James 3:1-12

No One Can Control The Tongue
No One Can Control The Tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.


  • Only a few should become teachers.
  • God will judge a teacher more strictly.
  • Everyone, including teachers, stumbles in a lot of ways
  • Anyone who does not stumble is perfect
  • Anyone who does not stumble is able to control the whole body.
  • We put a bit in a horse’s mouth to make it obey.
  • A small bit in the mouth of a horse controls the entire animal.
  • A small rudder on a ship will make a large ship goes where the pilot directs it.
  • The tongue is small yet boasts of great things.
  • A large forest is set ablaze by a small fire.
  • The tongue is like a fire.
  • The tongue is a world of unrighteousness
  • The tongue stains the entire body.
  • The tongue sets the course of a life on fire.
  • The tongue is set on fire by the fires of hell.
  • Every kind of animal can be and has been tamed by mankind
  • No one can tame the tongue.
  • The tongue is restless and evil.
  • The tongue is filled with deadly poison.
  • The tongue both bless our Lord and curses people who are made in the likeness of God.
  • The same mouth blesses and curses.
  • The tongue should be used to bless and curse.
  • A spring does not produce both fresh and salt water.
  • A fig tree does not produce olives
  • A grapevine does not produce figs.
  • A salt pond does not contain fresh water.


James says there should not be many teachers. Teachers in this context are not just pastors. Teachers include the leadership.

What James says is contrary what we believe today. We believe everyone ought to be a leader. Everyone is their own authority. Everyone wants a place of prominence. James says to be careful what you wish for. First, God judges leaders with less leniency. Second, no one is perfect including leaders. God will judge their imperfection more harshly. So few should be leaders and teachers.

You take on the role of moral leadership when you take on the right to pass judgment on others. By passing judgment on others you assume you are a master of morals. Oops! It is an innate trait of men to try and boost their reputation by degrading and blaming others

James cautions against many wanting to become leaders and teachers. But he does not discourage those called to that position.

James points out no one is perfect. We are all sinners. You sin in many ways. But James shows that the sin of speaking evil is more insidious than any other sin. The sin of speaking evil is more than foul language. It includes speaking against others to harm them and/or build up your own image. And also it includes teaching false doctrine. That is speaking against God.

James touches on the hypocrisy of censors. Those who rebuke others pretend to be zealous for holiness. But they should start with their own tongue.

James says if you can control your tongue you can control your whole body. To illustrate this, James uses two examples. He shows how small things can and do control much larger things. His examples are the bit in the mouth of a horse and a rudder on a large ship. Small things matter. Small things can have a great effect.

James then goes on to explain the evil that can occur from an unrestrained tongue. But if you moderate and control your tongue it can become a comfort and aid to life. But the unrestrained and violent tongue becomes a fire which destroys everything. Like a fire, the tongue can warm you can protect you. And like a fire, it can cause great destruction. It can kill everything in its path. The tongue infects every part of the body and life. What you say and how you say it affects your life and every one of the lives you touch. James puts to rest the idea, “I am the only one affected.” You live in a community. Your life, your sins, affect everyone in your community.

By “the tongue is set on fire by hell,” James says our sinful language comes from the pit of hell itself. It yet again shows the depth of our depravity. The tongue catches the fire sent by Satan.

We know how to tame so many things, wild beasts, sea creatures, and birds. We have the knowledge, the power, and the ability. But no one can control his own words. If we could control our words and our language we could control the rest of ourselves.

With the same tongue, we bless God and curse Him by cursing his image, man. This is impossible. The tongue only makes a pretense of praising God. The same spring cannot contain both salt and fresh water. Each type of vine or tree produces after its kind. You produce what you are.

Repent of your sin of evil talk.

Side Note:

Let me take a little aside here from the message James is providing with a quick lesson in hermeneutics. People have used this passage as an example of errors in the Bible. It says it is possible to tame every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature. Well, there are examples of animals we cannot tame. For example, I am unaware that anyone has tamed a rattlesnake. The mustard seed being the smallest of all seeds is another example. If we say the bible is inerrant what are we do with what appear as clear errors?

We are to take the bible literally. Literally means taken in the manner in which the author intended. James intent is not to be exact when he is talking about taming all beasts. His point is we can tame all kinds of beasts. We can tame so many things but we cannot tame our tongues.

It is a figure of speak. It is not an error. We use figures of speech to emphasize a point. We do not understand them in a strict wooden sense.

The Bible is literature. To understand it, we must read it as literature. Take the Bible literally. Take the Bible as the author intended.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *