These small group study notes contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, lessons to learn, and applications. Feel free to print them, copy them, or share them. I only ask that you remember these are are personal study notes and are only meant as a supplement to your own study, not a replacement. I hope you can find some helpful information inside. Visit our inductive Bible study main page for more studies on this and other books of the Bible.

James 3:1-12 Inductive Bible Study Notes, Cross References, Outline, and Discussion Questions

Outline-

I. Sinful tongue
     A. Beware teachers (v 1)
     B. Premise: The tongue is the hardest area of our life to control (v 2)
     C. Natural comparisons (3-7)
             1. Horse (3)
             2. Ship (4)
             3. Fire (5-6)
             4. Animals (7)
     D. Conclusion: No man can tame the tongue (8)
     E. The tongue reveals our hypocrisy (9-12)
             1. Our hypocrisy revealed by the tongue (9-10)
             2. Natural comparisons (11-12)

Questions:

1. Why is James encouraging fewer people to set their hearts on teaching? Aren't we commanded to teach others and pass on our faith?
Why will a teacher incur stricter judgment?
What do you think James means by "become teachers"?
Does this mean you should not want to teach others about the Bible? If not, then what can we learn from this?
2. Starting in verse 2, James begins discussing about the evils of the tongue. In what way is this related to verse 1 on teachers?
Explain the phrase "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." Does this mean that we can really be perfect if we can control our tongue?
3. What examples from nature does James give us? How do these relate to the tongue?
5-6. Why do you think James has such a negative view of the tongue? How can our tongue defile our entire body? How does it set the course of our life on fire?
Since the tongue has such capacity for evil, should we just cut it out? Would this solve the problem? What is the root of the problem? If the tongue is not the root of the problem, but merely a tool for our evil hearts, then how can we solve this problem?
7. How does verse 7 relate to the topic (men can tame wild animals, but these are easier to tame than the tongue).
8. How does verse 8 compare with verse 2 (in fact no one can control what he says)?
From James comments, it is clear that the tongue has amazing destructive capacity. Why do you think it is so destructive?
Give some examples from the Bible about the destructive power of the tongue (Satan in the garden of Eden, Absalom and David, Delilah and Samson, Antichrist in last days).
What are some ways you have hurt people with your speech?
What does the fact that no one can tame the tongue tell us about the total depravity of man? Since no one can tame the tongue, what hope do we have (God can tame the tongue and as believers the Holy Spirit is living in us, meaning we also can tame the tongue through His strength)?
James here primarily discusses the evils of the tongue and the difficulty of controlling it and in this section he doesn't give specific ways to go about controlling it. What can we do to begin reigning in our tongue?
9. Besides destruction, what other potential does our tongue have?
What does verse 9 tell us about our speech (it reveals a hypocritical heart)?
11-12. What is the point in these verses (Vinegar and oil don't mix. Christians must not live double lives or have forked tongues)?

Cross-references-

1. John 13:15, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

2. Matthew 12:33-37,
5. Ephesians 5:4, 2 Timothy 2:14, Proverbs 10:19, Psalms 39:1
6. Colossians 3:8-10, Proverbs 11:13, Lev 19:16
8. James 1:26, 1 Peter 3:8-13, Titus 2:8, 2 timothy 2:22-26, Proverbs 15:1-4, Galatians 5:16-26
9.  1 Peter 4:11
12. Matthew 5:13

Teaching Points-

1. As we discussed when going over 1 Corinthians, teaching is a more prominent role than many others in the body. Here "teachers" probably refers to those in an official capacity such as pastors or prophets. These kind of people are in the spotlight. Often they are admired and respected. This attention can lead to pride. It can also attract people who enjoy being in the spotlight. We should take verse 1 as a warning to prospective teachers to take their role seriously. It is not about the attention. A lot of responsibility comes with being a teacher. Your words can have great influence on others and can alter the course of their lives. And as we learn in Hebrews 13:17, teachers will be held accountability for their actions. I think teachers will face a stricter judgment because they told others what to do. Because they told others what is right and wrong, they will have no excuse before God. They cannot claim ignorance because God may just play back a voice recording of them telling others what is right and wrong. Having the official capacity of a teacher is serious and one should consider their motives very carefully. One should also be extra careful what he says so that he doesn't mislead people.

At the same time, God has given every person a gift including the gift of teaching. If someone has this gift, they should use it, but they should not use it loosely or haphazardly. Before speaking they should prayerfully go over their words and make sure they are in line with Scripture. I often think of this verse and am reminded to be careful of what I say when I advise others. If I offer counsel, I need to make sure it is grounded in Scripture. Also, we should not use this as an excuse to be silent and not share the gospel or encourage others to follow the Bible. The Great Commission still stands. Hebrews 10:24-25 still stand. We just need to make sure that the gospel we share is the same one as the apostles shared, that the encouragement we give is from God's Word. If you speak God's Word you can't go wrong. Just make sure you also do it yourself.

2. The rest of this section is loosely connected to verse 1. Teachers speak and teach. That is what they do. They therefore have lots of opportunities to stumble with their words, even more opportunities than the average person. And their stumbling will be a lot more costly than the average person because a lot of people are listening to them whereas a fool on the street normally won't have much of an audience.

There are two possible explanations for verse 2. The first is that "perfect" truly means "perfect". That is if a person is able to completely control his tongue it is a sign of complete self-control and that person can control the rest of his body and be truly perfect. From verse 8 we know that no person can actually control their tongue so this would be a hypothetical situation basically telling us that the tongue is the most difficult part of the body to control. This would be an example of the common greater/lesser argument. The other possibility is that "perfect" means mature and shows that the spiritually mature can tame the tongue. I would lean towards the first interpretation.

What does it mean to "stumble in what he says"? To have some form of wrong speech. What kinds of speech would be examples of stumbling? (Lies, flattery, boasting, slander, gossip, silly talk, course jesting, arguing, angry outbursts, complaining, misleading people, ridiculing, cursing, blasphemy, etc.) See how many ways there are to sin with the tongue!

3-5a. James loves using illustrations from every day life or nature to prove his points. We saw them last week in faith and works, the week before about partiality, and this week about the tongue. Maybe he learned this technique of parables from Jesus, his half-brother. In any case, he uses several illustrations here to give us a deeper understanding about the tongue. What is the main point of his first illustration, the horse? How about the ship?

The key to unlocking parables is to find out the main point of the illustration. Generally parables or illustrations contain one important point (sometimes more, but generally not a lot of details). In this case, we actually don't even have to guess because James tells us in verse 5! A horse's mouth and a rudder are both small parts of their respective wholes. Each one is extremely important if you want to control the whole. They are small, but hold great power. The tongue is too. It is very small, but it is very sharp. From verse 2, we learn that if we can control our tongue, we should be able to control the rest of our body as well.

5b-6 - What is the point about the fire? This illustration teaches us about the amazing destructive capacity of the tongue. A fire starts off very small, but can spread like crazy and devour millions of acres before it can be stopped. Often times fires are started by careless people who smoke and don't put out their cigarette or leave a few sparks at the bottom of a campfire. These can be whipped up by wind and spurred on by drought until tens of people die and millions of acres are burned, hundreds of houses are destroyed, and millions of dollars of damage are caused. Sounds bad, huh? Well, that is what James compares the tongue too. Discuss how words can spread like a wildfire (mob mentality, crucifixion of Jesus). Discuss each phrase in verse 6. A fire defiles (pollutes and contaminates) by burning, but also through the smoke, which chokes and stings and carries the fire's stench everywhere.
Why do you think James has such a negative view of the tongue? How can our tongue defile our entire body? How does it set the course of our life on fire?
Since the tongue has such capacity for evil, should we just cut it out? Would this solve the problem? What is the root of the problem? If the tongue is not the root of the problem, but merely a tool for our evil hearts, then how can we solve this problem?

Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Cutting out our tongue could in fact help us to control what we say. We couldn't say anything. With our words we couldn't slander, gossip, lie, boast, etc. But it would leave our heart unchanged. We could then use our body language, gestures, or writing to do those very things. The root of the problem is our sinful heart. We are sinful people. The key is to let our hearts be regenerated, renewed and be clean, like David prayed to God to create in him a clean heart. If we don't have the desire to lie, we won't. If we don't want to harm people through slander, we won't. Yet we still must learn to control our tongues for two reasons: Firstly, there are still remnants of our old nature left. Some wrong desires are still there. Temptations rise up. We need to firstly NOT say the wrong thing, then confess the thought the Lord and move on. If you speak it out, the problem will often grow. One lie will bring another will bring two and then three more. When you start to argue, it is very hard to stop. The other person will likely respond in kind and then you will respond in anger and it will grow. The solution is to stop it at the beginning. Secondly, our tongues are very fast. Sometimes they act before our mind can really evaluate what they are saying. This is often the case with jokes or ridiculing others. In this case we need to apply James 1 and be quick to listen and slow to speak.

7-8. James uses another example from nature, this time about wild beasts. His point is that although man can control and tame wild beasts we cannot of our own power control the tongue. This is more difficult to tame than a lion. Any of you ever been to a circus? The trainers can train the lions or tigers to be tame with a lot of hard work. But they can't tame their own tongues.

How does verse 8 compare with verse 2 (in fact no one can control what he says)?
From James comments, it is clear that the tongue has amazing destructive capacity. Why do you think it is so destructive?
Give some examples from the Bible about the destructive power of the tongue (Satan in the garden of Eden, Absalom and David, Delilah and Samson, Antichrist in last days).
What are some ways you have hurt people with your speech?
What does the fact that no one can tame the tongue tell us about the total depravity of man? Since no one can tame the tongue, what hope do we have (God can tame the tongue and as believers the Holy Spirit is living in us, meaning we also can tame the tongue through His strength)?
James here primarily discusses the evils of the tongue and the difficulty of controlling it and in this section he doesn't give specific ways to go about controlling it. What can we do to begin reigning in our tongue?

Verse 8 says that no man can tame the tongue. We are sinful and depraved. Without God's help, we cannot hope to have victory or self control in this area. But we do have hope. Our hope is in Christ. He gives us the strength to have victory (1 Cor 10:13) where the natural man can have none. A natural man may hope to suppress his tongue for a awhile, but like a lion that is not fully trained, it may spring up to attack at any time, surprising everyone around. Some of my co-workers seem like nice people. Clean cut. They say kind things to one another and show care for people. But almost all of them, even the young ladies curse. It was kind of surprising to me at the beginning to see these young, seemingly nice ladies suddenly curse in anger in the middle of the office. But it is quite common. Another guy from Canada did it all the time. He was constantly cursing making rude jokes. Then he would leave the office and try to tame his temper during class. I'm sure he couldn't do it all the time. As believers, we can walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:26... The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. This is a winnable battle if we rely on God. Then what steps can we take to win this battle?
ill
A. Have a close relationship to God first. Don't be fake or hypocritical. If you are trying to live the Christian life by your own strength, you will fail sooner or later.
B. Think before we speak. Don't be hasty to share your opinion. There is nothing the matter with talking, but don't find yourself always the ONE talking on and on.
C. If we have a temptation to sin with our words, pray immediately.
D. Make a focused effort to proactively use our tongues to glorify God and bless man.

9-12. These verses basically tell us that tongues reveal the hypocrisy in our hearts. If the heart is evil, sooner or later in some way a person's words will give it away. The tongue is too hard to control because it is so fast and sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. This reminds me of the verse in the OT where God was condemning the people because they honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. This was another kind of hypocrisy. God doesn't want this kind of false lip service. If you don't mean it (worship songs), don't say it. It is worse to give false praise to God than none at all. Yet the application for us is not to stop praising God, it is to stop using our tongues as weapons to hurt people. The solution is not to be hypocrites. We need to be real and sincere. Our faith in God should touch every part of our body. It should change our behavior. Do not be a person who has a forked tongue. Explain forked tongue. Have integrity. Oil and vinegar don't mix. Next time you are about to enter an argument, mock others, scoff, ridicule, boast, lie, etc. think about Friday nights when you sing praise songs to God, think about Sundays when you tell God how much you love Him, when you worship Him with your words. We are to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs not curses, and lies, and worldly speech.

My application: Purposefully say three nice things every day to Christy.

 

Series on James Chapter by Chapter

James 1:1-11 James 1:12-27
James 2:1-13
James 2:14-26
James 3:1-12
James 3:13-4:10
James 4:11-17
James 5:1-12
James 5:13-20



   

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