“Taming the Tongue” (James 3:1-12)
1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. In the message from God’s Word we’re going to be looking at what James the apostle writes in James 3:1-12. We’ll see that we as sinful human beings are guilty of using our tongues in ways that hurt God, our neighbor and even ourselves. But, Christ Jesus our Lord used His speech perfectly on our behalf so that through His words and actions we’re saved! When we are Created New in Christ, which is your theme for this school year, even our speech changes. The message is entitled, “Taming the Tongue,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. He walks confidently into the cage. Nervous lions and tigers are on stools watching him, now and then roaring or moving their paws at him. Then when the lion tamer seems to lose control, he cracks his whip and the beasts settle back or perform tricks on command. One of the most important things we need to learn as Christians is to recognize situations in which you and I need to crack the whip, and keep that untamed tongue of ours under control. Take these illustrations into consideration. One of your friends comes up and says out of breath, “Did you hear about Sally Price? I understand she…” You open your mouth, about to tell what you’ve heard—and it’s whip-cracking time! Gossip is a definite no-no. Or what about this? You and your lab partner in the science classroom are working on a project. You ask your lab partner to do something for you. You know he’s trying to help, but this is the umpteenth time he’s gotten it wrong. You feel yourself getting angry and open your mouth—when you realize it’s whip-cracking time. You smile, glad that you’ve got a fellow classmate who’s willing to at least try and help you out, even though he may not be as good at chemistry or biology as you are.
3. These are just a few of the situations where that untamed tongue is likely to carry us away before we even think! Learning to tame our tongue is vital for our growth toward Christian maturity. That’s why James the apostle writes in James 3:1-8, “1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
4. James was a great teacher of the faith. He teaches us that we need to respect the mighty power of the words that we speak. “Talk is cheap,” people say. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not so, says James. Although the tongue is just a three inch muscle and only partially visible, it’s very powerful. Like a tail that wags the dog, the tongue drives our lives. James gives the following examples of little things that have big effects. For example, a bit in a horse’s mouth is a little piece of steel, but when used properly it can control a 2 thousand pound animal. A rudder on a ship is a little shaped plank that’s mostly invisible below the water, but it enables the captain of a ship to control the course of an immense ship. Finally, a spark in a forest. Under control, a spark can make a small fire to warm cold travelers and cook their food. But, out of control, a spark can cause an inferno that can reduce thousands of acres of mighty trees to smoldering stumps.
5. James thinks that it’s urgent that people learn to control their mouths. Not only to avoid hurting other people. But, an uncontrolled tongue can also turn on the uncontrolled talker, corrupting the whole person, poisoning his mind and plunging the body into the dangers of the fires of hell. James reminds us that the tongue doesn’t operate itself. It’s our brain that controls the tongue. Here’s another example of living out our Christian faith—people who claim to be believers must not let their mouths get out of control. Faith in our Savior Jesus welcomes the power of the Holy Spirit to bite back lies, sarcasm, ridicule, gossip and praise for evil deeds. Faith uses the Spirits power to build up other people, speak the truth, forgive and comfort. Faith also knows when to command the tongue to be silent.
6. James teaches us that talk isn’t cheap and that words do wound. Words can build up or destroy a person’s self confidence. Words can turn someone’s’ proud achievement into humiliation. Words can create and destroy a relationship. Words can spread hate or love. Words can spread truth or plant lies.
7. That’s why James continues in James 3:9-12, “9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” Again the apostle teaches us that words are also God’s means to rescue people from hell. A sermon, a Bible study, a catechism lesson or an evangelism visit over coffee all look tame and useless. But, God’s power to save people, to create and sustain saving faith, takes place with the power of words.
8. That’s why it’s vitally important for all Christians, and especially for those who speak in the church’s name, to let God’s Word control their words. People hate hypocrisy. Double minded Christians with forked tongues, praising God cursing one another, drive people away from Jesus as their Savior. James won’t let Christians get comfortable with that. Christ like minds and Christ like hearts direct the mouth to utter Christ like words!
9. Who can save us from the poisonous words that we use to hurt our neighbor, our God and ourselves? Have no fear, Jesus is here to do just that! Let no one ever tell you that words are insignificant. Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” mentions Satan where Luther writes, “Rage we can endure, For lo! His doom is sure, One little Word shall fell him.” And one Word has done just that. For it was through One Word that the course of human history was changed. When Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished” from the cross we were freed from the tyranny of the devil, the world and our sinful nature. And those words, “It is finished” were one word in the Greek. The word “tetelestai.”
10. James makes clear to us that we as human beings have no way of taming our tongues. It’s for this reason that no matter how hard we try we can’t save ourselves. That’s why only Jesus Christ our Lord spoke no evil. The charges of blasphemy were false when Jesus stood on trial before the Sanhedrin in Matthew 27. There was no guile in Him as 1 Peter 2 tells us. And finally, Jesus was hanged on a tree for our sins. The truth of the matter is that we as human beings would destroy ourselves were it not for the grace and forgiveness we’re given in Jesus Christ our Lord. Only the cross on which Christ suffered and died permits us to tame our tongues. Knowing that God for Jesus’ sake forgives penitent sinners gives us comfort since we know God will forgive us when we come to Him in repentance for the troubles our tongues have caused.
11. So what does James teach us here in James 3? That there are only two ways to live by, the wisdom of the world or by God’s wisdom. James condemns the worldly pattern of selfishness, deception and hurtful words. We as Christians struggle with such sins and are even tempted to present ourselves as holier than others. But how different is the wisdom of God. He’s purified us in Jesus and freed us from the stain of the world. We now walk in the works He has prepared for us to do. Please pray with me: O Lord, purify me so that my words may uplift, strengthen, bring peace where there is strife and bring sincerity where there is falsehood. Use my lips to speak your glory, to tell of Your wonderful deeds and to proclaim Your salvation in Jesus. Amen.