Between the Words ... Pastor Jim’s Perspectives on the Weekend Behind and the Week Yet to Come (February 9, 2020)

By Jim Garrett

February 10, 2020

James 3:1-12- The Taming of the Tongue.     

1Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 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.

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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

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.

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. 

Sermon Blurb

The tongue! We are told that no man can tame it – and that it has the ability and strength to set on fire a raging inferno. Yet, the same tongue that has the ability to create so much destruction also has the potential to bring life, order, and peace into various situations – if surrendered to the power of God Himself.

Thank you for joining us today as we seek to understand, direct, and submit to God the power of our tongues.

Introduction:

  • Today’s message is one of those that hits us right where we are. As a matter of fact, it is one of those messages I really don’t want to preach because it touches everyone of us – where we live – and it challenges us for change. But, we must realize that our Spirituality is only a feeling, an illusion, if it cannot and does not purify our behavior in a practical manner.
  • As we hear today’s word, let us be struck by a sense that a strong characteristic of the mature Christian is that he has power over his tongue.
  • The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish tremendous tasks for God

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

Our tongues have the ability to influence (vs. 1-5a).

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 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.

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.

Against what seems obvious, James is NOT specifically speaking into the lives of only those aspiring to be teachers; rather, he is addressing those who aspire to positions of authority in the church.

(James 3:1) Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

James was not concerned with giving everyone career counseling; instead, he was addressing the sin of pride and self-righteousness.

In other words, he is saying, “Remember, you are subject to judgement even more strongly if you try to teach others — and you are highly vulnerable in that judgement because we all sin in many ways.”

James is prescribing humility to all who want to be leaders in the church.

And his emphasis is specifically on matters of the heart – but he arrives at those heart matters by way of instruction regarding the tongue.

James does not simply expect perfection.

BUT, he is making a case for and a call for — maturity, perfection, and completion– because he knows how strongly sin knocks on everyone’s doors.

There are two inescapable facts that James is addressing.

He is addressing Judgement.

There is a greater strictness of judgement for ones who teach and those who lead in the church.

Matthew 7:2– “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He is addressing Failure –and we will get to that one in a minute

Life Principle: But know this: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

It would take a truly perfect person to stay free from the sins of speech. James is clearly implying the impossibility of such perfection (in our typical use of the word, perfection) because he just has said, “We all stumble in many ways”

And this is the failure James was referring to. Most translations use the word, “stumbling.”

(James 3:2) “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.”

  • There is failure in and by all of us.
  • ptaio– meaning to stumble or to cause to stumble
  • This word is a figure for making a mistake or simply, sinning
  • The KJV actually says, “For in many things we offend all.”

And sins of the tongue are prominent and seem to head the list of “stumblings” because our words usually lead to our deeds.

Psalm 141:3-4– “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.

At this point – and throughout this message – I want to remind you that this is not a “self-help” or “feel-good” and “do better” message.

Someone once said, “Life Is Short, Death Is Sure; Sin the Cause,  Christ the Cure.

You and I cannot heal this looseness of the tongue; It is only the  Holy Spirit working within us, and our trust in Him, that will correct this problem of the tongue.

But even as James has declared that we should come to Christ if we lack wisdom, so also should we come to Christ and ask for help in taming our tongue.

There is hardly a sin more pervasively exposed and condemned in the Bible than that of speech.

1 Peter 3:10 (reiterating Psalm 34:12-13)– “For, Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.

The tongue is but a small member in the body, and yet it has the power to accomplish great things- for Good or for Bad.

Proverbs 18:21– “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

When Jesus Christ controls our tongues, then we need not fear saying the wrong things – or even saying the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time.

When Jesus Christ is the Lord of our hearts, then He is Lord of our lips too.

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

The Bible indicates there is a very strong, decisive influence that is directed by – or guided by — the tongue (James 3:2-5)

James makes application specifically to the tongue because he sees the controlling of one’s tongue as that which influences the entirety of one’s body – and thus – of one’s life

Life Illustration: The tongue is like a bit in the mouth of a horse. This small instrument, under the direction of skilled and knowledgeable hands can influence the direction of a powerful horse.

James says the uncontrolled tongue:

  • The uncontrolled tongue is a world of evil—A multitude of evils are contained within it
  • The uncontrolled tongue corrupts the whole person — The whole person becomes corrupted by the uncontrollable tongue.
  • The uncontrolled tongue sets on fire the course of one’s life—It is destructive and extends to the whole course of the person’s life
  • The uncontrolled tongue is itself set on fire by Hell itself—In other words, James exposes the tongue as the source of evil within each human.

Control of the tongue leads to a master-control of ourselves and our lives.

Life Illustration: The small rudder of a boat, under the direction of skilled hands, is able to influence the direction of a boat – even in strong winds.

  • The tongue is a key factor in controlled living.
  • The tongue is a key factor in consistent living.

In reality, actual speech is only a small percentage of the use of the tongue.

In other words, if you control what you say, you can control the rest of what you do. Bit and Rudder

But again note, the tongue is humanly uncontrollable

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

The tongue rages like a fire.

(James 3:5b- 6) “ … 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

Our words have the ability to start fires.

Life Illustration: It only takes a spark or a small flame to set on course and roaring, devastating fire.

Life Illustration: Warren Wiersbe shares the story that he was visiting the used bookstore along Charing Cross  Road in London, — and he remarked to a clerk that there were not as many used book stores as he expected. “There’s a reason for that, replied the clerk. “One night during WWII, the incendiary bombs hit and the fires destroyed at least a million books.” In similar manner, our words, James would say, can operate like fire and can destroy.

And yes, we have the capability of holding our tongues and speaking or not speaking what is on our minds.

Psalm 39:1-3– I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good. But my anguish increased; my heart grew hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:

My friend, if you find that you are often creating virulent – or bitterly hostile situations through the words you are speaking, you must repent and ask God for His intervention

Proverbs 26:20-21- Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.”

Friends, I am making a call for repentance.

James is making a call for repentance.

If we are quarrelers—people who like to create situations full of strife and division– through and from the words we speak – we – I — must repent.

Life Illustration: (From James, from The IVP New Testament Commentary Series by Dr. George M. Stulac, page 130)”

  • “To the person who speaks praise to God in the worship service and then abuses people verbally at home or at work, James commands, Purify your speech through the week.”
  • With the person who says’ “Oh, I know I talk too much,” and laughs it off, James is not amused. He insists, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
  • By the person who boasts, “I always speak my mind, no matter who gets hurt,” James is not impressed. He commands, “Discipline your speaking.”
  • Of the person who says, “I know I gossip too much, but I just can’t help it”, James still requires, “Control your tongue.”
  • Of the person who is in the habit of speaking with insults, ridicule, or sarcasm, James demands, “Change your speech habits.”
  • He expects discipline to be happening in the life of a Christian. Any Christian can ask for the grace needed for God gives good gifts (James 1:17) and gives them generously (James 1:5). There is, then, no justification for corrupt habits of speech in our churches today. We simply MUST repent.

And the Bible tells us that the one who restrains his words — he is a person full of knowledge and wisdom. (Remember, James is also ALL ABOUT us gaining that wisdom.

Proverbs 17:27– “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition translation of Proverbs 17:26-28 says, “It is no good thing to do hurt to the just: nor to strike the prince, who judgeth right. He that setteth bounds to his words. is knowing and wise: and the man of understanding is of a precious spirit. Even a fool, if he will hold his peace shall be counted wise: and if he close his lips, a man of understanding.”

Know this: If our hearts are filled with hatred, satan will light a fire and kindle that hatred. But if our hearts are is filled with God’s love, God Himself will light the fire and stoke the love that comes out of us.

In other words, the fiery potency of the tongue starts with the character of our hearts.

To whom will we yield up the character of our hearts? Will it be to God – to stoke the fires of love ad Godliness? Or will it be to the deceiver, satan – to stoke the fires of destruction?

Life Principle: My friend, Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

Let me say it another way: Our Word-Fire either defiles and destroys.

Life Illustration: In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in November of 2016, because a couple of young boys were playing with fire, violent flames took 17,136 acres, destroyed 2460 structures, caused over $500 million in damage, and killed 14 people while injuring 190 more. It was later discovered that the fire was caused by two teens dropping lit matched along the trail known as Chimney Tops. Cheri and I have walked that trail many times. These fires were caused by lit matches. My friend, a fire can begin with only a small spark.

Fiery words defile a home, a Sunday School class, a relationship, and a church.

We often say that time heals all things – BUT, a greater truth is that time does not correct the sins of the tongue.

We may confess our sins of speech, but the fire keeps spreading.

Instead, we must break the cycle of destruction before it even begins.

Life Illustration: I often think of the magazine ads and the TV commercials of my childhood featuring Smokey the Bear. He would always say, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” or “Only YOU can prevent Wildfires.” Smokey the Bear

My friend, only you, under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, can prevent the fires  that are kindled by our wayward, unthinking, gossiping speech.

Ask of God, and trust Him to hold your tongue and exercise wisdom.

The tongue can spread evil throughout the church family because of gossip, back- biting, and criticisms.

If Paul had written this passage, we might expect him to employ his image of the church as the body of Christ to describe the injury done to other lives by one person’s impure speech.

Notice very carefully the words James uses here: “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.”

But James’ reference to the body appears to be in the Jewish sense – after all, he is writing to the Jews dispersed all across the world – in the Jewish sense of the whole person rather than a figure of speech, a synecdoche representing the congregation.

James’ focus is more on the destruction of the impure speaker’s own life.

James is referring NOT to the reaction of others to your speech — but to the spreading of sin from your speech to the rest of your personal life.

In other words, Yes. Your words can destroy a church, a family, or a people – but more quickly—and ultimately, your words can destroy you.

Number 32:23b- “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

And while the tongue is able to steer like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder to a large boat

And while it can set a large fire even as does a small spark or flame

The tongue is also full of many inconsistencies

(James 3:8b-12) ”It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

The deadly sin of inconsistency is the poison of which James is speaking. It perhaps is the culmination of ALL the evil of which the tongue is capable.

(James 3:3:16) “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

James says that the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The parallel between the tongue and poison is clear.

Poison works from within and produces sickness and/or death.

The intention of poison IS to inflict pain or death.

In other words, the tongue must be controlled because it is a tool that shows one’s inner being.

And, as has been previously shown, the tongue affects both large populations, in the mindset of James it also immediately and ultimately affects the one speaking.

The tongue is also like a dangerous animal or poison

The deceptive thing about poison is that it works secretly and slowly – and then it kills

But note, when you tame an animal, you get a worker instead of a destroyer.

Matt 12:34- “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Life Illustration: I have had the privilege of training and helping to train some animals. I have had good success with horses – not so much so with dogs. Horses well demonstrate that strong, powerful animals can be trained.

The tongue can be trained by self, the world, and the enemy – for evil; Or the tongue can be trained by the Lord for His good.

The tongue has the ability to both bless and curse.

The tongue has the power to delight.

Proverbs 18:21– “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

If you and I are going to have tongues that delight, then we must meet with the Lord each day and learn from Him

After all, all of nature reproduces after its own kind.

Or, said another way, we take on the characteristics – or we will correspondingly be the reflection of what or WHOM we spend our time with.

So, what about that truth I earlier mentioned about the tongue being full of inconsistencies?

The greater truth, again as I mentioned earlier, is this: In its inconsistencies, the tongue excellently displays one’s character.

The tongue that blesses the Father and then turns around and curses men made in the God’s image, displays a double-mind (as James described in James 1) and is in desperate need of spiritual medicine.

It is inconsistent to bless God and to curse our fellow man.

James is calling for consistency within the Christ-follower because consistency and inconsistency are indicators of our spiritual state and relationship with God.

Again, these inconsistencies are indicators of a person who is in desperate need of spiritual medicine.

James, my friend, is referring to our relationship to God Himself (James 3:9)

The One Whom we praise is no less than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

But, the one we curse is made in the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, to treat people with contempt is to treat God’s own greatness with contempt.

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

Examples from nature in James 3:11-12 are intended to describe situations that never CAN happen.

Similarly, they are descriptive of what CANNOT be happening within the follower of Jesus.

They are exemplifying the words: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

The deeper problem is finally revealed; the real problem is not with the tongue; it is with the heart.

Luke 6:44 -45- “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

As we think about these things this morning, I ask of you:

What do your words indicate that your heart is full of?

And is your heart in need of repentance and renewal by the Holy Spirit?

One person said that, before we speak or write, we should THINK

  • T - Is it true?
  • H - Is it helpful?
  • I - Is it inspiring?
  • N - Is it necessary?
  • K - Is it Kind?

Rick Warren has suggested 12 Words that can change your life

  • Please
  • Thank you
  • I’m sorry
  • I love you
  • I’m praying for you.

James is stating the obvious facts that one spring does not pour forth two kinds of water.

The implication here is that a true Christian will not make a practice of unChristian speech.

The practice of unchristian speech is evidence that the speaker is not a Christian and is therefore, in danger of Hell.

James 3:12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Life Principle: Christ has given us power that we might speak words of life or death; let each of us vow to speak only words of life.

Conclusion: James strongly emphasizes the purpose of the tongue.

  • The tongue has the power of life and death.
  • Our tongue betrays our true relationship with the Father
  • Our consistency in speech – and thus, behavior — indicates our depth of relationship with Christ and with one another.

Action Steps:

  • Draw closer to Christ through daily prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship
  • Guard what you speak AND what you hear.
  • Speak words of life.
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