The outline of James is found in James 1:19. Chapter 3 is the second part of the outline: be slow to speak.
Haven’t we all regretted speaking too quickly at times? Tweeting too quickly? Things we have said have hurt others whom we love. We regret it, but the damage is already done, even when we apologize.
How can you control your communication so that what you say blesses rather than hurts others? James tells us in this famous chapter.
Hodges says concerning Jas 3:1-12, “The tongue is a dangerous instrument for displaying wisdom” (p. 77).
James was not writing to churches like our churches today. Ten or more men might teach something from God’s Word in little two-or-three-minute statements. Some Plymouth Brethren churches are like this today.
The “stricter judgment” of verse 1 concerns the Bema. At the Bema there will be stricter accountability for teaching God’s Word in the local church than for using your tongue in private conversation because you are influencing more people.
Hodges comments, “It was a solemn responsibility to assume the role of a teacher in the Christian Church. James thinks most of his readers will be better off to avoid this role” (p. 78).
This can be applied to all teaching of God’s Word, by men and women, in Sunday school, home Bible studies, Bible institutes, VBS, and Christian schools.
The illustrations of bits in a horse’s mouth and rudders on a big ship show that very powerful animals and transports can be controlled by very little things.
In the same way, the tongue is small, yet it can control our bodies if we do not allow the Word of God to renew our minds and change our speaking. God can exert control over our tongues, but He does not do so in some instant miracle. He does so gradually over time as our mindset changes via the Word of God.
Hodges makes this telling suggestion about verses 3-4, “Human beings can control their own actions provided they first can control the rudder, namely, the human tongue. To a large extent our actions are determined by the things we say” (p. 79).
We need to avoid the tendency to boast and the tendency of even a small remark to set off a fire that grows into a raging inferno.
While it is possible for us to both bless people and hurt them with our tongues, that should not be the case. Our tongues can and should be sources of good. But for that to happen, we must be slow to speak.
When James says that our tongues can be set on fire by Gehenna, he is probably referring to Satan, since Gehenna is his realm. Satan, through his demons and fallen angels, is seeking to get Christians to speak in ways that hurt other Christians so that he might hinder the cause of Christ on earth.
Think before you speak is partly what James is saying. But beyond that he is saying that we must recognize our need to grow in our use of the tongue. We need to pray about it. We need to seek God’s work in our minds so that our speech will be impacted.
If James were writing today, I think he might have expanded his discussion due to social media. We speak when we tweet and when we post something on Instagram or Facebook or a discussion board.
Be slow to tweet. Be slow to post anything on social media.
How many people have lost their jobs because they tweeted something without giving it serious thought?
I do not tweet or post things on Facebook because I view these things as dangerous. But like speaking can be used for good or evil, so can tweeting and other social media. But we must take care.
I write about 2 blogs a week. I’ve learned over the years that I need help whenever I’m writing on a controversial subject. I send maybe 20 or 30 blogs a year to my board for evaluation. They scrap 3 or 4 a year and they edit all of the rest. Whenever I trash a blog that I was considering because my board thought it unwise, I’m glad I was not quick to post.
You know the trick to good photography? Take lots of pictures and throw out most of them.
That is true in speech and social media. Have lots of thoughts and idea but throw out most of them. If you share your best ideas and thoughts, you are wise. If you share anything that pops into your head, you are foolish.
The more we mature in the Lord, the more we are slow to speak, slow to tweet, slow to post.
God can control our communication if we let Him give us the mind of Christ.
GES hired an editor to give my first book, Confident in Christ, a serious edit. I sent her about 50 short chapters. The first thing she did was throw out two-thirds of the chapters. What? I was upset. But I came to see that she was right. She kept the best chapters and edited only those. The rest she discarded. I’m glad she did.
Only reveal thoughts that are worthy of being shared. Only share thoughts that will help and build up.
The bottom line of James 3 is that we should use our tongues and our actions to bless and edify the people in our lives, our families, neighbors, coworkers, and especially those in our local churches.
God wants the local church to be a safe place. It will be if we are slow to speak and quick to edify others with our actions.
In an article entitled, “How to Watch What You Say,” Wikihow gives 4 suggestions that are essentially applications of James 3 (see here):
- Learn to listen.
- Close your mouth when it comes open.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Ask yourself if what you intend to say is true, necessary, and kind.