The Most Dangerous Member In The Church

Bible Book: James  3 : 1-12
Subject: Tongue; Speech; Talking
Series: James - Wagers

A young man once came to the great philosopher Socrates to receive instructions in oration. The moment that the young man was introduced he began to talk, without any chance for Socrates to reply. When Socrates finally could get a word in, he said, "Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee." The young man asked, "A double fee, why is that?" To which Socrates replied, "I will have to teach you two lessons: first, how to hold your tongue, and then, how to use it!"

The subject before us, in these twelve verses is the dangerous weapon of the tongue. Keep in mind that James wrote this letter over nineteen hundred years ago, however it could have very easily been written to our generation. So concerned about the use, or misuse of the tongue, that James compared it to: a horse, a ship, a snake, a fire, a gushing fountain, and fruitful trees.

One of the greatest dangers, that we as Christians face, is the wrongful use of our tongue.

George Eliot: "Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence to the fact!"

When a doctor examines a patient, he usually asks him to stick out his tongue. This is helpful in diagnosing the illness. Spiritually, the tongue test is also valid, for what we say is very revealing of where we’re at in our walk with the Lord. So, let’s look at James’ discussion, and see what he has to say about "The Most Dangerous Member In Our Church!" James seeks to give us three different types of tongues, in these verses, and we see:


In these verses, we are to look at the controlled tongue, and there are some things that we must realize. We must:


James is very realistic to point out, that we all "offend", or stumble, in many things, and in many areas of our lives.

However, the area that he’s addressing is the area of our words, and our speech. Thus, he shows us two scenarios:

1. MATURITY IN OUR SPEECH "perfect man"

PERFECT (lit.): "to be mature"---a banking term

PICTURE: Of a note that has come due, and matured. Thus, the man who, though he may fall in many other areas, but, yet is able to control his tongue is a man mature in the faith.

ILLUSTRATION: John Blanchard tells the story of skiing in Idaho. After a while, one of the skiers, who appeared to be a beginner, fell head over heels down the hill. Mr. Blanchard asked the ski instructor, "You must get a lot of that among beginners?" The ski instructor replied, "Yes, we do, but you never get too expert to do it."

James is not saying that once a man learns this lesson, that he’ll never be exempt from it again. But, once a man learns the lesson of controlling his tongue, he is developing maturity of his speech.

2. MASTERY OF OUR SPEECH " also to bridle.."

Again, James is not saying that a man who controls his tongue is perfect. But, that a man that is able to control his tongue demonstrates not only maturity, but mastery over his speech.

As a result, this man is also able to "bridle" the rest of his body.

BRIDLE (lit.): "to govern, or to control"

The man able to control his tongue, which is the most uncontrollable part of the human anatomy, will also be able to control his speech, and his tongue. This man has learned: c.f. Proverbs 21:23—"Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from trouble."

He has developed maturity in his speech, and mastery of his speech.


1. James again seeks the use of illustrations to drive his point home. He illustrates this point by comparing the controlled tongue to a:


BITS (lit.): "to lead"

PICTURE: of a trainer breaking a horse, by the use of a very important tool: a bit

Interestingly enough, no horse has ever bridled himself. No horse has ever put a bit into his own mouth. So, too, we normally don’t bridle ourselves. But, our master trainer seeks to control our speech with the bit of God’s Word. When the trainer wants the horse to stop he pulls back on the reins, the bit then presses against the horse’s tongue causing him to stop. How we ought also to allow the bit of God’s Word to control, and bridle what we say, and how we say it. c.f. Psalm 39:1—"..I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle."


James moves to another illustration, a ship driven, controlled by a rudder.

HELM (lit.): "a rudder"

PICTURE (v. 4): Of a ship being driven about with fierce, and strong winds, yet it is still held on course by a small, seemingly insignificant instrument, known as a rudder

Thus, James is implying that the tongue is like the small rudder that guides a large ship. Though the winds blow, we aren’t caught up in the "heat of the moment" of emotion, but the rudder of our tongue is in control of our course.

ILLUSTRATION: The U.S.S. Lauderdale is a ship 563 feet long, complete with helicopter pad, torpedoes, and missile launchers. However, this mighty vessel is guided in safe direction by a small rudder below the hull.

So, we must realize a practical fact, and realize a powerful force, and see that a boat with no rudder is a boat left to the mercy of the wind. It has no direction, and will never reach it’s destination.


In these verses James again uses illustrations to drive home his point. We see two things about the careless tongue:


James, in these two verses, begins to define to us the capability of the tongue. Thus, showing us four traits of the tongue:

1. IT’S POTENTIAL (v. 5-6a)

Being such a little member, James informs us to not let it’s size fool you, for it can do great things.

MATTER (lit.): "a forest"

PICTURE: of a tiny match creating a spark and igniting the whole forest

No one would ever think that a little match could set an entire forest on fire. But, that is exactly the picture that James is portraying about the tongue. It’s a little member, but it possesses a great potential.

ILLUSTRATION: A rumor could begin in Pickens today, and be in L.A. tomorrow. The tongue gets out of control and does irreversible damage.

2. IT’S POLLUTION (v. 6b)

James now moves to show us the pollution of the tongue.

DEFILETH (lit.): "to stain, to spot, or to pollute"

PICTURE: of a rotten apple that contaminates the good ones in a basket

In much the same way, the tongue can have a polluting effect. If our talk doesn’t back up our walk, it stains, defiles, and pollutes our life. c.f. Ecclesiastes 5:6—"Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin

3. IT’S PENETRATION "..setteth on fire the course.."

COURSE (lit.): "a circular cycle, or a wheel"

PICTURE: of a wheel that is set in motion

IDEA: In those days, of our text, the wheel was an ancient symbol of the cycle from life to death

NATURE (lit.): "existence"

James is saying that not only is there no part of life that the tongue can affect, there is no time when it cannot do so. John Calvin: "The vice of the tongue spreads and prevails over every part of life. It is as active and potent for evil in old age as it ever was in the days of youth."

4. IT’S POWER "…set on fire in hell."

a. James now shows us the power of the tongue.

HELL (lit.): gr. ‘gehenna’

PICTURE: the place of the valley, outside Jerusalem, where the pagans believed the false god Molech lived. In those days, these pagans would sacrifice little children to Molech. This valley was a refuse, a dump. IT WAS A PICTURE OF HELL!! Thus, James is saying that the fire that is started with the tongue has hell as it’s power source.

B. IT’S CAPACITY (v. 7-8)

James now shows not only the capability of the tongue, but the capacity of the tongue. We see it’s:

1. PASSION (v. 7-8a)

James illustrates the tongue as having fierce passion. He informs that man has been able to tame all other sorts of animals. Yet, the one thing that he hasn’t been able to tame is the tongue.

Churchill: "The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself."

NOTE: The word "tame" is found in only one other New Testament passage, Mark 5:4, referring to the maniac of Gadara. Thus, James likens an uncontrolled, or untamed tongue to a demon possessed man. It is untamed, uncontrollable, and unruly.

3. POISON (v. 8b)

POISON (lit.): "venom"

PICTURE: Of a serpent striking, ejecting venom from their fangs

James compares the untamed tongue to a serpent’s bite. Just as the bite of a rattler can inject poison into our system, and pose a great danger to us, so can a loosed tongue inject poison of deceit, lies, and rumors. It is full of passion, it is full of poison. It has both a tremendous Capability, and Capacity. It is a Careless Tongue!


In the rest of this section, James shows us a third type of tongue, the confused tongue. The Indians used the term, "forked tongue", to describe confusing, of conflicting speech. James does the same thing, showing that a tongue that says different things shows that it is:


James again makes his point by use of a hypothetical, yet probing situation.

ILLUSTRATION: On one side of our mouth proceeds praise, and blessing to God. Out of the other side comes backbiting, gossiping, and slandering towards men. Simply put, James sums it up by saying that "out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing." We bless God, but, yet we blast men who’ve been made in the likeness of God. This is Inconsistent!

B. IMPOSSIBLE (v. 11-12)

Again, James draws a vivid picture to make his point.

PICTURE: of a fresh, flowing stream putting out bitter water, and sweet water.

NOTE: Part of God’s promise to Israel before they entered the promised land was, "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills." (c.f. Deuteronomy 8:7) Natural springs still remain in the Middle East today. Some produce fresh water, and some produce salt water. However, none produce both. It is IMPOSSIBLE!! Thus, James is saying, that just as it is impossible for that to happen, it is also impossible for the tongue to send forth both righteousness and rumors; blessing and blasting; compliments and cursing. A tongue that does so is Inconsistent, and Impossible. It is a Confused Tongue!!!


When I was a boy, there was a saying that we used to say, "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!" However, as I have gotten older, I have found that that is not altogether true. There are many injuries that I’ve suffered: spike marks from a close play at second base, broken bones, and even ligament damage to my knee. However, all of those things have healed over time. Yet, there are some things that have been said to me, that while I have tried my best to forget them, I still bear the wounds of them.

James seeks to advise us to watch our words. May the Holy Ghost help us not to have a CARELESS TONGUE, or a CONFUSED TONGUE, but may we possess a CONTROLLED TONGUE. May we say with the Psalmist:

"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord…" (c.f. Psalm 19:14)