Pastor James J. Barker

Text: JAMES 3:1-12


  1. After I was saved, the man who led me to Christ became a Pentecostal. He put much emphasis on "speaking in tongues." I thought this through and became convinced that I’d be better off controlling the one tongue I had rather than speaking in some new ones.
  2. There’s an old saying: "Loose lips sink ships." I recently heard a new one: "Watch your tongue. It’s in a wet place where it’s easy to slip!"
  3. There is a lot in the book of Proverbs about the danger of a loose tongue. The closest thing to Proverbs in the NT is the epistle of James.
  4. James has dealt with this subject before (1:19, 26; 2:12) and he does again in the later chapters (4:11; 5:12) but it is in chapter 3 that he deals thoroughly with this matter of controlling the tongue.
  5. D.L. Moody said: "Government of the tongue is made the test of true religion by James. Just as a doctor looks at the tongue to diagnose the condition of bodily health, so a person’s words are an index of what is within."



    1. I did not say "wash their tongues" but watch their tongues, although in some cases this would not be a bad idea.
    2. James uses the word "masters" (3:1; cf. margin), and he is not restricting this to pastors but all teachers of the Word.
    3. It is a great responsibility to teach the Bible, and James is saying: Do not be ambitious to be a teacher; do not take this important ministry lightly. Those who teach the Word of God will receive greater judgment if they fail to practice what they teach.
    4. I knew a man who was studying for the ministry. We used to preach together in nursing homes and do other things together. But his family was a mess and he was never able to straighten it out. Later on I found out that he was not tithing! No wonder he had problems. How can someone stand in the pulpit and teach the Bible when he is not obeying the Bible?!
    5. it is a great responsibility to teach the Bible. The teacher must be prepared to obey whatever he sees in the Word of God. If he deliberately tries to avoid doing what God’s Word says then God will severely judge him. If he tries to explain away certain Biblical commands("that’s in the O.T." or "You don’t have to take the Bible so literally"), he is hindering the spiritual growth of his students. That’s what James is saying here in 3:1.
    6. There is a principle: the teacher can never hope to lead others beyond what he himself has experienced. That is why so many pastors have problems – they themselves are not in the Word of God and so people drift away to other churches where they can grow.
    7. I am totally against all of this church-hopping that is going on today but sometimes there are Biblical reasons for leaving a church. And one of them is this: the pastor is not in the Word or he is not obeying the Word, i.e., he is not tithing or praying or soulwinning; or his family is a mess, his kids are rebels, etc.



    1. James goes on to say that at one time or another we are all guilty of offending people with our tongue (3:2).
    2. The person who is "perfect" (mature) is well-disciplined and has learned to control his tongue.
    3. A lady walked up to Harry Ironside one time and said: "Brother, that is a horrible necktie you are wearing!" He excused himself and returned with a pair of scissors. He then handed her the scissors and said: "If it offends you so much, you can cut it off." She seemed surprised and then he said: "And when you are finished, hand me back my scissors and let me cut off your tongue!"
    4. There was one lady who was always talking and gossiping and cutting people down and one night she came forward at the invitation and said: "Preacher, I am going to lay my tongue on the altar!" He said: "Sister, the altar’s not big enough for your tongue!"
    5. One preacher said that it was a miracle in Balaam’s day for an ass to speak, but today it is a miracle when he keeps quiet.
    6. True saying: Thou art master of the unspoken word, but the spoken word is master of you." Once a word escapes from your lips, it is impossible to take it back.
    7. James uses several colorful figures of speech to drive home his point:
      1. He compares the tongue to the bridle bit one puts in the horse’s mouth (3:3). Connected to the bit are the reins. Even though the bit is very small, if the rider controls the bit he controls the horse. Likewise, if he loses control of the bit, he loses control of the horse. In other words, your tongue will direct your life – either for good or for evil.
      2. David said: "I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me" (Ps.39:1). That is the wise way too maintain one’s testimony. Not like the fellow who said: "I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!" and someone said, "Are you sure you can afford it?"
      3. The second picture is that of the "very small helm" of a ship, which though they be small, control and direct great big ships (3:4).
      4. Next, James says "the tongue is a fire" (3:5,6). Many huge fires have been started by just one little match, and many lives have been destroyed by just one little tongue. One of the worst fires in American history was the great Chicago fire of 1871. Tradition has it that it started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over her lantern. Whether that is how it started or not, the fact is that the fire raged for three days and it destroyed over 3 ½ square miles of the city, killing 250 people.
      5. This dangerous, uncontrolled tongue is "a world of iniquity…it defileth the whole body…it is set on fire of hell" (3:6). A wicked tongue has its source in hell (cf. Pro.16:27; 26:20,21).
      6. The next simile or figure of speech that James uses is that of a wild, untamed beast (3:7,8). Ancient writers wrote of how men in their day had tamed wild lions and tigers and other ferocious animals, but James says, "But the tongue can no man tame" (3:8). You can go to the Bronx Zoo and see all kinds of dangerous animals, tamed and in cages but listen to the filthy disgusting mouths on the people as they walk by. They ought to be put in cages!
      7. But even though man cannot control his tongue, God can! Many a man could stand up and testify how God cleaned up his tongue and gave him a new vocabulary.
      8. Finally, James calls the tongue "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (3:8b; cf. Rom.3:13,14). Tongues can poison minds; tongues can assassinate characters. About 20 years ago, there were untrue charges of labor racketeering brought against the Labor Secretary in President Reagan’s cabinet, a man named Ray Donovan. He had to spend over $1 million fighting these false charges and after being found "not guilty," he asked the judge, "Now who is going to give me my reputation back?"



    1. It is both inconsistent and unnatural to use the tongue for both good and evil purposes. Man was created in the image of God and therefore it is wrong to curse a man (3:9,10).
    2. General Robert E. Lee had an adversary who was always putting him down. One day, he was asked by Jefferson Davis his opinion of this same officer and Lee commended him. Overhearing the conversation, another soldier said to General Lee, "Sir, do you know that the man of whom you speak so highly to the President is one of your bitterest enemies, and never misses an opportunity to criticize you?" "Yes," replied General Lee, but President Davis asked my opinion of him; he did not ask for his opinion of me."
    3. James is saying that the same tongue that blesses God ought to help men, not hurt them. A fountain does not send forth both sweet and bitter water at the same time (3:11), and neither should we!
    4. James gives these simple lessons from nature to remind us that our speech should be consistently good (3:12).
    5. A careless word may kindle strife;
    6. A cruel word may wreck a life.

      A bitter word may hate instill;

      A brutal word may smite and kill.

      A gracious word may smooth the way;

      A joyous word may light the day.

      A timely word may lessen stress;

      A loving word may heal and bless. – author unknown.

    7. It has been truly said that churches have been more damaged by the termites on the inside rather than by the woodpeckers on the outside. We need to watch out for gossip, slander, unclean speech, "minced oaths" (gee, gosh, heck, oh-my-God, etc.), exaggeration, and every word we speak, realizing that God is keeping a record.


"The boneless tongue, so small and weak,

Can crush and kill," declared the Greek.

"The tongue destroys a greater hoard,"

The Turk asserts, "than does the sword."

"The tongue can speak a word whose speed,"

The Chinese say, "outstrips the steed";

While Arab sages this impart,

"The tongue’s great storehouse is the heart."

From Hebrew wit this maxim sprung,

"Though feet should slip, ne’er let the tongue."

The sacred writer crowns the whole,

"Who keeps his tongue doth keep his soul!"

– from Spurgeon’s Salt Cellars, cited by J. Vernon McGee.

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