The Book of James, Part 24:
The Influence Of Our Words - James 3:3-8


Last week we jumped into James 3 and his tongue lashing about lashing our tongues. He continues his instruction that we should live our faith, we should live our life like a Christian. But in Chapter 3 he is addressing what we should not do instead of what we should do, which was Chapter 2. Remember last week we looked at a bunch of verses in Proverbs where God warns us about the danger of what we say. Apparently God thinks this is a big deal, so maybe we should too.

We broke Taming The Tongue (James 3:1-12) into three parts:

  1. The Indictment Of Our Words (3:1-2)
  2. The Influence Of Our Words (3:3-8)
  3. The Inconsistency Of Our Words (3:9-12)
We dealt with

1. The Indictment Of Our Words (3:1-2). James warns that teachers of the Bible will be held to a higher standard.

We looked at the example that Ezra gave us where he

All of this before he taught it.

2. The Influence Of Our Words: (James 3:3-8)

 This morning let's pick up the study with the second aspect of controlling our tongue. This deals with the impact that our words have. (I am picking up with verse two for a reason.)

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. --James 3:2-7
The largest portion of this passage is given to helping us appreciate the tremendous impact that words have and how hard it is to control what we say.

Our words can exert great influence:

The control over what we say is equated to a bridle on a horse.

A Bridle is...

Who can explain what a bit and bridle are and how they work on a horse? James says that what we say is like a rudder:
Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. --James 3:4
Who can explain what a rudder is and how it works on a ship? The first two analogies that James uses for the tongue - the bridle and the rudder - emphasize that the impact or influence of the tongue is way out of proportion to its size. The bridle and the rudder emphasize the influence the tongue has on us as well as on others, way out of proportion to the actual words spoken.

Speaking of the influence of our words, we know how our words impact our kids. Someone observed, "Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said in the first place!"

Our words can cause great injury:

Though words can have a very positive influence, here James wants us to understand the terrible damage that words can do. He first equates them to a fire.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! --verse 5

This is an illustration that we here in New Mexico can easily understand. Each of the big fires we have had over the last few years was started by a spark or a cigarette butt or something very small.

I think the picture of a fire is especially apt in describing the harm our words can do. You can make a critical statement about someone, that statement rapidly spreads to many other people and is quickly out of your control. Also, not only do critical comments spread, they almost always grow as people add to or exaggerate what they have heard.

A sportswriter by the name of Morgan Blake wrote the following about the destructive potential of words: "I win without killing. I tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck lives ... No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless ... I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is Gossip."

Then James equates damage that words can do to poison.

... it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. --verse 8

 Words are like poison in the way that they can bring harm to others:

Dr. W. A. Criswell graphically describes the potential for evil that resides in the tongue when he writes: "There are many people who have never set fire to a man burned at the stake; they have never clapped their hands at the shrieks of those who in agony were being torn apart by a ferocious lion in some coliseum.... but there are people without number who assassinate friends, neighbors, and acquaintances by vicious and evil words."

We've all felt the sting of hurtful words and we've all been guilty of saying things that caused pain and heartache to others. So when James tells us about the "evil" that resides in the tongue, we know he is right.

3. The Inconsistency Of Our Words (James 3:9-12):

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. --James 3:9-12
This last section makes it clear that James is speaking to believers. He talks about the terrible inconsistency there is in our words. And his point is a good one. Each of us could probably think of other examples of this contradictory use of words:
...My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. --verse 10

This may well be the most powerful sentence in this passage. And this is James' goal in his teaching here - to convince us that there must be consistency between the faith we claim and the words we use. Remember, James' theme for his letter is that real faith changes us. That includes our words.


Let's conclude our study of this passage by looking back at a brief statement James makes:

But no one can tame the tongue.
There's no hope that we can just change ourselves. But God can change the tongue. In fact, that's His plan - to change us, to help us become more and more like Jesus.

Here are the "ABC's" of improving our speech:

A - Admit our sins of speech specifically. God wants to change the way we use words. He wants to free us from sinful habits. But this means we stop rationalizing, and begin to take responsibility for sins of speech we struggle with.

B - Be quick to ask for forgiveness from others. I need to be quick to go back and seek the forgiveness of those I wrong by my words.

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. --Matthew 5:23-24
In these verses, Jesus told us to do this regarding any sin. Also, the humbling process of asking for forgiveness as serves as a deterrent in the future.

C - Confess your sins to the Lord specifically. We need to confess our sin to God. We need to consider how we have grieved Him. We need to acknowledge our rebellion against His will.

D - Deal with heart attitudes that produce unclean speech.

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. --Matthew 12:34-35
(Ask God to cleanse your heart. The speech will follow.)
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
     and renew a steadfast spirit within me. ...
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
     and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     and sinners will turn back to you. --Psalm 51:10,12-13
E - Entreat (pray) daily for His Spirit in you to change you. God answers the prayers of His people. We need to persistently pray for his help on this issue.

F - Fill your heart & mind with His Word.

Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. --Psalm 119:11
This verse tells us that fill our hearts and minds with God's Word helps prevent us from sin. We need to learn what God says about speech, meditating on key verses that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention.

G - Get accountability from Christian friends.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. --Hebrews 3:13
Hebrews speaks of the help we get from other believers to break sinful habits.

In Psalm 141:3, David prayed,

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
David understood the power and responsibility of his words. Let's pray that God will help us really think through what we say before we say it. Let's pray that we'll not say things that "crush the spirit" of others. Pray, too, that if you've done this, that God will remind you of what you said so that you can apologize and try to make things right.


Next week:

...we will study James 3:13-18 where James says "Wise Up."
Read through James 3 to put it all in context.