Well, from that video, you can probably guess what we’re talking about today.
If you’re just joining us, we are in week 3 of a five week series titled How to Be the Church. For our text we are going through the book of James. Five chapters in five weeks and this week is chapter 3 where James has a whole lot to say about the things that we say.
And as I mentioned in the first week, the book of James is really a letter written by James the brother of Jesus to the Jewish Christians who had recently been scattered due to persecution that arose after Stephen was stoned to death. A lot of the New Testament books are actually letters. And in this letter, which is probably the first of the New Testament letters to be written, James is telling these new believers what kind of life they should be living now that they are children of God and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. His whole letter is not so much a check list of things a Christian should be doing, but more of a litmus test that will tell you if you are truly of the faith or not.
If you can read through James and recognize that your life lines up with most of it, or at the very least you agree your life should look like that and you are striving for it, then you can safely assume that you have a true faith. That you have been created anew in Christ Jesus. That you have the Holy Spirit inside of you calling the shots.
But if you read James and recognize that everything he talks about is the exact opposite of your life and you actually feel antagonistic toward living that way, then it’s unlikely that Christ is truly inside of you. Because as we learned in James 2 last week, it is impossible to have the true faith without something to show for it in the way you live. Faith without works is dead. Catch last week’s talk for the full scoop if you missed it.
In chapters 1 and 2, James makes it clear that this faith is a faith of action. Chapter 1 tells us we are to be DOERS of the Word and not HEARERS only. I like to call the listeners only – sponges. All they do is keep soaking it up and sitting there, never putting it into action. And like a sponge in the ocean they just sway along with the waves, letting the world tell them what to do. DONT BE A SPONGE.
And chapter 2 tells us what I just mentioned, that a faith not accompanied by some kind of action is a dead faith. It is no faith at all. And the rest of the chapters and even some in 1 and 2, he spells out what some of these actions will be if your faith is genuine.
And in chapter 3, which we are covering today, he talks at length about the tongue. He’s not referring to the physical organ we taste with. He referring to the thing we use it most for – speaking. The words we say. In fact, James refers to the tongue in multiple places in his letter, including the first chapter which we covered week 1. Here’s a little reminder…
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
Basically, he’s saying that if you think you are living right and good with God but you can’t control your mouth, then you are deceiving yourself and all that good you are doing is worthless.
And if that wasn’t strong enough, now James is going to expend quite a bit of ink elaborating on that statement.
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 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.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Soak that in for a minute and you can tell that James is dead serious about how we use our gift of language. And he’s pulling no punches. Yes, he’s writing to a bunch of probably scared and definitely persecuted new Christians, but he is not giving them any slack about how they speak to each other.
Let’s take a closer look.
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
This is a grave warning, not to scare off potential teachers, but to ensure that people go into teaching God’s Word for the right reason. Unfortunately there are many who do not heed this warning. James is saying that it is very important the words that we say, but doubly important for teachers because he knows that many people will simply listen to the teacher and take his word as Gospel. And because people do that, and because you are teaching the most important thing to teach in all the world, having eternal consequences, no one should really desire this position. It should be approached with fear and trembling, and only because God has called you to it. Either way, teachers will be judged more strictly. What exactly that means, I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound like something I want to gamble with. Except in my case, I know I am called, and therefore I must. And not only teach the truth but live the truth as much as I possibly can, which of course will be far from perfect as James makes clear…
2 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.
If you want to strive for perfection, just be perfect in what you say and that will pretty much do it for you. If you can control your tongue, then everything else will be easy in comparison.
James continues with some analogies of the power of the tongue.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 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. 5 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 is a small part of the body, but oh what kind of power it wields.
It wields power over self:
6 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.
How does it do that? How does it “corrupt the whole body and set the whole course of one’s life on fire”?
Think about it for a moment.
Picture a stunningly beautiful woman, or dashingly hansom man. Maybe they’re on the cover of a magazine. They have the look of success. When we see good looking people, we generally think they are probably nice to be around, pleasant.
But it’s really only when they open their mouth that you get a sense of who they are. And there’s nothing more unseemly than a beautiful person with nothing but ROT to say. Whether it be fowl language, or complaining, or talking bad about other people, or being vulgar, or worse – lying – that person will quickly become far less beautiful in your eyes, won’t they?
We see this in movies, don’t we. You got the slick politician who everyone loves. He looks the part and says all the right things on camera, but then he somehow gets recorded when he doesn’t know it and the awful things he says completely ruin him. Why?
Because words matter. Because no matter what kind of great success or beauty or prestige you have, the words you say can completely corrupt all of that. And can even set your life on fire.
Most of you probably like me to some extent, otherwise you wouldn’t come listen to me speak. I imagine you even trust me, that the words I say up here are true, that’s why you ask me for advice and such. But what if you overheard me swearing at my children? What if you caught me badmouthing people in the church? What if I was exposed as a liar? What would that do? It would completely ruin all the trust any of you had in me.
As they say, it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it. And that’s not even mentioning what can happen to your WITNESS with just a few stray words, or words spoken in anger. Words have power. And our natural tendency as sinful human beings is to have words of evil.
Jesus knew this all too well… The Pharisees were concerned about his disciples using cups without washing them because in their mind they might swallow a gnat or something and become unclean, defiled. But Jesus sets them straight.
20 “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Notice how many of these sins involve the mouth:
- sexual immorality and adultery – those things usually begin with improper talk between two people
- greed can show up in words quite often (my, myself, and I – my way or the highway)
- deceit is almost entirely of the mouth – it’s lying
- envy can certainly show up in our words, often results in gossip
- slander – talking bad about others, also called gossip
- I heard a good definition of gossip once. Basically if you are not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s gossip. If you are just passing on some bit of negative information you know about another person for any other reason than you are part of solving said problem with the person you are talking to, then what you are doing is gossip. Jesus calls that an EVIL.
- arrogance – definitely shows up in our words (look at me, see how smart I am, fishing for compliments)
- Arrogance and Slander often go hand in hand as we often need to slander others, put them down in order to make ourselves feel and look superior.
- And folly – foolishness. The Bible says a lot about foolishness, especially in Proverbs.
Foolishness is not the same as childishness.
A fool is someone who knows better but chooses to do their own thing anyway. Basically we are all fools without Christ. We all have foolishness in our hearts and it often comes out in our words.
A fool vents all his feelings,
But a wise man holds them back.
How often have you heard, “Oh I just needed to vent!”? How often have you done that yourself. God says only fools do that. If you think about it, it’s a completely selfish and self-serving act. In no way does venting all of our anger and frustration help another person. Instead, cast your cares on God, for he cares for you. And he is actually able to help.
A fool trying to say something wise is like a crippled person trying to walk.
I just thought that one was funny. Kind of rings true for me as I’ve been a cripple unable to walk the last few weeks…
Here’s one where he doesn’t specifically say “fool” but this is certainly something many of us are guilty of:
18 Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”
It’s the half-joke. It’s the teasing. It’s the mean sarcasm. It’s an insult wrapped in a joke. Solomon says they are flaming arrows of death. Don’t do it.
And I would say especially don’t do this in your marriage relationship. Hurtful words still hurt, even if delivered with a smile and a chuckle. Spouses should build each other up, not tear each other down with words.
One last Proverb: Solomon is sounding a lot like James, or vice versa:
6 The lips of fools bring them strife,
and their mouths invite a beating.
7 The mouths of fools are their undoing,
and their lips are a snare to their very lives.
Our mouths are so dangerous because they are a window to our wicked hearts. And with what James says next, it would seem we have little hope:
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
The best advice that Solomon has for us is this:
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.
Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Wonder where he got that?
Basically, your best option on a purely human level is to just BE QUIET.
It’s like your grandmother used to teach you: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
And if you can’t be quiet, then at least be slow to speak, like we learned in chapter 1. Count to 30 in your head before letting your mouth blurt out something you might regret.
Sounds hard enough, right. But wait, there’s more!
Today we have something that I’m sure neither James nor Honest Abe could have foreseen. Now, instead of our words only reaching a few people, now almost all of us have practically a world stage on social media. Facebook, twitter, all those other ones I don’t even know about.
And if you think what God is saying about our tongue doesn’t apply there, you are mistaken. If anything, it applies more!
What you post on Facebook can corrupt you and mess up your life just as much as the words you say out loud, and probably more so.
Why is it that many of us will never use foul language in our conversations, but we have no problem sharing memes with it? Or videos? Sure, maybe you didn’t make it, but why are you promoting it? You want your 5 year old talking that way?
What if I as your pastor starting spouting off on Facebook? Railing against people, or complaining about my life, or sharing questionable material? Don’t you think it would change how you look at me? Don’t you think it would perhaps hurt my witness?
Paul tells us very clearly the proper way for a Christ Follower to talk:
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
I think he would agree that this applies to social media as well. That is talking just as much as what I’m doing up here. In ALL of our talk, verbal, digital, or otherwise, we should only say what is helpful for building others up. Our words should be a benefit to those who listen.
Which, in my opinion includes proper grammar and spelling!
But, unfortunately, we don’t do that. James makes a frightful observation as he closes this section out:
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
How true is that?
Out of the same mouth, we sing songs of praise in church on Sunday, and we spread gossip at the workplace on Monday.
With the same mouth, we read our bible out loud in a life group on Tuesday, and we cut people down on Wednesday.
With the same mouth we tell our spouse, “I love you” on Friday date night, but by Saturday morning it’s “I don’t appreciate you”, or “I don’t like you”, or something worse, though perhaps in not so direct words.
James is right. This should not be!
Our words have the power to praise and the power to pummel. With a single word or phrase we can bring joy or just as easily pain.
I want to show you another little video clip as an example of this I found as I was looking for an intro today. It shook me. I hope it shakes you.
OUCH! Can you imagine the guilt she carried the rest of her life?
Oh how we hurt each other with our words. As the speaker in the video said, “It truly matters what we say.” So very true.
But there was another thing he said that is not true. He basically said that it’s not possible to live in a way where you never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing you say. He’s basically agreeing with James that it is impossible to control our tongues. It’s impossible to tame it. It’s a fire we cannot control.
Yes, James says all those things, but he’s not finished. What he says next explains the cause of this and also the cure. This is so important!
11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
And then in typical James fashion, he shoots off to another topic that we will get to in a minute, and he leaves no further explanation. But he really doesn’t need to if you read this in the context of all he has said so far, and in the context of the words of Jesus.
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
He didn’t repeat it exactly, but it’s the same point. He’s saying just what Jesus is saying, that our words indicate what is in our heart. Just as in the previous two chapters he is saying that our actions indicate what is truly in our heart.
If our heart is bad, then it will most certainly result in our words being bad. But if our heart is good, then our words will be good. And what is the only way to have a good heart? Jesus!
Again, James is not just giving directions on Christian living. He’s explaining the evidence we should see if we are indeed Christians. If we are indeed New Creations. If we indeed have the Holy Spirit inside of us now calling the shots.
Because without that, there is no way we can pretend. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Your mouth is a perfect barometer for your heart.
Now, before many of you start freaking out because your mouth is far from perfect…. This is not an instantaneous change. You don’t start out as a swearing sailor on Saturday, get saved on Sunday, and suddenly have perfectly clean vocab on Monday. In fact, you may not even feel bad about it at first.
The difference comes when you start learning God’s Word. Because as a true Christ Follower, you read and learn God’s Word with the full intention to obey.
When you accepted Christ, you did so because you realized you were a dirty sinner and could not help yourself. You realized that doing life your way was not working out and you chose to live for Jesus instead. You chose to make him your Lord and Master, your Leader, and you would follow Him into the new life he promised you. So, when you read through James 3, or when the preacher preaches about it, now you know. Maybe you didn’t before, but now you know that Jesus, your Lord and Savior, wants you to clean up your talk.
Now is when you have the choice. Will you obey or not? Will you just shrug and say “I’m a sailor, I can’t help it.” Sorry, that doesn’t work – I was a submarine sailor for 11 years and could swear with the best of them, and cut people with my words. Just as good as I am with words that help now I was probably better at words that hurt in my past life. but you won’t hear that language out of me.
Because I am not the man I used to be thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Instead of making excuses or just ignoring what God is saying, perhaps you should take a lesson from David.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
David knew the power of words and his own propensity to use them poorly, so what did he do? He asked God for help. And that’s what we should do to. Ask and it will be given, if it’s something God wants to give. And this is certainly something he wants to give.
If you have a problem controlling your mouth, then I recommend you print this verse out or write it out and keep it with you. Pray that verse several times a day and mean it, and you might be amazed at the difference it will make.
Either way, if you have been paying attention you are now charged with another way of DOING the Word rather than only listening. What will you do with it? What actions will you take today to start making improvements in this area? Or will you be a sponge?
The choice is yours.
NOW, WE ARE GOING TO SHIFT GEARS.
James abruptly ends his sermon on the tongue and begins a whole new topic. Let’s read it.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
It’s not as easy to pick up in the English, but there is great depth and power in his words here that everyone who calls himself/herself a Christian should heed.
Let’s take a closer look.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you?
This is a rhetorical question that is really asking: Who THINKS they are wise and understanding among you? And in our false humility, most of us wouldn’t claim to think that of ourselves, but the truth is that none of us think of ourselves as fools. We all assume at least some level of wisdom in ourselves. So, he’s really calling all of us out, and he’s also talking to all of us when he says…
Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Again we see that we must show our insides by what we do on the outside. And here James says something rather profound. He defines a good life as being characterized by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. In the Greek, it’s literally “Wisdom’s Humility”. That is a very insightful connection. And it’s true if you really ponder it.
What is a sure sign of godly wisdom? Humility. In fact the wiser we get in the things of God, the more we realize how little we have to boast about and humility is a natural result.
On the contrary, what characterizes the life of a fool?
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Bitter envy and selfish ambition go hand in hand and absolutely characterize the life of a non-believer. They really have no other option. Without Christ inside of us, we have no choice but to be completely selfish, which includes envy because selfishness demands that I am envious of anyone else doing better than me. And James is saying that if this characterizes your life, you are not wise at all, and furthermore you certainly have nothing to boast about!
Because doing such would be denying the truth. The English doesn’t hold the same weight as the Greek here. In the Greek it is literally LIE AGAINST THE TRUTH. And it uses the definite article: THE TRUTH to indicate it is referring to a specific truth, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He’s saying that if you claim to be wise, or if you even think you are godly wise but your life is characterized by selfish ambition and envy, then you are lying against the truth of God’s Word. You are deceived and living a lie.
15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
That kind of wisdom is not from God. It is earthly, meaning it is a wisdom that ignores the supernatural. It is unspiritual, meaning it is only concerned with our five senses. And worst of all, it is demonic. It doesn’t even come from us, but comes from the great deceiver. And the evidence is that wherever you find selfish ambition and envy dominating people’s lives – you find disorder and every evil practice.
Just watch the news and you will see that is true. We live in a culture that is becoming more and more and more obsessed with self. We are so obsessed with self that now we can’t even be objective about gender because it’s more important what I want than what is actually true. This all stems from a wisdom that is not from God.
Because the wisdom from God, which is the wisdom every Christ follower should be operating under is very different than the world’s wisdom.
17 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.
All of those things are pretty much the exact opposite of selfishness. Remember that the wisdom from God brings humility. Humility is the opposite of selfish. Humility is peace-loving, considerate and submissive. Humility is full of mercy and good fruit. Humility is more concerned with other than with self.
The last two words: impartial and sincere are not the best translations of the Greek.
The Greek word translated as “impartial” here has what I think is a deeper meaning.
ἀδιάκριτος – means without uncertainty, unambiguous, undivided, whole-hearted. I can see where impartial comes from – impartial means not divided in how you treat others. But I would argue that what this is really saying is that God’s wisdom is unwavering, unchanging, it’s crystal clear – not ambiguous. It’s whole-hearted, not half-hearted. It’s undivided, meaning you have to take all of it or none of it.
And the next word, I believe backs this up. The Greek word translated here as “sincere” is
ἀνυπόκριτος – which means without hypocrisy. You can see it in the word.
The word hypocrite actually comes from the Greek word: ὑποκριτής
And the addition of “an” at the front makes it a negative, so “not a hypocrite”.
This goes well with “unambiguous, undivided, whole-hearted” – a person operating under God’s wisdom will not be a hypocrite. They will not be one way today and another way tomorrow.
A person operating under purely selfish motives will be all over the place as their feelings will change practically by the minute. Each day will be a mystery what they want.
This will not be so with true Christ Followers who have the wisdom of God.
Really this echoes the same thing James was just saying about our words. He’s reiterating that you can’t pretend to be this. Out of your heart the mouth speaks. The truth about what you are will become evident. And if you waver back and forth, then you really are a hypocrite and your wisdom is not from God.
Then he finishes up this chapter with this statement:
18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
This is in stark contrast to the results of selfish ambition and envy from verse 16:
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
If your wisdom is from God because you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, then your life will be characterized by humility rather than arrogance.
You will be a peacemaker rather than causing strife.
You will be considerate of others rather than rude.
You will be full of mercy instead of condemnation.
And you will be this way consistently, not wavering, not pretending like a hypocrite.
And the only way this is possible is if you have been reborn. If you have been created anew in Christ Jesus for the good works prepared for you. This is only possible for those who have truly believed in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confessed with their mouth that Jesus is their Lord, Master, King, Leader. Trying to do this in our human flesh without the Holy Spirit is absolutely impossible.
Because you can’t change your own heart. Only Christ can do that. And when He does, He changes it completely. You are not the same. And the evidence may start slow, but it should grow exponentially until it is overwhelming and you barely recognize the person in the mirror from who you used to be.
But like I said, it doesn’t happen immediately or automatically. The first thing you should have when you come to Christ and he changes you is a desire to do His will. He is your Lord, after all, your king, your master, your leader. Your life is now lived to please him. If you don’t have a desire to serve Him, then it simply means you are not His servant.
But if you do have that desire, then don’t squash it. Follow it. Approach God’s Word with the intent to obey. And then actually obey. Be a DOER of the WORD and not a HEARER only. That is the ultimate sign of true faith.
Today you learned some good and specific stuff. You’ve been given action items from God’s Word. What are you going to do with it? What changes will you make today in an effort to obey your Lord?
I encourage all of you to do at least two things with respect to what we just talked about. I encourage you to print or write out two verses and keep them with you, memorize them, and pray them continually so that you CAN obey what you just learned.
One we covered earlier today:
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Ask God to watch over your mouth.
Second, it’s what we covered week 1.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
You need His wisdom – ask for it. Here’s a good way to do that, another prayer of David from the Psalms. One of the reasons he was called a man after God’s own heart. This is something I personally pray often.
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
There are many others in Scripture you could use, but the point is that instead of trying to grunt your way into being what James talks about – Just ask God! Ask your Heavenly Father who loves you and wants you to be like His Son to actually make you into what He wants you to be. And He will!
Asking requires humility, which is exactly what James says is Godly wisdom. In other words, if you are wise, you will humble yourself and ask God to help you do what He says.
And that, my friends, is how to be a DOER.
That is how we BE THE CHURCH.