community group discussion guide


James 3:1-18


So far in his letter, James has covered a wide range of topics. In this week’s passage, he spends a considerable amount of time on speech. Words flow from the heart, which is shaped by different kinds of wisdom—how you practically understand and navigate the world. One kind only seems wise but is worldly and shows up as self-seeking pride and talk that tears others down. Another kind of wisdom is peace-making. At first it might go unnoticed, but like seed sown it grows until harvest time.

opening question

What are some current situations where you feel you need wisdom?

read James 3:1-18 (NIV)

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Take a few moments to reflect on the Scripture. Share some insights, questions, or points that strike you. Then read what follows.

taming the tongue

The first thing James wants to impress on churches is the power of words. For a relatively short letter, James goes to great lengths to show that speech carries tremendous weight. We can’t dismiss all we say as trivial. Speech is a kind of action, producing significant consequences in the lives of others and the wider world. That’s why aspiring teachers should think twice (v. 1). What we say is a litmus test for the whole of our lives (v. 2). Hurtful things we say to divine image-bearing people contradicts the praise we offer to God (v. 9). James compares the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth (v. 3), a ship’s rudder (v. 4), and a spark setting a forest ablaze (vv. 5-6). As we remember hurtful things we have said or had said to us, the pain is a reminder of that “fire.” What we say can determine the course of lives (v. 6). The tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8).

“No human being can tame the tongue” (v. 8), James says. But God can help. James turns his attention to the source of both destructive and healing speech. Like spring water or fruit from a tree, words flow from a deeper source (vv. 11-12). Simple rules won’t transform anyone. Speech is a matter of the heart (v. 14), and the heart is shaped by wisdom.

There is a false “wisdom” (v. 14) that operates entirely on the “earthly” plane (v. 15). This is a mercenary wisdom, aimed at what you don’t have but others do (v. 14: “bitter envy”), and how to get it (“selfish ambition”). Though this wisdom closes you off from wider realities, James vividly describes it as “demonic” (v. 15), even “set on fire by hell” (v. 6). This wisdom operates on self-serving logic, but reaps chaos (v. 16). Another kind of wisdom “comes from heaven” (v. 17), sowing peace and reaping “a harvest of righteousness” (v. 18)—all things good and life-giving.

  1. James says “bitter envy and selfish ambition” can come across as a kind of “wisdom” (vv. 14-15). What does this look like?
  1. What stands out to you in James’ description of “wisdom that comes from heaven” in verse 17?
  1. According to James, how do you know if a person or a course of action is wise?
  1. What is the importance of the harvesting metaphor in verse 18?
  1. Reflecting on the scripture, what are some relationships in which you want to change how you speak? Resolve and pray together for transforming wisdom.

group application

Brainstorm two or three challenges or issues in your neighborhood. How could your community group begin applying new wisdom to the situation?

invitation to pray

Would you join us in praying for Redeemer West Side?

You can use the following meditative prayer guide to reflect on God’s living word and to intercede on behalf of our church.

Tips for small groups:

  • Two volunteers can be the scripture readers.
  • The facilitator can read the silent reflection questions aloud and keep time (30–60 seconds).
  • During the prayer times after the 2nd and 3rd readings, we encourage you to use the style of conversational prayer, which emphasizes listening and uses short prayers that build upon one another. Review the Conversational Prayer Guide together before you begin.

meditative prayer

Jeremiah 29:7
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
1st Reading: Read the Scripture aloud twice.
  • Silent reflection: What words or phrases stand out to you?
  • Share with the group: Take turns saying those words or phrases aloud.

2nd Reading: Read the Scripture aloud.
  • Silent reflections (30–60 seconds each):Based on these verses, how can you confidently and expectantly intercede on behalf of Redeemer West Side and our city?
  • Pray conversationally about these topics: 
    • This transition period of our church
    • Pastors, staff, lay leaders, congregants
    • Our next senior pastor
    • Redeemer’s future as part of God’s continued movement in the City

© 2024 Redeemer Presbyterian Church West Side

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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