Read: James 3:1-12

In a power-hungry, power-grabbing world, you might excuse yourself from the world scene by assuming that you don’t have much power at all. A lot of us think that way! Whether you realize it or not, you have more power at your disposal than what you might first have imagined. And this great power to which I refer is embedded in your…WORDS!

YOU have the power to build up or humiliate.
YOU have the power to motivate or discourage.
YOU have the power to create a relationship or destroy it.

You might think that my opening words are little more than hyperbole. But our text for the week substantiates what I am saying. Take a careful look at what James is doing. He starts with a warning (vv. 1-2), telling his readers that not many of them should become teachers. He is NOT trying to eliminate the number of Bible instructors in the first-century church. Rather, he is talking about the words a teacher might use and the extreme power these same words have over other people. So he starts with a warning.

James follows the warning with a series of analogies to prove that what he warns against is a valid concern. He first speaks of rudders and sparks to emphasize that something very small can do a large amount of damage (vv. 3-6). Second, he refers to creatures from various species in the animal kingdom. Humans, James says, have tamed these wild animals, but no one can tame the tongue (vv. 7-8). And in the final set of analogies he speaks of springs, fig trees, and grapevines. His point is that if you go to a fresh water spring, you can expect to get fresh water; if you go to a fig tree you should expect to get figs; and if you go to a grapevine, you should expect to get grapes (vv. 9-12). There should be no contradiction in what is expected from the water source or the food supply.

Each analogy is designed to prove that Christians need to be on guard with respect to what they say, because judgment will fall on those who are careless about their speech (cf. 3:1).  But what is striking in this passage is that James does not seem to give us any insight into how we are to deal with this problem of contradictory, destructive speech.

So what can we possibly do when our speech brings harm to others and in the process brings harm to our faith?  

Two things come to mind. First, it will be helpful to notice that verse 12 serves as a bridge to the next section about true wisdom. James is quick to say that real wisdom—godly wisdom—comes from heaven, not from the minds of human beings. Second, we would be wise to reflect on a passage like Galatians 5:16-26. The apostle Paul distinguishes between living life in the power of our own human efforts (the “flesh”) and a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.

You see, the control of our speech is not a matter of human power. Such control must come from God!


That sounds good, but what would that look like if we were letting the Spirit actually control our lives? Keep in mind that what you are about to read is not a quick solution to a long-standing problem. We are talking about reordering our lives and surrendering to the Spirit’s power moment-by-moment.

  • For instance, “Spirit-controlled” people will want to constantly remind themselves who owns them (cf. Eph 1:13-14). When we came to faith in Christ we were sealed by the Holy Spirit.  This sealing guaranteed our eternal destiny in heaven. The Spirit’s sealing also confirms that God owns us.  Christians are NOT free to say and do whatever they want. They live to serve King Jesus!
  • In addition, “Spirit-controlled” people will want to seek the Spirit’s wisdom in order to know God’s wisdom in any given situation (cf. 1 Cor 2:12). God has bestowed His grace upon us in abundant fashion. And since the Spirit indwells every believer (Jn 16:13), we have access to God’s will and God’s ways. His Spirit indwells us so that we can have the mind of Christ.
  • Finally, “Spirit-controlled” people will want to seek the Spirit’s power to control their speech (cf. Gal 5:22-23). James has made it clear that we cannot control the tongue in our own power (3:7-8).  We need God’s power. And God’s power is accessible to us because of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.  

So what have your words done for you today? 
Has anyone been encouraged by something you've said?
Has anyone been hurt (even discouraged) in his or her faith because of some careless comment?

DON'T dismiss the power of speech.
DON'T assume that words are insignificant and harmless.
DO speak and act as those who surrender moment-by-moment to the Spirit of God. 

Ask the Spirit of God right now to speak through you in a way that will encourage others and bring glory to Christ.

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