Biblestudy, Growing your faith, The book of James

Guarding Your Words: The Power of the Tongue from James 3:1-12

How powerful are your words? The book of James 3:1-12 is that passage in the New Testament that shows and teaches us about the profound impact of our words and the responsibility that comes with our speech. James uses three different analogies in this chapter to communicate the power of the tongue and its effect in our everyday lives. Today, let us take a quick look at the topic -“Guarding Your Words: The Power of the Tongue from James 3:1-12”

The Power of the Tongue (James 3:2-6)

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. –  James 3:1-2

In his introduction, James starts with a warning to those who teach the word, as he highlights the great responsibility that comes with teaching the word. He reminds us that those who choose this path will be judged more strictly because of the impact their words can have on those who hear them.

Your teaching or speech can lead others closer to or further away from the truth of God and his word. And with his vivid use of picture words, he shows us how something as small as the tongue can steer the course of one’s life.

Like a bridle giving control and guidance to our lives.
The bit in the horse’s mouth makes it obey us and we are able to make it go where we want it to go.

Like a rudder steering the direction of our lives.

Even though a ship is large and driven by strong winds,  it’s small rudder is able to steer the ship in the direction the captain wants it to go.

Like a tiny part of the human body that can start a fire.
The tongue is a little member of the body that boasts of great things. It carries great power and its tiny spark can set an entire forest on fire.

In all, the tongue remains a small but mighty part of the human body capable of great destruction. Its potential to cause significant harm and damage is limitless.

The Challenge of Taming the Tongue (James 3:7-8)

In these verses, James describes how mankind has been able to tame all kinds of animal and creatures, even the fiercest of animals. Yet the tongue remains untamable because of its capacity to run wild. This only emphasizes the difficulty involved in controlling our words and our need for help from God.

The tongue is described as a restless evil, full of deadly poison. The passion translation in James 3:8 describes it as a fickle, unrestrained evil that spews out words full of toxic poison! This description reveals the potential it carries and the need for us to be more vigilant in controlling our speech.

Imagine someone bitten by a dangerous snake like the black mamba. The deadly venom from its fangs immediately releases neurotoxins that start to shut down the victim’s nervous system, heart and lungs. And within thirty minutes, that person will be dead except he gets immediate medical attention.

Perhaps, we do not even realize the far-reaching effects and impact of our words on others. When your words are untamed and unrestrained, you spew out toxic poison that has the potential to destroy lives and families, build strongholds in the mind, hinder progress and incapacitate destinies.

The Inconsistency of the Tongue (James 3:9-12)

James through these verses highlights the paradoxical nature of the tongue. How as believers we praise God with our tongue and still curse human beings with our words.

James 3:10 says: Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Remember that James was speaking to believers. We as God’s children can’t be pouring out praise one minute and cursing the next. He also uses examples from nature to communicate his message. He asks – Can fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? Can a fig tree bear olive, or a grapevine bear fig? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water?

Indeed, clean and polluted water cannot flow out of the same spring. So, just as a tree is known by its fruits, our words ought to reflect our new nature in Christ and our inner spiritual condition.

What does the Bible Say about Guarding your Words?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.Proverbs 18:21

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. – James 1:26

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.Proverbs 13:3

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.Proverbs 21:23

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!Psalm 141:3

For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.1 Peter 3:10-11

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.Proverbs 10:19

Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.1 Timothy 5:13

As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.Job 27:3-4

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:7

“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”Psalm 50:19-23

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. – Proverbs 18:8

Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms;Micah 7:5

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.Psalm 19:14

7 Tips on How to Tame your Tongue.

1. Evaluate your words

Have you ever regretted speaking some words in a certain situation? It is said that words are like eggs, once spoken, they cannot be taken back.

This is why you must learn to appraise and assess your words as often as you can. Evaluating it means taking time to check what the effects and the impact your words can have on others when spoken.

The words spoken from our mouths have the capacity to heal or destroy. You need to always ask yourself – Are these words that I am about to speak helpful or hurtful? Will they empower or discourage? Will they keep others in bondage or liberate them? Will my words build others or break them?

I love how Omolara Akinmolayan puts it in her article. She says:

“Words are like eggs, once broken they can’t be recovered but their impact is far-reaching especially in family relationships. Although, words are meant to be spoken, just like eggs are meant to be broken, certain rules must come to play:

Don’t break a rotten egg – the odor is unbearable;

Don’t break an egg at the wrong time – else it results in waste and dirt;

Don’t break an egg with excessive force – only the appropriate force is good enough;

But when you break the good egg at the right time with the appropriate force – enjoy a delicious omelet!”

Think about the words you speak as eggs. Hurtful words spoken have made some suicidal and torn marriages apart. Rotten words spoken about friends and church members have destroyed relationships and made many lose faith in the church. Good and kind words spoken have led many out of depression, despondency and also given others a sense of purpose. Remember to think before you speak.

2. Check the state of your heart

Jesus lets us into the connection between the heart and the words of our mouth.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.Matthew 12:34-36

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. In other words, your words are only a reflection of the state of your heart. A heart that is full of anger and bitterness will only speak hurtful and damaging words. One whose heart is full of love will speak kind, encouraging and compassionate words. A heart that accommodates gossip, backbiting and slander will sow seeds of discord and division, damage the character and reputation of others and also hinder their spiritual growth and progress.

How can your words be good if you are rotten within? For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words! Matthew 12:34b TPT

What is inside a person’s heart will eventually come to light through their words. The question then is – what is in your heart? What are you storing in your heart? Are you rotten within or Christ-like within? Your heart will eventually be stripped naked for all to see through your actions and the overflow of your words. Check the state of your heart today.

3. Listen more than you speak

In James 1:19, the Bible encourages us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Simply put, hear more than you speak, be a careful thoughtful listener and a person whose words are carefully chosen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.James 1:19

However, the reverse is the case in our world today. Many are slow to listen, hardly even listen, but are usually very quick to speak. Someone once said, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Your ability to listen with intent and carefulness will help you soak in wisdom and truth into your inner man. It will put you in a place of stillness and quietness within so that you can catch wisdom, divine ideas, instructions and direction for your life.

Good listening fosters trust and deeper connections in relationships. It gives others the feeling of being heard, valued and understood. Being quick to listen will also enhance your ability to hear and discern the voice of God.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.- Matthew 11:15

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.- Proverbs 19:20

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.Matthew 7:24

The heart of the wise will easily accept instruction. But those who do all the talking are too busy to listen and learn. They’ll just keep stumbling ahead into the mess they created. – Proverbs 10:8 TPT

4. Quit complaining

Do all things without complaining or arguing, that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation” –Philippians 2:14-15

Complaining will lead you nowhere in your life’s journey. The children of God angered God with their complaining. He had just delivered them from years of slavery and bondage. Yet, they were ungrateful and still complained.

You are not portrayed as a child of God when you complain. In fact, complaining can put you in a bad place mentally, worsen your mood, fester negative emotions, make you feel helpless and hopeless and taint your outlook about life.

Complainers will often see more problems than solutions. The words of a complainer reeks of ingratitude and selfishness. His words only show you a person who does not truly trust in God. When you constantly complain about everything, it only shows that you have not learnt to bridle your tongue.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” ― Maya Angelou

5. Be more intentional with your words

As children of God, we are encouraged to speak and promote positive and edifying speech.

Ephesians 4:29 says: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Do your words radiate negative or positive energy? People will always remember the words you speak and the impact those words had on their lives. Les Brown has often times spoken about the unforgettable words spoken to him by his teacher. “Never let someone’s opinion of others become your reality.”

While someone had told him that he was educable mentally retarded, another person showed up and spoke empowering words that liberated him.

The words you speak can become a stronghold in one man’s mind, hinder his progress and keep him in shackles for the rest of his life. In the same vein, the words you speak can become the vessel through which a mind can be renewed, a life transformed and changed forever.

With your words, it is so important to choose what you say and how you say it. Make up your mind to be that person whose words will empower, encourage, inspire, enrich and be a blessing to others.

Become a life and mind builder with your words and not a destroyer. It starts with having a consciousness of the possible effects of the words you speak daily.

6. Ask for forgiveness and repentance from unloving, brash and negative words spoken.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. – James 3:2 NIV

Many times in our Christian walk, we stumble and sin through our words. Have you ever been in that space or place? I have been there myself. The message translation says that we get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths.

How much damage have you done with your words? Think about when and how you have sinned and hurt others with your words. As a parent, are the words that you are speaking to your children doing damage to their minds and character? Have your words become the negative voices that your child gets to hear within every single day. Today is a good day to ask God for forgiveness.

Ask the Lord to show you where you have stumbled with your words and those you have hurt with your words and repent.

Ask him for grace to choose your words wisely. Ask him to make you a vessel through which only positive and godly words will flow. That your words will become a healing stream, life-giving spring that ministers hope, deliverance faith, encouragement and Jesus to others.

You can make scriptural declarations today to counter and nullify every negative word you have spoken over your life and over the lives of your loved ones. Say these words:

 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength.” – Psalm 19:14

7. Pray and Let the Holy Spirit Help you.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” – Prov 21:23

In the journey of taming our words, we can’t do it alone. James tells us in one of the verses that no human can tame the tongue. But thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and his work of sanctification in our lives as believers.

Ephesians 4:23 NLT says: “Instead, let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” Let the Holy Spirit work in you to renew your words. (Paraphrase).

Yield your words to him today and ask him to start his work of renewal inside you. He can work in you so much that your words come into alignment with God’s truth inside your heart. And when you speak, it will be God speaking through you and your words edifying all those that come in contact with you.

How to tame the tongue

Challenge to Apply James 3:1-12: Reflective Questions

1. How often do you find yourself speaking without fully considering the impact of your words?

2. Are there areas in your life where you struggle with gossip, slander, or negative talk?

3. How does understanding the analogies of the bit, rudder, and fire change your perspective on the importance of controlling your speech?

4. What specific changes can you make to ensure your words align more closely with Christian values?

5. How can you incorporate gratitude, encouragement, and truth into your daily conversations?


Father, I release my mouth and words to you today. I repent of every careless, idle, malicious and negative word spoken consciously and unconsciously. I ask for grace and wisdom to know when and how to restrain my words. Search my heart and purge it of  wicked, faithless and negative thoughts and ideas. Let the truth and love of Christ shine forth from my heart each time I speak. Help me always by your spirit to speak words that will nourish, heal, encourage and deliver others. May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart always be acceptable in your sight. Amen!

You can also read these :

Living Out Your Faith: Exploring James 1:22-25

Finding Joy and Growth Through Trials: Lessons from James 1:2-4

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  1. Love this post my friend! The Book of James always convicts and grows me and helps me to reset my course when I’ve fallen short. I will be mindful of my words today and the impact those words will have to all who read them. Thank you sweet friend! Your writings always take me deep into God’s Word always … 🙌🙌🙌

    1. Ufuoma Fijabi says:

      Thanks Donna for reading. I am glad you were blessed

  2. […] book of James in its first chapter highlights the importance of living out our faith by being doers of the word. A living faith is one that will turn to God in the midst of trials, adversity and crisis. Your […]

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