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The Terrible Tongue James 3_1-12

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Tongue twisters:

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter.  "But," said she, "this butter's bitter.  If I put it in my batter, It will make my batter bitter.  But a bit of better butter- That would make my batter better."  So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter (better than her bitter butter) And she put it in her bitter batter And made her bitter batter a bit better.

When a doctor gets sick and another doctor doctors him, does the doctor doing the doctoring have to doctor the doctor the way the doctor being doctored wants to be doctored, or does the doctor doing the doctoring of the doctor doctor the doctor as he wants to do the doctoring?

A skunk sat on a stump. The stump thunk the skunk stunk.  The skunk thunk the stump stunk.

Once upon a barren moor There dwelt a bear, also a boar.  The bear could not bear the boar.  The boar thought the bear a bore.  At last the bear could bear no more Of that boar that bored him on the moor,  And so one morn he bored the boar-- That boar will bore the bear no more.

Ned Nott was shot and Sam Shott was not. So it is better to be Shott than Nott. Some say Nott was not shot.  But Shott says he shot Nott. Either the shot Shott shot at Nott was not shot, or Nott was shot. If the shot Shott shot shot Nott, Nott was shot. But if the shot Shott shot shot Shott,  then Shott was shot, not Nott.  However,

the shot Shott shot shot not Shott --but Nott.

·        Spend a little time trying to say tongue twisters and soon you will discover that we can get our selves absolutely confused and tongue tied.

·        The tongue is an amazing organ that can recite the sweetest words.

·        It can command the greatest armies.

·        It can tame wild animals

·        It can calm the fears of a frightened child.

·        It is capable of all these things but it is also able perform atrocious harm

·        It can in a single phrase damage the heart, curb ambition and make one contemplate the futility of life.

·        It can tear apart the fabric of a home and a church.

·        And no matter the place, no matter the time of day or the occasion it is always ready, always accessable.

James in chapter 3:1-12 implores his audience that one of the way to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith is by the taming of the tongue.  In these verse we want to look at five characteristics of the tongue that we should be aware of.

·        The Tongue has the Potential to Attack (3:1-2a)

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways.

·         As is so important throughout the study of Scripture, the context helps us to understand clearly the intent of James in this passage.

·         James is giving instructions to those who are teachers or desiring to be teachers in the assembly.

·         He is offering a warning to them who may be tempted to use their position to mislead and hurt the body of Christ.

·         So does this passage have anything to offer to those who are not considered teachers?

·         I believe it does because Romans 15:14 says:

15:14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

·         So while this passage sounds like it may be limiting its audience, we are all called to instruct one another in the faith.

·         There is a sober warning to all of us as we instruct in small groups, from the pulpit, in our homes or over a cup of coffee and that is there is a severity of God’s accountability on those who instruct others in regards to God’s character, actions and will.

·         James is saying that it is with our words that we can lead others astray by what we say

·         The tongue has the potential to attack the Christian faith by teaching falsely

·         In the early church there was a high value on the role of teacher.

·         They were seen as ordained or commissioned individuals to the ministry of the word and were afforded great honor.

·         But there was this temptation to teach falsely.  2 Peter 2:1:

2:1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.

·        There are those who teach falsely in order to pump themselves up, they teach in order to gain power and prestige, there are those who teach in order to gain control or to increase their bank account.

·        False teaching comes from deceptive teachers and whether it is done intentionally or out of ignorance, the tongue has the ability to begin a war upon orthodoxy and we are to be on our guard of those who would deceive.

·        We need to be on guard that our own teaching does not compromise the gospel.

·        It is so easy because we can be lazy, unwilling to do the hard work of understanding the Word of God, it is tempting because we bring to the Bible our own ideas and want it to say what is comfortable to us.

·        James gives a strong warning that being a teacher must be taken seriously.

·        Verse two tells us that the attack of the tongue has the propensity to cause the teacher to stumble and in turn can cause the church to do the same.

·        The idea of the word stumble in the text is closely associated with sin.  We are all called to travel this life without being tripped up, but there are times when we all stumble.

·        James is emphasizing that teaching error, using our tongues is such a way that demeans our holy God is an attack on our relationship with God that jeopardizes our integrity and spiritual condition.  The tongue can cause us to sin.

The tongue is you in a unique way. It is a tattletale that tells on the heart and discloses the real person. Not only that, but misuse of the tongue is perhaps the easiest way to sin. There are some sins that an individual may not be able to commit simply because he does not have the opportunity. But there are no limits to what one can say, no built-in restraints or boundaries. In Scripture, the tongue is variously described as wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile. And that list is not exhaustive. No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth! Using another figure, someone has observed that because the tongue is in a wet place, it can easily slip. –John MacArthur

The Tongue has the Ability to Control (3:2b-5a)

If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. 3:3 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 3:4 Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs. 3:5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions.

·         James is going to make quite clear that everyone of us regardless of how holy we think we are commit sins on a regular basis with our mouths.

·         If we could control at all times what we say we would be able to attain perfection and we all know that perfection comes only in the presence of Christ.

·         We may be able to harness all the rest of our lives, but the tongue is a wild entity, difficult to control.

·         He is assuming, and rightly so, that we will all stumble with our words, not just misplaced words but words that are intended to hurt and destroy.

·         What you and I say in our teaching, or in our relationship with our families, strangers on the street or our friends can be one area where we sin.

·         In verses 3 and 4 he provides two analogies of how the tongue has the ability to control.

·         These examples would have been familiar to his readers.  They would all be aware of these because they surrounded them on every side.  If anyone wanted to travel any distance across water a ship was required.  They all had witnessed armies and in every army there are horses.

·         The horse is a powerful animal capable of performing tasks and providing to its owner much more than we could do on our own.  The entire power of a horse could be controlled by a small piece of metal in its mouth.

·         The entire will, fears and desires of the animal could be overcome by this small object.

·         A ship is influenced by currents, winds, waves, and storms and yet the sailor can keep heading towards his destination by a small piece of wood on the back of boat.

·         Put it another way.  A car is a powerful piece of machinery, often over 3000 pounds, it can turn and twist down a road, accelerate with unbelievable exhilaration, and when out of control it can kill, but it all can be controlled by a small wheel.

·         His point is simple; this small piece of metal, this little rudder has the ability to have unimaginable control.

·         The words used to instruct or provide direction if misplaced have the power to set in motion something much larger than itself, namely the church.

·         Words can take a congregation and all that influences it and steer it in a positive, life changing direction or bring it to destruction.

·         So in our instruction with friends, family and those we encounter, our words can have a great deal of influences for good or the bad.

·         Words have the ability to haunt us, give us hope, they can give us joy or they can break our spirit. Psalm 73:9:

They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth.

·         James has a play on words as he uses the term ‘body’ for our human bodies and also when referring to the church.

·         The words we use in contentions, arguments, fights, gossip, slander and defamation can destroy with unbelievable power a church and every person in it.

·         We can control our people with fear and intimidation.  Our families can be areas of strife and bondage.  Our words can bring the power of the Gospel or they can defame the name of Christ.

·         Each one of us as we interact with others need to keep in mind the power of the tongue to control.

·         Are your words going to bring life or are they going to destroy?

The classic movie, A Christmas Story, is a nostalgic look at growing up in Gary, Indiana, through the eyes of a boy named Ralphy. One scene depicts a school recess in the middle of winter. Two boys surrounded by their classmates argue whether a person’s tongue will stick to a metal pole in below-freezing weather.  Eventually one of the boys succumbs to the infamous “triple-dog dare.” Hesitantly he sticks his tongue out and touches it to the school flagpole.

Sure enough, it gets stuck. The recess bell rings. Everyone runs into the school building, everyone except the hapless victim. When the teacher finally looks out the window, she sees the boy writhing in pain, his tongue frozen to the flagpole.  While few of us have been in that predicament, we all know what it’s like to have our tongues get us in trouble. We learn the truth of the proverb, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Prov. 21:23).

The Tongue has the Tendency to Damage (3:5b-6)

Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. 3:6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence – and is set on fire by hell.

·         James is not finished yet as he goes on in the rest of verse 5 and 6 to explain that the tongue has the tendency to damage or destroy.

·         In these verses he uses another analogy that of fire.

·         At the heart of every person is a basic desire for self.  If we are left to our own desires without the Spirit we would choose only those things that satisfy ourselves.  From our selfishness comes words that are intended to build ourselves at the cost of others.

·         A fire is started by just a small flame or a tiny spark.  On dry wood it can take only some directed heat to start a forest fire.

·         James calls the tongue a fire which has the power to damage and even the tendency to destroy.  Prov. 16:27:

A wicked scoundrel digs up evil, and his slander is like a scorching fire.

·         The damage caused by an out of control fire is like the tongue without restraint and it brings evil into the church and other relationships.

·         Words can spread causing dissentions, bickering, strife and divisions and burn and consume a person and a congregation leaving nothing but charred, unrecognizable remains.

·         All this is typical of this world for selfishness is one of the distinguishing marks of the world and when we use our words without the influence of Christ, we use our tongues in a worldly manner.

·         The tongue can be the most worldly part of our bodies.  Words can make Christianity in our church appear no different than the world outside our doors.

·         It has the damaging affects just as a fire to consume and damage all that fall into its path.

·         The sinister effect of the tongue like a fire is that even those who are not directly burned can be hurt and damaged by its smoke.  A fire and its polluting smoke are indiscriminate. What is said to one person may have influence in ways that were never intended.

·         James calls this polluting damage one that sets a person or church into spiraling destruction.  It sets a direction that is difficult to correct.

·         It causes us to ask whether a church that teaches falsely, has harsh words, is critical and has been set on a course of destruction can ever be restored?

·         The source of the tongues damaging power is traced by James by his reference to Hell.  He actually uses the word Gehenna.

·         Gehenna was a Jewish reference to the valley of Hinnon which was once used for human sacrifice but later as a place for human waste and rubbish to be burned.

·         The home of the destructive tendencies of the tongue is a burning, stinking place that no one would desire to go.

·         Basically James is trying to make as clear as possible that false words, lying, misleading talk, and criticism find their source in the author of the destructive use of the tongue; Satan himself.

A little girl come to her mother, saying, “Which is worse, Mama, to tell a lie or to steal?” The mother replied that both were so sinful she could not tell which was worse. “Well, Mama,” replied the little one, “I’ve been thinking a good deal about it, and I think it’s so much worse to lie than steal.” “Why, my child?” asked the mother. “Well, you see, Mama, it’s like this,” said the little girl, “If you steal a thing, you can take it back, unless you’ve eaten it, and if you’ve eaten it, you can pay for it; but a lie is forever.”
The Tongue has the Impulse to Rebel (3:7-8)

3:7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 3:8 But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

·        James makes the observation that all around the world, in every known part animals have been tamed or subdued.

·        He is making a direct reference to God’s call for humans to have dominion over the animals of the world in Genesis 1:26.

·        There is a certain measure of pride in knowing that humanity has the ability to control the animals of the world.

·        Beasts such as swine, cattle, and dogs have all come from wild sources and have trained, consumed for food and used as companions and workers.

·        Birds have been domesticated, trained for our amusement, taught to talk and used to deliver messages.

·        Sea creatures have been harvested for pearls, used for food, trained for entertainment and kept as pets.

·        But the tongue, James says has the impulse to rebel, just when you think it is under control it lashes out and fights against its master.

·        Strength, cunning and reason have overcome all the creatures of the earth but human ability could not overcome the tongue.

·        You could cage it, submit it to torture, and beat it but it has the uncontrollable impulse to rebel.

·        Verse 8 makes it clear that the submission of the tongue will not come by human endevors.

·        So if it cannot come from our ability than it has to come from the immeasurable power of God to bring everything under his submission.

·        He goes one step further in verse 8 by talking about the tongue being a ‘deadly poison’.

·        It seems he makes a reference to the first deadly rebellious words uttered in the presence of humanity.

·        It was in the garden when the sly serpent approached Eve and with words of deception mislead her to rebellion.

·        For humanity these words were a deadly poison that has caused us to have finite destructible bodies.

·        James is stating clearly that the tongue is like a caged animal, unable to be subdued and impossible to be conquered.

Socrates of Constantinople, an early church historian, tells of an ignorant man who came to him asking him to teach him a Psalm or some part of Scripture. Socrates began to read to him the 39th Psalm, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.” As soon as he had read the first verse, Pambo, for that was his name, shut the book and took his leave saying that he would go learn that point first. His instructor waited and waited for him, but he did not come back. Finally, one day Socrates met Pambo accidentally and asked where he had been. Pambo said he was still learning that first lesson about the tongue. Forty-nine years later when someone else asked him why he did not learn anything else from the Scriptures, his reply was the same.

·        The Tongue has the Talent to Compromise (3:9-12)

3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. 3:11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 3:12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.

·         Just when we may think that James has no hope for the tongue, he lets us know that the tongue is capable of good.

·         The tongue is a creation of God, designed for a specific purpose.

·         The entire purpose of people is to glorify God, it is not to use God as our personal vending machine but to live and act in such a way that God is honored. The Christian life is not about us-it is about God.

·         Our tongues are a selfish creation for that purpose and that purpose alone.  It was not designed for blasphemy but to praise.

·         This is where James identifies the dichotomy.  The tongue has the indescribable talent for compromise.

·         It has the capacity in one moment to praise God and Jesus, to worship the almighty.

·         The next moment it says damaging things to the people God created in his image. Psalm 62:4:

They spend all their time planning how to bring him down. They love to use deceit; they pronounce blessings with their mouths, but inwardly they utter curses.

·         When a person speaks against others they are demonstrating their rebellion and irreverence for God.  They are tearing down, making insignificant that which God wants to build up and that which is significant to him.  They illegitimize God’s handiwork and creation.

·         James is saying that a true believer cannot live in this dichotomy. One cannot love God and speak against his creation.

·         Once again while James may have targeted teachers he alludes to the congregation as a whole.

·         Their mouths should not be hypocritical and uses three examples to demonstrate his point.

·         James understands that a person’s speech is a barometer of their spirituality.

·         He is expecting from his examples a negative answer, a confirmation of all that he has said so far.

·         He says that that water that flows out of the ground if it is good for drinking with remain good for drinking.  It will not suddenly one day turn and be impossible to drink.

·         A tree that produces one kind of fruit cannot suddenly produce another kind of fruit.

·         A water source that is salty will not over time produce good clean water.

·         These things cannot switch back and forth but for some reason they have managed the ability to do just that.

·         So what does this say about the blessings that are given?  It renders them useless.

·         The tongue was designed to bring life born out of a relationship with Christ and James expects and demands this to happen.

·         If it does not he questions the validity of their faith.

Xanthus, the philosopher, once told his servant that the next day he was going to have some friends for dinner and that he should get the best thing he could find in the market. The philosopher and his guests sat down the next day at the table. They had nothing but tongue—four or five courses of tongue—tongue cooked in this way, and tongue cooked in that way. The philosopher finally lost his patience and said to his servant, “Didn’t I tell you to get the best thing in the market?” The servant said, “I did get the best thing in the market. Isn’t the tongue the organ of sociability, the organ of eloquence, the organ of kindness, the organ of worship?” Then Xanthus the philosopher said, “Tomorrow I want you to get the worst thing in the market.” And on the morrow the philosopher sat at the table, and there was nothing there but tongue—four or five courses of tongue—tongue in this shape and tongue in that shape. The philosopher again lost his patience and said, “Didn’t I tell you to get the worst thing in the market?” The servant replied, “I did; for isn’t the tongue the organ of blasphemy, the organ of defamation, the organ of lying?”


·         As we can see the tongue and all it says, the many words we speak have the ability to do many things that none of us should want.

·         Without careful checks and balances in what we say we can mislead a person or an entire church into heresy.

·         We can damage the unity of the home and the church.

·         We can destroy a persons beliefs and dreams

·         We can make a person feel that life is not worth living.

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