Taming the Tongue





At our last Encounter Evening we looked at a passage from James 3. One of the main uses of our tongue is to enable us to speak, and on average we say 16,000 words per day… that’s 5,840,000 a year! But what does that Bible say about the words we speak?

 1“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.4 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.5 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.6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.James 3:1-12

 tame 4James very helpfully gives us great images to help us understand his teachings. The first image is of a horse, and in particular a ‘bit’ which is attached to the reigns and goes into the horses mouth. When a rider pulls on the reign (attached to the bit), this will guide and control the direction of the horse. The ‘bit’ is only small, but yet it can be used to manoeuvre a large horse. The second image is of a ship, and James describes that even though they are big, they are directed by a small rudder which sits at the back of the boat. These two examples are being used to demonstrate the same point, that although our tongues are only a small part of us, the words that come out of mouth can have a big affect on the people around us.

James goes on to use a third example, that a tiny spark (like a match) – if misused – has the power to set a whole forest on fire. In the same way, a few of our words – if misused – can have massive consequences.


We looked at the ways in which we can misuse our words including: swearing, gossiping, arguing, bullying, being mean, flattering, cursing God, bitterness, whining, making false accusations, blaspheming, lying, complaining, nagging, boasting.

Using the example of the toothpaste we were able to see that it is very easy to make a big mess with the thoughtless, nasty or hateful things we say, and that we can’t take back the words we say.

We also looked at the ways we can use our words wisely including: prayer, truth, mercy, kindness, comfort, hope, worship, honesty, love, teaching, encouragement, gentleness, counsel, forgiveness and healing.


So, having seen that our words, whether misused or used wisely, can have a big impact on the people around us, James reminds us that as humans we have tamed many animals, but no man can tame the tongue (verses 7-8).

tame 5He tells us that using our words wisely in one sentence, but misusing them in the next is not natural and should not be (verse 10). He uses two further images to emphasise the point. Firstly can fresh water, which is pure, refreshing and clean, flow from the same spring as salt water, which is bitter and not refreshing? Of course they can’t! The next example is more ridiculous and a modern-day equivalent would be to ask whether bananas grow on grape vines, or whether strawberries grow on apple trees? Of course not!

The point is this…You are made in the image of God and it is unnatural for you to misuse your words and to hurt other people (who are also made in the image of God).


So what does this mean for me?

1)     You may be aware of times when you have misused your words and hurt other people.

God’s word (The Bible) does have some helpful advice, to speak only what is helpful for building others up (Ephesians 4:29). We can follow the THINK acronym:

T – is it True?

H – is it Helpful?

I – is it Inspiring?

N – is it Necessary?

K – is it Kind?

But ultimately if we want to change, it needs to start with our heart attitude, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:25).

We can’t do this alone, so we need to choose to trust in Jesus daily and ask Him for help, then He will change our hearts. (Phillipians 4:13).

If you know that you have hurt someone with what you have said, say sorry to them and ask them to forgive you.

2)     You might have been really hurt by what someone else has said to you.

If that’s you, then bring it to God in prayer and ask Him to comfort you and to bring healing for the damage these words have done to you. The Bible says that God is our comforter (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and our healer (Psalm 147:3).

Then, ask God to help you to forgive the person who has hurt you with their words.