James 3:1-12: Be Careful What You Say

Devotionals > New Testament > James > James 3:1-12: Be Careful What You Say

James 3:1-12: Be Careful What You Say

October 6, 2023


Jeremiah 12-13Ecclesiastes 4John 2:1-11James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12:

Speech can be a great power for good, but it also can cause great damage. This reality of the power of the words – whether for good or evil – is what James now addresses, and calls us to use words for good and not for evil.

First, he tells us that because of the power of words not many of us should become teachers. Certainly, when you teach God’s Word, you can do much good. But at the same time, teaching God’s Word in a public venue or to groups of people inevitably exposes you to judgment. That judgment is twofold: both the judgment (or criticism) of those that you teach, and the judgment of God himself. It can seem, perhaps, romantic or idyllic to be a teacher with many people listening to your every word. But we should also be aware of the reality of judgment. God will hold us to account for whether we teach the truth of God or not, and, at a human level, people will be critical of teachers whether they like what they say or not. Becoming a teacher of God’s Word is not to be taken lightly, thoughtlessly, without forethought or careful consideration, and not without a clear call of God confirmed by God’s people. No one will be able to teach always perfectly, so some criticism is inevitable – especially as some will criticize when you teach what is right!

Then, second, James goes into an extended section of metaphor regarding speech and words. The tongue is like the bit in a horse’s mouth; we should control it. The tongue is like the rudder of a large ship; we should use the tongue to control the rest of our life, not let the tongue be out of control. When this is not the case – when the tongue is not under control – it’s like a spark in a dry forest that sets on fire a great forest. Be careful.

What is more, third, there is something evil about the evil use to which words can be put. It goes back to the Garden of Eden with the corrupt temptation that the serpent used words for. This kind of speech is “itself set on fire by hell.” Make sure you control your tongue! And yet how difficult it is to do. Animals can be tamed. But the tongue is like a wild animal that cannot be tamed. Because of our sinful nature, it is ever ready to say something that will harm. Be vigilant with your words.

And then, fourth, James describes how we should not speak evil words. “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing,” the same mouth that praises God. This should not be. Can a spring produce both fresh water and salt water? When someone is really born again, regenerate, then their new nature should increasingly dominate so that they produce good fruit.

Be careful what you say!


Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.


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