This Week: James 3:1-12 Date: February 28, 2016 Series: Shoe Leather Theology: Study of James

This Week’s Resources:

Overview of this Lesson

This week’s lesson is likely to be a “cringe” lesson for many of us. Its focus is on the power of the tongue, which can be used for both blessings and curses. We all have lost it at times when it comes to our ability control what we say. Typically, the fruit of our angry outbursts is hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Just thinking about those times causes us to cringe.

While the tongue is a worthy enemy–James calls it “a world of unrighteousness” right within our own body–it is also a battle we can win, but it takes Spirit-empowered self control. For many of us, the battle of the tongue will not be won without a lot of prayer and time in the Word of God. As you lead this week’s lesson, keep in mind that no one is immune from this temptation to sin, but it is also an area of our lives when, once brought under the control of the Holy Spirit, can be the source of great blessing and encouragement in the lives of our friends and family.

Memory Verse for This Week

James 3:6 (ESV) – And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

Core Virtue: Gentleness

Gentleness (Philippians 4:5): I am thoughtful, considerate and calm in dealing with others.


  • Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
  • Can you remember a time when you were a child and you were mocked or made fun of? Years later, do you still remember the incident and feel the pain? Why is this?
  • If you had to play a recording of everything you said last week in front of your Lighthouse, what would you want to edit out?

This Week’s Take Home Truth

“Your little tongue has great big power, so use it carefully, constructively, and consistently.”

Read the Text (James 3:1-12)

We can identify mature Christians by their attitude toward suffering (chap. 1) and by their obedience to the Word of God (chap. 2). Now James tells us that a Christian’s speech is another test of maturity. We read and hear many words every day and forget what a wonderful thing a word is! When God gave us the faculty of speech, He gave us a tool to build with; but it can also become a weapon of destruction. Read James 3:1-12.

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions.

  • Why would James single out teachers as he begins his discussion on the power of the tongue?

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 leaders must always strive to teach things that are biblically-based and promote harmony and unity.

Historical Context: Jewish culture prized the office of teacher beyond our ability to convey. The word rabbi meant my great one. To fear the rabbi-teacher was equated with fear of God. The student who argued with his rabbi argued with the Shekinah, God’s presence. “To speak with the teacher, to invite him to be the guest, to marry his daughter, Israel was taught to consider the highest honor. The young men were expected to count it their glory to carry the Rabbi’s burdens, to bring his water, to load his donkey.” Many Israelites of means wanted to be rabbis. To be a teacher meant position, power, and prestige.

One easily can see that mixed motives propelled men to seek the office of teacher. For that reason, James warned: “My brothers, not many of you should become teachers” (3:1). He prohibited the continuation of a danger that he had detected in the early church. The Jewish rabbi’s prestige carried over to the Christian teacher. One must keep in mind the informal structure of the earliest churches. Paul indicated that the services were spontaneous affairs where anyone in the fellowship could stand and speak. At Corinth, virtually everyone had something to teach (1 Cor. 14:26). In such a situation, the seductive prestige of the teacher’s office tempted many. James stated that not many of his readers should become teachers.

James gave an excellent reason for his warning: “You know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). James included himself in his warning. He, too, was a teacher. The final judgment will be more exacting for those who teach Christian truths.

John Calvin ascended a high pulpit in his Geneva church. He once stated that it would be better for him to fall and break his neck while climbing to the pulpit than to preach the truth without first applying it to his own life.

Everyone acknowledges the contradiction of preachers who do not practice what they preach. A doctor who neglects his health, an accountant who cannot balance his checkbook, or an attorney who is in trouble with the law contradict the things for which they stand. Likewise, Christian teachers who do not control their tongues contradict their teaching.

  • What does James mean when he says, “For we all stumble in many ways” (v. 2)? What are some ways our tongue can causes us to stumble?

The word translated stumble 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 to take the name of the Lord in vain.

Exodus 20:7–“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

  • In your opinion, what is the most destructive way Christians use the power of the tongue within the church?

You may receive several answers, but most will agree that gossip is the most destructive use of the tongue within the church.

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.

Romans 1:29 (ESV) – They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,

2 Corinthians 12:20 (ESV) – For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

1 Timothy 5:13 (ESV) – Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

  • Look up the following verses about the power of the tongue. What biblical principles can we learn from these verses?

Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) – When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 12:8 (ESV) – A man is commended according to his good sense, but one of twisted mind is despised.

Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) – A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 17:27 (ESV) – Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 (ESV) – Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

There are multiple Scripture verses that address the tongue and our words. It is clear that the person who can control their tongue displays wisdom. With less words comes less opportunity to sin.

  • In 3:9-12 James points out what one commentator calls the “unparalleled contradiction” the tongue presents to each of us. What is this unparalleled contradiction?

Who can deny that the same tongue that takes the Lord’s Supper on Sunday can contradict all Christ stands for on Monday?

James framed the incongruity with a characteristically concrete example: “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9). Blessing on Sunday and cursing on Monday are not new. Some use the tongue religiously one hour and profanely the next. The Jews customarily repeated the phrase, “Blessed be He,” after every mention of the divine name. Indeed, devout Jews of every age and sex repeated a certain prayer three times a day. The prayer was called “The Eighteen Benedictions.” Each benediction ended with the same repetition: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord.” Up to fifty-four times per day, God would be blessed in this prayer. Evidently, early Christians carried over something of this practice in prayer. On the other hand, James discovered that the same believers were cursing people. He even may have had in mind the angry curse that was spoken in inner-church party strife. James did not hesitate to use the term we. Even the half brother of Christ and pastor of the Jerusalem church did not consider himself immune from this temptation.

Verse 9 stresses a strong motivation against cursing. When an individual is cursed, the image of God is cursed in that person. Even in their fallen state, people still retain that image, although the image is fractured and clouded. To curse any person is to curse God’s image in that individual. This is equal to cursing God. Devout Jews would not step on the smallest piece of scrap paper on the street lest it have written on it God’s name. How quickly many people today trample God’s image in another person with curses! James cried out in anguish: “My brethren, this ought not to be so” (3:10). His expression indicated the fatal inconsistency in such speech. The emphasis rests on the contradiction that is involved.

  • How is this contradiction connected to the outward appearance of hypocrisy in the church?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote of Talkative: “He was a saint abroad and a devil at home.” How many Christians speak with perfect courtesy to strangers and snap at their own families? How many teach God’s Word on Sunday morning and tell the filthiest of stories on Monday? Proverbs 18:21 asserts: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

  • How can we learn to control the power of the tongue?

Greg Laurie offers a simple acronym based on the word THINK to help us gain control of the destructive power of our tongue:

T. Is it true? I don’t know. Then don’t repeat it.

H. Is it helpful?

I. Is it inspiring?

N. Is it necessary? Do I really need to repeat this information?

K. Is it kind?

THINK. And if what you are about to say doesn’t meet that criteria, then you might be better off not saying it at all!

Concluding Thoughts

These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.

  • What do you need to remove from your speech habits this week to make your words more pleasing to God?
  • What positive words do your family and coworkers need to hear from your mouth this week?

Becoming A House of Prayer

Set aside a portion of your Lighthouse for prayer.

Prayer Prompts:

  • When confronted with temptation, many of us seem to forget that because of our union with Christ, the old man has been buried with Christ. Pray that we will recognize the freedom over sin this brings—when one has been buried with Christ, that person is then free to walk in the power of the resurrected Jesus (Romans 1:3, 5).
  • Pray that the members of First Family will be so committed to Christ that we will want to lay down our old sinful ways and walk in the newness of life found in Jesus (Romans 6:4).
  • Please pray that Christians everywhere will do the kind of spiritual accounting where they acknowledge daily that because of Jesus’ saving work, they are dead to sin and can walk in victory over every evil allurement (Romans 6:11).
  • Pray that every believer First Family Church will acknowledge that their faith in Christ has set them on a path where they are alive to God and can experience His holy life within them in real, tangible ways every day (Romans 6:11).
  • Pray that your family members and Christian friends will make the decision to not let sin rule or reign as king over their mortal bodies, to obey its lusts (Romans 6:12).
  • Pray that as Christians we will be sensitive not to do those things that cause our spiritual brothers and sisters to stumble into sin (Romans 14:21).