Author: Ron Graham
It's Not Your Big Toe
—James 3:1-12, the power of the tongue
There's a war going on within every one of us between our "fleshly lusts" and the virtuous aspirations of the soul. Peter speaks of "fleshly desires which wage war against the soul" (1Peter 2:11). James warns of the "pleasures that wage war in your members" (James 4:1).
Paul confides, "I discipline my body and make it my slave, lest after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (ICo 9:27).
If I were to ask you which member of your body troubles you the most, and is your most unruly instrument of sin, which member of your body would you name? I'm sure it would not be your navel, or your big toe. Which part of your body is the culprit then?
1 A Word From James
James tells us that there is one member of the human body that is a very small yet does enormous damage, like a small flame that kindles a huge bushfire. This small part of the human body is set among our members as the one that defiles the whole body. It is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
It's not your big toe —it's your tongue.(James 3:1-12).
The tongue is the hardest member of the body to control, yet if one can bring this small member into subjection, one is able to control or bridle the whole body, just as a small bit in a horse's mouth is used to control the whole beast, or a small rudder a large ship. The member James refers to is the tongue (James 3:1-12).
James is speaking about our tendency to "stumble in word" (James 3:2). He refers to our difficulty in controlling what we say. The tongue, as an organ of speech, can do untold damage. "The tongue can defile the whole body and set on fire the course of life" (James 3:6)
2 Sins of the Tongue
The sins of the tongue, the ways in which we can stumble or offend in word, are manifest...
- Lying (Ephesians 4:25)
- Unwholesome language (Ephesians 4:29-30)
- Bitterness and wrath (Ephesians 4:31-32)
- Foolish and coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)
- Abusive language(Colossians 3:8, Galatians 5:15)
- Boasting (James 4:16)
- Busybodying, slander and gossip (lTi 5:13)
Our Master warns us about the need to control our tongues: "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment" Matthew 12:36-37).
3 Wholesome Use of the Tongue
- The things we say to people can build them up (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6)
- Praise, blessing, thanksgiving are forms of good speech (eg Numbers 6:24-26, Luke 1:46-55).
- The "fruit of the Spirit" suggest some good kinds of speech (Galatians 5:22-23).
4 The Heart Controls the Tongue
- Jesus tells us that "The mouth speaks out of what fills the heart" (Matthew 15:18-19, Matthew 12:34-37, cf Mark 7:20-23)
- When one "does not bridle the tongue", it is because one is "deceiving one’s own heart" (James 1:26).
- So let us make our hearts true, that we may bridle our tongues to speak what is good.
This lesson combines a short article I wrote some years ago with an old sermon outline presenting a similar lesson.