We’re now into week 3 of our study of James, and I know that if you have been here, paying attention, and seriously working on this stuff in your life, you’ve already started to grow in your spiritual maturity, as well as probably in your relationship with Jesus.
Let’s just do quick, one liner recaps of the last two weeks. The first week we looked at how we handle adversity and tough times. Can I just say good job to Sam for preaching about that in a single week? I mean, we went through an entire SERIES in youth group called Save Me, O God, talking about how to handle trials in our life. It was 8 weeks long! Anyway, when we are faced with difficult times in our life, the way we respond shows how spiritually mature we are, and during these times God is training us to be God’s holy best. Last week, we talked about our faith and works. As confusing as people make this out to be, it really isn’t all that confusing. James was trying to get the idea across that when we are truly changed by Christ’s love, our works will reflect our faith, and the works that we should see in our life was laid out by Jesus: Love God, and love others. Faith and works, as the Message version put it, go hand in glove.
That brings us to our spiritual growth for today. Today, we’re talking about the taming the tongue. And what makes this topic so needed is that this topic can become so religious, and at the same time, the sins we commit with our tongue are the most common, tolerated sins within the church body itself.
Each week for sōzō, I ask God to show me in my own life what I’m talking about each Wednesday night. I can learn so much more about the topics I preach by purposefully asking God to show me examples in my own life. So I’ve known that I’m talking on the power of our words for a few weeks now, and have asked God for the same thing. What do you know, God gave me a week of examples.
This past week, I’ve spent day after day in York for Jury Duty. Now I knew this was coming of course, I got a letter in the mail. But, as I’ve learned most guys do, I quickly scanned it for the date and time to be there and put the letter on my desk to look at a later date. Well, last Sunday, the day before I had to go, I couldn’t find it at all. Fantastic. As I ask people about it, I learn more and more about what the process is like, and also the time frame. I was thinking like 4 hours Monday morning, piece of cake, check off my American duties. Well, I come to find out that Jury Duty is an entire week long, all day long! I had rearrange my entire schedule just to be there and not be in court myself!
So anyway, I’m sitting in the Jury waiting room, which is just boredom on steroids. No technology allowed, at all. I know that’s not a huge deal for some of you, but for me, I literally stared at a blank wall for a few hours, thinking to myself, oh my goodness, I have 40 more hours of wall staring this week.
I had so much work to do for Wednesday night, I had to write out this sermon, I had work to do for the Frosty Llama, and all of this stuff and more was all on my blank mind, because what else could I do?
THANKFULLY, I was randomly selected to be a part of the first case, and got on the jury. So my boredom, for the most part, went away.
But God showed me the power of words this week in so many ways that I can’t even tell you them all. For one thing, I know I had some words in my head that I grumbled waking up to go Monday morning. Just kidding! Kind of.
But for real. I was sitting in a trial, listening to the words of multiple people about an event, and then by my own voice I would contribute to literally the life or death of an individual.
Ok, I exaggerated that last part quite a bit, it wasn’t a life or death trial. BUT it was a decision that would determine where most of someone’s life would be spent! I had two extremely extremely powerful words to choose from along with my fellow jurors: Innocent, or guilty.
On top of that, I sat day after day listening to the testimonies of witnesses. Think about the power of the words they have to speak! Their words are so important to the entire event that they have to swear before God and man that they won’t lie, because their words are that important to the situation. Head nods won’t do. Mumbles won’t do. They need audible yes’s and no’s to record the trial.
Talk about a teaching moment.
Words are such a powerful tool that God gave to us! Which is why it’s so important to understand that power that they hold. Our tongues bring life and death to those around us, which is why James found it so important to bring it up in his letter. And you’re going to see, as we dive into chapter 3 of James, that the writer doesn’t exactly have good things to say about it.
Before I get started, I want to make a very important point that you have to accept and understand right from the start, especially because I know many of you.
Like I said, this topic can become so religious, and at the same time, the sins we commit with our tongue are the most common, tolerated sins within the church body itself. We all struggle, whether we call it a struggle or not, with many aspects of it, so in writing this, know that I am not pinpointing you or thinking of you while preaching God’s Word. Conviction is something that YOU feel based on what YOU know.
Now that you all think I’m going to bash you, (I’m not I promise), let’s start to read it:
“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.(James 3:1-2 NIV)
The first part of this section could really be a whole other topic, but James is starting this section of his letter by saying that being a teacher in the church is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people! Why? He says because those who teach will be judged more strictly. It isn’t to say that they will be perfect, but does mean that they are held to a higher standard. And this isn’t putting pastors on a pedestal. Look at it as the same way you view teachers in school, let’s say math for example. We expect them to know the math for themselves that they are teaching us, otherwise we would not be able to learn math. The math teacher’s math skills are held to a higher standard than those of his students.
But that doesn’t mean that they never mess up a math problem every once in awhile, because they’re human, like us!
James correctly concludes that if a teacher never messes up, they’re perfect, and able to control their whole body. Which leads him into the easiest way for us to mess up: with the words we speak.
“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.”(James 3:3-5a NIV)
He starts with examples that we can still understand today, but probably not in the same way the first church understood. He starts with the illustration of the bit in the mouths of horses. Any horse riders here today?
Horses in this time were one of the most powerful ‘machines’ they had. They helped in every aspect of their lives! And we all know what a ship is. How many people have ever taken a cruise before?
Ships today are HUGE! Since those days, ships have been the largest moving vehicle we have.
So we can relate to these examples, and when we look at them in context with the time period, they make even MORE sense. What’s incredible is what controls these two. A bit in the mouth of a horse can control the entire horse, and a rudder can control an entire ship! Both tiny and small in comparison to the rest of the animal or object, yet powerful in it’s control.
James says that LIKEWISE, or in this same way, the tongue is a powerful, controlling part of our body. So before we say anything about what kind of power it has, understand that your tongue, or the words you speak, have great power.
And now James gets depressing, and this is where we try and disagree. Continuing on:
“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.”(James 3:5b-8)
Our tongue is set on fire by hell? Isn’t that a little harsh? Do the words we say really carry that much power? James would say undoubtedly yes. Anon said: The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet high. Our tongues are full of deadly poison, and in case you thought you were the exception, James reminds us that NO human being can tame the tongue.
To finish up this section of Scripture,
“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 fresh water and salt water 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.”(James 3:9–12 NIV11-GK)
James says, here’s what’s sad: With our mouth, we praise God for all that He does and has done. We come and sing worship songs, we praise Him when we receive blessings, and we pray and can have wonderful times speaking with Him. Yet with this very same mouth, we curse human beings, the very same humans that we learn in Genesis were made in God’s likeness! By curse James is simply saying that we speak evil on them. We tear them down. We don’t show God’s love to them. And this is all with the same mouth that just sang praises to God this morning. Like we talked about last week, the work that goes along with our faith is to love God and to love others. When we use our mouth to put down others, we are not showing God’s love. We are essentially cursing others who were also made in God’s image, who Jesus also died for.
The last few examples that James writes gives us the real issue with the tongue. The last sentence reads, Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Here’s what he’s saying: The words that we speak have power, and they come from the heart.
J.C. Ryle said: Our words are the evidence of the state of our hearts as surely as the taste of the water is an evidence of the state of the spring.
If our hearts are far from God, so will be the words that we use. The words we use reflect the condition of our hearts. And that’s a big deal! Because words either give life or take life, and our struggle is knowing what to say.
Let me ask you then: What is the condition of your heart?
James told us how we can find out: Listen to the words that we say.
Proverbs 18:21 says,
“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Proverbs 18:21 MESSAGE)
The challenge or battle, then, is this: How can we control the words we speak? How do we know which words give life or which ones kill?
The sins of the tongue are probably the most tolerated sins in the church today. Perhaps we don’t even know that some are sinful! They’ve become almost accepted as no big deal, even though we just read that our tongues are set on fire from hell.
If you don’t remember anything else from today, remember this: Our words can become sinful if they aren’t showing the greatest command, the one we spoke of last week: Love God, and love others. The tongue is evil, and a deadly poison when it doesn’t love God and love others.
Ephesians 4:29 says this:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
If what you say doesn’t show love for God or for others, it is probably sinful.
I’d like to just talk about some of the unwholesome talk we struggle with today, and the reason they are sinful, and you’re going to see through each of them they are considered sinful because the words we use don’t reflect love for God or others.
The first one I’d like to bring up is probably the most controversial, and there are really two sides to it. These days, we like to call it, our french.
What does the Bible have to say about cursing?
Earlier in his letter, James says this:
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 NIV)
Kind of an ouch moment right? Those of us who come to church, or who read the Bible, or who pray… we probably feel that we are the religious that James speaks of. And I can’t argue with that fact! James is basically saying that even when we do all the religious activity like praying, and going to church, if our words aren’t used to build others up, it shows the condition of our heart! Anon said, “Actions don’t always speak louder than words — your tongue can undo everything you do.” Now of course, this verse is not only speaking of cursing, it’s really talking about all the pain we can cause with our tongue, but it’s a specific charge against the church.
So we read this verse, feel a stab in our heart, and decide ‘That’s it! I’m never swearing again! Every swear word, every joke dealing with swear words, everything that we shout out with 4 letters, it’s all evil!’
Well… I’d like to just take a moment to address those of us who may feel this way. Please don’t shoot me down for this, but here’s a secret, and this might be pretty deep thinking for some of us still early in the morning: WORDS are not EVIL. Big news! Now you’re probably really confused because we have been talking this whole time about how the words we speak can be life or poison. But there is a reason James uses the word the TONGUE, not the word WORDS. Because WORDS are not EVIL. It is our tongue, it is our hearts, that take these words and use them to degrade, to slander, to humiliate other people. MONEY is not evil, it is the LOVE of money that is evil. Money is a lifeless object, it can’t be good or evil. So it is the love of money that is wrong. This is similar! It is not WORDS that are evil, it is the way that we USE them. Is this tracking with everybody?
Why am I saying this?
Because I think that some super religious people believe that cursing is sinful because of the words they use. They hear someone around them curse, and their heart begins to beat real fast, they get red in the face, and then think that they must start sharing the gospel with this sailor. But let me clear the air to say I’m not making fun of anyone who is like this, because I used to be the exact same way.
In fact, when I was going into Middle School, I made a pact with myself. You’re going to find this really funny. I was watching a movie, and in it had some cursing. I was so appalled by this movie that I told myself that I was NEVER EVER going to be friends with anyone that swore from that point on! I was convinced that people who use those words must not really know Christ, because those words are sinful!
But as I’ve grown up in my faith, and read the Bible, and studied Jesus and his actions and teachings, I’ve learned that it isn’t the words that are sinful. It’s the way that they are used. I know that seems like a cop out, but it’s true!
What does Ephesians 4:29 say again?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.(Ephesians 4:29 NIV11-GK)
The point I’m trying to make is that if our words are not building people up, if our words aren’t showing God’s love to God and to others, then it’s sinful. But if you’re someone who is afraid to say the road name that our church is placed on, you may have a misunderstanding of words.
Listen, our words are not sinful, it’s the way that we use them that is.
Now that I’ve given you all license to swear, let me pull you back, because I’m either getting glares, big smiles, or parents whispering to their youth that they are never allowed to come back to youth group.
I still don’t use curse words, especially the words that we use in this day in age, not because the words are evil, but because the way they are generally used is.
Our words reflect our emotions, and our heart. When we are using the favored curse words of today, many times they are not used to build others up, but instead to tear others down. Man, I don’t know how many of you actually watch the thousands of videos on your Facebook newsfeed, but SO many of them are people yelling at other people, using every swear word they possibly can. And no, it isn’t to build the other person up, but it’s used to rip apart another human being made in God’s image.
The words we throw at people are sinful because they are used, not to show love to God and others, but in fact the opposite. They are used to show hate, to show spite, to show anger.
And I think we all know that these are hurtful words, because there is a reason we don’t use them certain places. There’s a reason we don’t hear it around the church, there’s a reason it’s not in worship songs, there is a reason kids don’t say it around their parents, there is a reason you don’t cuss out your boss.
The words we choose to use reflect the condition of our heart.
Take this into consideration. Jesus says in Matthew 5:
“I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”(Matthew 5:22 MESSAGE)
If you have brothers and/or sisters I know you have called them stupid. I am easily guilty of it! But you can see that it is not the word that is chosen that is sinful, it’s the way that it is used. If our words don’t show God’s love to God and others, it’s sinful.
Alright, I’ve spent way too long on this subject, everyone is probably confused. So moving on to another fun subject. We like to call it, ‘Putting in prayer requests for others.’
Gossip is a deadly sin that we have come accept as a normal practice for everyone. Just get on Facebook for 10 minutes, and then sit with a few good friends, and BAM everyone is gossiping.
Suppose we see on a status update from Sally, ’10 weeks to go!’ Get a few friends together, and all of a sudden, Sally is now pregnant, with several different guys, from a drunk night she doesn’t remember in Tennessee.
And to end the evening, we pray for Sally and all she is going through. Poor Sally was just really excited about going to the beach.
While that may be a funny example, gossip happens all the time. I’d argue that it’s the most tolerated sin of the church today, mainly because no one can stop. We can’t get a hold of our tongues!
Jesus says in Matthew 15:
“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”” (Matthew 15:11 NIV)
The word defile in the Greek means to make ceremonially unclean. We don’t want to be considered defiled today, but they ESPECIALLY didn’t want to be considered defiled in those days, because that would involve banishment from the community until they could be considered clean again! So when Jesus came and said that their mouths are making them ceremonially unclean, they were scared to death! It was a huge deal! And it still is today.
What we say has power. Spreading gossip NEVER shows God’s love for God or others, does it? Yet we do it all the time. Gossiping can be made up, half truth, or even truthful at times! Telling your parents that your best friend lost her job is not gossip, but then having a conversation about all the different reasons she should have been fired, or how she possibly got fired, is.
A pretty simple way to know if you’re spreading gossip or not is if you wouldn’t say what you’re saying to the person, or if you know it’d hurt the person by saying it, you’re definitely gossiping.
Gossip is a deadly weapon. So is flattery, so is lying. All of these are really very similar. If we aren’t building up each other out of love for God and others, then we need to control our tongue.
The words we choose to use reflect the condition of our heart.
The last area I really want to hit on specifically is that of sarcastic put downs and crude jokes. This is another area that we really are lenient on in the church today, because it’s so easy to do, and the society around us continually does it.
We make jokes all the time that don’t reflect God’s love. Many of them are filled with sexual perversion and activity. We also are so quick to sarcastically put people down. It can be in a joking or non joking way, but regardless of why it’s said, it can still dramatically hurt people. Do you really think your friend’s mom enjoys the jokes about her? I’d vote I don’t think so! If you’d be hurt by jokes that you make, you shouldn’t be making them in the first place.
I don’t really have to go into much detail concerning this subject, because so many of us are already wrapped up in talking this way, and we know it to. We may not think about what we are saying as we say it, but when we are confronted about it, we know we aren’t choosing our words wisely.
So what does all this mean?
Jesus clearly spoke on the words we say a lot in Matthew. Let me read you one more thing Jesus said:
“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”” (Matthew 12:37-40 MESSAGE)
Let me repeat to you one more time: The words we choose to use reflect the condition of our heart.
So what is the condition of your heart today? Are you angry? Do you have a lot of pride? Do you feel the need to continually put down others to make yourself look better? Or are you reflecting the greatest commandment to Love God and to love others?
I know I brought up subjects that you just don’t want to hear about, I get it. But the reason we are going through this James series is because we want you to be able to grow. We want you to grow spiritually closer to God. We long for you to know God in a deep and intimate way. There is never a time where we reach ultimate spiritual maturity here on earth. Especially dealing with the tongue today, we read that NO HUMAN has controlled the tongue. If we didn’t learn that from the Bible, we can easily see that fact all around us everyday. Our words have the power of life and death. The old saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ isn’t true, and you know it. Say it all you want, but words have the power to bring life or death. And in order to grow, we must learn to take control of that power. We have to learn when to speak, and when to not. We must learn what to say and what not to say. J. Sidlow Baxter said: One of the first things that happens when a man is really filled with the Spirit is not that he speaks with tongues, but that he learns to hold the one tongue he already has.
We learn to hold our tongue by focusing on the greatest commandment: We must love God and love others. In all that we say, we have to be focused on building each other up according to their needs. We want our words to benefit those who listen. We should learn from David, and pray as he did in Psalm 141:
“Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
(Psalms 141:3 NIV)
What is the condition of your heart today? If your mouth is revealing that your heart isn’t showing your love for God and others, how are you going to fix it?