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James Chapter 3

Memory verses for this week:  Psa 148:5  Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.  Psa 148:6  He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass. 

Introduction:  In chapter 2 of James, we found that we are to treat all men and women the same.   A poor person and a rich person should be treated equally.  We also discussed how we should treat others as we want to be treated, and that our works should always be present to prove our salvation.  In chapter 3, we will be studying how we can use the tongue for both good and bad.

I.  The Power of Small Things

James 3:1  My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

James 3:2  For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

The term masters here seems to mean teachers.   We know that the teacher has a greater responsibility than the pupil, and should know what he or she is teaching.  Verse 2 says that if we offend not in words, we are perfect Christians.   This does not mean that we are without sin, but it means we are mature.  Perhaps the most difficult perfection to obtain is in reference to our tongue.   James tells us that it is harder to do right in talking than in anything else.   If we can control how we speak, we can control the whole body.

James 3:3  Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

James 3:4  Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

James 3:5  Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

James uses three illustration of small things and their power.

1.  A bridle used for a horse is a small thing, yet with that bridle a person can guide   the horse wherever he desires.

2.  He uses the helm of a big ship as an example.  A helm is a little instrument that makes a large ship go in any direction desired.

3.  Verse 5 uses the example of the little fire that could burn up great things.  The tongue is like this.

The tongue is very powerful, and can be used to do a lot of good.  It can be used to teach right things to people.  However, if used wrongly, it can be like a fire that destroys much.  A few wrong words can destroy more in a few moments than the church can build up in a year.  The lost person can be greatly hindered from being saved by wrong words.   If we want progress for our church (and our personal lives), we must learn to use right words, and never use those that hurt or destroy.   Christians can be hindered because some one said something that they should not have spoken.

Prov 6:16  These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

Prov 6:17  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

Prov 6:18  An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

Prov 6:19  A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Verse 19 says that God hates the man who sows discord among brethren.  Probably nothing hurts the harmony in a church than a brother or sister with a loose tongue that uses it to demean and hurt fellow church members.   An unwise or unkind word spoken may be the beginning of big trouble that may cause strife and division in the church.  This is not God’s will for the church.

2 Cor 13:11  Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Phil 2:2  Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Phil 2:3  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Phil 2:4  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

II.  The Impossibility of Man Taming the Tongue

James 3:6  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

An unruly tongue defiles the whole body, and can set on fire the course of nature.  Satan uses the tongues of men to accomplish his purposes.

J. Vernon McGee said this about the tongue.

The tongue is like a fire; when it is under control, it is a blessing; when it is out of control, it is devastating. It can be a cure, or it can be a curse. In Proverbs 12:18 we read, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” The tongue can be like a sword that kills, but it also can be health itself. What a picture this is of the tongue! Again in Proverbs we read, “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness” (Prov. 15:14).

Let me repeat the proverb I quoted a little earlier: “Thou art master of the unspoken word, but the spoken word is master of you.” If you haven’t said it, you cannot be held responsible, but once you’ve said it, it can condemn you. I have learned through personal experience that a slip of the tongue (especially if it’s made on a radio broadcast which is heard by many) can have great repercussions. You remember that Simon Peter’s tongue betrayed him, and he denied that he knew his Lord. But on the Day of Pentecost, what was it that the Lord used? It was the tongue of that blundering, stumbling, bumbling fellow, Simon Peter. The tongue can be either a curse or a cure.

Brush and forest fires scorch and blacken and are a plague. Like a fire, the tongue can burn through a church, burn through a community, burn through a town, and even burn through a nation.  [1]


James 3:7  For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

James 3:8  But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:9  Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

James 3:10  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The wild beasts, birds, serpents, and animals of the sea have been tamed by man.  However, even though we can tame wild animals, he is not able to tame the tongue.  James says the tongue is an unruly member that is full of deadly poison.   We sometimes use it to bless God, and then turn and use it to curse men.   These things should not be in the life of a Christian.


III.  Nature shows Only One Thing from a Plant

James 3:11  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

James 3:12  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

A fountain that brings forth sweet water does not suddenly bring forth bitter.   The fountain is consistent.  Fig trees bring forth figs, as a berry vine brings forth berries.  They do not bring forth some other type of fruit.   In man, we may bring forth both good and bad, and this is not pleasing in God’s sight.

IV.  The Wisdom From Above

James 3:13  Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

James 3:14  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

A wise man is a man of faith.  He is one that is subject to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and has a teachable spirit about him or her.   A wise person will manifest true spiritual state by good behavior.  Their speech will be with meekness of wisdom.

James 3:15  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

James 3:16  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

James 3:17  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

James 3:18  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Two wisdoms stand out in vivid contrast.  One that is of the earth and one that is of heaven.  The earthly wisdom is of the world and is according to nature.  It produces envy, strife, lack of restfulness, and every other unholy work.   In contrast, the wisdom that comes from heaven is the fulness of wisdom found in Christ.  Only those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have this wisdom.  Christ’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, and gentle.

We need to keep in mind that a tongue controlled by divine grace and can be a mighty instrument  to be used for good.  A tongue that is used by Satan can do a world of harm.  How will you use your tongue in this upcoming year?  I pray we will all let God guide us by the leadership of the Holy Spirit and bring honor to God in so doing.  


Internet Bible Studies are prepared and distributed free of charge.  The lessons may not be sold without consent.   If you have questions or wish to discuss the lessons, or possibly need help in finding Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior, contact David Parham at 940-322-4343.  

Prov 4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


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