Spiritual Growth Agendas, Topical Curriculum

Trouble with the Tongue

Main Point: Words cannot be “taken back,” so we should be very careful with what we say.

The Activity: A Lesson from Toothpaste

Say, “There are really two problems when it comes to hurtful words. First, somebody gets hurt when we lose control of our mouths. Secondly, no matter how hard we try, or how “sincere” we may be, we CANNOT take back what was said. Maybe this image will help you understand what I mean.”

Pull out a tube of toothpaste.

“Let’s say this tube of toothpaste is our mouths and the toothpaste inside is a hurtful word, or a lie, or a piece of gossip.” Squeeze the tube really hard, shooting toothpaste out of the tube. Point to the toothpaste on the floor or table and say, “See that mess; it’s a lot like the mess we get into when we lose control of our mouths. The mess alone is a big enough issue, but there’s another really big dilemma: no matter how hard you try, you CANNOT put the toothpaste back in the tube. The same thing is true with our words: you cannot put them back in your mouth. Hurtful words can’t be taken back. We need to be really careful about what we say.”

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:


  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we begin, everybody take a second to share your name and the brand of toothpaste that you use.
  2. ASK SOMEONE: Finish this statement: “Sticks and stones may break bones, but….”
  3. ASK A FEW: Do you think that the statement is really true?
  4. ASK A FEW: Have you been hurt or offended by someone’s words? Have you ever hurt or offended someone else with your words?
  5. ASK A FEW: In your opinion, which of these “sins of the mouth” are worst: swearing, lying, or gossiping? Why?
  6. ASK SOMEONE: True or False: A “typical” teenager swears about 60 times each day. (False. According to research done by Timothy Jay, from The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, most teenagers swear between 80 and 90 times every single day. By the way, roughly 75% of teenagers report hearing “adult language” in school settings.)
  7. ASK SOMEONE: What percentage of teenagers lie to their parents? Is it 35%, 55%, 85%, or 98%? (Unfortunately, it’s 98%. A recent study by Penn State found that 98% of teenagers lie to their parents about things like what they did after school, whether or not they’ve watched R-rated movies, and whether or not they’ve ever ridden with a driver who has been drinking.)
  8. ASK A FEW: Do you think most young people can control their mouths, by not lying, not swearing, not gossiping, etc?
  9. Read the following passage


      James 3:2-12 (NIV)
      We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

      When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 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. 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. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

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

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


  10. ASK A FEW: In this passage, James talks about a horse being led around by a very small bit and a huge ship being steered by a tiny rudder. What connection is he trying to make to our tongues/mouths?
  11. ASK A FEW: James also uses the imagery of a tiny spark causing a great fire. How does that apply to our tongues/mouths?
  12. ASK A FEW: In verse 8, we are told that no one can tame the tongue. Why do you think that is?
  13. ASK A FEW: James makes the point that only fig trees can produce figs, and only springs can produce fresh water. What then should the tongue/mouth of a Christian produce?
  14. ASK A FEW: Do you think our integrity and character is tied to how we speak at all? Explain.
  15. ASK A FEW: What are some “real world” ways we can reveal our love for God in our conversations with people?
  16. ASK A FEW: How would your talk change if you actually tamed your tongue?

Wrap Up:
Everyone single one of us has been hurt by someone else’s words at some point in our lives. They might have lied to us, gossiped about us behind our backs, or said something that was just plain mean. Sometimes those words cut really deep, and we carry them with us for far too long.

Likewise, we’ve all said something to someone else that was hurtful, and as the words were coming out of our mouths, we wished we hadn’t said it. Even though we know the pain that harsh words, or lies, or gossip can bring, we blast somebody else with our sinful mouths.

It’s so easy to tell the difference between people who have learned how to control their tongue, and those that haven’t. Proverbs 12: 18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I guess people living 3,000 years ago could even tell the difference!

Actually, the Book of Proverbs has a ton to say about…what we say! Check out what Proverbs 6:1-3 instructs us to do if we have sinned with our tongues:

    My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor's hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor!

    Did you catch that? He says if you’ve ever hurt someone with what you’ve said, go and humble yourself and ask for forgiveness.

    I don’t think it can be any clearer for us. So let me leave you with this challenge tonight: At some point during this coming week, before we meet together again, go to a person that you have sinned against with your words and humbly ask them to forgive you. Admit that what you said was wrong, and tell them that you intend to NEVER speak that way to them, or about them, again.

    If you need to talk about this a little bit more, come and grab an adult leader after we pray. That’s what we’re here for.

    Close in Prayer

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Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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