James 3:1-12 New International Version (NIV)
Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 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.
3 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.
7 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.
9 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.
So, James has established firmly for us that if we believe it will show itself in our lives. Today James gives us wisdom in terms of the words that come out of our lives. Now, let’s be honest this morning, our words seems to have a mind of their own sometimes in our lives, and other times we have meant to say one thing and other people hear a completely other reality.
Last week we had lecture training at the college, and they walked us through effective communication, and they shared that being in the wrong part of the stage will make you be miss hear, the way you deliver, the way you look, stand, your attitude can all distract from being effectively being heard. Then they told us this all excludes the cultural and social realities of your hearers and what time of the day it is etc, etc etc. to which one of the lecturers said it’s a miracle we get anything across.
Words can be misheard and misspoken and the great problem, church, is that it does huge damage when this happens. And our great problem is that we are not simply misheard, we speak evil, curses, death to others and it destroys. The old rhyme, “sticks and stones may hurt by bones but words will never harm me.” Is as big a lie that can ever be spoken. Words form us, they carry incredible power to build up and destroy. If you have kids you can see this in the way your kids internalise everything you say to them.
Our words can bring heaven or hell in the lives we speak them to. Now, I am not advocating the name it, claim it mentality, I am talking about the way that words form our opinions of ourselves and others who we say them to. Here James identifies that our words expose us which is my first point this morning;
1. Our Words expose us
At the end of this passage James refers to this poetic reality of the fact that you cannot draw bitter water and sweet water out of the same well (or salt and fresh water). And it is a reflection of proverb found in Proverbs 4:23 which says;
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth overflows.”
Church, this is a really intense thought to comprehend and accept, what we speak, what flows out of our mouth is the expression of what is going on in our hearts. When we are angry and those poisonous words just flow out and crush that person we love, that is what is going on in our heart. When we lash out at our kids and break them down, church, that is what is really going on inside of your heart!
Let that sink in, the bubbling up of words is what is truly hidden inside of you. This is why James put the argument of the horses bit here. If we can control our words church we have settled our heart. In fact, James says, “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”But just before that he says, “We all stumble in many ways”Our words carry power, incredible power for life and death in the lives of ourselves and others, and they are an outflowing of what is really going on inside of our hearts.
So, often we are caught up in the emotions of a situation and the words simply tumble out, it almost seems as if someone else is acting upon us, like we are possessed and when we come down off the anger or the situation suddenly we are left with the chaos of what seemed like another person’s words. But church, don’t be fooled, although it may feel like you were being acted upon, but that was you, the real you. The you in your heart of hearts. Our words church expose us, not only that but they also control us.
2. Our words control us
James warn us and says not all of you should be teachers, why? Because words are powerful church. They can motivate people to great life or horrific hell on earth.
When Stalin took over Russia and drove his Marxist ideology into the Ukraine and further there were three levels of peasants throughout Russia the bednyak who were the poorest of the poor, the serednyak, the middle income peasants and the kulak who were previous peasants who through a bit of industry had being able to scrape together enough to own some land and make some money, they had effectively worked themselves out of poverty. Now, to mobilise the poor for his cause Stalin convinced the poor people that these landowners had stolen the land, that the only way you could be a wealthy peasant was is if you were a criminal, a thief. It was a complete lie, but it work, poor people drove the kulaks off their land and sent them off to death camps in Siberia where as much as 6million were starved to death or simply executed. Men, women, children were marched off to their death as people cheered, because of words.
Church, your words can humanise someone in your eyes and their own and dehumanise someone. It can lift people up or can destroy them. Our words can bring life or set the world on fire, the very fire of hell!Our words carry power because church we are made in the image of God and we are word based creatures. Everything you hear shapes you and everything you say shapes you and the people around you.
We know this:
Words can make or break your self-image.
Words can make or break community.
Words can make or break your children.
Words can make or break your marriage.
This is why James says in verse 9;
9 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.”Now, here comes the problem of this morning, our words expose our hearts, and if we analyse them we will see that we have a problem, we are bent towards darkness hatred etc. Added to this these words which are so powerful are incredibly powerful. They can bring blessing or curses, heaven or hell!
So, how do we heal! How can we sow life with our words?
3. Heal our hearts and we heal or words
James says he who can control his words can control his whole body. Because if your words are under control it shows that your heart is pure, it is under control. The question church is how do we heal our hearts?
Before we get there, I want to give you a challenge this week. I give it to people who come to Marriage preparation with me. Make a note of what you say this week. Every time you lie, gossip, every time you say something negative. Make a note of this. Now this won’t heal you, but it will expose brutally how much you struggle with your words. The best way to heal is to know that you are sick but being aware of your problem doesn’t heal you; you have to seek help. So, what does, what is the help we must seek?
The quick answer is the gospel. But I want to show you how this morning. Now we won’t have the time to go into every complexity or example but I will choose a common reality and show you how the gospel heals our hearts which in turn heals our words. Most of the darkness that we internalise that shapes us in negative ways is a good thing that has been turned bad or twisted. For example; I deserve to be happy. Happiness is a good thing, in fact it is wired into us. The lie, the twisting of that is I deserve to be happy. This twisted view of the world will make you act out in a number of ways, such as cheating on a spouse, because “I deserve to be happy.” Or lying to get a promotion, because, “I deserver to be happy.” Even envying the success of others and hating them and becoming murderous within your heart, because surely, “don’t I deserve to be happy as well?”
The gospel breaks the spell church, it uproots the lie the evil at its source. The gospel says, for all have sinned and are equally condemned. No-one deserves the goodness of God! Each have gone their own way. Right there the spell of I deserve to be happy is shattered. If I look at the world without the lie, I see no-one deserves anything but God’s wrath. The gospel not only breaks the spell but gives us life giving truth. It says no one deserve God’s goodness, so God in His endless love sent the only Good One – Jesus – who lived a completely obedient life. The only person who ever deserved happiness was sent to a cross. He took our deserved despair, alienation, and anguish upon himself on the cross, so much so that he cried out in the agony of separation; my God, my God, why have you forsaken me! The Hell that he must have been put through was my hell! He deserved happiness and got the cross! But He did it so that the wrath of God could come off us and through faith we could be welcomed back into the bliss, the happiness that is found in God alone! And right there my heart is shattered by love, shattered by grace, I no longer tell myself the lie that I deserve to be happy, because I know I don’t but oh what joy, what happiness is it to know that nothing now can separate me my the wonder, the happiness of knowing God is for me!
How does this heal my words though? Well think about it; if my heart is at rest, knowing that undeservingly I have received all the goodness of God and Christ has taken all my deserved punishment, why do I need to lash out at others? If they slander me, well I don’t deserve better, if they falsely accuse me? Well, I have been acquitted by the ultimate judge! What if they call me names and abuse me! Well the one who created me has called me His treasure!
It will be the outflow of that heart, a heart at rest that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control will flow!Church, James says, we all stumble and that is why we need the security that Christ indeed has paid it all!
So, church, let your words expose your heart! But then let that make you run to the cross for healing! You cannot heal yourself! You cannot pay the debt you owe, come to Him who offers freely what we could never pay. And let that unending, all-encompassing love break your heart of stone and give you a heart that loves God.