Control the Tongue
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.
Intro. - James begins his discussion of the tongue by warning his readers not to rashly seek the responsibility of a teacher. The reason for this exhortation is to warn of the stricter judgment incurred by teachers.
A particular danger confronting teachers in their ministry is one of speech. Controlling what we say is the most difficult thing we have to do. This problem faces all believers, but is especially crucial for teachers.
James now expands his comments beyond teachers to include all believers. It is most important to pay special attention to his comments because this area causes the greatest difficulty in the church today. Ministries and lives are ruined because of the way we as believers use our tongues.
The phrase we all includes teachers as well as other believers.
stumble (cf. 2:lO This refers to a failure or sin in some area of life. This stumbling takes place in many areas. This point is clearly stressed in both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Prov. 20:9; Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 3:9,10,23; 1 John 1:8,10).
The present tense indicates that we all stumble repeatedly in a variety of ways.
The second point James makes in this verse is that sin in the area of speech is the most common - and most damaging - of sins.
If anyone does not sin in the area of his speech, he can be characterized as a "perfect man."
perfect (teleios) - This word pictures the person as a mature believer (cf. 1:4).
able to bridle - A person who controls his tongue is able to control his whole body also. This is because the tongue is the most difficult part to control. The word "bridle" was used in 1:26. James is now going to illustrate the significance of the tongue (vv. 3-5a) and the damage the tongue causes (vv. 5b,6).
There were ships of large size in biblical times. Paul traveled on a merchant ship that carried 276 people plus a cargo of wheat (cf. Acts 27:37,38). Josephus talks of sailing on a ship that carried 600 people.
The one who controls the rudder determines the direction of the whole ship. He can direct the ship wherever he wants it to go.
Both of these illustrations show the importance of control at the right place.
boasts of great things - The tongue is able to boast of great things. The impact of the tongue is completely out of proportion to its size.
Behold - James now turns our attention to the devastating impact of an uncontrolled tongue. The contrast between the small and the great is continued, but now the emphasis is on the destruction caused.
It only takes a small fire to "set aflame" a huge forest.
world of iniquity - The uncontrolled tongue is a vast system of all kinds of iniquity. Its potential for evil is frightening.
is set - Probably better translated as "sets itself." The same form is used in 4:4, "makes himself."
The tongue has the potential to defile (stain) the whole body. The entire person can be polluted by the uncontrolled tongue.
sets on fire the course of our life - The tongue can begin a blaze that reaches out into all areas of life. Its devastation is not limited to a single source, but touches many other people. Whole communities, even nations, have been affected by vicious rumors and propaganda.
Once set into motion, it spreads in so many ways and directions that it is impossible to restrain it.
is set on fire by hell - Hell (gehenna) here stands for those associated with hell, the devil and his demons. Now we see where the tongue gets its tremendous potential for wickedness.
An uncontrolled tongue becomes a tool of the devil. It becomes an instrument he uses for accomplishing his purposes (cf. John 8:44; 1 Tim. 4:1). As believers we have not given enough serious attention to the sins of the tongue. We tend to excuse them as less serious than other kinds of sins. Yet, if what James says is true, the sins of the tongue are the worst kinds of sins. They are the most damaging. More lives, more ministries, more churches have been destroyed by uncontrolled tongues than any other sin you can think of.
How controlled has your tongue been lately? What have you said about others that was detrimental? We subtly sow seeds of doubt and question the integrity of others, and the damage is far-reaching.
Only God can enable us to control the tongue. He does that for His children who submit themselves to the control of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22,23).
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.