Introduction: James previously counseled us to be quick to listen and
slow to speak ( James 1:19), to keep a tight reign on our tongue
( James 1:26) and that our words are a consideration in the
judgment( James 2:12). This reflects a statement of Jesus in Matthew
12:37 that our words will acquit or condemn us. Clearly, our tongue
is a very important part of living a life in accord with God’s will.
Let’s plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more about it has
to teach us about our words!

  1. Teachers

    1. Read James 3:1. What is the most common reason you hear
      about why some no longer attend church? (Someone insulted
      them. Someone decided to “teach” them something about how
      they should live.)

      1. What warning does James give to teachers? (They will
        be judged more strictly.)

      2. What does teaching have to do with the tongue?
        (Teachers are concentrated tongue users!)

      3. What does James mean when he says “not many of you
        should presume to be teachers.” What do you think he
        means by “presume?” (Don’t take it on yourself to
        teach. Be sure you are called to teach. Teaching is a
        spiritual gift. Romans 12:6-7.)

    2. Look again at James 3:1 and James’ statement about being
      judged “more strictly.” If we are saved by grace, and not
      by obeying the law, what is James talking about? Does he
      mean unsaved teachers are judged more strictly?

      1. Is it possible that he is talking about being judged
        by humans rather than God? (That makes sense to me.
        My wife u sed to be unhappy when someone would
        harshly criticize one of my sermons. I was
        volunteering my time to preach, she knew I worked
        hard on the sermon, and she thought criticism was
        unfair. My thought was that if I was going to put my
        thoughts before others, they had a right to judge

    3. Read 1 Corinthians 3:10. What does Paul mean when he calls
      himself an “expert builder?” (He is referring to his

    4. Read 1 Corinthians 3:11-13. Who are these people who are
      building with gold, straw or something in between?
      (Teachers. The foundation of all Christian teaching is
      Jesus. However, teachers vary greatly in the quality of
      their teaching. The quality of the teaching will be tested
      by fire.)

    5. Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. Let’s consider this reference
      to “fire.” What does it mean for a teacher’s work to be
      consumed in “fire.” Is this the final judgment James is
      talking about? (It certainly is a judgment, but I tend to
      think it is a judgment on the teaching as applied in the
      lives of the students. When trouble comes, whether the
      teacher is building with gold or straw will make all the
      difference in the life of the student.)

      1. What happens to a “straw building” teacher? (He
        escapes! His students might not make it, but the
        teacher does.)

        1. How is that consistent with James’ statement
          about being “judged more strictly?” (It
          certainly shows that the quality of teaching
          has a great impact on students, thus the
          judgment is “more strict” in the sense that is
          has a greater impact. However, Paul gives us
          the sense that the lousy teacher might survive
          while his students do not.)

          1. What is the lesson in this for the
            student? (Test the teacher!)

    6. Read James 3:2. Is James telling us that teachers are
      perfect? (No. He says (including himself) “we all
      stumble.” When we are testing our teachers, we should keep
      this in mind. We should not expect them to be perfect.)

      1. What is his point about teaching, stumbling and
        judging? (Teachers will stumble “in many ways.” When
        we do, we can expect to be “judged more strictly.”
        We all know this is true.)

  2. Tongue

    1. Read James 3:3-4. James says something hard to understand:
      your tongue is like a “bit” or a “rudder.” In what way is
      your tongue like a rudder or bit? (A reasonable conclusion
      is that what we say affects how we think. Our tongue
      steers our body.)

      1. Read James 1:15. We discussed this in some detail
        before. James says that evil works arise from evil
        thinking. That would mean that evil works came from
        evil thinking, not evil speaking. Has James just
        contradicted himself? (James is certainly correct in
        saying that sin begins in the mind. But, it appears
        that our mind listens to our words, and it is
        affected by what we say. It is a two way street –
        what we think influences what we say, and what we say
        impacts what we think.)

      2. Have you ever heard someone say that if you want to
        have a good day, then be nice to others, say nice
        things to others? (I believe that our speech has an
        effect on our thinking, just like our thinking has an
        effect on our speech. It may be that when we
        verbalize something we make our thoughts on that
        subject stronger. Thus, our tongue plays an important
        part in how we think.)

    2. Read James 3:5. This seems to be different than James’ bit
      and rudder statement. What do think this means about the
      tongue? (Words can great huge problems. The “spark” of a
      word “burns” your life.)

      1. Have you experienced this?

    3. Read James 3:6. James repeats some of what he said so far:
      the tongue affects the whole body, and the tongue affects
      relationships. What other concept does James add? (I think
      he adds that the effect of the tongue on the person is not
      just temporary, rather it can set the course of a person’s
      life “on fire.”)

    4. Read James 3:7-8. What is the purpose of warning us about
      the tongue, if there is nothing that we can do about it?
      (Since James has warned us of the terrible danger of our
      tongues, I think his point here is to suggest that we
      constantly evaluate what we say.)

  3. Salty Tongue

    1. Read James 3:9-10. James just told us that our tongue
      cannot be tamed, and here is proof of it, right?

      1. How many of you (no need to raise your hand) can
        identify with these verses? (I don’t often “curse”
        men (I get annoyed with fellow car drivers), but I
        know that not everything I say is something I would
        want to repeat in my Bible class.)

    2. Read James 3:11-12. If you, like me, confessed that our
      tongues are not always producing fresh water, are we
      doomed? (In James 3:8 he says producing all fresh water
      (taming the tongue) is not possible for a human. Perhaps
      there is a legal loophole here. James says a “salt spring”
      cannot produce fresh water, he does not say a fresh water
      spring cannot produce salt from time to time.)

      1. What should we conclude? What can we do, especially
        if you don’t like my legal loophole? (Two things.
        First, what is impossible with humans is possible
        with God. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our
        words. Second, I think James is trying to encourage
        us to pay attention to our speech and realize it
        reflects our nature.)

    3. Read John 15:5. I attend a small weekly Bible study where
      I’m not in charge. We were discussing some of James’ more
      difficult statements, such as James 2:24, “a person is
      justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” One of
      the members of the study pointed to the illustration of
      the vine and branch in John 15:5-8 and said this visual
      helped her in understanding the relationship between faith
      and works. If we are “hooked up” by faith to Jesus, we
      naturally produce works. We can take no credit for the
      works, but the works demonstrate the “hook up.” What do
      you think of this illustration?

      1. Look again at James 3:12. Is this another “hook up”
        statement by James? (I think so. James admits we are
        not perfect and our tongues are difficult problems.
        He says our words reflect our connection. Either we
        have a saltwater source, or we have a fresh water
        source. Either we are hooked up as branches to the
        vine, or we are not. What we produce reflects the
        connection of our life.)

    4. Friend, what do your words say about you? If you don’t
      like the result of this self-examination, why not, right
      now, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life and repair
      your connection with Jesus?

  4. Next week: The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom.