James 3:3-12

A Spirit-Controlled Tongue

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. James 3:7–8

Horses, ships, and tongues. Which word is not like the others? James says the odd one out is tongue. A horse is controlled by a bit, a ship by a rudder.  But, he says, the tongue is uncontrollable—or at least it seems that way.

Since Adam and Eve defended themselves in Genesis 3, human beings have been ensnared by their words. James says the tongue “is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (v. 6).

Wow. That’s a damning indictment for one small part of my body. But it’s accurate. My words—both written and spoken—have ignited too many fires and caused too much destruction: the harsh email I sent before I calmed down, the angry words I hurled at an employer, the sarcastic remark that lodged deep in my friend’s heart.

God gave us language so we can worship him and edify others. Too often, though, our words dishonor him and discourage others. As James notes, “My brothers [and sisters], these things should not be” (v. 10).

So what can we do?

We can turn our mouths over to the Holy Spirit. David prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). If he were writing today, David might have added, “Holy Spirit, take charge of my social media accounts and my cell phone. Don’t let me type or text words that dishonor you. Delete every thought that tears someone down or damages my reputation as your child.”

David also wrote, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord” (Psalm 19:14). Maybe if I start my day with that prayer and repeat it several times during the day, I’ll be more mindful of what comes from my mouth and less likely to spark a destructive fire.

What prayer might help you release control of your tongue to the Holy Spirit?


Read Matthew 15:1–20. What were the Pharisees upset about? What did Jesus say was far more important? What’s Jesus saying about the importance of our words in this passage?

Contrast the description of the ungodly Romans 3:10–18 with the description of the godly in 1 Peter 3:8–17. What are the connections between speech and actions in these descriptions?

Psalm 19 begins with the “words” of the natural realm, moves on to the Word of God, and ends with the psalmist’s prayer about his words. How would you summarize this psalm’s message about words?

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about our mouths. You may want to read these devotions: Proverbs 4:23 and Proverbs 26:28.

Denise K. Loock

This devotion is part of a series on the Book of James.


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