Taming the Tongue (James 3:1–12)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

James follows up his practical guidance about listening (see James 1:19–21) with similar advice about speaking. Here he employs some of the fiercest language in the book. “The tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. . . . It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). James is no doubt well aware of the Old Testament proverbs that speak about the life-giving power of the tongue (e.g., Prov. 12:18, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”), but he is also aware of the tongue’s death-dealing powers. Many Christians rightly take care not to harm others through harsh speech at church. Shouldn’t we be just as careful at work not to “curse those who are made in the likeness of God”? (James 3:9, referring to Gen. 1:26–27). Water-cooler gossip, slander, harassment, disparagement of competitors—who has never been injured by harsh words in the workplace, and who has never injured others?

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