Control Your Tongue

This year in our Sunday School lessons we are going through the books of James and Proverbs to look at the Practical Living from God’s Word.  What is located below are the high level points we discussed this week.  Please use this tool to follow up with your teens and see how they plan to apply this to their life.

James 3:1-12

 Why do you think that the tongue is such a dangerous tool?  Why is it important that we learn to control our tongue? (small group discussion)

The book of James has so much to say about the tongue and the fact that we need to control it.  Let’s read James 3:1-12 together.


I.          The Command (3:1-2)

A.        James is talking about the fact that in the church there was a movement for so many people to become teachers in the church.  He was cautioning them to be careful with their desire for this leadership because with this comes a greater responsibility.  (1)

B.        Here James takes the attention off of leaders only by point out that we all will stumble in many ways in our life and one of the marks of maturity is the fact that we can control our tongues.

C.        A great example of the control of the tongue being a mark of spiritual maturity is Peter.  “In the Gospels, while an immature disciple, he often lost control of his tongue and had to be either reproved or taught by the Lord. But after Pentecost, his spiritual discipline was evident by his controlled speech.”[1]

D. (Small Group Question)  Why would controlling the tongue be the sign of Spiritual maturity?

II.        Illustrations of the Power of the Tongue (3:3-12)

A.        The Power to Direct (3:3-4)

1.         The Bit in the Horse’s Mouth

Horses are incredibly powerful animals.  The first time you stand next to a well-groomed horse and you can see the muscles tightening under their shiny coats you realize the power that lies there.  Horses are used for so many different power activities.  I mean think about we measure strength based upon horse power.  Thousands of people gather to watch horses race at speeds that average over 40 miles per hour.  The fastest horses can run short distances at 50 mph.  The amazing fact is that these beasts can be controlled by this tiny little device called the bit.

2.         The Rudder on a Ship

Humongous ships that are governed in speed by the amount of wind that pushes them on.  Ships rise and fall over the largest waves.  Ships are capable of moving entire colonies of people.  These vessels are completely controlled by the small rudder that points the ship in the direction that the captain decides the ship should go.

3.         The Tongue Directs not Just Our Lives but Other Lives as Well.

“Both the bit and the rudder must overcome contrary forces. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds and currents that would drive the ship off its course. The human tongue also must overcome contrary forces. We have an old nature that wants to control us and make us sin. There are circumstances around us that would make us say things we ought not to say. Sin on the inside and pressures on the outside are seeking to get control of the tongue.”[2]

“The bit and rudder have the power to direct, which means they affect the lives of others. A runaway horse or a shipwreck could mean injury or death to pedestrians or passengers. The words we speak affect the lives of others. A judge says “Guilty!” or “Not Guilty!” and those words affect the destiny of the prisoner, his family, and his friends. The President of the United States speaks a few words and signs some papers and the nation is at war. Even a simple yes or no from the lips of a parent can greatly affect the direction of a child’s life.”[3]

4.         Support Verses

a.         Proverbs 15:1 (NASB95) “A gentle answer turns away wrath,

But a harsh word stirs up anger.”

b.         Proverbs 12:22 (NASB95) “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal faithfully are His delight.”

c.         Proverbs 10:19 (NASB95) “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

5.         Group Discussion: What are some positive directions that the tongue can provide?  What are some wrong directions that the tongue can lead others down?

B.        The Power to Destroy (3:5-8)

1.         Fire (5-6)

Think of all of the destructive fires that we have heard about.  The Great Chicago Fire was caused by the tiny flame of a lantern (A fire reportedly started in the O’Leary barn in Chicago at 8:30 p.m., October 8, 1871; and because that fire spread, over 100,000 people were left homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, and 300 people died. It cost the city over $400 million.)[4]  Many forest fires are started by sparks from a lightning strike, a cigarette butt, or even an unattended campfire.  These little sparks eventually lead to great destruction.

2.         Wild Beast (7-8)

When you think about some of the deadliest animals that exist you could easily be scared by interactions with them.  What is more amazing is that no matter how fierce the animal with enough time and effort they can be tamed to the point of getting along with their master.  Yet according to James you cannot tame the tongue.

3.         The Tongue Can Cause Great Destruction

“Fire not only starts small and grows, and creates heat; it also defiles. A friend of mine suffered a fire in the basement of his house, and the smoke and fire damage so soiled the upstairs of the house that the family had to move out while the house was redecorated. Fiery words can defile a home, a Sunday School class, a church. The only thing that can wash away that defilement is the blood of Jesus Christ.”[5]

“In reality, he is not referring to the tongue of flesh but to the intelligent, communicating mind that uses the tongue as its instrument. So the mind corrupts the whole person. But the corrupting influence of the tongue reaches out in widening circles, for it “sets the whole course of his life on fire.” [6]

“When he says, “No man can tame the tongue,” James is stating that no man by himself can subdue the tongue. This is not to say that God cannot bring it under control. While the tongue cannot be controlled by man, the tongue of the regenerate person can be controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In its natural state the tongue “is a restless evil,” like a ferocious beast that will not be subdued. It is “full of deadly poison,” like a serpent ready to inject venom into its victim.”[7]

This would be a great place to talk about gender specific struggles (i.e. perverted speech, gossip, jealous speech about others, excessive macho speech, etc.).  If you want more guidance on this I can give you some.  This is why we are separate for this lesson. J

4.         Group Discussion:  To what extremes can the tongues power to destroy go?  Is it possible that your words could cause great tragedies like a wild animal or fire can?  How?

C.        The Power to Delight (3:9-12)

1.         The Spring

If a spring is bitter then we do not drink from it.  If a spring is sweet then you bottle it and sell it for $2.50 per bottle.  Imagine if you went to the drinking fountain and out came both bitter water and sweet water.  What would be the overpowering flavor?  What would we call that fountain, bitter or sweet?

2.         The Fig Tree

If you went out to pick figs and accidentally you picked an olive off of the tree you would be confused.  One is sweet and one is disgusting.  There is a reason you can buy Fig Newtons and not Olive Newtons.

3.         The Tongue Should be Bringing Delight

“Water is life-giving, and our words can give life. However, if water is not controlled, it brings death and destruction. The famous Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 took 2,200 lives and destroyed $10 million in property. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).”[8]

“The most important thing about a tree is the root system. If the roots do not go down deep, the tree will not grow in a healthy manner. If we are rooted in the things of the Lord, then our words will be the fruit of our fellowship with Him. We will be like that “blessed man” in Psalm 1 and produce fruit in due season. One reason our Lord was able to say the right words at the right times was because He communed with His Father and heard from heaven each day. Listen to His testimony:”[9]

“But James issued a warning: a fountain cannot give forth two kinds of water, and a tree cannot bear two different kinds of fruit. We expect the fountain to flow with sweet water at all times, and we expect the fig tree to bear figs and the olive tree to bear olives. Nature reproduces after its kind.

If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart. I heard about a professing Christian who got angry on the job and let loose with some oaths. Embarrassed, he turned to his partner and said, “I don’t know why I said that. It really isn’t in me.” His partner wisely replied, “It had to be in you or it couldn’t have come out of you.” When Peter was out of fellowship with Christ, he uttered some oaths; but he went out and wept bitterly and confessed his sins.

The tongue that blesses the Father, and then turns around and curses men made in God’s image, is in desperate need of spiritual medicine! How easy it is to sing the hymns during the worship service, then after the service, get into the family car and argue and fight all the way home! “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”[10]

4.         Scriptural Support

a.         Matthew 15:18 (NASB95) “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

b.         Proverbs 4:23 (NASB95) “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”

5.         So what do you use your tongue for?  Do you have control over it?  Is the issue really your tongue?  Do you need spiritual heart surgery?



[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 726-27.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:1.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:1.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:5.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:5.

[6] Donald W. Burdick, “James” In , in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 187.

[7] Donald W. Burdick, “James” In , in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 188.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:9.

[9] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:9.

[10] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Jas 3:9.

Johnny Kjaer
Johnny is married to Tori. They have 4 children Leif, Tryggve, Kjirsti and Hroarr. He has been a part of the youth ministry at Faith since his internship began in 2010. He served as the Pastor of Student Ministries from 2013-2023 and now serves as the Pastor of Faith East Community Ministries. Johnny is an ACBC certified counselor. He also serves the church by directing the Lafayette Living Nativity.