James 3:1-12 (NIV)
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


The average human being spends about one-fifth of their lives talking. Within a year, men speak about 20,000 to 25,000 words per day. Women speak about 35,000 to 50,000. Our words are powerful. The tongue, a muscle, enables us to chew, swallow, and speak and indicates our physical health. Our tongues also reveal the state of our spiritual health.

Proverbs 18:21 (MSG)
Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

We should speak life because:

  1. Words give us direction. James lists two metaphors to describe how our words can set the direction of our lives: bits can be used to control a horse’s direction, and rudders are used to control a ship’s direction.

    Do you speak according to your beliefs? Every time we say “no” to the enemy, we say “yes” to God (Colossians 3:17). Our yeses and no’s determine the direction of our lives.

  2. Words can also bring destruction. Words can wound the people we love, they can ruin relationships and they can devastate destinies. James uses two metaphors to describe how our tongue, although just a small muscle, can bring great devastation and destruction: a small spark can set an entire forest on fire, and a beast which can’t be tamed, like a monster living in our mouths.

    Note that all of the 10 Commandments can be broken with our words. We can covet using our words. We can profane God’s name using our words. We can express murderous intentions using our words.

  3. Words display our character. The words we say reveal who we really are. James uses two more metaphors to illustrate how our mouth and words display our character: a spring from which only one kind of water can emanate, and a fig tree which can only bear one kind of fruit.

Ultimately, the root indicates the fruit. Our words reflect what is in our hearts.
A harsh tongue = an angry heart,
Negative tongue = anxious heart,
Overactive tongue = unsettled heart,
Perverted tongue = impure heart,
Critical tongue = bitter heart.

A compassionate tongue = a loving heart,
Encouraging tongue = happy heart,
Truthful tongue = honest heart.

James said no man can tame the tongue. At Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples and followers, the first thing that happened was that God took control of their tongues. If you want to speak life, ask God to take dominion over your tongue.

The three steps we need to take in order to speak life are:

  1. Ask God for a new heart. God does not simply take our heart to repair it; he gives us a brand new heart. He did it with Saul (1 Samuel 10) when he was made king, and he can do the same for you (Ezekiel 36:26).

  2. Ask God to guard your mouth. God will guard your heart and mouth and watch over your lips.

  3. Make the decision to glorify him with your words. We glorify God with our praise, his principles, and our personal testimonies (Revelation 12:11 & Joshua 1:8).


Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What kinds of words come out of your mouth? Does your tongue speak life or death?

  2. In what direction is your tongue steering your life? Is this the direction you want to go in?

  3. Reflect on a time when either your words or someone else’s words caused destruction.

  4. What kind of character do your words reflect? What kind of heart do your words reflect?

  5. What aspects of your heart, past hurts, bitterness, or anxiety, do you need to surrender to God so that life flows out of your mouth?