Change Your Future with Your Words
It seems like we spend the first few years of a child’s life teaching them to talk and next few decades
trying to teach when to talk. Maybe we ought to start our teaching with WHY to talk. Learning to
control what we say is an ongoing challenge for most of us.
I remember being in the courtroom when one of our Anger Management students was called up
before the judge. This student had decided that no matter what questions were asked of him, he
would remain silence. The judge warned him, but the student refused to speak, so he was ordered to
30 days in jail to reconsider his silence. Likewise, we all know people who we think talks too
much. Harvard Business Review published an article which stated that if you talk more than 30
seconds at a time, you are likely boring your listener.
Adam Bandelli, an organizational psychologist tells us to avoid the trap of, “Speak first and ask
questions later.” He gives some simple guidelines for our conversations:  Listen more than you
speak.  Make your words count.  Make sure your listener understands your point of view.
He makes the observations that great leaders continually grow in what they say, what they don’t
say, and how intently they listen to others.
Do you like the direction your life is going? What you say and where you go in life may be more
related than you have thought about.
We talk a lot! The average American speaks enough words in one year to fill 66 books with 800
pages each. Can you imagine anyone wanting to read that much of what you have said this year?
In the process of speaking several thousand words a day, we often get ourselves into trouble by
saying the wrong things. For me, my tongue trouble seems to follow a pattern of one of three
- I want people to approve of me, so I try to be funny instead of trying to honor God with my words.
- When I feel insecure, I look for ways to get affirmation from the person to whom I am speaking.
- Sometimes I lack discernment in how I speak the truth.
Our mouths get us in a lot of trouble. James is saying that controlling your speech is a sign of
maturity. He is saying that Christians must learn to control their tongues. James gives us three
reasons we have to learn to control our tongues:
Our speech directs where we go.
Our speech can destroy what we have.
Our speech displays who we are.
1 ¶ Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we
who teach will be judged more strictly.
2 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.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though
the winds are strong.
5 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.
6 And 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.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been
made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers
and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh
water from a salty spring.
Thought: If you could hear a recording of everything you said last week, what would
you want to edit out?
- What are some things that you find annoying about other people’s way of conversing?
I find excessive talking, hearing without listening, and “session replay” distracting in
conversations. Session replay is when a person tells the details of conversations they had with
- What are some things you would like to change about your own ways of speaking?
I want to listen better. I am to value what others are saying. I need to limit my reply to known facts
and share fewer opinions.
- Why is the role of a teacher in church so important? (3:1) 1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many
of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
This word, didaskaloi (teachers), was used often of rabbis and anyone who functioned in an official
teaching or preaching role. I suspect this is talking about one who holds the teaching office in a
church as in Ephesians 4:11-12, Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the
prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s
people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
To Jews, their duty to their rabbi was held in higher regard than their duty to their parents. Who
should take on this role of teacher? Those who have that divine calling on their life, should. God
wants all His children to articulate His truth correctly.
- What two illustrations does James use to demonstrate how our tongue directs where we go?
(3:3-5a) 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its
mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even
though the winds are strong. 5a In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes
James illustrates this with the example of a horse. A huge horse can be controlled by a small
person at the reigns. When you strategically place a bit in the horse’s mouth you can turn him
in the direction you want to go. Likewise, your tongue controls the direction of your life. The
little “bit” of a word or a phrase can influence the total direction of your life.
James gives another example to illustrate this point. He says to look at ships.
The ship on which Paul sailed to Rome, had a capacity of 276 people. While that is not big compared
to the ships of today, it was still a large ship, and it was controlled by a relatively small rudder. James
says that our tongue is like that. Our tongue is like a rudder that steers us. My tongue directs where I
go. Your tongue is the steering wheel of your life. It is the guidance system. If you don’t like the
direction you’re headed right now, you might want to consider changing the way you talk.
- What is the result of the uncontrolled tongue? Where will an uncontrolled tongue lead you in life?
(3:5-6) 5 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. 6 And 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.
The misuse of the tongue is one of the easiest ways to sin. It can set on the fire the entire course of
our life. It will lead into bad relationships with people with whom we need good relationships. It will
lead to hurting others with what you say. It will lead to missed opportunities that you might otherwise
- What is the greatest use of the tongue?
The greatest use of the tongue: worship and praise God, teach others about God, encourage people
and to help people understand how to live properly.
John MacArthur says, “Scientists maintain that once a sound wave is set in motion, it continues on a
never-ending journey, and if we had sophisticated enough instruments, each wave could be captured
and reproduced at any time.” (p.144). Can you imagine the good words you say about Jesus being
continually repeated throughout eternity? If these scientists are right, the words of Jesus are still out
there in the sound waves in His own voice.
- What weaknesses in our lives does our speech often expose? MacArthur says, “ (The tongue)
is the tattletale that tells on the heart and discloses the real person.”
- How can you change your daily speech to reflect its importance in your life? I can invite the
Lord to change my heart and then cooperate fully with Him in that process.
I can work hard to control what goes into my heart.