – are my actions worthy of her pride?  Maybe some of you reading are parents and can ask yourselves this.  Maybe some of you are younger – direct yourselves to that first part – are you living a life that makes you a crown to your grandparents?

18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

When we talk, do we think about this big of an impact in what we say?  The power of life and death.  Sometimes we (or at least I) say the first thing that comes to my mind, and it is not always the best thing.  If I could remember this proverb, would it make me take the time to think about what I am going to say before I say it?  I hope so.

As you read through these chapters, spend some time focusing on the lines that stand out to you.  Take time to examine the parts of your life that might be calling out as you read these Proverbs.


~Stephanie Fletcher


Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+16-18&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 19-21 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Consistently Strong

James 3

James 3 5 NIV

Have you ever heard young boys arguing? It may begin as an argument about which is faster but many times it will end up with the two boys shouting something to the effect of, “My dad is stronger than your dad!” Often times we see our fathers as a symbol of strength, but what does strength look like? Is it a bodybuilder with bulging muscles? Is it a sprinter with unbelievable speed? These can be measures of physical strength but the strength that we are called to display is more than just strength of body.

The world tells us that a strong person should “get mad and fight like a man” God tells us through James to control our speech and even to control our anger. In chapter one he said, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”. James 1:26 tells us “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” In Chapter 3 he says that anyone who does not stumble in what he says is a perfect man, I can tell you I am far from perfect. He goes on to explain how such a small part of our bodies can control and lead so much of our life. When I take a flight I often sit near the wing and will watch the flaps as the pilot makes adjustments to control the aircraft. It always amazes me to see that such a small change, in a relatively small piece of the plane, can determine the altitude of such a massive machine as it carries me through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. James 3:5-8 says

5 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! 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. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Although the tongue is such a small part of our body it is what we use to express our thoughts and emotions to those around us. Jesus even said that our words are the overflow of our heart. Does that mean when we are sarcastic and disrespectful to those around us that is what is truly in our heart? That can be a disturbing thought sometimes. Perhaps we should use our words to view the contents of our heart.

When I lived in the South I would hear someone say something inappropriate and another person would ask, (insert your best southern accent) “You kiss yo momma with that mouth?” James says something similar but with even more force. He says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, … these things ought not to be this way.” We should seek to honor both God and people with our words.

We should be consistent with our thoughts and actions.

We should be consistent in the strength of self-control.

It takes true strength to control your tongue.

Show strength that builds up, not tears down!

-Bill Dunn

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