Lesson 142

James 3

“Lesson 142: James 3,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)


Introduction

James taught the Saints the importance of controlling their speech. He then contrasted the world’s wisdom with the wisdom that comes from God.

Suggestions for Teaching

James 3:1–12

James teaches the Saints the importance of controlling their speech

Bring a tube of toothpaste to class. Invite a student to squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube (or ask students to imagine this scenario). Ask another student to try to put all of the toothpaste back into the tube. After the second student struggles to do so, ask:

  • How can the toothpaste in this exercise be likened to the words we speak?

Invite students to ponder whether they have ever said anything they later regretted. Invite students to look for truths as they study James 3:1–12 that will help them choose their words wisely.

Invite a student to read aloud James 3:2–4 and the first sentence of James 3:5. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how James described those who do not offend others with their words. Explain that the phrase “we offend all” in verse 2 means that we all make mistakes, and explain that James used the word tongue to refer to the words we speak.

  • How did James describe those who could control their words?

drawing, horse with reins drawing, boat and rudder

Consider displaying or drawing on the board pictures of a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder. You may need to explain that a bit (verse 3) is a small piece of metal placed in a horse’s mouth that connects to the reins, allowing a rider to direct the horse. In this verse, the word helm (verse 4) refers to a ship’s rudder, which helps someone to steer or turn the ship.

  • According to James, what do a horse’s bit and a ship’s helm have in common? (Both are relatively small, and both steer or control the larger entities to which they are attached.)

  • How can James’s comparison of these objects to a tongue, or the words we speak, help us understand the power of our words?

  • What principle can we identify from these verses about what can happen as we learn to control our speech? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: As we learn to control our speech, we can learn to control the rest of our actions.)

  • Why might controlling our speech help us to control the rest of our actions?

Invite a student to read aloud the last sentence of James 3:5 and also James 3:6. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what else James compared our speech to. Explain that the word matter refers to a forest (see verse 5, footnote b).

  • What else did James compare our speech to?

  • What aspects of our lives could be “set on fire” (verse 6), or jeopardized, by our unwise use of words?

Explain that the phrase “course of nature” in verse 6 can refer to the course of someone’s life.

  • In what ways can the words we speak influence the course of our lives?

  • How can making small changes in the words we speak affect the course of our lives in positive ways? the lives of others?

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from James 3:7–12. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what else James compared our speech to.

  • What else did James compare our speech to? (An animal that must be tamed [see verses 7–8], “deadly poison” [verse 8], a fountain that “yield[s] salt water and fresh” water “at the same place” [verses 11–12], a fig tree that bears olives instead of figs, and a vine that bears figs [see verse 12].)

To help students understand the content of these verses, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

“Obviously James doesn’t mean our tongues are always iniquitous, nor that everything we say is ‘full of deadly poison.’ But he clearly means that at least some things we say can be destructive, even venomous—and that is a chilling indictment for a Latter-day Saint! The voice that bears profound testimony, utters fervent prayer, and sings the hymns of Zion can be the same voice that berates and criticizes, embarrasses and demeans, inflicts pain and destroys the spirit of oneself and of others in the process. …

“… May we try to be ‘perfect’ men and women in at least this one way now—by offending not in word, or more positively put, by speaking with a new tongue, the tongue of angels. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail” (“The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 16, 18).

  • What truth can we identify from these verses about how followers of God should speak? (Using their own words, students should identify a truth similar to the following: Followers of God strive to use their language for righteous purposes, not to spread evil.)

  • Why is it a serious problem if Latter-day Saints use their language for evil purposes or to hurt or tear down others?

  • What are some things we can do to be a little more “perfect” (James 3:2) in choosing our words?

Invite students to explain how living the truth they identified in James 3:9–10 would guide their actions in the following situations:

  1. You are texting or using social media.

  2. You are a priest who blesses the sacrament on Sundays. At school, your friends begin making fun of another student.

  3. You are a young woman who in the past has spoken unkindly about another young woman in your ward or branch.

  4. Your teammates use foul language.

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement from For the Strength of Youth:

“How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind. Good language that uplifts, encourages, and compliments others invites the Spirit to be with you. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith, hope, and charity” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 20).

  • When have another person’s words uplifted or encouraged you?

  • How have you been blessed as you have tried to uplift or encourage others with your words?

Invite students to write a goal in their class notebooks or scripture study journals concerning what they will do to better control their speech and use their language for righteous purposes. Invite them to act during the next week on what they wrote.

James 3:13–18

James contrasts the world’s wisdom with the wisdom that comes from God

Summarize James 3:13–18 by explaining that James contrasted the world’s wisdom with wisdom that comes from God. The world’s wisdom leads to “confusion” (verse 16) and “strife” (verse 14), while wisdom “from above” is “pure” and “full of mercy” (verse 17).

Testify of the principles taught in today’s lesson.

Commentary and Background Information

James 3:2. “Offend not in word”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned of the dangers of speaking negatively and spoke of the need to be more positive in our speech:

“I suppose it goes without saying that negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything. No sunshine, no roses, no promise of hope or happiness. Before long we and everybody around us are miserable.

“… We should honor the Savior’s declaration to ‘be of good cheer’ [Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 16:33]. (Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!) Speak hopefully. Speak encouragingly, including about yourself. Try not to complain and moan incessantly” (“The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 17–18).

James 3:10. “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing”

Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy taught about the power of our words to bless others and ourselves:

“Our words and external expressions are not neutral, for they reflect both who we are and shape who we are becoming. …

“What we say and how we present ourselves not only betray our inner person but also mold that person, those around us, and finally our whole society. Every day each of us is implicated in obscuring the light or in chasing away the darkness. We have been called to invite the light and to be a light, to sanctify ourselves and edify others. …

“When we speak and act, we should ask whether our words and expressions are calculated to invite the powers of heaven into our lives and to invite all to come unto Christ. We must treat sacred things with reverence. We need to eliminate from our conversations the immodest and the lewd, the violent and the threatening, the demeaning and the false. As the Apostle Peter wrote, ‘But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation’ (1 Pet. 1:15). The expression conversation refers here not only to speech but also to our entire comportment” (“The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 83, 84).