Taming a Bitter Tongue

Dr. Rob Green July 21, 2019 James 3:1-18

James 3:10-11 - …from the same mouth come both blessing 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?

The Bible uses this word group in three distinct ways:

1. The presence of bitter conditions

2. The power of a bitter heart

3. The poison of a bitter lifestyle

3 principles to help us avoid bitter speech

I. Understand the Challenge of Bitter Speech

Proverbs 18:21 - Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

A. It is a universal problem

James 3:2 - 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 3:8 - But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Bitter (OT – Marah, NT – pikros) – sour, brackish taste, the opposite of sweet. The poisonous, putrid bile from the gall bladder. An inner emotional feeling of deep sorrow, or an outwardly directed anger that cries out to the power that seems to be causing the problem (Theological Wordbook of the OT – p. 528-529).

B. It has incredible impact

1. like a bit in a horse’s mouth

James 3:3 - Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

2. like a rudder in a ship

James 3:4 - 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.

C. It is notoriously inconsistent

1. We use our tongues to bless God and curse people

James 3:9 - With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God…

“The Beatitudes are statements about the privileged status (blessedness) a relationship with Christ confers upon believers. Certainly, Eugena does not feel ‘blessed’ right now. But then few modern Americans would use ‘blessed’ to describe themselves if they saw themselves as ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘mournful,’ ‘persecuted,’ or ‘hungry.’ All this suggests that a different way of looking at life is needed to truly appreciate what Jesus is saying with these Beatitudes. Although Eugena won’t resonate initially with these statements of blessedness, as a child of God, they are nevertheless true for her. And that reality can help her, over time, to recover from her divorce and redirect her new life as a single woman toward God’s glorious kingdom purposes for her.” Jeff Forrey, “Beating Bitterness with the Beatitudes”, BCC blog post, July 10, 2019

2. Unlike other aspects of creation

II. Examine the Source of Bitter Speech

Matthew 12:34-37 - …For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

A. Its characteristics

1. jealousy

James 3:14 - …but if you heave bitter jealousy…

Acts 8:20-22 - But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.

Acts 8:23 - For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.

2. selfish ambition

James 3:14 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart…

James 3:16 - For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist…

“Those whose lives are based on and motivated by human, ungodly wisdom are inevitably self-centered, living in a world in which their own personal ideas, desires, and standards are the measure of everything. Whatever and whoever serves those ends is considered good and friendly; whatever and whoever threatens those ends is considered bad and an enemy. Those who are engulfed in self-serving worldly wisdom resent anyone or anything that comes between them and their own objectives. John MacArthur, Commentary on James, p. 171

3. pride

James 3:14 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant…

4. falsehood

James 3:14 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

B. Its origin

1. earthly

2. natural

3. demonic

James 3:15 - This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

C. Its result

James 3:16 - For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

III. Seek an Alternative to Bitter Speech

A. Its characteristics

1. pure

2. peaceable

3. reasonable

4. full of mercy

5. unwavering

6. without hypocrisy

James 3:17 - But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

B. Its result

James 3:18 - And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Dr. Rob Green


Pastor of Faith Church East and Seminary Ministries - Faith Church

MABC Department Chair, Instructor - Faith Bible Seminary

Director of the Biblical Counseling Training Conference - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries


B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Dr. Rob Green joined the Faith Church staff in August, 2005. Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the Council Board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Pastor Green has authored, co-authored, and contributed to 9 books/booklets. Rob and his wife Stephanie have three children.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.