The Tongue - The Test of Life

Bible Book: James  3 : 7-12
Subject: Tongue; Speech

James 3:7-12

James deals with the “untamed tongue.” This passage is a powerful reminder of how the tongue drives us to GRACE. What a display of our LOSTNESS.

There are few sections of Scripture which are so graphically relentless in making a point. This is the most penetrating (and convicting) exposition of the tongue anywhere in literature, sacred or secular. One must also conclude that it was not just James’ local concern for his churches which occasioned the writing, but also the Holy Spirit’s desire that the churches at large learn to control the tongue.

One wrong whispered word may spoil a reputation, smear a character, and even destroy the usefulness of a life.

Psalms 141:3, “ Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;

Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Sometimes we just simply stick our foot in our mouth. We need to be careful about what we say, when we say it, and how we say what we say.

I lost a very little word,

Only the other day;

It was a very naughty word

I had not meant to say.

But, then, it was not really lost

When from my lips it flew,

My little brother picked it up,

And now he says it, too!

Once an attorney was pleading the case of his farmer client who had lost a shipment of twenty-four pigs. He was prosecuting the trucking company that had lost the animals. The lawyer wanted to impress the jury with the magnitude of the lost so he said very innocently, “Twenty-four pigs, gentleman! Twenty-four! Twice the number in the jury box!” Too late! The damage was done. It was all over but the verdict.

The Tongue:



James reminds us that the worst and deadliest of wild beasts have been tamed by man. Sea world comes to mind; whales and porpoises; or African lions, elephants; tigers from India or cobras. Birds, such as eagles and parrots. “Has been tamed” – subdued permanently; under control.


“But” – introduces contrast; “no man” – emphatic; leaves no exception. This inability is purely moral, due simply to a weakness of the will.

FACT: No man by himself can tame the tongue, but God’s grace can. By nature the gift of speech is more difficult to control than are the fiercest of beasts.


There have been times when I confidently felt that I had my tongue well controlled, but then it cut loose with words which only proved conclusively the truth in the verse before us.


In the matter of insubordination, man is worse than the beasts.

There will always be the battle of the self-life and the new nature (the Holy Spirit) that lives in the believer.

Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”


By the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and by careful attention to the study and obedience to God’s word, provision has been made that we need not practice sin. When, however, some sin, some weakness, some former habit overtakes us, we must come at once to God in prayer and confession of our wrong. He will forgive and cleanse us and give us grace to go on in practical holiness.

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”



Same word in 1:8 unstable; restless, fickle, cannot stay in place. Suggests the idea of a wild animal fighting fiercely against the restraints of captivity. It is difficult to hold it still.

Unruly – hard to control, like a child; disobedient

“Evil” – means bad in character; evil chafes at confinement, always seeking a way to escape. Base and degraded in nature.


Romans 3:13, "Their throat is an open tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit";

"The poison of asps is under their lips"

In James 5:3, “Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.”; here it is translated rust or corroded. It is a compound word meaning death, too bring.

Psalms 58:4, “Their poison is like the poison of a serpent;

They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear”

Venom yet more deadly than a snake’s because it can destroy morally, socially, economically, and spiritually. It is said that the deadliest poisons, those which are most effective, are tasteless and odorless (subtle criticism, slander, verbal venom which has done its work before the victim can react). The deceptive thing about poison is that it works secretly and slowly, and then kills.

Poison, when translated rust, gives the picture of something active like rust acting on metal. Rust corrodes metal, eats away at the integrity of the metal, damages the metal, and destroys the usefulness of the metal.

Guy King writes, “The deadly drug does not need to be taken in larges doses, a dose or two will suffice; and the tongue does not need to distil long speeches, it has but to drop a word and the mischief is set afoot. There has a peace been ruined, a reputation been blackened, a friendship been embittered, a mind been poisoned, and a life been blasted.”




“Bless our God and Father” – the highest function of human speech. The Jews in worship had a habit of saying, “Blessed be He” after the use of God’s name, so that their worship times were continually punctuated by choruses of praise.


1 Chronicles 29:10,”Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said:

‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever.’”

1 Chronicles 29:20, “Then David said to all the assembly, ‘Now bless the LORD your God.’ So all the assembly blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the LORD and the king.”


“with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God” – with the blessing still on their lips, would sometimes, after leaving worship, actually curse someone who had angered them. James is passionately denouncing this inconsistency.

Two greatest commandments involved:

1. Loving God with all one’s heart

2. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself

To affirm devotion to God and then hate a fellow-man made in God’s image scandalizes one’s profession of loving God.

1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

1 John 4:21, “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

v.10 We spend time in the same day Praising and Cursing. We are sweet in church (the holy place) and sarcastic at home (with the family).


Matthew 16:16, “Simon Peter answered and said,"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Matthew 26:74-75, “Then he began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man!’

Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly.”

Uncontrolled Words will produce Unacceptable Worship

The tongue is so willing to deceive in order to achieve its own advantage.

“My brethren, these things ought not to be so” – Strong negative, used only here in the N.T. The idea is that there should be no place in a Christian’s life for this type speech. It is an unacceptable and intolerable compromise of righteous, holy living.

“ought not’ – not necessary; it is abnormal and unfitting for the same tongue to bless God and curse man. It doesn’t have to be.


James now gives three illustrations. Each is presented with a rhetorical question. Therefore, the obvious answer is no. James asks a question of absurdity.

Each must produce after its kind. You may draw the only possible conclusion. Since like begets like, evil speech can only emanate from an evil heart.

Luke 6:43-45, "For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Matthew 7:16-20, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

There is a constant tension in the book of James between what is and what ought to be. Because we have been made righteous by Jesus Christ, we ought to live righteously and speak righteously according to His will and by His power.


Augustine said, “He does not say that no one can tame the tongue, but no one of man; so that when it is tamed we confess that this is brought about by the pity, the help, the grace of God.”