Summary: How would you like to be able to control every part of yourself, every aspect of your personality, in a way that is pleasing to God? It can be done. How, you say? By getting the victory over your most unruly member — your tongue! Conquer that and the rest falls nicely into place.
James 3:2, Contemporary English Version All of us do many wrong things. But if you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.
Vs. 2, Phillips …if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality!
Vs. 2, New Living Translation For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
• I’ve been a Bible-believing, Scripture-reading Christian for 45 years. But just the other day the awesome truth of these words came forcefully alive in my mind and my spirit.
• Consider what God is saying here: that if you can control what you speak, you can get the victory over all the other parts of your fleshly, carnal nature.
• The man or woman who understands the power of the tongue and keeps it under control will be able to control the whole body (CEV) … able to control every other part of his personality (Phillips) … able to control ourselves in every other way (NLT).
James 3:6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
• Our words have incredible power for good, but also for evil ("the tongue is a fire"). Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that, without the restraining power of God working in us, our tongue will inevitably prove its reputation as “a world of evil.”
• The tongue is a corrupter. Given free rein, it will eventually pollute your life down to the very deepest levels of your soul. James wrote that it can corrupt the entire body.
• And where does the tongue get this power? It is “set on fire by hell.” The devil apparently expends much effort in persuading us to use our words loosely, immorally, viciously, and in ways that will hurt both ourselves and those around us.
• The damage that the tongue is capable of is almost immeasurable. Can you think of something you’ve said sometime in your life that was deeply hurtful to someone? Don’t you wish you had never spoken those words? The old expression "Hold your tongue!", if obeyed, would keep many thoughtless speakers from hurting others.
• Wholesome, uplifting speech, “a word spoken in due season” (Prov. 15:23, KJV), can bring blessing and life. But the opposite results come from dishonest, immoral, critical, unwholesome words — “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21).
You might be saying, OK, Jim, I get the point. But how can I get control of my words, and by doing that get control of the rest of myself? The answer, I believe, lies in a cooperative combination of God’s work and grace in us along with our own diligence to apply Scriptural principles in our unending battle to harness the power of the tongue for good, not for evil. Here are some helpful truths:
1. Seek the Lord for the spiritual fruit of self-control.
• Galatians 5:22-23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
• Self-control! Apply it to your words, and you’ll find it will have a “trickle-down” effect into all other areas of your life. Remember, James wrote that if we can control our tongue, we can control our whole body! This ability to curb our carnal impulses is a blessing and a spiritual fruit that is imparted to us by the Spirit of God. Seek it, cultivate it in your conduct, let it permeate all that you say and do.
• Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
• Here is where we cooperate with the Lord. His Holy Spirit grows within us the fruit of self-control. Our part is to apply that and to “crucify the flesh” with its carnal cravings and desires. Will those cravings come, including temptations to speak harmful words? Yes, they will. But the Holy Spirit in us will give us the strength to crucify, to put to death, those temptations and inclinations. So as unwholesome words begin to arise in your heart, say a firm “NO!” to them.
2. Determine that your mouth’s words will be a fountain of grace.
• Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace…
• From their early childhood, our four children heard us recite this verse to them. They got to the place where they too would repeat it. And it seemed to get a good grip on their speech. I’m happy to say that all four spoke consistently with grace and do so to the present day.
• As you ponder speaking, ask yourself: Is this kind? Are these words merciful? forgiving? likely to help the other person?
• Jesus came to earth “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And His words consistently reflected that grace to His hearers. He is the perfect Pattern for us. Always ask yourself: is what I am saying or about to say “full of grace”?
3. Decide that your words will always be edifying, not corrupting.
• Ephesians 4:29, KJV Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
• Two important questions: (1) Is what I am about to speak likely to corrupt me and my hearers? Or (2) is it likely to edify, to build up?
• Before speaking, ask: am I about to speak innuendoes? off-color stuff? coarse language? would I say this in the presence of my pastor? would I say this to Jesus? Don’t be a corruptor! Speak what will build others up, not tear them down.
4. Aim to be more a good listener and less a gabby talker.
• James 1:19b, Amplified Let every man be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak.
• Don’t be that person who has to have the last word. Don’t feel that you have to fill every quiet moment with your words. Listen a lot; speak much less, and do that with reserve and deliberation. “Let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). You’ll be amazed at how much more people will enjoy your company.
5. Rethink what it means to be properly, biblically “religious.”
• James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
• In some Christian circles, sad to say, it has become fashionable to say they don’t want to “be religious.” Yet God speaks of “pure and faultless religion” as a good thing (James 1:27).
• We should all want to be living out that pure and faultless religion. But James warns us that a fast track to making our religion worthless is not keeping a tight rein on our tongues.
6. Speak God's word often, and it will retrain you to speak in ways pleasing to Him.
• Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
• The devil tried to entice Jesus with three temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10). In each instance Jesus responded by quoting from the Scriptures. That's a perfect, sinless example for us. If we feel stressed, tempted, confused, angered, etc., the carnal nature in us may feel to reply wrongly. The safe and victorious response, though, is to base our spoken reactions upon the word of God. Let His word — not our anger or pride or self-justification — shape the words upon our lips.
Much more could be said, and more Scriptures could be quoted. But I think we get the point. The Christian is called to a very high standard of speaking. Let our speech be characterized by self-control, graciousness, other-centeredness, kindness, honesty, purity, and other virtues. Let it never become harsh, critical, immoral, coarse, prideful, and the like.
Our words have the power of death and life, both to ourselves and to others. Thinking back to our opening verse, we’ve seen a remarkable principle that God has built into us humans — that is, that if we can get the victory over our unruly tongues, we will find that spilling over into victory over other areas of our carnal natures. Let’s close today with a reminder of that awesome promise: “If you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body” (James 3:2, CEV).