James: Teaching and the Tongue

I don’t want to write this blogpost. In fact, passages in the Bible like this make me wait to call it quits on Failing Forward all together. It makes me want to cancel my women’s group study from here on out. And it definitely makes me want to throw off my fantasies of writing a book and doing speaking engagements.

Yet, I know that God gave me and other leaders abd writers this gift for a reason. We humans were made by God to know Him and to bring Him glory. Some do that by parenting, entrepreneurship, waiting tables, fixing cars, preaching, or many other things. And some glorify God through leadership and writing. I also praise God when I read convicting passages such as this that He loves me enough to not leave me alone in my sins. So until He tells me to stop, I’ll keep glorifying God and seeking to know Him in the avenues in which He places me.

As we bounce back to the theme of wisdom as it pertains to leadership and the tongue, I hope you feel the love of the heavenly Father even through conviction. As it is written in Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

James 3:1-5a

James does not say that no one should teach. Rather, he says the responsibility is not for everyone and not to be taken lightly by those in that position. This point was worth making to the early church because teachers in that day were held in high regard. People could easily let their desire for a higher status take over and aim for teaching positions within the church. It seemed like a win/win: you served Jesus and you served your self a little bit. But in the Christian worldview, leadership is considered a responsibility rather than a way to climb the social latter. Teachers of the gospel are not to toy with people’s hearts for personal gain. They are held in part accountable to God for the people they are teaching. And all the speaking that teaching entails opens more opportunity for stumbling. Their words could cause someone to sin or fall away from the Lord and they will have to answer for that on judgment day.

This gives way for the discourse on the tongue. James states that the tongue controls the whole body. He gives examples of a bridal in the mouth of a hourse and a rudder or a ship. Both are great things but are controlled by small things. Similarly, if we are able to control our words, we are able to control our whole body physically and morally. It’s not necessarily the bit or the rudder or even the tongue that does all the work; rather, it is the rider or pilot or one who is in charge of our words that is responsible for the direction of the horse, ship, and person.

While true perfection can’t be achieved in this life, we can grow in maturity. When we allow the Holy Spirit to control our tongue, our faith matures. This is important for each and every one of us and is even more so important for the teacher of the Bible.

How a great forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 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 course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, abd with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:5b-12

There’s a lot of examples given in this passage. First we see the tongue is like a wild fire, consuming and destroying much. Everything else can be right with a person, but if their tongue is unrighteous, they as a whole are unrighteous. Our words are powerful enough to send us to hell.

Second, James compare the tongue to wild animals. While we can tame animals, the tongue never seems to be able to be tamed. In fact, we cannot do it ourselves in our own strength and power.

Lastly, and one of the points I personally find most convicting, James compares the contradictions of our words. We bless God with our mouths and curse those made in His image. Ouch. It is not only hypocrisy to praise God and demean people, but it is also sin. James shows this point in multiple comparisons of fresh and salt water and fruit trees. Completely opposite things cannot cone from the same source. Yet, we may wonder how this makes sense because we have heard other and very likely have ourselves sung worship songs on Sunday then slander our coworkers or family on Monday. Our blessing to God falls flat if we are unrepentant of cursing our neighbor. We are hindered from God so long as we continue in our sins and this includes the sins of our tongue.

So who can tame the tongue? Who can change it so it only speaks blessing? Who can quench it’s flames? Only God has the power to do this. The One who created us is the One who holds the key to changing us. If we attempt to clean up our mouths without Him, we can work all our lives with no result. But if we let the Holy Spirit take hold of us, we can have consistent, life-giving, tamed tongues.


Our words guide our whole body. If we can measure them and speak with godly wisdom, we will keep ourselves from sin. But we can’t do this on our own. We need to put the Holy Spirit in the pilot seat of their life and not withhold their mouths from Him. This is vital for each of us to ward off sin, but it is all the more imperative for those who teach. Surely we will answer for every careless word. I personally already have enough that I have had to repent of, and I continually pray that I will get out of my own way so I do not continue to add to that count.

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