Mitchelton Presbyterian Church logo

Your Tongue

Published: 2 years ago- 30 October 2022
Sorry, no results.
Please try another keyword


Big Idea: Words are weighty, tongues are troublesome, proceed with caution.

I’m not sure if this is a continuing medical practice but I seem to remember there was a time where you’d find yourself at the doctors with an oversized Paddle Pop stick in your mouth and the medical practitioner, torch in hand instructing you to say “Aaah!”

Has anyone had that done recently?

The doctor performing a health check by looking in your mouth.

Today’s passage James says if you want to take a spiritual health check look in your mouth. Open up and say … well … be very careful what you say. James is warning us about opening our mouths.

Why is James warning us about opening our mouths?

Let’s take a look … Be careful when you open your mouth because …


Read v1

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

As someone who has been preaching most Sundays for the last 20 odd years this is a very challenging verse.

Teachers beware. Judgment with greater strictness is coming your way.

When will this strict judgment take place? Will there be a special line for preachers and teachers on the day of judgment?

Bit like going through an international airport – anything to declare line (work on the pun). Brisbane Airport – chuck your bag up here love and we’ll take a squiz. Very friendly.

Judgment with greater strictness doesn’t have that easy going vibe. Open wide and say aah! Let’s see what has sprouted out your mouth over a lifetime of talking and teaching.

Or is the greater strictness in this life … people critiquing whether the preacher or teacher practices what they preach? Or if they teach what is true?

I think there is a bit of both. To those who have been given much, much will be expected.

Teachers includes more than just preachers. Elders, Growth Group leaders, Youth leaders, Kids Church teachers, Bible college lecturers, people discipling others, teaching RI, playgroup, mature members of a congregation setting an example to others.

I don’t think it is only the responsibility of the position that will attract greater strictness.

I think it’s the fact that words are weighty and that when you are a teacher/preacher you are using a lot more of them in a public setting.

Because words are weighty and they are the tools of your trade there are more opportunities to stumble.

I get that from v2.

Read v2

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.

I like how James includes himself as he notes that we are all prone stumble in many ways; particularly with words. If you can control your words, if you don’t stumble in what you say, you have amazing self-control, that’s what he means by bridling the whole body.

Podcast re American South. The use of “bless him” Concept of taking the weight out of words In Australia we say, “nah, just kiddin’!”

Stumbling though is not overcome by use of more words but through constraint.

My dad’s favourite Abraham Lincoln quote. “Better to be silent and thought a fool, Than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,

but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Understand that words are weighty and that true wisdom is to use them very carefully, if not sparingly.

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK How do I know what I think before I hear what I have to say?

Be quick to listen, slow to speak… How will you fair when you are called to account for how you have spoken?

Be careful when you open your mouth because words are weighty.

Be careful when you open your mouth because …


James uses three similes to describe the power of the tongue.

Read v3-5

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!

A horse’s body guided, directed by a small apparatus, a bit in its mouth. A ship directed in the way the captain chooses by a very small rudder. A whole forest set on fire by a matchstick.

James isn’t saying anything negative about the tongue in these verses, he is just showing how its power far exceeds its size.

The tongue is powerful.

We had a horse when we were kids; ‘Strawberry’ He hated getting the saddle on. Puff up. He hated getting the bit put it his mouth. Lift his head and stand on your foot. He hated everything and everyone really. Never wanted to cooperate if we wanted to go for a ride. Sometimes we rode him bareback. But we never rode him without the bit and bridle. That’s how you controlled him.

There is a lot of power in that small piece of metal.

One of the biggest ships in the world is the US aircraft carrier, USS Eisenhower. It weighs over 91,000 tons, is nearly 340 m in length (more than three football fields long), has a nuclear-powered 280,000-horsepower engine, it accommodates 6,100 men and women, and carries nearly 100 aircraft. It is vast. It is like a floating city. And yet all that weight, all those people, and all that equipment and hardware are steered by a rudder that’s just a tenth of one percent of the ship’s size. Something so comparatively small is able to manoeuvre something so huge.1

The desire of the captain in directing the ship is achieved through that small rudder.

One of my mates went to work out in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. One day he was grading a road when the blade of the grader hit a flinty rock and caused a tiny little spark. That spark caught the grass alight and the resulting fire burnt out almost 200 000 hectares. Took days and days before it was under control. Massive destruction from a tiny little spark!

James wants us to understand that the tongue wields more power than its size would suggest.

If words are weighty and the tongues is powerful. Be careful. Handle with care.

Be careful when you open your mouth because …


The tongue might be able to boast great things (v5) but mostly it wreaks havoc.

Read v8

but no human being can tame the tongue. [we’ve just seen how powerful it is. Now James says with this power comes great danger] It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Your tongue is poison and out of control.

We can tame and train all sorts of beasts and creatures (v7). Some people in our church have snakes as pets!!! Imagine wanting to tame a snake. Not that I should talk. We’ve now got a cat – I don’t know if I’ve trained it or if we’ve just agreed that when I do certain things that cat will respond in certain ways, if it feels like it.

We can tame all sorts of things and train all sorts of things. But we cannot tame the tongue. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be naive.

We are like an L Plater on a Superbike. Beyond our ability and out of control.

If you a sitting there thinking, Hamish, you’ve got it wrong, I can control my tongue. I’ve got this covered. James says you are kidding yourself.

Read v6

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.

See the danger. Words carry weight. Your tongue is powerful. And it has been corrupted by the very poison of hell.

I used to get in trouble for poking my tongue out when I was a kid. Especially by Grandma – oh you horrid child. It was her love language. That was probably the safest thing you can do. At least it’s hard to talk while you’re doing that.

If James is right, and he is communicating God’s truth to us; this thing (the tongue) is a weapon of mass destruction. The most dangerous of all WMDs. We can smuggle this thing anywhere – never seen a sign saying leave your tongue at the door.

We need to realign our thinking. A bit of gossip, a harsh word, answering back to parents, an exaggeration or boast, inuendo, lies, half lies, a critical remark, a judgment, even just saying it like it is … do not be fooled.

These are sparks and destruction from hell flying everywhere.

And sometimes the keyboard takes its place. Hurtful, unthinking, inflammatory comments and posts on social media spread so much evil. Safest rule is that social media is for posting pictures of food, pets and invitations to events.

The point is we cannot give our tongues (or the extensions of our tongues) free reign or the benefit of the doubt.

Understand the great potential for evil which resides in the tongue. Your tongue is set alight by the very fires of hell.

Understand how ill equipped we are to control it; especially when we are tired and emotional, or under stress, dealing with depression, or angry, or the kids are just so persistently annoying, or parents just do not understand – be careful what you say.

Dads be careful how you speak to your sons, and the quips you make at them. Words are weighty, the tongue is powerful and poison.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names/words will never hurt me – one of the greatest furphies of all time.

Words can be weapons. And once launched you can’t bring them back. There is no self-destruct code on an unleashed word.

MPC – be very careful before you speak; be very careful how you speak. I am guilty too, I am sorry to say that even recently I have been guilty of this. This passage has been confronting and called me to repentance. And maybe it is calling on you too.

And be careful how you listen and respond. Know that Satan will use any means to bring division and ineffectiveness. He has infected all our tongues. Give one another the benefit of the doubt. Be quick to forgive.

Be careful when you open your mouth because … Your tongue is poison. Be careful when you open your mouth because …


It means divided. We could say we have forked tongues. Revealing the double mindedness that James warns against throughout this letter.

Read v9-10

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.

Do you see the double-mindedness; the idea of being forked tongued. Blessing out one side, curses out the other.

We say we love God, we bless God, acknowledge that he is worthy to be praised. But then, with the same partible tongue we curse fellow believers – who have been made in the likeness or image of God.

It reveals something very broken in us. We sing heartfelt praise to God during the service. Then utter a critical, unloving but heartfelt comment over morning tea/supper. We are double-minded, forked tongued.

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and we see this because we don’t love our neighbour as ourselves.

We had a car that developed a catastrophic defect. Diesel from the fuel system was seeping into the oil sump. Went unnoticed for a while. Diesel and oil can get along for a little bit. But then the diesel was causing crystals to form in the oil and the crystals clogged up the oil filter and the oil couldn’t lubricate the engine and the warning lights came on. Not just the orange ones either, these were the angry red ones!

Those two things don’t play well together. Praising God and cursing neighbour don’t belong together either. How can they come from the same source. They expose a problem, and James is revealing the red warning light. STOP.

Understand what is going on. A contaminant needs dealing with. Praise of God and cursing of others cannot coexist in the life, in the mouth of the believer.

Read v11-12

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.

This is a heart problem. Jesus said the mouth is the overflow of the heart.

If your heart is a salt pond then salt water will flow from it.

In the farmhouse I grew up in we had three different water sources. Muddy dam water for the garden.

And a tank by the side of the house where we filled up our drinking water.

Out of the taps in the house came a high mineral content water. Made your hair stand on end when you washed it. Far too salty to drink. It would make you physically sick if you drank it.

No matter how many times you turned that tap on and off only ever produced salty water. Because the bore where that water was pumped from was salty.

Unless there is a change in our heart then our tongues will spew out curses and other destructive words.

Unless our brokenness is dealt with, our dead hearts given life, then the death won’t stop flowing.

But if the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus is at work in you, having given you a new heart and a will to live his way then the overflow of those new hearts will bring life, we will speak life.

When we don’t we realise that we have stumbled. And we repent and thank God for forgiveness in Christ, and we trust that His sacrifice has dealt with our sin. And we ask that by the power of his Holy Spirit and the teaching of His Word we might stumble less in our words and show self-control in our lives, promoting the fruit of the Spirit in us.

In James 2:26 we read

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Part of the works displaying true and saving faith is the way we use our words and control our tongues.

Let’s help one another to prevail. Let’s forgive one another when we fail. Let’s be a church marked by good works of a saving faith.

1 Sam Allberry, James for You, ed. Carl Laferton, God’s Word for You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 91.