sermon – Faith and Our Tongue
(James 3:1-18 – NLT) June 2, 2019
Controlling the Tongue
1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.
5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the
same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
True Wisdom Comes from God
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.
15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
As we continue our study of James, we come to chapter 3.
And this morning we look at the power of the tongue.
How can we control our speech, our words,
in a way that pleases God and makes us useful to Him?
Our Words Can Build Others Up or Destroy Them.
Think for a minute… about Adolf Hitler.
He didn’t finish secondary school.
He was rejected twice for art school.
At 20, he was a struggling artist, homeless in Vienna.
By age 29, he was a wounded veteran of World War 1.
But he was beginning to learn
the power of words and ideas.
Here are four of his quotes:
“The great masses of the people will more easily
fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”
“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”
“It is not truth that matters, but victory.”
“Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong.”
Think about these statements of Hitler.
They tell us a lot about the evil man he became.
Ultimately, we know that Hitler’s words and actions
started World War 2,
in which over 50 million people died.
Adolf Hitler illustrates for us the power of words to destroy.
Our scripture lesson says,
(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. (NIV)
Now let’s contrast Adolf Hitler with Winston Churchill.
Churchill was born into wealth.
But spoke a lisp all his life.
He was sent away to boarding school at age 7.
In secondary school he was at the bottom of his class.
Twice he failed the entrance exam
to Britain’s Royal Military College.
He was accident prone, once being hit by a car in NYC
because he didn’t look both ways.
He had many faults and failures in life,
but at age 65 he became Prime Minister of Great Britain
just as World War 2 was beginning.
AND THEN – His words – his speeches –
galvanized a feeble nation
to rise up and resist the Nazi invasion.
These words from one of his speeches:
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender.”
And one other Winston Churchill quote
(since I can’t resist it):
“All the great things are simple,
and many can be expressed in a single word:
freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”
This / is the power of the tongue – the power of words. James says:
3-5 “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! (The Message)
Here in chapter 3
James uses the TONGUE as a metaphor
for our THOUGHTS and HEARTS and SPEECH.
The little muscle in our mouths
has no great power of its own,
but it enunciates the THOUGHTS
of our HEARTS and MINDS.
Every now and then the LORD reminds me
of the power of silence.
Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed
and let people think you are a fool
than to open it and remove all doubt.”
There is a time to speak up / and a time to remain silent.
May God give us wisdom to discern the difference!
So that is the first of this morning’s three points:
(1) Our Words Can Build Others Up or Destroy Them.
We Need Wisdom of Speech and Life! (verses 13,17)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom…17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (NIV)
Here in chapter 3, James warns us
of the potential evil that comes
from undisciplined words,
and he links these verses
directly with heavenly wisdom.
We need wisdom from God
if we hope to control our tongues.
Verses 13 and 17 give us
Ten Characteristics of Heavenly Wisdom,
and if we were to summarize them,
one phrase that stands out to me:
THE HUMILITY THAT COMES FROM WISDOM.
In our minds we have the idea of a wise man or woman.
And almost invariably
a wise person will be a humble person.
And it seems to me that you will see a balance
in the lives of wise people.
It’s a balance between THOUGHTS and ACTIONS.
between GODLINESS and COMMON SENSE.
between LOVING GOD and LOVING OTHERS.
between their VERTICAL relationship (with God)
and their HORIZONTAL relationships (with others).
Think of a wise person you know.
You will notice in them a patience,
a willingness to stop and think for a moment
(or even for a day or a week)
rather than to impulsively blurt out
the first thing that comes to mind.
You will see in them humility,
a willingness to work together with people
who have skills or gifts which they do not possess.
You will generally see a willingness to work hard
behind the scenes,
you will see perseverance,
and the capacity to sacrifice short-term fun
for long-term profit.
We see this wisdom from heaven
when we read the book of PROVERBS in the OT.
We see this wisdom from heaven
when we think about the NINE fruits of the Spirit
in Galatians chapter 5.
And we see this wisdom from heaven
in the lives of godly men and women,
whether we are looking at Mother Teresa
or Henri Nouwen or your neighbor next door.
There is the good fruit that flows from their lives,
and we tend to see that good fruit
in the lives of their children
and in the lives of those who follow them.
The Person with Heavenly Wisdom Does Humble Deeds.
There are Actions that flow from Heavenly Wisdom.
There is DOING and not just TALKING.
There is HELPING of the poor and sick and elderly.
There are HIDDEN ACTS of KINDNESS.
What hidden act of SERVICE can you do this week?…
So (Point #2) We Need Wisdom of Speech and Life!
And then (Point #3)
God Offers Us Heavenly Wisdom (chapter 1, verse 5)
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)
I remember repeating this verse day after day,
for more than 150 days,
as I memorized the book of James
with my high school Bible students
more than 30 years ago –
5 chapters, 128 verses.
You may think that you have very little wisdom,
so why don’t you ask God for more?
It’s not likely that you’ll wake up one morning
“Hey, I’m much wiser than I was yesterday.”
But if you really ask God for it,
I’m convinced you can look back a year from now,
two years from now,
and you’ll realize there’s a change going on,
a growth of character,
a depth of discernment
that’s greater than it used to be.
John Piper is a well-known pastor
and a has been a regular speaker
at Passion Conferences.
He has suggested Five Ways to Get Wisdom,
and as we close this morning
I want to share three of those ways with you.
1. Desire wisdom with all your might.
Proverbs 4:8 – “Prize her highly and she will exalt you; she will honor you for your embrace.”
“Blessed is the graduate who walks through the commencement line more hungry for wisdom than when he entered school, for he shall be satisfied.”
2. Apply yourself to study and meditate on the Word of God.
Psalm 19:7 – “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”
“Not only faithful Bible study, but also regular reading of great books on theology and biblical interpretation, books that distill the wisdom of the greatest students of the word over the past 1900 years.” (15 minutes at bedtime)
3. Come to Jesus.
Matthew 12:42 – “The queen of the south will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold something greater than Solomon is here.”
Others have pointed the way to life;
he is the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
In him are
“hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
The book of James is very practical.
It reminds us that God stands ready
to help us with the control of our tongues.
There is a time to SPEAK UP / and a time to SHUT UP.
May God give us wisdom to know which is which.
And the grace to keep in step
with His great purposes.
And all God’s people said, “AMEN!” (PRAYER)