There are many great and powerful weapons in the world today. Over the years, man has used the resources God has given us on this planet and has developed powerful weapons of war. However, there is one weapon that is more deadly and powerful than all the nuclear and chemical weapons combined. That weapon is: the tongue.
The power of the tongue (v. 1-4). James begins in verse 1 by mentioning that there should not be too many teachers. The reason James says this is because teachers are the ones that use their tongues the most and is thus more apt to misuse the tongue. Teachers are also held to a higher standard. There is a certain level of accountability that comes with being a teacher. Therefore, above all, teachers should learn how to master their tongue and make sure they use it in a way that brings glory to God. James describes in verses 2-4 just how powerful the tongue is. He compares it to a bit in a horse’s mouth and to a small rudder that can turn an entire ship. Every word we say has the power to change the direction and course of a life. Especially for those of us who are teachers. The words we say can affect the decisions people make and the manner in which they live. Nations rise and fall over the words of one man. Wars have been waged and countless numbers have died because of the words of one man. Lives have been altered and dreams have died because of the words of one man. Churches have flourished and churches have crumbled because of the words of one man. There is nothing more powerful than words.
The deadliness of the tongue (v. 5-8). James goes on to describe how the tongue is a deadly poison. If you are not careful, the tongue can do an enormous amount of damage. Just like a wildfire that can be started by one spark, the tongue can destroy hundreds of lives just by one simple word. The tongue is difficult to tame. As a matter of fact, our text mentions that no man can tame the tongue. I have seen many young people whose entire lives are changed because of one word that someone says. There have been many that have taken their own life because of the hurt they came from someone’s words. The tongue is certainly the deadliest weapon on the planet.
The confusion of the tongue (v. 9-12). The tongue is very hypocritical. In the same sentence, we often give glory to God and tear someone down at the same time. James says that these things ought not be. Such hypocritical speech should not be found in the life of a believer. In verses 11-12, James uses an illustration in nature in order to explain the confusion of the tongue. These verses show the consistency of nature. Both verses ask questions to which the expected answer is “no.” The illustrations from nature would have been familiar to inhabitants of Palestine. Areas around the Dead Sea contained many salty springs. Farther north of the Dead Sea travelers could find springs emitting fresh water. One spring could produce only one type of water. The farmers of Palestine produced figs, olives, and grapes in abundance. James emphasized that a tree produced its own kind of fruit. We don’t go to grapevines to find figs. We do not pluck olives from fig trees. Nature is consistent, but our tongues have never provided models of consistency.
Principles concerning the tongue. There are several principles concerning the tongue that we should consider.
(1) Written words are just as deadly as spoken words. In January 1917, the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman sent a secret telegram to his country’s ambassador in Mexico. The message announced the intention of the German government to begin unrestricted submarine warfare against all nations on February 1. It also urged the German ambassador to encourage both Mexico and Japan to support the German plans in order to keep America neutral and out of the war efforts. British intelligence intercepted the message and saw that President Woodrow Wilson read the dispatch. Wilson released the telegram to the press. America had been a neutral nation in the First World War until this time. The disclosure of German intentions in the telegram led Wilson to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. The deceitful words of the German foreign secretary goaded America into war. In our world today, we have this powerful tool called social media. How many times have you posted something online only to later regret what you posted? How many people have you seen cause harm to others because of something they post online? Just like words that come from the tongue cannot be taken back, so is everything you post online. Therefore, be careful about what you post and think it through before you reveal your heart through your words for all the world to see.
(2) Speak words that edify rather than condemn. Colossians 3:16-17 tells us that we are to use our words to admonish one another and to give glory to God. We must learn to speak in a way that encourages others to follow Christ rather than speaking words of condemnation which may push them away from following Christ.
(3) Speak words of thanksgiving. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that it is the will of God that we give thanks in everything. As believers in Christ, we should have an attitude of gratitude. We should speak words of thanksgiving not only to God but also to each other. Such words will lift each other up. When is the last time you simply told someone, thank you?
(4) Speak words of praise. Psalm 95:1-2 tells us that we are to sing unto the Lord and make joyful noise unto Him. The reason God gave us a tongue is so that we may speak and sing words of praise to Him. We are to use our tongues to glorify God.
Your tongue can certainly get you into a lot of trouble. It can be used for evil and it can be used for good. Commit yourself to the Lord and ask Him to help you to use your tongue in a way that would bring glory to Him.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 305). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 305–306). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.