If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

Chapter 6 from The Book of James

“If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all,” Mom would always say. As a young boy I thought my mom had originated that saying. As I got older I found that a lot of moms give that same advice. I also learned that it was good advice. Think what a wonderful world this would be if everyone considered the other person before they spoke.

While moms were giving good advice, the kids in the neighborhood, including me, were saying something quite different. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” It was the standard response to someone who called us a name or said something mean about us. It was a catchy little phrase, but it wasn’t true. The opposite is the real truth. Broken bones heal a lot faster than hurt feelings. Proverbs 18:6 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” The tongue can be a deadly thing. Be careful how you use it.

A pastor was doing a “see sermon” for the children one Sunday morning during the church service. The children were called to the front and given one of those small sample sizes of toothpaste. The pastor instructed the children to take the tube in one hand and squeeze some toothpaste into the other hand. There they stood, toothpaste tube in one hand and toothpaste in the other hand. “Now,” said the pastor, “Take the toothpaste and put it back in the tube. They gave it a valiant, though somewhat messy effort. No matter how hard they tried they could not get the toothpaste back in the tube.

 Our words are very much like the toothpaste. Once you let them out you can never put them back in again. You can try but it will only make a bigger mess.

Have you ever said something you wish you hadn’t?  “If I had only kept my mouth shut I wouldn’t be in this mess,” you cry. But try as you may, with words or deeds, you can’t make it right; the damage has been done.

God created the worlds by the power of His spoken word. As a child of God, someone who has repented of their sins and been made alive in Christ Jesus, you also have the ability to create with your words. What kind of world has your tongue created for you?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,

and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Proverbs 18:21


James Chapter 3


     1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

     2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

     3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

     4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

     5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

      6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

     7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 

     8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

      9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

     10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

     11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

     12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.


Lesson Study no. 6 

Before you begin this worksheet, read James 3:1-12, and then ask God for wisdom, James 1:5.

“If you can’t say anything nice . . .”

  1. (James 3:1-2)

There is no such thing as a relationship without responsibility! Those are “words you can live by.” In a marriage you have responsibilities; within a family unit you have responsibilities; within your relationship with God you have responsibilities; within your relationship with others, especially other Christians, you have responsibilities. Fail in your responsibilities and you are in danger of destroying the relationship and in some cases the person(s) you are in the relationship with.

Will you be judged for what you teach other people? (v.1) _____________


Note: Before you commit to teach the Word of God to others, make sure you understand the responsibilities, one of which is living what you are teaching. Yours will be a greater judgment when you stand before Him on that day. (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

You don’t have to do anything to offend some people! (We will talk more about that in chapter seven of our study.) No matter how hard you try they just don’t like the way you look, or walk, or talk, etc. They may not even know you but you remind them of someone they can’t stand. There is nothing you can do about this situation. However, you can keep from offending people by your speech or the way you live. It’s called being sensitive to the other person’s needs. The Holy Spirit will help you to recognize those needs. Your life will then line up with your speech.

Do not offend in words. If you learn to do this, what will you become? (v.2)

When you become perfect (mature) what will you be able to bridle (control)?

  1. (James 3:3-5)

Given within these verses are three examples of large things being controlled by small objects. List the three examples and write some things you might know about them.

 “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.”

  1. (James 3:6)

Let’s play “fill in the blank.”

“And the tongue is a _____________________ ,

… and is set on fire of _________________ .”

The Greek word used for hell in James 3:6 is Gehenna. At one time Gehenna was the name of a garbage dump outside the city gates of Jerusalem where the trash continually burned.

Can your mouth be described as a dump?

Look up the word “defile” in the dictionary and write out the definition.  

What is defiled by the tongue?

  1. (James 3:7-8)

What kind of animals can be tamed? (v.7) 

Who has tamed these animals?  

Can any man tame his tongue? (v.8)

Why can no man tame his tongue? (v.8b)

  1. (James 3:9-12)

Why is it wrong to curse others? (v.9)

Is it right to praise God and later use the same tongue to curse men? (v.10)  

Do you ever do this? 

One of the great things about speaking in so many churches and missions is the Christian people you get to know. It can also be sad for the same reason. Let me give you an example. I was at a store one day when a man came up to me and said how much he enjoyed the sermon I had preached at his church a couple of Sundays back. I recognized him as one of the leaders in the church. I thanked him and left him working in front of the store. When I came out of the store the man was up on a ladder and he did not see me. I wish he had. The language coming out of his mouth was far from Christ-like. I could tell you of hundreds of incidents just like that one. It isn’t merely a question of how you talk at church, and even there the language is a curse for some. How do you talk everywhere else you go?

 What happens when you mix fresh water with salt water?  

What happens when you mix blessing with cursing? 

Do your prayers become a curse also?

  1. Write down some truths you have learned from this lesson and how you can apply those truths to your life. Remember, these are “words you can live by.”


  1. Memory verse: 

But the tongue can no man tame; It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8






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