Today we are halfway through our 6 week series entitled All Day, every day: exploring the book of James. Today we tackle James 3:1-12 which no doubt will be an uncomfortable experience for all of us, because this is an area that we all struggle with in our lives, how we tame the tongue.
But before we begin looking at our text this morning, let’s take a quick look back and see where we’ve been. Two weeks ago we looked at James 1:2-18 and spent our morning talking about Trials and Temptations and how in the midst of trying times we can draw near to God, and how we can trust Him to bring us through. Last week we looked at James 2:14-28 and we talked about the relationship between faith and works and we can to the conclusion that while it is faith alone that saves, a truly saving faith is not alone. That faith and works go hand and in hand and if you have a faith you will live it through being a blessing.
So now we look together at James 3:1-12, and really a direct connection to last week. One way that faith works itself out in action is related to this little thing that sits in our mouth and has so much potential to either bring life or bring death.
James 3:1-12 says, “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. 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. 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.”
So let’s unpack this text a little bit and see what it has to say to us regarding what it looks like to live all day, every day following Jesus and living for his kingdom.
One of the first thing that James does in this text is to level the playing field. He makes it crystal clear that every single person (save one) who has ever and will ever walk the face of this earth stumbles. He says, “We all stumble in many ways.” The ancient Greek world that is translated stumble does not imply a fatal fall, but something that trips us up and hinders our spiritual progress. And probably one of the things that trips each one of us the most is the tongue. We stumble in word about ourselves through pride, boasting, ego, etc…. We stumble in word about others through slander, criticism, gossip, put downs, etc…Think about all the times that your words have gotten you in trouble. Words that have come out of your mouth that cut, hurt, and brought death to people. We all stumble with our use of our tongue.
James then says, “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” If you want to measure your own spiritual maturity or figure out someone else’s spiritual maturity just look at the tongue. What we say can indicate what we are. And any pretense of being devout that doesn’t result in a serious working over of our speech habits is a sham. James is really saying that if you get control of your tongue, which is probably the hardest thing to reign in, than your whole body will follow.
James then makes two metaphors for the tongue. He equates the small thing inside our mouth with a small bit in a mouth of a horse, and a rudder on the back of a ship. He says this, “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.” The bit in a mouth of a horse is placed into the mouth of a horse and connected to the reigns. When the rider pulls on the reigns, it in turn puts pressure on the bit in the horse’s mouth and the rider than can control where the horse is to go. The rudder is very much the same thing in a ship. It is a small piece connected to the back of the ship and is used for directing where the ship is to go. Just as the horse bit determines where the horse goes, and just as the rudder determines where the ship goes, the tongue can determine the way a person is going. Jesus pointed out that what comes out of the mouth is a sing of what is really there, deep in the heart. If someone turns out to be pouring out curses- cursing other humans who are also made in the image of God- then one must at least question whether their heart has been properly cleansed, rinsed by God’s powerful Spirit. These metaphors got me thinking. If a rider on the horse has control over the horse through the reigns which is attached to the bit in the mouth. And if the captain has control of the rudder by means of some kind of steering mechanism. Then who holds the reigns and the steering mechanism to your tongue?
The next metaphor that James uses for the tongue is the metaphor of fire. He says, “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.” Pretty graphic imagery of what kind of damage our tongues can actually do. Think about the small spark that a match or cigarette can do if not extinguished. It can literally burn down acres and acres of forest. The same can be said for our tongue. A small word can burn down an entire life. What others say to us and what we say to others can last a lifetime, for good or evil. The casual sarcastic or critical remark can inflict a lasting injury on another person. Our small tongue has some much potential to bring so much life, beauty and hope but it also has so much potential to bring death, despair, and evil. And that horrible little rhyme that we all know from childhood, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” is so far off. In fact words have the power to do more damage than any sticks and stones. Long after your bones are healed from being broken by the sticks and stones, the pain, the wounds, the fire that has consumed you from words spoken to you in anger, hate, judgment, condemnation, or even in “jest” have the potential to still be around.
James then lays out the struggle of bridging the tongue under control. He says, “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 is saying that humanity has been able to tame all kinds of animals. To domesticate the horse, the dog, the cat, and others. Humanity has been able to bring these animals under control. But we haven’t been able to tame or control the tongue. James says in verse 8 that “no human being can tame the tongue.” But while none of us can totally tame our tongues, and it will still make us stumble from time to time, there is hope for our tongues. The tongue can be brought under the power and control of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should be the one holding the reigns of our tongue and steering our tongues to speak words of life and blessing and hope, not of death, cruising, and hopelessness. The gospel is the means to have the strength to live this calling out. To have our tongues, our words and most of all, what lies at the root of our tongues and words, our heart, (because out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks) come under the rule and reign of King Jesus and his Kingdom.
What James is really getting at within this passage is that those of us who call ourselves Followers of Jesus, should be following Jesus All Day, every day and following him through and through. And that we are consistent in our lives, whether in our use of words and our tongues, or in our actions. He gets at this idea of constantly following Jesus in the way we use our words when he says, “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.” As followers of Jesus we are called to praise God with our tongues, and then speak words of life to people who are created in the image of God. The Apostle John puts this idea this way, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” If we claim to love God and worship Him with our life which includes our words, but yet we use our tongues to slander, gossip against, criticize, we must wonder just how much we actually love God, because loving God is intrinsically linked with love of neighbor. And one way to show our love for God is to show love for your neighbor. And one amazing way to show our love for neighbor is in our words.
One way that we as Christ followers can show our faith (like we talked about last week) is through the words that we speak. We have the awesome opportunity to live out the call of Abraham found in Genesis 12:1-3: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” To use our words to live out this calling to be a blessing.
Let me end with a homework assignment and a few questions. I bet you are thinking homework assignment? Either I haven’t had a homework assignment in a very long time, or you are thinking I just got my semester syllabus and I got so much to do already. Don’t worry this homework assignment won’t be very hard. I want each of us to use our words this week to bless three people. The first person that I want you to use your words to bless is another follower of Jesus. It could be someone from Veritas or another follower of Jesus that you know. The second person that I want you to use your words to bless is someone who is not currently a follower of Jesus. And the third can be anyone of your choosing. And next week our table conversation before the message will be to report back the stories of what transpired because of the words of blessing that you used.
So are you speaking life into people? Words of hope, encouragement, joy, peace, and good news? Or are you using your tongue to bring death, discouragement, bad news, and conflict? My prayer is that we would give the reigns and the steering mechanism of our tongue over to Jesus and He would be able to use our tongues to speak words of life.
So let’s dialogue about what it looks like to live out what James is calling us to. Let’s share stories of ways we have experienced either having words of life spoken to us, or speak words of life. Let’s share stories of ways and times in which we have experienced having words of death spoken to us or when we have spoken words of death. And let’s talk about ways that we can give the reigns and steering mechanism of our tongue over to Jesus and use our words and tongue for the Kingdom.
1. Share a story in which you either had words of life spoken to you or you spoke words of life to someone else. Share a story in which you either had words of death spoken to you or you spoke words of death to someone else.
2. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
3. What things or ways can you give Jesus the control over your tongue? How can you use your words for Jesus and his Kingdom?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?