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Taming the Tongue


In 1:26 James dropped a small bombshell against the unbridled tongue. Now in 3:1-12 he drops a large one, a blistering attack against the tongue. He does not really explain why this issue is so important to him, given his concern for social justice. Nor does he give us any direct help in controlling the tongue. But it is an urgent issue that deserves our attention.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Sticks, stones, and words. What would James say about our well-known nursery rhyme that tries to put a brave face on the damage done by the unbridled tongue: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Is that true? Hardly. Some internet entries offer another version:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will hurt forever.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can kill me.

2. Advice to teachers? Some have argued that all of James 3 is counsel to teachers. It starts out with a word for teachers. Does 3:13-18 also address teachers?

3. Medicine for the unbridled tongue? James tells us: “No one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). He gives us no solution, no hope. Where can we turn to find help in taming the tongue? This would be a good place for a wide-ranging discussion in a Sabbath School class.

4. Do troubles tame or unleash the tongue? The intensity of James attack against the tongue is startling. If, in fact, suffering is the theme in James, it would be well to explore the question of whether people who have fallen into difficulties end up attacking each other more or helping each other more. Or can both patterns be found, with trouble sometimes bringing people together, sometimes driving them apart?

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