What is the Meaning of James 3.1-5

“Taming the Tongue” Your Speech Will Guide the Course of Your Life

James 3:1-5a

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 3.1-5

Turn to James 3 where James discusses the tongue. Did you know that the world record for the longest time is 3.86 inches? And you thought your loved one had a long tongue! Although it’s not the strongest muscle in the body, Thomas Blackstone holds the record for the strongest tongue when he lifted 24 lbs. 3 oz. that was hooked through his tongue. The blue whale has the largest tongue of all animals, and it is the size of an elephant weighing 5400 pounds.

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According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most difficult tongue twister is “The sixth sick sheikh’s sixth sheep’s sick.”

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You have 10,000 taste buds in your mouth, only 8,000 of which are on your tongue. 2,000 are under your tongue or in your mouth somewhere. The taste buds are not those dots on your tongues, but they live on top of those little dots.

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And the way James speaks of our tongues in our passage, the saying “does the cat got your tongue” probably should be true for more of us more often.

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Let’s read James 3:1–12 1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

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Quite a condemnation of the evil that can come out of our mouths!

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James has moved from the end of chapter 2 where he spoke of how real saving faith produces good works to now the tongue. What’s the point? The point is that what comes out of your mouth tells us all about whether or not you are a real Christian. Real faith works; real saving faith will produce good works, it will be shown through the lips.

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But James goes beyond just that. A mature Christian will actually be able to control his speech. Verse 2.. “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” Someone who controls his speech is a perfect man, a complete man, a mature person is the idea.

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So James wants us to control our speech, to tame our tongues, so that we may be mature Christians.

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Jame’s point today in verses 1-5 is that to tame your tongue, you must understand that your speech will guide the course of your life. Your speech will guide the course of your life. If you can’t control your speech you can’t control your life; your life will be out of control. Your speech will guide the course of your life

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James is serious about this. The words that come out of your mouth are in every single chapter the book of James.

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James 1:19 … everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

James 2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

James 5:12 …do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

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When James talks about the tongue, he’s getting to the heart of the matter. Just like works prove your faith, as we’ve seen, so also your tongue proves what’s in your heart.

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  1. Not many are to be teachers b/c we all stumble, e.g., in speech. (vv.1-2)

    James begins with the application of what he’s going to teach in the rest of the passage. We’re not used to that, were used to hearing the explanation first and then the application. But he’s going to talk to us throughout this section about how difficult it is to control our speech. So because it is difficult to control your speech, not many of us should be teachers.

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    1. The command: Do not let many become teachers (v.1a)

James 3:11 Let not many of you become teachers

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Who are the teachers? They are they who have been appointed to instruct in doctrine in the church…They are very important, even more important than miracles, as Paul ranks them in …

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1 Corinthians 12:28 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

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Paul says in Eph. 4:11 that teachers are a gift from Christ to His church…

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Ephesians 4:11 11 And He [Christ…] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

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Based on the construction of that verse, Paul makes clear that all pastors are teachers but not all teachers are pastors.

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So teachers would include pastors but would also include other lay teachers.

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Now, James is not talking about one on one teaching. He’s not talking about you personally discipling someone. Everyone is called to do that. Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 makes clear that each person who trusts Christ is to be able to teach what Christ has commanded us. So we’re all called to teach on an individual level.

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In fact Hebrews 5:12 and you may want to turn there real quick … the author to the Hebrews in Hebrews 5:12 chides the Hebrew believers because they should have been teaching others, seeing that they had been saved for some time …

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Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

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And the calculations are that they should have been teaching others because they had been saved for 3 years… about the same time that Jesus’ disciples were with him.

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But back to James 3…James is talking about a more public, more official role as a teacher. And James isn’t wanting to discourage anyone who is truly called by God and the body of Christ to teach. It is a good thing to want to teach…as Paul says …

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1 Timothy 3:1 1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

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An overseer is teacher. But not everyone should teach. It’s not something to just start doing; it’s to be considered with much seriousness.

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Not anyone who has the gift of gab should be a teacher. “That guy talks a lot, let him teach.” No…we don’t want what Paul describes in …

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1 Timothy 1:7 [that there are some who] want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

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Unfortunately if the church has that kind of mindset, there will be more false teachers, uncalled teachers, unqualified and unprepared teachers. A believer said to me recently that nothing does more harm to the cause of Christ than uncalled preachers.

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A godly teacher will recognize that when he teaches others he also teaches himself. What he teaches, he himself should also strive to perform.

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He will admonish every man and teach every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

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He will, like all Christians should, let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…He will pay close attention to himself and to his teaching, not for the sake of dishonest gain, but for the progression of God’s kingdom in people’s hearts.

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And he does this because we all know that we live in a time when people cannot endure sound doctrine; but instead today people in churches want to have their ears tickled and so they heap up for themselves certain teachers that will tell them what they want to hear: like Paul says in 2 Timothy, how to love themselves better, how to love money, and how to love pleasure.

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How to love yourself, how to love money, and how to love pleasure are the main topics in many churches today and thousands and upon thousands of people are buying into it.

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There are scores and scores of religious teachers. But a true godly teacher will teach and instruct in Bible doctrine and godly living. He warns of sin, rebukes, reproves, and corrects patiently, gently and insistently.

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TRANS: But James’ point isn’t to discourage truly called preachers and teachers…it isn’t to discourage one on one discipleship … but James’ point is that there shouldn’t be too many teachers in an assembly… why not? The rest of verse 1 tells us…

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  1. Reason: Teachers will be judged with greater strictness (v.1b)

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James 3:1 1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, [here it is…] knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

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Or, as the ESV has it…. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

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Why shouldn’t there be many formal, public teachers? Because we who teach are judged with greater strictness.

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What is the nature of that judgment? It isn’t speaking of going to heaven or hell, for surely anyone who turns from their sin and hates their life and clings to Christ is saved and will be saved for all of eternity, because Jesus’ death paid the entire penalty of our sin and by His righteous life of obedience we are declared righteous in God’s sight.

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So what does James mean by a “judgment of greater strictness.” Surely, for the teacher who trusts Christ and is saved, he will stand before the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ according to 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Ro. 14:10.

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And he’ll be rewarded or not so much dependant on his service to Christ. Perhaps the Lord will scrutinize him over what he has taught, about whether it was good and righteous, or reflective of who God is and what He has said in his word, the motives, or the diligence with which he taught God’s people.

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This is why we are so focused here on getting the understanding of the text right and making sure we can digest it and then insisting that you apply it specifically your life so that you may live it.

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So it’s quite clear, teaching the word of God is not safe. Teachers will be judged with greater strictness, greater scrutiny. And I can honestly say, this makes me a little nervous. However, the calling of God upon my life is quite clear to me. The Lord changed my desires so that I would pursue ministry and he confirmed that calling when the body of Christ was calling upon me to exercise my giftings.

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APP: So, you could be a blessing to me to pray for me and my teaching. And if there is anything I teach that doesn’t line up with Scripture, that you let me know. I’d rather correct that now, than to have to answer for it later.

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TRANS: Now, why is James saying that there shouldn’t be many teachers? They will be judged more strictly… But why will they be judged with greater strictness? Teachers will be judged with greater strictness because teachers do the thing that’s the most difficult to do and yet not sin doing it … What do you think is the most difficult thing that you have to do and not sin while doing it … if you ask James, it’s talking.

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  1. Teachers judged with greater strictness because of difficulty to control speech (v.2)
    1. We all stumble in many ways

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James 3:2 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

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Teachers talk a lot! I speak some 4,000 words in a message. This message has exactly 3,952 words in it… I’m thankful that I plan out nearly every word I speak and pray that God direct everyone of those words.

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But we all stumble. Stumble means to sin, but it can mean a simple mistake. An error, missing the moral mark. We all sin in many different ways….

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Romans 3:10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

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We all stumble; there is but one person in the history of humanity who never sinned.

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Mark Twain said, “Of the 417 commandments [he must have counted some commandments in Scripture … Of the 417 commandments], only a single one of the 417 has found ministerial obedience; [the command that says] multiply and replenish the earth. To [that command] sinner & saint, scholar & ignoramus, Christian & savage are alike loyal.”

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However, everybody sins in every other way … especially in your speech…

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Proverbs 10:19 19 When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

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He who restrains his lips is wise. And that’s why James can say that if anyone does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man. The word perfect there does not mean sinless. It means complete, mature, whole. If you do not stumble in what you say, you are a mature believer.

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But he’s not only mature, but James’ main point this morning is right there in verse 2 ….

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  1. Those who are mature and control their speech guide their destiny.

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Those who are mature control their speech but that’s not all they control. They also control their lives. Middle of verse 2…

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James 3:2 2 … If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, [here we go…] able to bridle the whole body as well.

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The bridle is of course the equipment on the head of the horse. The bridle controls the horse. Now, if you bridle your body, you are controlling your body. You direct your body throughout your life.

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If anyone does not stumble in what he says he is also able to bridle the whole body.

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If you bridle your tongue, you will bridle your body.

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To bridle something is to control it, to direct it. James is saying this… If you direct and control your speech, you will control your body also, you will control where your body goes, what it does. You’ll direct your life.

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If you control your speech, you will direct your life. If you don’t control your speech, your life will be out of whack as well. Your tongue controls your life in a very real sense.

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TRANS: Now … James gives some illustrations to back up his point…

  1. If you control your speech, you’ll direct your life (vv.3-5)

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    If you control your tongue, you’ll control your body. If you properly control your speech, you will be one who properly controls his life. It’s like the horse verse 3…

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James 3:3 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

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If you put the bit into the horses’ mouth, you can control and direct that horse as you please.

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It’s the same with a ship verse 4…

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James 3:4 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

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Even though a ship is large and there are strong winds, it’s still the rudder on the back of the ship that directs the ship.

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Just like the bit controls the body of a horse or just like the rudder controls the body of a ship, so also if you can control your tongue you will control the direction of your life. You won’t have an out of control life!

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That’s quite a claim your tongue has on your life…as James says…James 3:5 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

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Your tongue can boast of great things…it’s a small part of your body, but it can boast of great things…like what? For one, that if you can control it, you’ll also control the direction of your life.

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Why? Because as Jesus says…“it’s out of the abundance of the heart that your mouth speaks!”

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So it’s not just not saying bad things and saying good things… It’s not just “make sure you control your speech.” No, here’s some motivation… Your speech will reveal the course of your life. And that’s because your speech reaches down either into the pit or the treasure trove in your heart to reveal the true nature of who you really are. Your tongue will reveal your heart and it’ll reveal who you are really following.

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And it doesn’t take long, once you really start to get to know somebody and ask them the tough questions in life… Their speech will reveal the direction that they are headed. You don’t have to read people’s minds, just the words that come out of their mouths.

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And it’s the same with you. When you talk on a regular basis with those closest to you and you share and you open up, this is revealing the course of your life. If you control your tongue, you’re controlling your life. If you don’t control your tongue, you’re not controlling your life. You’re out of control and your life will show it.

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Show me a woman who speaks often of her Lord or show me a man who has God’s words on his lips, or show me a child who praises God with her tongue even when she doesn’t get her way, and I’ll show you someone who is on their way to properly controlling their life.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 3.1-5

If you talk to a pornographer, what would his speech be like? A womanizer? If you talk to someone who pursues money and wealth, what would be the kinds of things that he says?

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If you talk to someone given to anger, what will be the direction of his life?

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Frederick Buechner said, “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

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Angry speech is fun, it’s so stimulating…but a man given to anger will be a man who loves and exalts in folly, he’ll stir up hatred, give out all sorts of traps for others to fall into, will lead others into sin, and his whole life will be out of control…all of that will come out of his mouth.

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Learn to control your tongue and so control your life. Don’t speak prematurely.

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Proverbs 18:13 He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.

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Proverbs 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

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Don’t speak to quickly…

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And don’t talk too much…

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Proverbs 17:27 He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

Proverbs 14:23 In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.

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Make your words count… And be thoughtful in your speech

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Proverbs 27:14 He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him.

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Try that to your kids or parents or your siblings tomorrow morning…right when they wake up say, “HEY!!! GOOD MORNING!” Be thoughtful in all your speaking; learn to say the right thing in the right way at the right time…

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Proverbs 25:11 Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken.

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Your words have great power…

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“THE BONELESS tongue, so small and weak,

Can crush and kill,” declared the Greek.

“The tongue destroys a greater horde,”

The Turk asserts, “than does the sword.”

The Persian proverb wisely saith,

“A lengthy tongue—and early death.”

Or sometimes take this form instead:

“Don’t let your tongue cut off your head.”

“The tongue can speak a word whose speed,”

Say the Chinese, “outstrips the steed.”

While Arab sage doth this impart;

“The tongue’s great storehouse is the heart.”

From Hebrew wit the maxim sprung,

“Though feet should slip, ne’er let the tongue.”

The sacred writer crowns the whole,

“Who keeps his tongue doth keep his soul.”

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I know we can all improve with our speech, but to be more motivated to do that, understand that the things that come out of your mouth, come from your heart and your life will be directed that way … but there is forgiveness with the Lord and one day our tongues will only be sinless showing forth only the praise of God because of the righteousness of our God who declares righteous all who trust in Him.

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That’s why we can praise God for that fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins…number 267….note stanza 5…Let’s really sing it out this morning…

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Go to James Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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