No matter where you live, no matter what you do every day, there is one thing we do all day long! Can you guess what that is? You talk! From the time you say “its morning already” to “Good night” you are constantly moving your mouth throughout the day. Think about it! You talk in the bedroom, bathroom, hallway, kitchen, the garage or the man cave, you talk at work, school, when you eat and so on….all we do is talk, talk, talk. It’s interesting to note that communication is one of the things that separate us from the rest of creation. For some communication would be better if you didn’t talk at all, and for others they can’t live without talking. We are a people who talk and that can be good thing, but it also can be a bad thing. Prov 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” What the Writer is saying is this “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit….you choose.” Our speech can go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. What we say can change a mood, a conversation, a group, a marriage, friendship to disaster………….by the way you communicate to others. Talking seems so normal and so unimportant or harmless, yet underneath the normal there is a great struggle or war of words going on that we are fighting every day. Here are as few examples that demonstrate how quickly things can change by our communication:
“I never thought when we were going together that he would talk to me the he does now.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing when my son talks to me!”
“She hung up on me right in the middle of a sentence.”
“My parents never talk to me unless I’m in trouble.”
He is only talks to me nicely when he wants something.”
“I’m not comfortable with the way she talks to me about other people.”
“He talked a long time, but I don’t have a clue about what he was trying to say.”
“What happened? We seem to be so close and now we hardly talk.”
“I feel like I spend all my time breaking up my kids’ arguments!”
“Yes, he asked for forgiveness, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the hurt. What he said was so cruel.”
“I don’t know why I waste my time talking. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.”
“Sometimes I think it would be better if we quit talking altogether.”
“I wish our family could go an entire day without someone yelling.”
From Paul's Tripp book "War Of Words
See, these are all familiar to every one of us! The war of words is a battle we face each and every day. Whether you’re a child going through the “terrible twos” or an elderly person who has many years of experience, using this powerful muscle that is capable to build or destroy with a single word. I came across a story of an ancient storyteller, who told this fable: “Once upon a time, a donkey found a lion’s skin. He tried it on, walked around, and frightened many animals. Soon a fox came along, and the donkey tried to scare him, too. But the fox, hearing the donkey’s voice, said, “If you want to terrify me, you’ll have to disguise your whinny loud cry of a donkey.” The ancient writer’s moral of the story was……“Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away.” Think about that statement as we open James letter as he addresses the seriousness of the tongue.
What is the tongue capable of? It can be used for both good and evil; it’s pretty much a neutral muscle until it’s used by you and me.
It can be used to tear down
It can be used to build up
It can be used to display anger
It can be used to show love “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Prov 15:1
It can be used to deceive
It can be used to bless
It can be used to hurt
It can be used to heal
It can be used to murmur [gossip]
It can be used to pray “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much.” James 5:16
It can be used for acts of worship and adoration towards God “Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” Psalm 150:1-6
What I find amazing is that this battle of words doesn’t just affect the unreached and lost people of this world, but it affects the church…..you and me. It’s amazing that it has the capability with one breath to praise God, pray, read scripture and the hope of Christ….and in the next breath tell lies, say hurtful things, ruin your reputation and break a person’s heart. See! Ultimately the tongue displays the true heart of the man or woman. In Luke 6:45 Jesus said “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” If you want to see an example of that at work, observe someone you know or love who claims to be a Christian and observe their lives…..especially when they are of older age, hospitalized, suffering, loss of a loved one to name a few. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth truly reveals who we really are.
And James says “This is battle for everyone……a battle of words.” It’s a powerful muscle that can create many things to bless and many things to destroy. As one person said “The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet high." James warns the church about the importance of this tiny little muscle that has the capability to murder those who come into its path. Obviously by doing a quick read over this letter… This was a major issue with the heart of the people. I can only imagine what there board meetings or membership meeting were like? James had to address this issue numerous times in his letter.
For example: Going back to (James 1:19) “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…” James even went on to say in (1:26) “if anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle [control] his tongue but deceives his own heart, this religion is useless.” In (4:11) He says “do not speak evil of one another, brethren….” In (5:9) James says “do not grumble against one another, brethren lest you be condemned…..” But it’s not just a minor issue among believers……this is the natural man’s way of living. In the Third chapter of Romans we are given a clear picture of all humanity and to what we are capable of doing, even today. Rom 3:10-18 says “As it is written: "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NO, NOT ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS; THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS AFTER GOD. THEY HAVE ALL TURNED ASIDE; THEY HAVE TOGETHER BECOME UNPROFITABLE; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, NO, NOT ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN TOMB; WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY HAVE PRACTICED DECEIT"; "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS." "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD; DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR WAYS; AND THE WAY OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES."
But as we come to this part of James letter he gives the underlining warning about the true Christina life………..“these things ought not be so” (v10) What is James saying? There should be no place or room in the Christian’s life for this form of behaviour! PERIOD! It’s unacceptable and completely unchristian-like….and it’s blatant sin, against a holy God who gives us the gift of communication. As John MacArthur said in his commentary on this passage he wrote “When God transformed us, He gave us the capacity for new, redeemed, holy speech, and He expects us, as His children, to speak only that which is holy and right.”
See! Again this always goes back to the Gospel! We have been made new by the precious blood of Jesus Christ found in the gospel. If we use our tongues for unholy speech we need to ask ourselves! Do I really care about whom I’m hurting, and most of all what God thinks when I use my words inappropriately? James gives us three powerful illustrations to really hammer this point home.
The tongue is equally powerful as bit in a horse’s mouth (v3)
A bit that is able to control the horse to do what you want him or her to do. It’s mind-blowing that something that fits into their mouths can control the direction in which you want them to go, especially an animal of that size and strength.
The tongue is as powerful as a ships rudder that controls the direction of where you want the ship to go. (v4)
Isn’t it amazing to see these massive ships of hundreds of feet being directed and controlled by a rudder no bigger than an SUV? Whether it’s at the port in British Columbia or passing through the Welland Canal in St Catharines. Something so small has so much power over something so big.
The tongue has the power to destroy a countryside. (v6-7)
It’s amazing that a small flame or spark can cause so much destruction, especially after this past year in Fort McMurray. Do you know what the number one causes of Wildfires are? Well according to Conserve Energy Future! Human beings are the number one cause of wildfires in the United States. Many of these wildfires are caused by cigarette butts being left on the land, campfires that have been left unmonitored, as well as intentional acts of arson. 90% of the wildfires in the U.S. are caused by people. Something so small can cause so much devastation just by a spark….just by a human word!
James uses these powerful examples to warn the Christian and also to remind the preacher of his positon as the shepherd. See! This position isn’t to be taken lightly and pastors must proceed with caution as men of God who stand in pulpits around the globe preaching the truth of God’s word. Why? “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Heb 13:17. Now, we all stand before the Bema Seat of Christ on the day of Judgement, but understand our judgement will be tested by fire. The works we did in the flesh for Christ will tested and the ones done in the body will be burned up according 1 Cor 3:13-15.
But the preacher will stand before Christ and give an account for you! James says “I will be judged with greater strictness” (v1). This is a role I must never take lightly as Ezekiel explains in chapter 33:7-9 as “Spiritual Watchmen over God’s people.” This is the burden of the preacher! The great Scottish Reformer John Knox was so overwhelmed and burdened by the responsibility to declare God word faithfully that, before his first sermon, he wept uncontrollably and to be escorted from the pulpit until he could compose himself. Another pastor reportedly said of preaching what could also be said of teaching….“There is no special honor in preaching. There is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors; and like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest….to preach, to really preach, is to die naked and a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.”
This is why we need to recognize the power of words and the battle we face as pastors/deacons and church family. Because James says “If you are perfect and you never stumble, you can bridle your whole body (v2)
This is sarcasm by the way! If a human being were able to perfectly control his or her tongue, he would be perfect. But of course no one is immune from sinning with the tongue. What James is describing is those who are spiritually mature and thus able to control their tongues……seasoned veterans of the faith who constantly are sensitive to the Spirit leading. Why is this passage so important for leaders and the church? According to James in this passage apart from Christ all tongue does is………destroy (v6) “it defiles the whole body” and its influence is Hell. And what’s worse is that the natural man has no power over it...….even the Christian has no power to tame the tongue. Which means you and I are incapable of change apart from the sanctifying work of Holy Spirit in our lives.
So! Let me ask you the hard question! Do your actions or behaviour break your heart when you say things that teardown and destroy? Because if it doesn’t, I strongly advise you to examine your life with the mirror of scripture. As Johnny Mac said “He expects us as His children, His righteous children, His chosen children to speak ONLY that which is HOLY and RIGHT!” The Apostle Paul warned the church in Col 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Paul also went to say to the church in Ephesus “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Eph 4:29-30
Remember a continual and habitual hateful heart is an unconverted heart, and it CANNOT and WILL NOT produce loving words or good works found in Christ. On the flip side to that is a regenerated loving heart that fights the battles daily through the Spirit and it CANNOT and WILL NOT produce hateful words, but speak the truth in love to those who listen. Because the Bible clearly says "you will know them by their fruits" Can you leave here today and know that your tongue is being bridled by the Power of the Holy Spirit? Or is it untamed and evil, full of hate and sin, a Tongue that is full of the world and all its desires? As Peter said ““Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:10-12
God created all things by the power of words, by His words. This is found in the opening remarks of Genesis! “God said, “let there be light.” Gen 1:3. God used words to create and not only to create but to reveal Himself. “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness……So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen 1:26-28. Words are powerful, important, and significant. It was meant to be that way. God has designed us for communication, a plan specifically for the body of Christ after the fall. Especially after the battle of words in the Garden when Adam sinned. We need to recognize that the battle of words plagues us all and we need to sensitive to the Spirits leading.
But we must recognize that Satan speaks also! Gen 3:1 we read “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" We must understand the cunning and deceptive words of the serpent! This why we must dive into the scriptures through the preaching of the word and study of the word corporately and privately.
Why do say that? Jesus said this “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:34-37. The Sunday Question! Do you have a tongue that is bitter like salt water? Or a tongue that is pure like fresh water? In other words do I speak like a child of the world or a child of the living God? Only you can answer that question truthfully!