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The Book of James

Lesson 7 November 8-14

Taming the Tongue

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: James 3:1-12; Deut. 6:6-7; Luke 9:51-56; Prov. 16:27; Matt. 7:16-18.

Memory Text: For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:37, NKJV).

Words hold tremendous power. A word fitly spoken (Prov. 25:11)-praise, poetry, stories can shape lives in profound ways. What we say may linger for days or even years. Children, for example, absorb words like sponges. That's why they soon speak fluently whatever language they grow up hearing. It's also why the messages they hear about themselves may foreshadow their future success or failure. For better or worse, the communication style of parents is replicated and amplified in their children.

The written word is powerful, too, and even more lasting. Most powerful of all is God's Word. Consider: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105); and Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Ps. 119:11). Jesus directed the attention of the disciples away from temporal blessings to something much more vital: The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (John 6:63).

Words can soothe and reassure or poison and contaminate. How often have you said something you wished you could take back?

This week, as we will see, James has some important words about, well, words.

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 15.

Sunday November 9


Read James 3:1. What important point is he making here about accountability?

Teachers in the church and in Christian schools have an especially heavy responsibility because they shape minds and hearts in ways that will last for years. This effect includes the rippling impact they will have on many others beyond their immediate sphere of influence. The more we know, the more responsible we become for utilizing and imparting that knowledge.

At the entrance to the Tyndale House library in Cambridge, England, is a plaque reminding every scholar who enters there: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Man is not the measure of all things; God is, and all true education begins and ends with Him. Unfortunately, as knowledge increases, dependence on God tends to diminish. It is too often practiced and taught, for example, that science functions independently from God. Some teachers of theology, in striving for credibility, also may utilize methods that leave little or no room for faith. As a result, faith can gradually get squeezed out of the minds and hearts of both teachers and students. But as long as educating for eternity, not just for this world, is uppermost for teachers and students alike, learning will be a precious, even inspirational, endeavor.

Paul too understood this responsibility for he trained and ordained leaders in the churches he raised up (Acts 14:23, compare Titus 1:5). He even gave instructions to Timothy to guard God's flock from inexperienced and unwise shepherds (see 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 3:2-6; 6:2-5; 2 Tim. 2:14-15), warning that some are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7, NKJV).

Parents carry a weighty responsibility in teaching their children, who in turn influence others. All of us, in fact, by the example we set, can have a profound influence on those around us. How important then that we seek God's wisdom, which He has promised us (James 1:5), that we might model His ways and exert a godly influence. For we all, for good or for bad, do exert influence over others.

Think about those who have influenced you in a positive way. What did they do? How did they impact you? And, most important, how can you do the same for others?

Monday November 10

Word Power

For we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2, ESV). What a refreshing admission, especially considering James's emphasis on behavior! Still, our acknowledgment of the real need not dim our belief in God's ideal for us as His representatives on earth.

If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body (vs. 2, ESV). The form of the condition in Greek implies that not stumbling in word is a real possibility. The importance of words can scarcely be overestimated. Thoughts lead to words, which in turn lead to actions. Words also reinforce what we think. Thus, they influence not only what we do but also what others do. We are interconnected through language.

This week's passage contains several illustrations of the power of the tongue. The first three emphasize how something small can have huge consequences: a bit and bridle can turn a horse, a rudder can steer a ship, and a spark can engulf a forest in flames.

What positive kinds of word power do we find in Scripture? See Deut. 6:6-7; 23:23; Ps. 40:3; Prov. 10:20-21; 12:25; Mal. 2:6-7; Luke 4:22; Rom. 10:6-8.

Young children are impressionable, but, like trees that grow stiffer and more fixed, children resist change more as they age. In one sense we are all teachers, whether in the home or in the church. Because our words have so much power, it's important to bathe our thoughts in God's Word early in the day. After all, what feeds our thoughts and words: God's Spirit or another source? We must not underestimate the enormous changes that are possible through God's Word (Ps. 33:6, compare 2 Cor. 4:6), as opposed to other sources.

Words are so potentially powerful that, with just a few sentences, you can devastate a person, perhaps for the rest of his or her life. On the other hand, positive words can uplift someone, perhaps for just as long.

If you had dynamite in your hands, how careful would you be with it? What should your answer tell you about how you should deal with something even more powerful than dynamite?

Tuesday November 11

"Little" Things Are the Big Things

Read James 3:3-5. What do the two illustrations have in common, and how do they relate to the tongue?

Both the bit in a horse's mouth and the rudder of a ship are very small compared to what they control. Yet, with a slight movement of the hand, the horse's or the ship's direction can be completely changed. By the same token, even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things (vs. 5, NKJV). In other words, a word or even a look or a gesture might seem small, but each can change a friend into an enemy or transform a bad situation into something good. A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Prov. 15:1). Imagine a horse galloping at full speed and a ship slicing through the water at full throttle but both headed in the wrong direction. The faster something goes, the farther away it gets from its destination. The best course then is to stop and turn around as soon as possible. The same is true of our words. If a conversation is going from bad to worse, the sooner we stop the better.

Read Luke 9:51-56. What was Jesus' response to the suggestion of the disciples? What was the result, and what lessons might this story have for us?

Although the disciples had a biblical precedent for their suggestion (2 Kings 1:10, 12), Jesus rejected the suggestion. His rebuke dramatically altered the situation. The story ends simply by indicating that they went to another village (Luke 9:56). Jesus turned His rejection by a Samaritan village into a learning experience for His followers. In the heat of the moment, when feelings rise up and clamor for us to defend ourselves, we can remember the example of Jesus and, figuratively speaking, move on to another village.

As drops of water make the river, so little things make up life. Life is a river, peaceful, calm, and enjoyable, or it is a troubled river, always casting up mire and dirt.-Ellen G. White, That I May Know Him, p. 209.

What are some little things in your life that, as you dwell further on them, might not be so little after all?

Wednesday November 12

Damage Control

We've all experienced it. Something we said gets magnified, perhaps even exaggerated, to the point that we don't even recognize it anymore. As James says, See how great a forest a little fire kindles (3:5, NKJV).

Read prayerfully and carefully James 3:6. What is he saying about the power of our tongue, of our words, to defile everything about us? Why should this verse make us tremble before we speak?

While fire, when used symbolically, can signify cleansing (Isa. 4:4, Zech. 13:9), it more frequently refers to destruction (see, for example, Josh. 6:24; 11:9, 11; 1 Sam. 30:3; Matt. 7:19), including the destructiveness of ill-advised words (Prov. 16:27, 26:21).

Not only can a large fire start from a spark, it can also ravage and destroy with amazing speed. In the same way, words can destroy friendships, marriages, and reputations. They can sink into a child's psyche and mar his or her self-concept and future development.

Sin originated on earth with a seemingly innocent question (see Gen. 3:1). It began in heaven in a similar way. Lucifer began to insinuate doubts concerning the laws that governed heavenly beings.-Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 37. So, it is no exaggeration to say that the tongue is set on fire by hell (James 3:6, NKJV).

While it is true that words once spoken are gone forever and that we cannot fully undo what we have said, we should do all we can to lessen the damage and correct what we can. Taking steps to make things right will also help us not to repeat the same mistake. For example, after a further revelation from God, Nathan the prophet returned to David immediately to correct something he had said (see 2 Sam. 7:1-17). Peter wept bitterly over his denial of Christ and later demonstrated more openly the genuineness of his repentance (John 21:15-17).

Though no man can tame the tongue (James 3:8, NKJV), we are admonished to keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies (Ps. 34:13, NIV). Only the Spirit of God can help us keep our words in check (see Eph. 4:29-32).

Read James 3:6-8. Why should the thoughts in these verses make us be so careful with what we say? How can we learn to appreciate the power for good, or evil, contained in our mouths?

Thursday November 13

Blessing and Cursing

Read James 3:9-12. What truth does James illustrate using the fountain, the fig tree, and the grapevine?

The idea of both blessing and cursing coming out of the mouth of a Christian is disturbing, to say the least. What about watching profanity-laced television programs or movies during the week and attending church on Sabbath to hear the Word of God? What about someone who speaks the truth and wonderful words about Jesus, only to later be heard telling an off-color joke? These images should be spiritually disturbing because they are contrary to what we know to be right. The same mouth that praises God later tells a dirty joke? What's wrong with this contrast?

James uses the image of a spring. Water quality depends on its source, and the root determines the fruit (compare Matt. 7:16-18). Similarly, if God's Word is implanted in us, its working will be evident in our life. Understanding this truth frees us from the burden to prove our faith. Pure religion is rooted in faith, which is self-authenticating, just as a pure water spring needs no proof other than the water that flows naturally from it.

At the same time, though, one could ask, If we were to take a snapshot of certain devoted followers of God at low points in their experience (Moses murdering the Egyptian, David with Bathsheba, and so on), might we not legitimately question their profession?

God's will, of course, is that we do not sin (1 John 2:1). However, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, God has made provision for our forgiveness if we do sin, based on faith in the promised Sacrifice (compare Ps. 32:1-2). Nevertheless, the fact remains that sin brings sadness while obedience brings blessing. Moses spent 40 years tending sheep to unlearn the training that led him to kill, and David suffered the death of the child Bathsheba bore, as well as a divided household that threatened his kingdom to the end of his life. Sure, we can be forgiven our sins after we do them; the problem, however, is that so often the consequences of those sins can remain, often with devastating results not just for ourselves but for others, too. How much better to be on our knees asking for the power of victory than having to ask for forgiveness afterward and then plead for the damage to be brought under control.

Friday November 14

Further Study: Read about the power of speech in Talents, from the book Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 335-339, by Ellen G. White and share the points that impressed you with your Sabbath School class.

"When in the company of those who indulge in foolish talk, it is our duty to change the subject of conversation if possible. By the help of the grace of God we should quietly drop words or introduce a subject that will turn the conversation into a profitable channel. . . .

Far more than we do, we need to speak of the precious chapters in our experience. We should speak of the mercy and loving-kindness of God, of the matchless depths of the Saviour's love. Our words should be words of praise and thanksgiving. If the mind and heart are full of the love of God, this will be revealed in the conversation. It will not be a difficult matter to impart that which enters into our spiritual life. Great thoughts, noble aspirations, clear perceptions of truth, unselfish purposes, yearnings for piety and holiness, will bear fruit in words that reveal the character of the heart treasure. When Christ is thus revealed in our speech, it will have power in winning souls to Him.-Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 337, 338.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The problem with words is that, for most of us, they come out so easily. So often, too, they come out almost before we even have a chance to think about what we are saying. Because this is true, how can we learn to think carefully before we open our mouths?
  2. Think about the power of your words even upon your own self. Do this experiment: consciously talk to others as much as you can about what God has done in your life, how He has blessed you, how He has gotten you through trials, et cetera. Do this even for only a day or so, and then ask yourself, How has this impacted my faith?
  3. What do you think your words reveal to others about what goes on in your heart? Might they be revealing more than you would like to think? If you recorded all your spoken words in a single day and then played them back to yourself, what would they reveal about you?

The Disobedient Son, Part 1

Vitaliano Marrero

Vitaliano had it made. As an officer in the Cuban military, he had a steady job that carried with it a certain amount of respect. He and his wife, Migdalia, had two small children and lived in a modest home. Things were going well, and he had no interest in God or religion.

One day Vitaliano returned from work early and greeted his wife. But his 5-year-old son, Alexey, did not come running to greet him. "Where is Alexey?" he asked.

"He's at Rosabel's," Migdalia answered.

Rosabel was a teenage girl who lived next door. She was a good girl who loved all the children. She sponsored a children's Bible club every week, and when she invited Alexey to attend, Migdalia agreed to let him go, but she warned Alexey not to tell his father, for he would be angry.

Alexey attended the Bible club whenever his father wasn't home. He loved the songs and Bible videos, which taught him so much about Jesus.

"What is Alexey doing at Rosabel's?" Vitaliano asked. Migdalia hoped that he wouldn't ask. Now she had to tell him that Alexey was attending the children's Bible club.

Vitaliano's face turned red with anger. "You know I don't want anything to do with religion!" he exploded. "Why did you let him go?"

"Rosabel invited him," Migdalia said. "Please, let him stay. He is learning such good things, and this is his only chance to be with other children."

A few minutes later Alexey arrived home. But when he saw his father's face, he knew that he was in trouble.

"Alexey," his father said firmly. "I do not want you to go to that Bible club meeting again! I do not want God in this house!"

Alexey didn't want to disobey his father, so for several weeks he did not attend the Bible club. But when he heard the children singing, he longed to go. One evening he asked his mother if he could return to the Bible club. She agreed, and he happily ran to join the other children.

Alexey attended the Bible club regularly after that. Then one evening his father again came home early and found Alexey gone. "Where is he?" he asked. When Migdalia did not answer promptly, he guessed. "Is he at that house church next door?" he stormed. Migdalia nodded. "Go get him, right now!" he demanded.

"Please, Vitaliano," she pleaded. "Let him go. It is better for him to be there than running in the streets. At least let him stay until the meeting is over."

A few minutes later Alexey bounded into the house. But when he saw his father's angry look, Alexey began to cry. "Please don't spank me, Papa!" he pleaded. But Vitaliano was not going to let his son disobey him. As he spanked him, he ordered, "You will not go back to that house church again!"


Vitaliano Marrero and his wife, Migdalia, are active lay workers in their home church in Holguín, Cuba.

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