The Inflamable Untamable Tongue

SCRIPTURE: James 3:1-6

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.


James begins chapter 3 with a caution to those who would be ambitious about being spiritual leaders and teachers. We teachers are judged more strictly because we are in a place of great influence. We can lead people into error as well as truth is we say the wrong things. Teaching the word of God is an awesome responsibility. My goal has been to follow the example of John the Baptist, John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man [Jesus] has come true.” My greatest fear and concern when I walk into the pulpit, that I might mislead some poor soul by stating something that is not true.

The false teachers subtly and with pre-mediation misrepresent the truth. James is not addressing false teachers. In verse 2 he says, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” First of all, note the ‘we,’ which means James is including himself. Secondly, not the word ‘mistake’ which is the Greek word ptaiō and it means to stumble or to cause to stumble. Sometimes we refer to a gaffe in our speech as a ‘slip us’ and this is the kind of thing James is addressing. The work ptaiō does not refer to an intentional error. No one stumbles intentionally. We may stumble because we are in too big of a hurry or because we are careless but a stumble is an unintentional error. This is why the NLT translates ptaiō as a mistake.

We all make many mistakes but those of us who do public speaking are prone to make more, at least our mistakes are more visible. I rejoice that my sermons are not on network TV. Can you imagine the trouble I would get into by that kind of exposure. It is James conviction that the tongue is the most difficult member of the body to control and if a man get’s his tongue under submission, he would be very close to perfection. I heard a very well known and eloquent preacher make a gaffe…he said “the tree lost control and hit a car.” The place was packed with preachers and we laughed at his gaffe. He was upset and irritated at the audience because the story he was telling was not funny and he had no idea that he had misspoken. He was both embarrassed and angry. All preachers make these kind of mistakes and most of the time, we don’t even realize we have made them. It is very easy to make an unconscious mistake when you are speaking.


I have had trouble outlining these verses but I do wish to make the following points: 


When we make a gaffe or when we misstate something that could be misleading: we should correct the mistake ASAP. Every teacher and preacher will make mistakes in this area and we need to humble ourselves and make amends as quickly as we can. I quoted a preacher once who said, “Germany is divided because of the holocaust and they will always be divided.” He was wrong and I was wrong for quoting him. It sounded good at the time but he didn’t know what he was talking and neither did I. James was much more of a perfectionist than I am and he confessed to stumbling in many ways. If he stumbled in his speech, I know it is going to happen to me. The caution is to be careful and the admonition is to be humble and correct your mistake if possible as soon as possible.


3We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

James is talking about influence: The horse weights from 500 to over 1000 pounds. We had a Belgium mare that weighted close to a 1,000. A bit might weight one pound. Compared to the horse it is tiny but it has tremendous influence on the direction of the horse. The same is true of the ship and rudder. The emphasis is on the contract: the rudder is small and the ship is huge, yet the rudder determines the direction.

Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 11, “Your children did not see the miracles and sign the LORD did in Egypt. They did not see what the LORD did to the armies of Egypt, how they were drowned in the Red Sea. Your children did not see how the LORD provided for you in the wilderness. They did not see the ground open us and swallow Dathan and Abiram and all their possessions but you have seen all these mighty miracles with your own eyes. Some commit yourselves wholeheartedly to God’s word and teach His word to your children. Talk about what He has done when you are in your home, when you are on the road, when you go to bed and when you get up. Write them down and hang them on the wall. Do this for your children’s sake.

Why did Moses admonish parents to teach their children: because the words of parents carry great influence. My son mentioned this last week in his sermon. He teaches his children not to waste food. Mother always said, “Son, don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach.” I knew that whatever I put on the plate, I had to eat. This is the way I raised my children. My daddy’s only sermon was on wasting food or complaining about what we had.  I use to sit at the dinning table and say to myself, “here we go again, the story of the little German kids scrounging through the garbage looking for something to eat.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but daddy’s words were penetrating my thick skull. I heard that speech so many times I can repeat it today.

Words are powerful when it comes to influence. By good sound biblical teaching, we can point our children in the right direction.


But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Again note the contrast: tiny spark and great forest fire. One match, one spark, one cigarette can ignite a fire that will burn millions of acres. Many forest fires are started by carelessness on the part of humans, yet the destruction is just as real as if they had done it intentionally. Long story short: the tongue is a blow torch and it can do a lot of damage in just a short time.

Even children pick up on the destructive power of the tongue. At an early age, they learn to say hurtful and hateful things. Children are horrible about making fun of other children. My grandson came home talking about Spook and I ask him who he was talking about…quickly he gave the correct name. I said, “Son, I don’t think his parents would appreciate you calling him Spook.” He said, “Granddaddy, he loves it.” The boy did want attention and he would take whatever he could get but I doubt seriously that the nick name was affirming.

My son let it slip one day that he didn’t like a certain coach whom I had known for years. I said, “Son, why don’t you like coach _________?” He said, “Because he is always telling me I am a loser and I will always be a loser.” I do not know why a man in his 40’s would tell a 15 year old that he is a loser but it is not acceptable. The man should have been fired but my son begged me to let it go. I said, “Son, you are not a loser and you will never be a loser. The coach is immature, he is talking life a 15 year old rather than a grown man. You don’t pay any attention to him. You are not a loser.”

The liberals are trying to make the denouncing of homosexuality as a sin a form of hate speech. Ridiculous, poppycock, pure hogwash. How many guys have died at the hands of Southern Baptist? If they want to get into hate speech, they need to read Mein Kampf which was filled with inflammatory words about Jews. For every single word, 125 people died. That is destructive speech.

The Jews as a whole are walking in darkness because they rejected Christ and they do many things to bring this hatred upon themselves. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a good example: she is anti-Christ, pro-abort, pro-gay marriage. She is as far left as she can get. There is a world of difference between the Jews who have migrated back to Israel and the rich Jews of America and other industrial nations. These Jews are wealthy, powerful and agnostic. They profit from abortion, porn, and all the filth that comes out of Hollywood. They make us the heart and soul of the much hated ACLU. They are highly intelligent but totally in the dark. Mein Kampf is supposed to be banded but it is a best seller today. My advice to the rich Jews across the globe: stop hating Jesus and help your brothers and sisters in Israel who struggle to survive while you support Obama who is Israel’s enemy. You sure can’t call him a friend or ally. I am not anti-Semitic. I would take Benjamin Netanyahu as our President today. It is the rich Jews who work by stealth just as they did in Paul’s day who are causing this animosity toward the Jewish community. To get their profile, read the book of ACTS. The cross is another example: Jesus was not crucified because of poor or common Jews; it was the rich Jews. Check it out!

The truth is, I have my own testimony about the destructive power of words. I struck the match that got the fire going or you might say technically, I stirred the embers of a fire that many thought had died out. I did not say anything malicious but I had a slip of tongue and said the wrong thing to the wrong person and he wasted no time relaying it to godfather of the family. It caused a lot of pain and suffering to a lot of innocent people. Had it just came back to me, I could have lived with it but it affected my mother more than anyone else. I hurt the very person I wanted to protect. Due to my careless tongue, she had family that never spoke to her again. Mother’s siblings were always important to her; at times, I felt too important. I figured she would never speak to me for what I had done but when I apologized to her and explained how the entire thing was my fault she said, “It’s not your fault son, don’t worry about it.” It was my fault. I spoke without thinking. It was a foolish and stupid mistake that lead to a lot of unnecessary hurt.

I can tell you from experience, the tongue is a small member of the body but it can do unbelievable damage. My daddy was not a bible scholar and he was not one to quote scripture but his favorite quote was Proverbs 18:7, The mouths of fools are their ruin, and their lips a snare to themselves.