Sins of the Tongue

By Andy Sochor

When James discusses the use of the tongue (James 3:1-12), he makes three basic points:

One who can bridle the tongue can bridle the whole body as well. “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2).

The tongue is small, but powerful. “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…” (James 3:3-6).

The tongue cannot be tamed. “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8).

In making these points, James teaches a few lessons. Though sin is common among men (James 3:2), we are to strive to avoid the sins of the tongue. Furthermore, it is important that we avoid these sins because of the great amount of damage that can be done through them. Yet James says we cannot tame the tongue after telling us to control the tongue in order to avoid sin. Is this a contradiction? No, it is not.

But if we cannot tame the tongue, how can we control the tongue? We must make sure our hearts are right. The wise man wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We control our tongues by making sure our hearts are right before God. If our hearts are not right, our tongues will not be tamed. Notice what James says:

From the same mouth come both blessings and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (James 3:10-12).

Our tongues will follow the direction of our hearts. Therefore, if we are to avoid the sins of the tongue, we must start with the heart. So let us notice briefly some of the sins of the tongue and see how to avoid them.

False Teaching

The fact that false teaching is a sin of the tongue is implied in the immediate context. James begins this section with this admonition: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). We have the obligation to teach the truth (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:2). The New Testament contains warnings against false teaching (Romans 16:17; 2 John 9-11), in addition to pointing out the damaging effects of false teaching (Titus 1:10-11; 2 Timothy 2:16-18).

How do we keep from teaching what is false? It starts with the heart. We must first “love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10), for if we do not love the truth, we will be quick to abandon the truth. But in addition to loving the truth, we must know and understand it. One may have a desire to teach the truth, but if he does not know it, he will stray from the standard he is to be proclaiming (1 Timothy 1:6-7).


Lying is condemned throughout Scripture. We are told that “all liars” will have their part “in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8). Satan is described as “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lies lead people away from the truth (2 Corinthians 11:3) and allow them to be content in their lost condition (Jeremiah 6:14).

How do we keep from lying? We must appreciate the value of truth. The wise man said, “Buy truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23). Truth is not a temporary investment that can be sold when a good deal comes along. We are to buy the truth and never give it up. It is also important to remember what Jesus said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Truth is what sets us free. Lies keep us enslaved in sin.


Boasting is the elevation of self. This either intentionally or unintentionally puts others down. Christians are not to boast (2 Timothy 3:2), unless we “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; cf. Galatians 6:14). The damaging effects of boasting include division and envy (Galatians 5:26), whereas Christians are to seek after peace (Romans 12:18) and unity (Ephesians 4:3).

How do we keep from boasting? We must learn humility. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). We are to strive to build up others (Ephesians 4:29) rather than seeking to elevate ourselves.


Gossip (whispering, KJV) is speaking things about others that should not be said, whether they are true or not. Gossip is a sin that we must avoid (Romans 1:29) as it goes hand in hand with division and strife (2 Corinthians 12:10).

How do we avoid gossip? First, we are to be busy, not busybodies. Notice what Paul said about the potential danger of the church providing permanent benevolent support for younger widows. “At the same time they also learn to the idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach” (1 Timothy 5:13-14). The more idle time one has, the more opportunity to gossip. Paul says that filling one’s life with good works takes time away from evil works. The second way we avoid gossip is by practicing the “golden rule.” Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). If we would not want the things we say about others to be said about us, it is a good indication that we should not be talking about such things.

Filthy Language

Filthiness in speech is not fitting for saints. Paul wrote, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4). This type of language makes us appear to be no different than the world. When Peter was trying to convince the crowd that he did not know Jesus and simple denials were not convincing, “he began to curse and swear” in an attempt to prove that he was not one of Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 26:73-74). If we want others to think that we are not disciples of Christ, filthy language would be an effective way of giving that impression.

How do we avoid filthy language? We must keep our thoughts pure. Paul wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).


Our thoughts eventually come through in our speech. Therefore, if we wish to control our tongues, we must make our hearts right before God. If our hearts are corrupt, then false teaching, lying, boasting, gossip, and filthy language are sure to follow. Let us examine our speech and examine our hearts and conform our thinking to the will of God so that we can avoid the sins of the tongue. &

The Good Man

He is an old and experienced man. In vice and wickedness he is never found. In opposition to the work of iniquity, he takes delight. In the downfall of his neighbor he never rejoices. In the prosperity of any of his fellow-creatures he is ready to assist. In destroying the peace of society he takes no pleasure. In serving the Lord he is uncommonly diligent. In sowing discord among his friends and acquaintances he takes not pride. In laboring to promote the cause of Christian discipleship he has not been negligent. In endeavoring to stigmatize all public teachers he makes no effort. To subdue his passions he strives hard. To build up Satan’s kingdom he lends no aid. To the support of the gospel among the heathen he contributes largely. To the evil adversary he pays no attention. To good advice he gives great heed. To the devil he will never go. To heaven he must go where he will receive the just recompense of his reward.

The Evil Man

He is an old and experienced man in vice and wickedness. He is never found in opposition to the work of iniquity. He takes delight in the downfall of his neighbor. He never rejoices in the prosperity of any of his fellow-creatures. He is ready to assist in destroying the peace of society. He takes no pleasure in serving the Lord. He is uncommonly diligent in sowing discord among his friends and acquaintances. He takes no pride in laboring to promote the cause of Christian discipleship. He has not been negligent in endeavoring to stigmatize all public teachers. He makes no effort to subdue his passions. He strives hard to build up Satan’s kingdom. He lends no aid to the support of the gospel among the heathen. He contributes largely to the evil adversary. He pays no attention to good advice. He gives great heed to the devil. He will never go to heaven. He must go where he will receive the just recompense of his reward.

Did you notice that the words are the same in both paragraphs? The only difference in reading them is which punctuation marks are used and where placed. Life is liked that. What life becomes to you depends on where you place the emphasis. Is the punctuation in your life where it ought to be? & (Author Unknown)

Safe and Secure?

On April 14, 1912 the Titanic was on her maiden voyage from England to New York. This ocean liner was believed to be unsinkable. Many on board felt safe and secure and then—disaster struck. What they believed was not true and they most certainly were not safe.

Jesus spoke of those who believed they were safe and secure because of what they had chosen to do (Matt. 7:22-23). Only those who do the will of the Father are truly safe (Matt. 7:21).

Does that describe you? Do not be fooled by a false sense of security. Find the truth of God’s word and follow it (John 8:32). &