In this lesson, we will consider the power of words. They can build up or break down, and the tongue is quite a significant weapon. We will discuss the importance of the “Thumper principle” (if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!).
Lesson focus: Our words are powerful, and we need to use them wisely for telling the truth and lifting others up, rather than bringing them down.
Passage: James 3:1-12
Key Verse: All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. -James 3:7-8
Target Audience: Pre-k through sixth grade (adaptable)
Materials Needed: Envelopes, decorative materials, paper, scissors, apple slices, marshmallows, Bibles, salt, sugar, toothpaste tube.
Lesson Opening: What’s the tongue got to do with it? This is an old classic that seems to always serve as crowd pleaser… have small bags or cups prepared, some with salt and some with sugar. Invite students to pick which one they’d like to sample, not telling them (or marking in any way) which is which. Challenge kids to take a pinch of the one they chose, and see how it tastes. Note the obvious differences between salty and sweet. What would kids rather have? Also, consider how just a little bit of salt can completely change the dynamic of a recipe or a dish. Anyone who’s had homemade ice cream when rock salt leaked in can testify to that…
Explain that today we will be talking about the tongue, but not just how it tastes things. The lesson will focus on how important our words are. Play a quick round of “compliment hot potato.” Pass around a ball or other item while playing or singing a song. When the ball lands, have the person holding it say a kind thing to someone else in the circle. Play a couple of rounds, and then dive in on the Scripture.
Has anyone ever walked a dog? It’s easier when there’s a leash to restrain animals with. Well, has anyone ever ridden a horse? Consider how amazing it is that the whole huge old horse can move just with a little piece of cloth in its mouth. Show pictures of horses and explain the bit. Also, show forest fire pictures (attached)…how do these fires start? Often just with a tiny spark. It doesn’t take much to make a huge blaze. Well, believe it or not, the Bible talks about part of our very being that is the same. We have the potential to do some incredible or horrible things, and do you know what we use to do them? Our tongues! More specifically, the way we communicate has power. Consider the words of James:
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.James 3:3-6
He is not playing around here. The things we say can have huge rippling impact on those around us. Have you ever played “telephone”? Well, the way information mutates can cause rampant gossip and ill feelings to run wild around us. Continue the passage…
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.James 3:7-8
Take a tube of toothpaste. Invite a student to squirt out some of it (into a cup or napkin). Ask another student to place the toothpaste back into the tube. This is rather impossible, isn’t it? The same is true of our words. Once we speak something, we can’t just take it back. We must think BEFORE we speak, asking ourselves and God if what we are about to say is holy, truthful, positive, uplifting… (consider Philippians 4:8).
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.James 3:9-12
Would you cook in a toilet? Um, eew, no! Or could you get apples from an orange tree, or sweet tea from a Coke machine? What James is saying here is that we can’t be acting like we love and worship God, and turn around and badmouth our peers. We need to make sure our mouths are clean, meaning good things come out of them. We don’t eat poop (hopefully). So let’s not let it come out of our mouths, either.
Positive word possibilities. Give children envelopes and have them decorate to look like faces, or at least mouths. Provide paper cut-out “tongues” for children to write on. Help them come up with positive word or phrases for their own attitudes, or kind and encouraging things to say to others. Have students put these affirmations inside the envelope mouths, and urge them to look them over when they feel tempted to use unkind language.
Snack (Optional): Provide children with apple slices and help them make “mouths…” Place peanut butter or frosting on the side of the apples and line with mini marshmallows to look like teeth. For extra fun, through a fruit roll up or licorice “tongue” in. See example:
Close with prayer and thank God for loving us and forgiving our rash mouths. Ask for wisdom in speech as we use kind and positive words to uplift one another.