Our Tongues Are All in This Together: James 3:1–12

I sat in a cozy kitchen beside my longtime mentor and friend with a steaming cup of coffee. Our Bibles and workbooks were open, and my pen was flying furiously as we made plans to lead a small group of women through the book of James. I had felt both challenged and honored when my mentor asked me to teach alongside her. I confess that as a consummate over-eager type and a great coffee lover, it was a happy, happy day—until we got to James chapter 3

I heard my dear older friend say, “I’ll walk us through the first couple chapters, but I think you should teach this one,” just as I was reading James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

My eyes bulged, I turned to her and said, “I’m out.” 

I was half-joking and half-dead serious. This is where she wanted me to start? My first time ever leading a Bible study, and this was where she was passing the baton to me? 

It was actually genius. It’s been nine years, and the Lord still reminds me of that profoundly humbling moment. As cozy and overzealous as I was that day, as my mentor made the suggestion, the Word of God pulled the reins on me. In the midst of excitement and the challenge, I had the black-and-white reminder of the responsibility to rightly handle God’s Word as a teacher. 

But guess what? This passage has even more to say, and these words are for all of us.

We all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (James 3:2)

So while the chapter opens with a caution to potential teachers, it quickly brings all of us together with a jolt of truth. We all stumble in many ways, and not one of us is perfect. I am grateful to have company in facing the realities of living with our sinful flesh!

Just as I am humbly restrained as a teacher by James 3:1, James describes in the next few verses where all—and he is repeatedly clear he’s talking about all—of us need restraint: our tongues. 

The words we speak can have the power to encourage, uphold, strengthen, teach, display truth, and show love; but our tongues can also brag, curse, diminish, ignore, hurt, lie, control, annoy, provoke, anger, and disappoint. The results of those kinds of words can be disastrous. Devastating. Even deadly. The selfish, destructive, and even hateful words we speak dishonor image-bearers. Do you see that in James 3:9? “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

Words we speak out of our own fleshly desires and perspective have virtually no chance of being under control. They have little chance to truly honor anyone. Little chance of being truly useful or consistent. But the great hope of every believer is that we don’t have to let our flesh be in control. As we set our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–6), we will live—and speak—according to the Spirit (Matt. 5:2–11; Gal. 5:22–23). Certainly, the examples and admonishments James gives in chapter 3 about the power and realities of our tongues are true. But so, too, is the true hope we have as we submit our will and words to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to be the source and guide for our words. 

I’m going to blow it. So are you. Our self-focused flesh needs bridling, and no human restraint is going to be sufficient. But just as the Lord told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “[God’s] grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is enough to tame our tongues. His power can be made perfect in our weakness in every part of our lives, including in the words we speak. Our part is to set our minds on the Spirit, fill our minds with God’s Word, and ask the Lord to create in us a heart like His. 

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

About the Author

Heidi Jo Fulk

Heidi Jo Fulk

Heidi Jo Fulk desires to know and live God's Word, then teach and challenge other women to do the same. Heidi and and her husband, Dan, live in Michigan with their four children where she leads women's ministries at her … read more …

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