Study 6 THE RIGHT AND WRONG USE OF THE TONGUE
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 3:1-12
It was the late Canon Guy King who used to say that the subject expounded in James 3:1-12 was in everybody’s mouth! What a vital subject this is, and how much we need to take note of the teaching of God’s Word about the right and the wrong use of the tongue! The fact is that our tongues may be used helpfully, for the glory of God and for the blessing of others; or they may be misused, bringing sorrow and tears to others, and in the process hindering the testimony of the Lord. The fact that throughout his letter James has much to say about this matter suggests that those he had in mind were guilty of committing what Matthew Henry calls ‘tongue sins’. So James shows us very pointedly that the tongue of a Christian is the indicator of that Christian’s spiritual health. Our speech reveals what kind of a Christian we are. In order to emphasise this fact James uses three pairs of illustrations to show the power of the tongue.
- 1 The tongue has power to direct. In verses 3 and 4 we have the illustration of the bit and the rudder. Our words can direct others into the right or the wrong path – look up Proverbs 18:21. Beware of the idle word, the questionable story, the half-truth, the deliberate lie. All these could change the course of a life and lead it to destruction. On the other hand, the right word may direct someone out of sin and into salvation. How we need the Lord to control our tongue!
- 2 The tongue has power to destroy. The illustration in verses 5-8 emphasises the fact that the tongue is a small member of the body, but it can cause great destruction. What the tongue says comes from the heart – look up Matthew 12:34-35. A tiny spark can set a whole forest on fire, and the tongue is like a small flame – look up Proverbs 16:27. An evil tongue can also spread poison. On the other hand, a spiritual tongue is medicine – look up Proverbs 12:18; it will heal and not hurt.
- 3 The tongue has power to delight. In verses 9-12 we have the illustration of the fountain, or spring; it is impossible for a spring to produce both fresh and salt water at the same time. In the same way, the tongue cannot speak blessing and cursing (Proverbs 18:4). A tree cannot bear two kinds of fruit (Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 18:20-21).
1. THE WRONG USE OF THE TONGUE
- (1) Blaming God when tempted to do wrong (James 1:13-14). God never tempts us to sin; temptation arises when a man is lured away by his own lust.
- (2) Speaking hypocritically (James 1:26). It is easy to do this, and what a terrible statement about this very thing is found in Titus 1:16!
- (3) Expressing discrimination between rich and poor fellow-believers (James 2:1-4). Discrimination between people’s colour, background, race and status in life can be thoroughly un-Christian.
- (4) Speaking unsympathetically to those in need (James 2:15-16). With so much poverty in our world, we need to search our hearts.
- (5) Boasting and flattering, thus causing a destructive fire (James 3:5). Just one word can cause a family upset or division in a church; see James 3:14.
- (6) Grumbling against each other (James 4:12; 5:9). Moffatt renders Romans 14:12-13: “Each of us will have to answer for himself to God, so stop criticising one another!”
- (7) Swearing or blaspheming (James 5:12). Many non-Christians are careless with their words, even taking the Lord’s name in vain. How careful we must be as believers – 1 Peter 3:10.
2. THE RIGHT USE OF THE TONGUE
Now look at the following references in James to see how the Christian’s tongue should be used:-
- (1) To praise God (James 3:9), which in one translation reads, “We use our tongue to praise our Heavenly Father”. We should be doing this every day – read through Psalms 148, 149 and 150!
- (2) To pray to God:
- (1) For wisdom (James 1:5-6).
- (2) For help for those in trouble (James 5:13-16).
- (3) For healing (James 5:14-15).
- (4) For large requests (James 5:17-18).
- (5) For backsliders to be restored (James 5:19-20).
- (3) To sing to the Lord (James 5:13). Turn to Psalm 51:14 and make the same resolution.
- (4) To witness for the Lord. This is not actually mentioned by James, but we must include it – look up Psalm 107:2; Acts 1:8.
We have seen that our tongues can be used in many bad ways and in a number of good ways. How can it be controlled? Only by the Holy Spirit. Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to take control of your tongue? In Romans 6:13 we are exhorted to offer the parts of our body to God “as instruments of righteousness” – our hands, eyes, feet…and our tongue. Have you ever given your tongue to the Lord for Him to control it? Do so now, and as you conclude this study here is:
- (1) A resolution to make – Psalm 17:3; Psalm 39:1.
- (2) A warning to take note of – Matthew 12:34-37.
- (3) A prayer to pray – Psalm 19:14; Psalm 141:3.