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James 3:1-12 Sermon Notes

By January 8, 2023March 23rd, 2023Sermon Notes

Katie Griggs used what she called her “spiritual name” professionally…she called herself Guru Jagat.

She was a celebrity Yoga instructor who swore profusely and talked about sex and fashion and conspiracies in her classes.

She was called an “edgy disruptor, unafraid of speaking her mind.”

She died at age 41 this past August.

How many times have I heard this in the past couple of years as a sort of supreme compliment…He or she is “Unafraid to speak their mind.”

Is it really such a good thing to be unafraid to speak your mind?

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was a man who was slow to speak his mind…the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, however was not afraid to speak his.

In the movie, First Man, Aldrin says something inappropriate and follows it with “I’m only saying what everyone else is thinking.”

Armstrong responds casually, “Maybe you shouldn’t.”


Should we be afraid of speaking our minds?

It depends on the state of our mind…doesn’t it?

In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul contrasts people speaking their minds using “human wisdom” with those who speak words of true wisdom that comes from the mind of God.

He asks, “who can know the mind of the Lord?”

The answer, “We can, because God through his Spirit has made his mind known to us.”

Then, Paul writes…”We have the mind of Christ”

Now what this means is…we have Scripture (God’s word) and we have God’s Spirit to empower, guide and help us speak in line with the mind, the truth, of Christ.

We should, with great courage, speak HIS mind and at the same time…be very careful about speaking our own minds.

Not that we should be afraid of honesty about what we are struggling with, or what we are feeling, or thinking…this is important to do, especially with those closest to us.

But we should be very slow to spout off when we are merely speaking our minds.

James warns that “No one can tame the tongue.”

If he were writing today he would say “No one can tame the thumb.”

Words are words…written, digitized, or spoken.

A quick review of the book of James.

The Central Theme of the letter is: Live out a consistent and undivided commitment to Christ.

And to add to the challenge…we are to do this in the face of trials

We don’t have to learn to love trials…we must learn to love and trust God through trials.

This love for God must show up in actions towards others.

Salvation is not by works, but salvation that is authentic, works.

Faith without works is not a living faith.

In chapter 1 he gave a thumbnail sketch of faith in action.

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…is a practical way of saying what is in Phil. 2. “Put the interests of others ahead of yourself.”

I must listen to others to understand and love them and to help them.

I must be slow to speak and not jump to conclusions or judgment…to really put others first.

Certainly, I must be slow to take up offense…if I am going to love others well.

This is faith in action…faith at work…faith that works.

At the end of chapter two he wrote:

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Then, he goes to the next section…a very practical application of faith at work in our lives.

Faith in our words.

He uses a lot of different everyday examples in this passage to make his primary point.

A bit in a horse’s mouth.

A rudder on a ship.

A forest set on fire by a spark.

Training animals.

Springs of water

Fruit vines

That’s a lot of examples in 12 verses…why so many?

Because his point is practical not just philosophical or theological or theoretical.

What is his point?

Don’t speak your mind…speak the mind of Christ.

Let me read it, pay attention to the many illustrations he uses, look for some common themes in them.

James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

What themes did you pick up?

I’ll give you my main two.

1. The tongue is powerful out of proportion to its size
-We can be fooled into thinking words don’t really matter that much

2. The tongue is impossible to tame
-But does this mean we should not try?

-Or that we shouldn’t put it on a leash.

-Does this mean that God cannot tame it?

We aren’t going to understand his point in this passage if we don’t set it in the larger content of his entire letter.

Just before this, he wrote…”Faith without works is not real faith.”

Then in this section he addresses a super important “work of faith”…our words.

And the source of that work…our hearts.

Just after this he asks, “Who is wise…then show it by your life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom…if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts…don’t boast about “I’m just speaking my mind”

“Well…you shouldn’t.”

Your mind (your hearts) should not give vent to words…if they are not in line with the mind of Christ.

There is no wisdom in words that flow from a heart that is full of self….however…

17 the wisdom that comes from heaven is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit,

Then in chapter 4 he will go on to address the fights and quarrels going on in the local church.

He is building his case for the real cause of interpersonal issues in the church.

The root cause of battles “between you…is battles within you.”

Your words are causing trouble…because your hearts are still undecided

You are still double-minded…you are living undecided as to who really is the Lord of you lives.

Remember the very opening paragraph…he warned against being double-minded people.

If we try to live a “deciding” not a “decided” life…we will always lack wisdom in our lives.

Our double-minds (hearts)…will bring double-tongued results (more on this in a minute)

James is quite brilliant in how he lays this all out.

We tend move through life seeing the things growing above ground.

Wheat growing in the fields, trees..but underneath the ground is a whole other world…a world of root causes for what we see above ground.

Same with our interpersonal issues…we tend to look only above ground…there is whole other world underneath the ground…a world of root causes.

Let’s go back to James 3:1

He begins with a warning about becoming a teacher…not a school teacher, but someone who wants to teach the truth of God.

I don’t think this is James main point…I think it is a launching pad for his main point about the tongue.

James acknowledged that he himself is a teacher, He writes “We who teach will be judged more strictly.”

He is not trying to talk people, who have the gifting and calling out of becoming teachers…but he wants to impress on us how serious it is to presume to teach the truth of God to others.

Back to a couple of weeks ago…this is not about “my truth” vs “your truth”…this is the “The Truth” of God…we don’t get to tinker with it.

It’s serious business to presume to speak truth to people…it can impact their lives for time and eternity.

Now he jumps from his opening warning…beware teachers, because using the tongue to teach truth makes you more accountable.

To, “We all stumble in many ways.” indicating that he is back to speaking to everyone.

We all stumble in many ways…but anyone who is perfect in their words is perfect in every way.

Words are so hard to control that if someone did perfect the use of the tongue…they could easily perfect the use of the entire body.

Really James…aren’t you overstating things a bit?

“That sounds like preacher hyperbole to me.”

James knows what we are thinking, he can foresee our objections…so he piles on the examples of small things with big impacts.

A small bit can turn a big horse.

A small rudder can steer a big ship.

A small spark can start a big fire.

A small tongue can make a big boast (speak from self, not from God)

Then he goes from simile, “The tongue is like a bit, rudder, spark” to straight up metaphor.

“Yes the tongue IS a fire!”

I’m not exaggerating here!

It is a world of evil among the parts of the body.

“The tongue is small but since it is so difficult to control it is the conduit by which the evil in the world comes to expression in us.”

Jesus said that the mouth expresses the evil in the heart.

James goes on with…

“It corrupts the whole body sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. ”

If you think this is mere exaggeration you should consider what words have done in human history…what they are doing still.

Words from Satan set the first couple on the path to the first sin…think of all the misery from those words that were set on fire by hell.

Words have started wars…written and spoken words…wars that have led to millions dead, untold suffering.

Carl Marx and Joseph Engels, wroteThe Communist Manifesto, in 1848.

I believe that you could draw a straight line to more than a hundred million dead in the following century…in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and other places…from those words.

Words have broken families and hearts.

Words have darkened minds and stolen joy forever.

James is UNDER stating not overstating the power of words…it ought to be terrifying to us.

A mid-size car weighs about 3000 pounds.

That car going 60 MPH if it were to hit a wall would have a net force of about 1.6 million pounds.

This is terrifying…we are driving around in these steel weapons of destruction…using our phones, eating, daydreaming.

We are used to cars…so we lose sight of their explosive power.

And we are used to tongues and to talking…we fail to see the power there.

When we are in an auto accident…we become, for a time…acutely aware of what can happen.

*WE are cautious, alert…hyper vigilent…then we get used to driving again and forget.

When we blow a relationship or wound a heart with our tongues…we become aware of the power of the tongue…for a time…then we become used to them again.

We must wake up and stay awake to the importance and power of our words.

We live in a world of words like never before…words are coming at us from everywhere…and we are able to put words out there at all times.

We should be more afraid to speak our minds than we often are.

But we must not think that not speaking is the answer…the solution to the negative use of words is not the absence of words but rather the presence of the right kinds of words.

The world needs words…life words, not death words.

Let’s go back to James 1.

Having established the potentional destructive power of the tongue he circles back around to remind us of how difficult the tongue is to control.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,

There is reference here to our being made in the image of God…we are to take dominion and exercise stewardship over the animal word.

but because of the fall into sin, we cannot take full dominion over our own tongues.

8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James could be specifying “no man” to emphasize that God alone can enable this to happen.

Or he could just be saying…”It’s not going to happen…because we are not going to become perfect in this life.”

Either way, this is no mere “self-help” project…we are going to need to fully trust God and lean into his resources in this important issue.

“The tongue is a Restless evil” translates the same word James used in 1:8 to describe the double-minded person…they are “unstable” in all they do.

Our tongues are not stable…because they are connected to our “double-minds”

So, you never know what you are going to get…double minds=double tongues

Listen to what he writes…

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The tongue praises God then curses men who are made in God’s image.

This just shouldn’t be the case…I mean think about it, he writes…

You don’t get both fresh and salt water from the same well.

You don’t get olives on fig tree or figs on a grapevine.

James is making what comes out our mouths the measurement of our spiritual condition.

Bad things don’t produce good things.

A person who is not walking daily in the presence of God is not going to be able to consistently speak good and helpful words.

When we are double-minded on the inside…we will be double-tongued…inconsistent in our speech.

James, like Jesus is pushing us forward toward perfection…as a consistent direction not as an actual destination in this life.

But the push is important…consistently, though not perfectly…life giving words are the product of a heart that is being renewed day by day in relationship with Christ.

Faith works…faith without works is dead.

Words are a super important work of faith.

If out words are not life giving to others…then we must check the direction of our hearts.


If you are by nature, slow to speak…this should still challenge you.

We are to speak words of life to people…this involves risk.

Risk of saying wrong things, risk of being misunderstood, risks of all kinds.

James is not advocating for living self-protectively…risk adverse lives…where we just hold our tongues to protect ourselves.

We are to actively speak life words to others…the gospel is life words.

But we are going to have to deal with our unruly tongues…they hate the leash.

They hate being leashed to the mind of Christ

When I first began to walk with Christ in college…I was frequently unhappy with my words

At the end of a day…I could remember all the dumb things I said that day…normally, a lot of things.

I memorized all the verses I could find on words from the gospels and Proverbs.

I was prone to say stupid things and I wanted to stop.

I wanted my words to reflect what Christ was doing in my heart.

I tried for a time…to just say less…to speak fewer words.

Not a terrible strategy…but not really the point.

What needed to happen then…still needs to happen now…my heart needed to change.

People need to hear words…words of truth, honesty, challenge, rebuke, love, direction.

We cannot trade stupid words for no words…but rather for life giving words.

We cannot tame the tongue…but we can, be faithful to have the mind of Christ…then leash our tongues to it.

When we have the mind of Christ…in growing fashion…then as we speak our minds…it is more and more life giving.

If you have the mind of Christ…then by all means…”Give others a “piece of your mind.”

If you are not growing in having the mind of Christ…then I assure you, you should be afraid to freely speak your mind.

**I will say it one more time…this is different from speaking honestly about your struggles with close friends…you need to be able to do that in a mostly unfiltered way.

This is different…this is about moving through life and relationships using words that are off the leash of the mind of Christ…that is not good or helpful…for others or for us.

Proverbs 25:11 “A word aptly spoken, is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

The image is of something beautiful…precious.

The right words…oh, how beautiful…wow…how good.

Image what would happen if we consistently spoke words that brought beauty into the lives of others.

That’s what God wants from us and for us.

I think we want this for ourselves as well…we are often just confused as to how or whether it can happen.

It can…as a settled direction…not a destination of perfection.

So…since it is still New Yearish…let’s make a plan.

It is exactly the same plan from last week: First part of the plan…do something.

1. The best plan is the one you will actually do:

-Read, pray, worship, fellowship

-If your walk with God and others becomes box checking…keep doing what is good and work on your motivations…but don’t stop doing good things.

-These things will, over time, help you have the mind of Christ.

2. Live decided not deciding

-Show up, keep showing up

-Don’t quit planting because you are not seeing a harvest

-Don’t dig up the plant to see if roots are growing.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal. 6:9

*I want my words to change and they are not changing…I still keep messing up.

-In the short run…muzzle your mouth…bite your tongue

-In the long run…we are after transformed hearts…this comes as a result of walking in the resources of God…His Word, His Spirit, His People.

Jesus…Luke 6

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Changed words flow from changed hearts.

How do hearts change?

Next verse:

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

Then Jesus talks about building on a foundation of his truth.

Hearts change when we walk in obedience to God over time.

As our hearts change…our words change.

If our words are not changing…this is like a check engine light.

Don’t despair or lose hope…change is your birthright in Christ…do not settle for less.

You can experience heart change that is reflected more and more in life-giving words.

Do not despair that no one can tame the tongue…be encouraged that it can be made to submit to Christ.

Just because the tongue will never be able to live off the leash doesn’t mean it can’t become an instrument of good for others, glory for God…and something that brings us great joy.

The fact that the tongue can’t live off the leash ought to keep us close to Jesus day by day.

Have the mind of Christ…then by all means, go speak your mind.

**One last word:

Give people at least as much grace with their words as you want them to give you with theirs.

We must be people who both speak words of life…and give grace when others fail in their words towards us.

Remember…if anyone is never at fault in what they say, they are perfect people.

We are not going to be perfect, neither will others around us.

Give the same grace to others that you need from God and others.

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