5.24.20James and the Tongue
I know you are probably tired of remote worship…it was fun at first…but the fun has likely fizzled.
After today, three more weeks like this…then we will meet together…somehow…things continue to change so it’s too early to say what it will look like…so, for now…stay tuned.
I know you are also probably tired of Covid “pep” talks…I know I am…seems like everyone is giving us one...or one hundred of them.
But I encourage you to make the most of the time…it is unlikely we will experience this again...just like this.
I saw a completely empty bike rake in Walmart…that’s a good thing.
And there is a yeast shortage…if you love baked goods or even the idea of people baking in their homes…also a good thing.
So…we mourn with those who are mourning right now, but we also rejoice with those who are rejoicing (many have experienced some good things in this)…both mourning and rejoicing are always happening at the same time.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote a letter that is named…James.
He didn’t name it of course…that was done later.
Most of the NT letters were named for the recipient but James (like the Gospels) was named for the author.
James has often been pitted against Paul, the most famous Bible letter writer, because it has been thought by some that their letters disagreed with one another.
This isn’t true…they were simply addressing different issues.
If I fail to mention how water flows through pipes because I am talking to an electrician about an electrical problem it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in water...it just means I’m speaking to a specific problem…not every possible problem.
For instance, in Paul’s letters to the church in Galatia (Turkey) and to Rome he was addressing a tendency to try and rely on human effort or obedience in order to “win salvation”
So, Paul focused on faith as the sole instrument of salvation.
James, on the other hand was combating an “under emphasis” on a changed life.
Faith, he wrote, should have accompanying evidence in actions and words.
So, for Paul…people really needed to “believe, or have faith” in what was actually true and real...the gospel believed.
For James…merely believing the right stuff without evidence of a changed life was not enough...the gospel needed to be lived out.
Another way of looking at the difference is that Paul was focused more on before someone becomes a Christian or the belief of a Christian.
James was focused more on after someone becomes a Christian or the behavior of a Christian.
James is addressing folks who might have said… “It doesn’t matter what you do only what you believe.”
And there were, and there are…people like this.
“Christ has set me free…even from the need to be like Christ in my words and actions”
James wrote “uh…no.”
This is like saying “I believe in loving my family…but I will be little them and betray them and abandon them.”
Clearly this person doesn’t believe in loving his family because what he does demonstrates otherwise
However, he could say “I believe in loving my family…and yet I often fail to love them like I believe I should.”
That would be authentic belief…in spite of imperfect behavior.
James is not saying we will achieve perfection every action…but there should be ongoing transformation in our overall life direction.
So…again, the importance of balance in our perspective…Christlike direction not Christlike perfection.
This year we are looking Wisdom…mostly in the book of Proverbs but in the other places the topic shows up in the Bible as well.
James has been said to be the NT wisdom book.
It’s true that James isn’t “heavy theology” and it is geared towards the practical application of the gospel…but his application is based on the truth of God (theology)
Today, we will continue our study of the “Tongue or wise words” by looking at what James has to say about words.
He clearly connects wisdom with wise words and he addresses, like Proverbs does, the fact that words flow from the heart.
Here’s how we will proceed for the next few minutes
- What James says about wisdom in general
- What James has to say about us and our words…he says (in essence) they are our “super power”(he doesn’t really…but we will go with that analogy)
- How we can use and not abuse our “super power”
- Wisdom in James: Look at several passages pretty quickly.
1:2-5 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Right away, the first thing he writes after his initial greeting is this.
- Consider it pure joy when you face trials.
*Okay, that’s pretty hard to do
*I don’t really do that…so why would I?
- Well, it’s because trials are necessary for learning endurance
*That makes some sense…to gain physical endurance you have to put your body through the “trial” of running.
*Same for every other kind of endurance.
*I kind of get the connection between “joy” and “trials”…if you value endurance.
But why value endurance that much…so much that I would learn to find joy in tough times?
- Well, because endurance is necessary for maturity.
*Yeah, that’s true…I can see that.
*One of the things that marks a child apart from an adult…or a mature adult from an immature one, is endurance or perseverance.
*Maturity keeps going…immaturity quits easily.
So…tough times=endurance=maturity…so learn to find joy in tough times.
It is in that context…trials, endurance, maturity…that James speaks to the need for wisdom.
“If you lack wisdom, ask God for it…he is generous in passing it out to those who ask for it…in fact he won’t fault you for asking…or for the fact that you lack it.”
So, wisdom is required to see things clearly like…counting it joy when things get hard because we really do want to become “grown-ups”
Ask God for this kind of wisdom…he will surely give it to you.
That’s the first thing James says about wisdom…and it aligns with the overall theme of Proverbs…which is addressed to the “child” who wants to grow up into wisdom.
3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 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. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
This passage is like a compact summary of the whole book of Proverbs.
Wisdom shows up in a “good life”…a life that is marked by humility and all kinds of good fruit.
So, for James, like the writers of Proverbs…wisdom is “skilled living” not merely being smart of having a lot of data in your brain.
For James…his emphasis would be “Hey, so you know lots of Bible stuff, and have a lot of theological knowledge…but if it doesn’t show up in your behavior…then what good is it?”
Couple more passages…these that speak directly to words.
1:19-20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
James, like Proverbs…is a big fan of listening before speaking.
Like Proverbs…words flow from the heart.
That’s why he connects the ability to be slow to speak to the ability to be slow to anger.
Angry heart=quick to words let fly
Calm heart=restrained words, quick to listen.
1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
The word “religious” was used of outward acts of worship…but James wrote…the real test of faith is the content of the tongue.
The tongue is like a thermometer…it reflects the heart…which is the thermostat.
-The temp of the tongue is set by the temp of the heart
-The tongue reflects in its words…where the heart is set.
Transformed hearts will be reflected in transformed words
So now let’s move to our second point.
- Words are our super power.
We will use James 3:1-12, a passage we have already looked at this month.
I won’t read the entire thing again…but I will reference parts of it…I encourage you to read it carefully this week.
- James starts this long section on words with a warning about the position of a teacher.
“Be careful about becoming a teacher, teachers will be judged more strictly.”
It’s not because they are teachers that they (we) will be judged…but it’s because of the nature of what teachers do…they teach...they use words to direct lives in a certain path.
If they teach what is not true…then they ruin lives…this is cause for judgment.
Teachers were prominent in a society where few could read like in James’ time...so they became a sort of celebrity.
But I would say it’s not that much different now…newscasters, politicians, professors, scientists, athletes, actors, bloggers…virtually everyone wants to use their positions or platforms to “teach” others something…to influence belief and behavior.
James says that teachers will be judged more strictly.
Of course, he was speaking about those who taught the word of God in the church…but the application is much broader.
Jesus said, in Matt. 12, we will all be held to account for every careless word we speak.
*Why did he say this?
Because words are a sort of super power he has given us.
Those who use words to teach things that are not true…or to say things that are hurtful…can destroy the lives of those who hear them and believe them.
- Then he says, the tongue, is a dangerous power because it is just so difficult to control...in fact it is impossible to fully tame the tongue.
James knows that we all make many mistakes…he wrote…“We all stumble in many ways”
-He used a word that indicates the wide variety of ways we sin or make mistakes…we not all are not to the same kinds of sins...we all have different weaknesses.
-But the one thing we all have in common…is that we all stumble in our speech.
In fact, you would have to be perfect to never make a mistake with your words.
- He then illustrates the power and danger of the tongue
–Again, we have discussed these recently so I will just touch on them briefly
*A small bridle in a horse’s mouth can control its entire body…direct it’s life.
*A small rudder can steer a large ship…direct it’s course.
His point, in line with his overall message in the book… “When the tongue is restrained (under the Lordship of Jesus) it indicates the life is under the Lordship of Jesus as well.”
Then, for me, the most compelling warning.
He compares the tongue to a fire…a small spark or single word can burn everything down.
The tongue is our super power.
Metahumans, Avengers, X-men, Jedi…so many stories about powers that exceed what is normal for humans.
Often these powers are “out of control” and people have to learn how to contain them…or use them for good and not to harm self or others.
Then another reoccurring theme in these stories is that you never know which way things will go…will this character use their extraordinary power for good or bad?
Which way will their “hearts” go…will they go to the dark side or to the light side?
I think James would like the super hero motif.
In this passage he says the tongue is a “fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body…corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is set on fire by hell itself.”
You don’t think that sounds like a super power gone bad?
Tongues shoot fire…burn things down…set on fire by hell.
*Last week I was pulling my grandkids behind the mower on a sled…green snow sledding.
My youngest, Ellis, who is a great kid…ran in front of the sled and I was afraid he would become tangled in the rope.
I yelled a warning (very stern, over the sound of the mower)
He little heart was broken…he went from having fun, laughing…pure joy.
To getting a strong rebuke…that he didn’t even understand because he didn’t know that what he was doing was dangerous.
When I saw him crying, I stopped and explained…but my words, shot out like fire and burned down his joy...super power…super bad guy.
Minor example…we recovered…but “word super power” has literally burned down lives…ruined them.
You have this super power that can cause ruin…does that scare you?
“The tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body” James wrote.
What does this mean?
No other thing we do, like speaking, more fully demonstrates the sin that remains in our hearts.
Our hands, our eyes, even our sex organs…none of it wreaks so much havoc to our lives and the lives of others than the tongue.
Now you see why we are spending a month on this…we could spend a year.
Why Proverbs devotes so much space to this?
The tongue can corrupt our entire life, and it is fueled by “hell”…our super power is a tool of Satan.
Okay that’s not good!
Yeah and that’s why it can’t be tamed by us.
Then James, speaks to the duality that he so despises…to say one thing and to do another.
One minute we are praising God
The next cursing men who have been made in God’s image.
Cursing them is not merely saying under your breath “you ‘so and so’” on Kellogg...that’s not good.
The language is more like “you go to hell…literally”…hating people with words, wishing them cut off from God...speaking ways that indicate we don’t really believe they are valuable…make in God’s likeness.
Verse 10 “Praise and cursing should not come from the same mouth.”
Verse 11 “Fresh and salt water can’t flow from the same spring.”
Verse 12 “Trees produce fruit in line with their essential nature.”
James is focused on practical theology…belief showing up in life.
Here…what we actually believe about God and others…is showing up in our words.
It should matter that our mouths produce…that our words be “fresh water”…because we want hearts that are fully God’s
Our words are a super power…God has given it to us, sin and Satan have perverted it.
Once again…to “work on your words, you must allow Jesus to have his way with your heart.”
You can put a filter on a well that has brackish, salty water…but the filter will fail in time.
We have opportunity, through the gospel…to have God purify the very source of the water itself.
- Let’s finish up with how to use and not abuse our super power: two things
- See the truth about your words
- Seek after Jesus in your heart.
- See the truth about your words: Realize that you do in fact have this super power.
-If you underestimate the explosive power of words you will fail to take them as seriously as you should.
Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”
Imagine an insane person who enters a crowded room and begins to throw firebombs, or shoot people with bullets (or arrows)…terrible scene…horrific.
That is what the person who uses words deceptively and then says “Oh come on, they were just words…I was joking”
Genesis 1 God spoke and the cosmos came into being.
We are made in God’s image…our words have limited power…his have unlimited creative power.
But our words do have power…power to create perspectives, or courage, or joy, or hope.
And the power to burn all of that down.
- Seek after Jesus in your heart: Cry out to God for wisdom…this is your only hope with this super power.
Wisdom at the heart level that would show up in words...is what we want.
You cannot merely try to filter your words…do that…but do more than that.
Surrender your heart continually to Jesus…so you will continually see the power of your words, and move towards using words that bring life…
…and you will hear the Holy Spirit when he says “stop, repent” when you speak words that burn things down rather than build others up.