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James 3:4-12 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 14 secs

Doctrine of Sins of the Tongue; James 3:4-12


We all go through testings of all kinds and all varieties, and whenever we do it brings with it the temptation to try to solve the problem, to try to deal with the adversity, in ways that depend on our own wisdom, our own flesh. Yet the Bible says that true victory comes only from the Lord. As we go through these situations of either prosperity or adversity, if we are not using the Word of God then we are going to transfer that into stress in our souls. Adversity and prosperity are inevitable. We will encounter one or the other, or both at the same time; it is inevitable. Stress is optional. Stress is what you do to yourself; adversity is what circumstances do to you. The issue is always and ultimately your volition and how you respond to these circumstances. One of the most obviously ways many times in which we reveal how we are handling those circumstances is what we do with our mouth. That is why James shifts in chapter three from talking about the priority of hearing the Word and applying it to talking about the sins of the tongue.


James 3:7 NASB "For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race." It does mean every single "species", it is talking about ever category. This is not a statement that is true about every single animal but it is true about ever category of species. [8] "But no one can tame the tongue; {it is} a restless evil {and} full of deadly poison." Three times we see the word "tame" and this is not a good translation. The Greek is DAMAZO [damazw], and it means to control, to subdue, to restrain; it doesn't mean to tame. Just about every kind of animal at one time or another has been subdued, not domesticated. "But no one" is a gnomic present tense of the verb. It is a present active indicative and a gnomic present. This means that it is a present tense used to state a universal truth. James did this back in verse 2 when he said that we all sin in many ways and he is using a gnomic present again in v. 8 saying no one can tame the tongue. From the moment we are saved until the moment we die we are going to have a problem with this in our life. We are freed at the moment of salvation positionally from the power of the sin nature, but we will always struggle with the sin nature, we will never reach sinless perfection and at some point we will always struggle with sins of the tongue. Even if that is not our area of weakness we will never have complete control of the tongue. Nevertheless, the goal of the Christian life is to advance spiritually and to have as much control of the sin nature as possible. Remember that Romans chapter 6 says that we are to put to death the deeds of the sin nature.


"…{it is} a restless evil {and} full of deadly poison." As we read through these passages we see the tremendous imagery that James is using in order to grab our attention so that we start paying attention to what we say. It is so easy for us to slip into various categories of gossip, slander, and to use our tongue to run people down. When we get mad at somebody we immediately say something cutting or insulting. We do that with people we love as well as people we don't care too much about.


Then in the next verses James is going to show how the tongue operates in terms of revealing what is happening in the soul. If we are not looking at life from divine viewpoint, and you can't as an unbeliever, then your only alternative is human viewpoint. That is why the process of sanctification is portrayed as renovating your thinking. That is a very strong word in Romans 12:1, 2 that we are to completely renovate and reshape our thinking. We have to go in and we have to do a major overhaul of everything, including the foundation. What is hard is that that foundation has to do with a lot of unstated assumptions and presuppositions about life, things that people very rarely pull out into the open and think about and talk about. Yet that is the process of the spiritual life. We live in an era today when people's general thinking is shaped by emotionalism, pragmatism and mysticism. This characterises the average man on the street. That doesn't mean that he understands these words or that he can even pronounce these words. He may never have heard of men like Kierkegaard, Friedrich Schliermacher or Karl Barth, yet he exemplifies their philosophical and theological positions by every choice that he makes. In emotionalism we determine what is right by what makes us feel good. That becomes the ultimate criterion. In pragmatism we determine what is right by what works, and in mysticism the ultimate authority in life is our own internal sense of what is right or wrong, which is intuition. That is the average person.


Now that person gets saved. But rather than challenging all of his unstated presuppositions about emotionalism, pragmatism and mysticism, he just goes to a church where all of this is going to be there. He goes there and he hears this wonderful glowing sermon and they sing music that has a great beat to it, and there is what everyone is buying into today called the "Christian choruses." Everybody feels good and they think, "I must have worshipped God." Not only that, but everybody seems to like this so the church is growing. They have fifty people, they keep doing tuis and a year later they have 200 people. So it is growing, "So God must be blessing us"! Of course, they're not teaching the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, substitutionary atonement. In fact, they're teaching Lordship salvation and nobody is getting saved. It has nothing to do with doctrine; it has everything to do with their human viewpoint systems of thought. Then you ask them, "Well how do you know this is really right?" "Well I just know it is." Well have you taken the time to study the Scriptures?" This is what we are saying. The average person has his thinking under girded by a lot of philosophical concepts. That doesn't mean that he knows what they are called, that he knows how they are related to one another. It doesn't even mean that he is consistent. The thing about mysticism is that it says that the worst thing in the world is rigorous logic, so the best thing in the world is to be inconsistent. So hey, isn't it great? We are just going to have a wonderful time and just feel good about it!


So this guy gets saved and he doesn't have to renovate his thinking because he can go to a hundred different churches and can feel quite comfortable without ever changing the basic assumptions of life. But if we want to get anywhere in the spiritual life and really learn to think correctly about reality we have to renovate our thinking. We have to learn some things, and part of that is learning what some terms mean, and we have to learn what their characteristics are so that we can then take some tome to go home and take our own thinking and put it under the microscope of Bible doctrine. Then we begin to look and see how these various modes of thinking have infiltrated our life from day one. How we think is more important than anything else we do in life because the Scripture says that everything starts from our thinking. That is why the apostle Paul uses words over and over again like thinking and mind and mentality to describe the essence of the Christian life.


What James is saying is that as a believer we are going to produce one of two things, and our tongue is going to show which of these is dominating the mentality of our soul.


James 3:9 NASB "With it [the tongue] we bless {our} Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God." Right here we understand that one of the basic issue underlying the prohibition to slander, to gossip, etc., is the fact that everybody, whether they are believer or unbeliever, is made in the image and likeness of God. With the fall, sin, the image was tarnished. It wasn't destroyed, removed, it was tarnished. Because every human being, even though fallen, is in the image of God we are to treat them with honor and respect. That is the fundamental principle underlying respect for human life in all legislation in that arena. [10] "from the same mouth come {both} blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." Mandate of prohibition; imperative of prohibition: it ought not to be this way. Then there are two illustration, one from a fountain and one from a fig tree.

James 3:11 NASB "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." In other words, he is saying that if you are regenerate and you are storing doctrine in your soul, then as a mature believer operating on divine viewpoint you are not going to be producing sins of the tongue. The sins of the tongue are a contradiction to what has happened in he life of the believer. He is not saying go and sin no more. In other words, go and be perfect and don't commit sin, sins of the tongue. But what he is saying is that this is an internal inconsistency in the life of the believer, and so the goal is mastery of the tongue and that only comes as a result of the spiritual dynamics of learning and applying doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the sins of the tongue

Proverbs 8:13 NASB "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate."

Proverbs 10:13 NASB "On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod [discipline] is for the back of him who lacks understanding. [14] Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand."

1)  Sins of the tongue is one of three categories of sins which emanate from the sin nature. The other two are overt sins such as murder, adultery, thievery, and mental attitude sins such as bitterness, jealousy, envy, hatred, anger, fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, self-pity. Verbal sins [of the tongue] include gossip, maligning, slander, lying, false witness, whining and complaining. Psalm 34:13 NASB "Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit." Cf. James 3:6.  Philippians 2:14 NASB "Do all things without grumbling or disputing."

2)  The sins of the tongue are sponsored and motivated by mental attitude sins, especially pride, jealousy, bitterness, vindictiveness, revenge motivation, and hatred. Psalm 5:9 NASB "There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction {itself.} Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue."

3)  Out of the list of the seven worst sins, the seven sins that God abominates, three are sins of the tongue. Proverbs 6:16 NASB "There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: [17] Haughty eyes [arrogance], a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, [18] A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, [19] A false witness {who} utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers."

4)  The sins of the tongue produce triple-compound divine discipline. Matthew 7:1 NASB "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. [2] For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you."

5)  Judging incurs such harsh discipline because the self-righteous believer is putting himself in the place of God—that is arrogance—and judges the actions, motives and thoughts of others without knowing all the facts. The don't know all the facts, they have a false system of standards, usually they are very self-righteous, and therefore they justify engaging in character assassination and destroying reputations because, "after all, this person has done this horrible sin." Romans 2:1 NASB "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. [2] And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things." Romans 14:4 NASB "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand… [10] But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God."

6)  Continuation of the sins of the tongue or the habitual function of the sins of the tongue is a sign of extended carnality and rejection of doctrine in the life of a believer. Psalm 12:3 NASB "May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things."

7)  God protects and blesses the believer who is victimized by the sins of the tongue. Job 5:19 NASB "From six troubles He will deliver you, Even in seven evil will not touch you. [20] In famine He will redeem you from death, And in war from the power of the sword.[21] You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue, And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes."

8)  Control of the tongue is a sign of the possession of maturity in terms of the soul fortress and spiritual maturity. Proverbs 13:3 NASB "The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." Proverbs 21:23 NASB "He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles."

9)  The tongue of the carnal believer can produce enough slander, gossip, maligning and judging to destroy an entire congregation. 2 Timothy 2:14-17 NASB "Remind {them} of these things, and solemnly charge {them} in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless {and leads} to the ruin of the hearers. [15] Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. [16] But avoid worldly {and} empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, [17] and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus."

10)   Troublemakers are always characterized by sins of the tongue. Believers are specifically commanded to avoid such troublemakers and to separate from them. Romans 16:17 NASB "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. [18] For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting."

11)  The believer can actually lengthen his life and find great inner happiness by avoiding the sins of the tongue. Psalm 34:12 NASB "Who is the man who desires life And loves {length of} days that he may see good? [13] Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit."

12)  Deceit and lying can be by commission or omission. Proverbs 4:24 NASB "Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you."

13)  Slander and gossip, which is running down others and telling unfavourable stories about them which harm their reputation, are to have no part in the believer's life. It is not the veracity of the stories that is the issue, it is telling stories that you are not involved with. Proverbs 10:18 NASB "He who conceals hatred {has} lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool…. 11:9 "With {his} mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered."

14)  Whining and complaining reveal a complete lack of gratitude, failure to appreciate the blessings of God in our lives, and failure to appreciate the vast extent of our salvation and spiritual life blessings. It is what the children of Israel did when they were delivered from slavery in Egypt.

15)  Believers are warned against talkativeness, especially during times of adversity or testing. Proverbs 13:3 NASB "The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." Ecclesiastes 10:13 NASB "the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. [14] Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?" Proverbs 10:19 NASB "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise."

16)  Taking the Lord's name in vain is often at the top of the list of the sins of the tongue. Yet, that is based on a poorly understood and mistranslated passage in the Old Testament. In the Ten Commandments it says, "Do not take the Lord's name in vain." But everybody immediately thinks that means prefacing some comment with "God," "Jesus Christ," and something like that. What the Ten Commandments is saying is something completely different. That is not what God put in the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew there for taking the Lord's name in vain is the word shua. What this means is to treat something lightly, insignificantly, to use God's name in an illegitimate, deceitful or false manner. Basically the application in Israel was that this was to prohibit attaching the Lord's name, Yahweh, to a prophecy, so that you are not going to say, "Thus saith the Lord." That is taking the Lord's name in vain. It was to attach the Lord's name to a course of action. There are so many self-righteous Christians who say, "This is God's will for my life." That is taking the Lord's name in vain. It is attaching God's name to some enterprise and you don't know with one hundred per cent certainty that that is what God wants you to do or not. Taking the Lord's name in vain is attaching His name to any course of action, any ideology, any religious system, that is not authorized by God. Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11.