Summary: The tongue is a powerful instrument for good or for evil. James illustrates the signigicance of our words. This sermon provides reminders for how to nurture a wholesome tongue.
Loose Ships Sink Ships
During WWI, enemy spies used to hang around the British pubs to hear loose talk about ship movements. Sailors would talk about their next assignments, where they were going, when they were leaving—vital information for the German submarines. Just a few careless words would tip the enemy off and thousands of lives would be lost. A slogan was raised to remind people of the terrible devastation that could result from words ill spoken, “Loose lips, sink ships”. The problem of careless talk was so great that the government began to put up posters like the example I have on the overhead.
James gives a similar warning to the church. Follow with me as we read James 3:1-12.
3:1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or 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. 5Likewise 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. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. NIV
I. James illustrates the power of the tongue using 6 metaphors.
(1) He likens the tongue to the bits we put in horses mouths. We can control a 2,000-pound horse with a small bit in his mouth. (2) He likens the tongue to the rudder of a ship. A huge ship can be steered in any direction with a relatively small rudder. James’ point in these two metaphors is this. The tongue is a small part of our body. Because it is so small we might think it is rather inconsequential. We might think the words we speak are really no big deal. But James is telling us to think again. Our words can set the whole direction of our lives.
8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. NIV
In my heart I believed on Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But it was and is the verbal confession of Christ that seals that holy transaction. The day I confessed Christ as my Lord my life took on a whole new direction. Twenty-eight years ago I stood before a church full of people and said two words that changed my life forever—“I do.” With those two words I united with the love of my life in a sacred covenant. Those two words set the course of my life from that time forward.
In verse 6 of James 3 another powerful metaphor is used. (3) “The tongue also is a fire.” Last year a fire in Northern California burned over 14,000 acres resulting in one fatality. It took 1350 firefighters to put the blaze out. Do you know how that horrific fire got started? It started from one small spark made by a 15-year-old boy playing with matches. James writes, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
How could just a few words of gossip destroy a friendship, a marriage, a ministry, a church? Just a few words—it seems all so small and insignificant. But James says those little sparks can cause great destruction.