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Introduction to Controlling the Tongue

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body. (James 3:1-2)

In this next section of verses 1 to 12, James challenges the believers to control the tongue, giving ample warnings of its destructive power. For verse 1, James warns believers to not take the position of a teacher because of the stricter accountability that God holds for those individuals. Thomas Lea said this about teachers: “A teacher receives added prominence from the position, but also falls under stricter scrutiny from God. Teachers provide instruction in the practical duties of life and help to ground their hearers in the teachings and commandments of Jesus.” Now, the Word of God does not discourage people from trying to get into the position of teacher, but it does place strict qualifications for those in that office, since it does deal with others' spiritual well-being (example: 1 Timothy 3).

With verse 2, James emphasizes the need to control the tongue. And this admonition is not just for the readers, but James includes himself, “For we all stumble in many ways.” There are two things we can learn about controlling the tongue from these verses together. First, especially for teachers, those who use the tongue in non-godly manners will receive a “stricter judgment.” Therefore, knowing that God will thoroughly examine our lives and will deal out judgment, we should be vigilant in how we use our tongues. Secondly, being able to control the tongue is evidence of spiritual maturity and control of our total being, “able also to control the whole body.” Lea states, “We show our imperfection and sinfulness by committing sins of the tongue. By the same measure we show our maturity by controlling the tongue.”

If our hearts are pointed towards God, focused on glorifying Him with our entire lives, then it will be evident through our speech. As Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34b, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Therefore, may we purify our hearts, being mindful that God is watching our actions, and glorify Him through our words and use of our tongues.


Isaac De Guzman


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