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Sabbath School Lessons on James
About the Author
Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
is the author of these Sabbath School lesson study outlines. He is the Reed Larson Professor of Labor Law at Regent University School of Law. Professor Cameron has devoted his life to promoting the Gospel and defending believers. In addition to teaching at an overtly Christian law school, he continues his 41 year practice of law which is limited to the litigation of constitutional rights and religious freedom cases for employees. He holds an undergraduate degree from Andrews University and a Doctor of Law from Emory University School of Law.
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Lesson 7: Taming the Tongue *
Introduction: James previously counseled us to be quick to listen and
slow to speak ( James 1:19), to keep a tight reign on our tongue
( James 1:26) and that our words are a consideration in the
judgment( James 2:12). This reflects a statement of Jesus in Matthew
12:37 that our words will acquit or condemn us. Clearly, our tongue
is a very important part of living a life in accord with God's will.
Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more about it has
to teach us about our words!
- Read James 3:1. What is the most common reason you hear
about why some no longer attend church? (Someone insulted
them. Someone decided to "teach" them something about how
they should live.)
- What warning does James give to teachers? (They will
be judged more strictly.)
- What does teaching have to do with the tongue?
(Teachers are concentrated tongue users!)
- What does James mean when he says "not many of you
should presume to be teachers." What do you think he
means by "presume?" (Don't take it on yourself to
teach. Be sure you are called to teach. Teaching is a
spiritual gift. Romans 12:6-7.)
- Look again at James 3:1 and James' statement about being
judged "more strictly." If we are saved by grace, and not
by obeying the law, what is James talking about? Does he
mean unsaved teachers are judged more strictly?
- Is it possible that he is talking about being judged
by humans rather than God? (That makes sense to me.
My wife u sed to be unhappy when someone would
harshly criticize one of my sermons. I was
volunteering my time to preach, she knew I worked
hard on the sermon, and she thought criticism was
unfair. My thought was that if I was going to put my
thoughts before others, they had a right to judge
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:10. What does Paul mean when he calls
himself an "expert builder?" (He is referring to his
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:11-13. Who are these people who are
building with gold, straw or something in between?
(Teachers. The foundation of all Christian teaching is
Jesus. However, teachers vary greatly in the quality of
their teaching. The quality of the teaching will be tested
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. Let's consider this reference
to "fire." What does it mean for a teacher's work to be
consumed in "fire." Is this the final judgment James is
talking about? (It certainly is a judgment, but I tend to
think it is a judgment on the teaching as applied in the
lives of the students. When trouble comes, whether the
teacher is building with gold or straw will make all the
difference in the life of the student.)
- What happens to a "straw building" teacher? (He
escapes! His students might not make it, but the
- How is that consistent with James' statement
about being "judged more strictly?" (It
certainly shows that the quality of teaching
has a great impact on students, thus the
judgment is "more strict" in the sense that is
has a greater impact. However, Paul gives us
the sense that the lousy teacher might survive
while his students do not.)
- What is the lesson in this for the
student? (Test the teacher!)
- Read James 3:2. Is James telling us that teachers are
perfect? (No. He says (including himself) "we all
stumble." When we are testing our teachers, we should keep
this in mind. We should not expect them to be perfect.)
- What is his point about teaching, stumbling and
judging? (Teachers will stumble "in many ways." When
we do, we can expect to be "judged more strictly."
We all know this is true.)
- Read James 3:3-4. James says something hard to understand:
your tongue is like a "bit" or a "rudder." In what way is
your tongue like a rudder or bit? (A reasonable conclusion
is that what we say affects how we think. Our tongue
steers our body.)
- Read James 1:15. We discussed this in some detail
before. James says that evil works arise from evil
thinking. That would mean that evil works came from
evil thinking, not evil speaking. Has James just
contradicted himself? (James is certainly correct in
saying that sin begins in the mind. But, it appears
that our mind listens to our words, and it is
affected by what we say. It is a two way street -
what we think influences what we say, and what we say
impacts what we think.)
- Have you ever heard someone say that if you want to
have a good day, then be nice to others, say nice
things to others? (I believe that our speech has an
effect on our thinking, just like our thinking has an
effect on our speech. It may be that when we
verbalize something we make our thoughts on that
subject stronger. Thus, our tongue plays an important
part in how we think.)
- Read James 3:5. This seems to be different than James' bit
and rudder statement. What do think this means about the
tongue? (Words can great huge problems. The "spark" of a
word "burns" your life.)
- Have you experienced this?
- Read James 3:6. James repeats some of what he said so far:
the tongue affects the whole body, and the tongue affects
relationships. What other concept does James add? (I think
he adds that the effect of the tongue on the person is not
just temporary, rather it can set the course of a person's
life "on fire.")
- Read James 3:7-8. What is the purpose of warning us about
the tongue, if there is nothing that we can do about it?
(Since James has warned us of the terrible danger of our
tongues, I think his point here is to suggest that we
constantly evaluate what we say.)
- Salty Tongue
- Read James 3:9-10. James just told us that our tongue
cannot be tamed, and here is proof of it, right?
- How many of you (no need to raise your hand) can
identify with these verses? (I don't often "curse"
men (I get annoyed with fellow car drivers), but I
know that not everything I say is something I would
want to repeat in my Bible class.)
- Read James 3:11-12. If you, like me, confessed that our
tongues are not always producing fresh water, are we
doomed? (In James 3:8 he says producing all fresh water
(taming the tongue) is not possible for a human. Perhaps
there is a legal loophole here. James says a "salt spring"
cannot produce fresh water, he does not say a fresh water
spring cannot produce salt from time to time.)
- What should we conclude? What can we do, especially
if you don't like my legal loophole? (Two things.
First, what is impossible with humans is possible
with God. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our
words. Second, I think James is trying to encourage
us to pay attention to our speech and realize it
reflects our nature.)
- Read John 15:5. I attend a small weekly Bible study where
I'm not in charge. We were discussing some of James' more
difficult statements, such as James 2:24, "a person is
justified by what he does and not by faith alone." One of
the members of the study pointed to the illustration of
the vine and branch in John 15:5-8 and said this visual
helped her in understanding the relationship between faith
and works. If we are "hooked up" by faith to Jesus, we
naturally produce works. We can take no credit for the
works, but the works demonstrate the "hook up." What do
you think of this illustration?
- Look again at James 3:12. Is this another "hook up"
statement by James? (I think so. James admits we are
not perfect and our tongues are difficult problems.
He says our words reflect our connection. Either we
have a saltwater source, or we have a fresh water
source. Either we are hooked up as branches to the
vine, or we are not. What we produce reflects the
connection of our life.)
- Friend, what do your words say about you? If you don't
like the result of this self-examination, why not, right
now, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life and repair
your connection with Jesus?
- Next week: The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.