Barnabas Network International | Online Resources for Churches

Ministry Resources

Here is one of those "strange but true facts" "The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body". James' emphasis on action and deeds does not mean that, for him, words are unimportant. James 1/19 and 1/26 are now re-visited with greater detail and explanation. Consider this: "Most Christians sin more with their words than in any other way".  How do you respond to that statement?



a. The teaching ministry in the Early Church was vital for truth & growth but it was open to abuse so James stresses the accountability of teachers i.e. those who use words will be judged by stricter standards because of power of words.

b. Jesus emphasised the same truth of accountability - Read Matthew 12/33-37 especially the conclusion in vs. 36, 37 - words reveal the heart. What is an "idle word"? Is this a reference to swearing or is there something more involved.

c. Speech is the external evidence of the internal life - sooner or later the heart will be revealed in the words we speak. e.g. bitterness in the heart will soon break out in the words we use. What other kinds of heart conditions will, sooner or later, be manifest in speech.

d. A controlled tongue is a mark of discipline and maturity. Some have said it is the ultimate test of authentic Christianity. This control is not simply the suppression of a momentary violent outburst but it refers to the strength that comes in silence over time.

e. Read Ephesians 4/15 - speech controlled by truth and love - the positive results are impossible to imagine! What are some of those results found in this passage (Ephesians 4/14-16)

f.  Read Ephesians 4/29 - let speech build others up and benefit the hearers - the positive impact of powerful, loving words. Look for some of the benefits (in vs. 25-31) that flow from words spoken truthfully and lovingly.


a. Because he thinks in pictures or visually, James now illustrates this teaching about words, he now seeks to persuade his readers with 3 distinct & powerful images when it comes to the influence of words.

* Horse & bridle (v.3) - control the mouth of the horse and you control the whole horse!  Sadly, much of our speech (even in the faith community) is so readily uncontrollable. So with our words.

* Ship & rudder (v.4) - a great ship in strong winds can be controlled by small rudder. Just so with our tongues. They may be small but their effect on the direction of the ship is total.

* Forest & fire (v.5) - one spark can cause a disastrous out-of-control fire that destroys everything in its path. Similarly, one word spoken by an undisciplined tongue has the potential to do great damage in human relationships.

b. Lesson = tongue is small, words may seem insignificant - but the effect can be total - good or bad

c. Words can encourage, affirm, edify, enthuse, motivate, enrich - they can be powerful for good.

d. Words can damage, embitter, crush, wound, scar, destroy they can be powerful for evil.

e.  It's vital that we learn to be controlled and disciplined in our speech. To think before we speak and to consider impact (as much as we can) before we speak because, once spoken, those words can never be retrieved.


a. James now alerts us to the inconsistency and incongruity of much which seeks to pass for Christian speech.

* Blessing & Cursing (9,10). To bless the Creator but curse the creation is a contradiction from same mouth.

* Fresh & Salt Water (11).  It's inconceivable for both brackish water and clean water to come from the same source.

* Fig Tree & Grape Vine (12). The inner nature of the tree determines the fruit it produces. It seems that James was very influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. Here is another echo of that teaching (Matthew 7/15-20)

b. What is the three-fold lesson from these examples? Perhaps it's the fact that only one aspect can be true (blessing OR cursing? Fresh OR brackish? Fig OR grape?) But which one? Probably that which manifests most!

c. Truth = What is really within our hearts will be revealed in our speech. Our words will prove to be an infallible indicator.

APPLICATION:  Let's allow the exhortation of Scripture to permeate & begin changing our hearts? Although this series is based around the letter of James, I urge you to become very familiar with two supportive passages

1. Ephesians 4/25-32, 2.

2. Ephesians 5/15-20

Download free ministry resources.
give us your feedback.