“Control Your Speech” Sunday School Lesson, James 3:1-12, February 23, 2014

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February 23, 2014

“Control Your Speech”

James 3:1-12

(Click here for PDF: Control Your Speech Sunday School Lesson, or simply click the print button below. Enjoy!)

(Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2010 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original to wordforlifesays.com unless properly quoted/cited)


Simon says, “Close your mouth!”  We all know the game.  Whatever Simon tells us to do; we do lest we fear being counted out.  Oh, if only it were that easy to take command of some of our loose actions in life, such as ones that regard the mouth.  And yet, throughout the Bible we are commanded to use our speech patterns in healthy and productive ways.  Not to be instruments for destruction and tearing one another down.

There is so much power bound up in the way we talk.  Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”  Whatever is produced from our lips generates fruit.  Stuff grows, for the good or the bad, off of what we say.

James is admonishing us to be mindful of the words that come out of our mouth for with them we can lift someone’s day or we can emotionally kill them.  In previous lessons we learned the impact of what we do to others, how we treat others, and now we focus on our speech toward one another.  What we say makes a difference in the lives of others.

James 3:1 “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”

“Be not many masters.”  When it comes to bearing any title of leadership too often many focus on the prestige and tend to overlook the responsibility of the job.  The Bible warns us, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more,” (Luke 12:48).  There is a higher level of accountability for “masters” or “teachers.”  Those who are endued with the power to magnify the gospel in such a way have to be particularly careful for how they use their words.

Words are powerful and need to be measured out in a careful manner.  One of the devices that Jesus’s enemies try to employ against Him was to catch or trap Him in what He said.  Matthew 22:15 says, “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.”  One’s words can testify for or against in individual.  “Masters” and those in leadership carry added weight of accountability for their words for the increased impact they can make.

This is an office not to be taken lightly for James said, “Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”  At this level there is a higher standard of living expected for the one who bears the title.  Proverbs 10:11 says, “The mouth of the righteous man is a well of life.”  Those that belong to God and work at sharing His word have to be especially careful that what is coming out of them is speaking “life” to the ears of the hearers.

James 3:2 “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 

In your mind, raise your hand if you have ever messed up or “offend.”  One of the easiest ways to “offend” and do harm to another is through the mouth.  People often speak rashly in the heat of the moment and without carefully considering the impact their words have on another.  These emotional outbursts cause us to come up with phrases like “My mouth ran away with me,” and so forth.  On those occasions, the use of the mouth was not employed as a tool for edifying, rather just the opposite.

But the one that can control his speech is considered “a perfect man.”  Since, the tongue is often known as “running away” on its own, the one that exercises great restraint over this defiant member is considered “able also to bridle the whole body.”  It’s the taming of what some view as being untamable.   He or she that is able to moderate or put limits on something that is so difficult to deal with can often show great restraint in other areas of life also.  “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth His life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction,” is what we are told in Proverbs 13:3a.  If one can keep their mouth under control they can often hold tight elsewhere avoiding destructive patterns that would work to tear them down.

James 3:3-4 “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths,  that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.  Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.”

James gives us the best possible illustrations on the power of the tongue by referencing it to two things his readers, as well as modern day readers, can easily understand.  Through these two examples of a horse and a ship, James shows that mankind has down through the years discovered ways to bring these powerful objects under control.  For the horse, it’s using a “bit” in its mouth and for a ship “a very small helm.” 

Both of these instruments are used for control.  They both direct the course of which way the operator wants each to go, be it a rider or “the governor.”  Both are great examples of how these large and strong objects can be made to comply with the will of him who is controlling that little, vital piece.  If there are these little things can move great objects into obeisance at its master’s will, what more of the little tongue?

James 3:5-6 “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”

Just as those little instruments that are applied to the horse and ships, the body has a little thing that tries to control it also: “the tongue.” 

First, it “boasteth great things.”  The tongue edifies itself.  It magnifies the capabilities of its owner whether or not they really can do something.  The tongue is swollen with pride.  Have you ever seen an owner walk a little tiny dog with the biggest yipper on it, tugging and tugging the leash?  Or, have you walked past a yard to the tune of relentless barking thanks to a peewee sized dog?  These little ones are tenacious in letting you know who they are.  These pint-sized sweeties have no problem in letting the world know that they are here and they mean business.

Our tongues often react the same way.  It is so small and yet has so much to bark about.  Yet, this barking, used in a nonproductive and selfish way, makes a lot of noise and can lead to great destruction.

Secondly, James taught, “how great a matter a little fire kindleth!  And the tongue is a fire.”  It only takes a small flame to bring on a raging inferno.  I often watch coverage on the news of fires that burn uncontrollably.  They’re huge.  They’re massive walls of orange-red destruction, eating and devouring everything in its path.  But, they never start out that big.  Their origin is relatively small in comparison to the size they have grown to be.

James said, “And the tongue is a fire.”  The tongue can be the source of destruction that wreaks havoc on the things that get in its pathway.  The tongue can do some chopping and devouring on its own until it has consumed some with sorrow and despair.  The tongue can lash out and cause irreparable damage to the ears of its hearer.

James described it as “a world of iniquity.”  Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.”  A lot of running off of the mouth gives many opportunities for sin to rear its ugly head.  When the tongue is let loose it lashes about without regard for hurt, feelings, or the devastation that it leaves behind.  Like a whirling tornado, it ravishes, spinning around and around in sinfulness, wiping out all in its path.

Without restraint all it knows how to do upheaval.  Without restraint the tongue “defileth the whole body.”  Jesus once taught, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh,” (Luke 6:45).  What comes out through the mouth is evidence of what already resides in the heart or in the “body.” 

James 3:7-8 “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:  But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

Man, through the blessed ingenuity that God has given him, has developed ways to tame just about everything.  Yes, our lesson focuses on the taming of animals and birds, right down to the taming of serpents.  But, when we think about, man has been able to take control of or tame many more things.  Since the Bible days, man has found ways to harness energy through many means, including the use of the sun’s power.  Man has developed ways to use the powers of nature such as wind and water to harness their energies for the benefit of the human race.

Though he has been able to do so many great feats (just think of all the inventions through the years), “the tongue can no man tame.” This speaks to the “unruly evil” that it truly is.  This testifies to the power that it holds in its little self.  It is likened to being “full of deadly poison.”  Its power is able to destroy to the point of no return.  No wonder James’s admonition is so strong and so severe.  Christians have to learn how to put reins on this evil and stop its destructive ways.

James 3:9-10 “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

In the beginning God spoke His most beautiful words of creation: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .,” (Gen. 1:26).  Verse 27 goes on to say, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”  These words professed the climax of His creation.  These words speak volumes of the love relationship that God wanted to have with man who was made “in his own image,” or as today’s lesson says, “after the similitude of God.” 

“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.”  The conundrum of man: we love the Lord and seek to bless Him; yet, our attitude toward His creation, our fellow man, causes us to have disgruntle feelings which turn to cursing.  “These things ought not so to be,” James said.  This is not the way we are to behave toward one another.

1 John 4:20 says it like this, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  Love for God and hate toward man which equals out to “blessing” and “cursing” cannot and should not exist together.  They are incompatible roommates.  They are not a good fit to dwell in the same domain with each other.

James 3:11-12 “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

To further illustrate this puzzling aspect of man to try and bless and curse from the same vessel, James points out things in nature that cannot happen, that are incompatible.  First, he uses “water” to demonstrate.  Can a fountain bring sweet water and bitter from the same place?  Can a fountain have both salt water and fresh water?  The answer is an obvious no.  The same is true for looking for olives on the fig tree or figs on a vine where normally grapes would be.  It doesn’t happen.

Nature is not confused about what it is to produce.  A fig tree was designed by God to bear fig fruit.  The same is true for olives and such.  If nature knows what it should produce so should the Christians to whom James is writing.  They are to not act out of character to the way God designed them.

So, in dealing with our speech toward one another we are to be mindful to build up rather than to tear down.  Proverbs 15:4 reminds us that, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life . . .” Think about that for a minute.  The words that we speak about and to one another can bring healing to a hurting soul.  This is powerful.  Our speech goes beyond just saying words; they exhibit and send forth “life.”


Our words are powerful!  As this lesson shows they can be used to hurt or to heal; to edify or to tear down.  James wants us to choose life with the words that we speak.  He wants us to take the high road and take control of what is coming out of our mouths.  If we need help we can pray the prayer of the psalmist and say, “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips,” (Ps. 141:3).

What we say and how we talk to one another really does matter.  Be blessed.

Check out Toby Mac’s new video “Speak Life” on Youtube which really exemplifies this week’s lesson. Enjoy!

Below are activities to help support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!

Wordsearch: Control Your Speech Wordsearch  Answers: Control Your Speech Wordsearch Answers

Crossword: Control Your Speech Crossword  Answers: Control Your Speech Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Control Your Speech Word Scramble  Answers: Control Your Speech Word Scramble Answers

Draw the Scene: Control Your Speech Draw the Scene

Below are activities I borrowed from one of our previous lessons “New Power to Proclaim Truth” but they are crafts that can go easily with today’s lesson.

Speaking Collage:


This craft is perfect if you have old newspaper comics laying around.  Just cut them out and glue onto construction paper to make a collage (I prefer the ones with word balloons on them to demonstrate speaking).  In the middle, attach our cut-out printable: James 3 10 Verse Cut Out (I just changed the verse cut out). There you have it.  Enjoy!

Tongues as of Fire Activity:


The effects if this craft is done with crumbled up tissue and/or construction paper (I used both).  Simply print out the flame from Primarygames.com and glue it onto construction paper.  Put plenty of glue on the inside lines of the flame and apply the crumbled tissue and/or construction paper.  Last, attach our verse for Acts 2:3 with this printable: James 3 6 Verse Cut Out (I just changed the verse cut out). There you have it.  Enjoy!

Below are even more Resources/Links/Activities to help support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!

“Lessons on Taming the Tongue for Teens” (Scroll to the activities on the “Object Lesson/Chewing Gum” and “Fire Quechers.” These are really good for emphasizing this week’s lesson.  Enjoy!)

“Taming the Tongue Sunday School Lesson”

“Control Your Tongue Coloring Page” 

“The Power of Words” (Just think about this: shaving cream.  Yes, it turns out to be a good illustration for this week’s lesson. Enjoy!)

“Video Object Lesson: Taming the Tongue”

“Taming the Tongue Coloring Page and Cartoon”

“Tongue Twister Crafts”

“Tongue Twisters for Kids”

“Tongue Craft” (This craft was originally made for the 5 senses but this tongue craft can be applied here also.  Enjoy!)




2 thoughts on ““Control Your Speech” Sunday School Lesson, James 3:1-12, February 23, 2014

  1. Pingback: “A Disciplined Faith” Sunday School Lesson Summary and Activities, James 3:1-12 | Word For Life Says . . .

  2. Pingback: The tongue as pen | daily meditation

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