Summary: We can tame and control so many things, but our tongues, ooh, how difficult that is.

First Baptist Church

September 30, 2001

James 3:1-12

On the September 13th edition of the Christian television program "The 700 Club," Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had the following conversation regarding the terrorist attacks —

Falwell said, "The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.

Robertson said, "Well, yes."

And Falwell continued, "And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

Robertson said, "Well, I totally concur."

Can you believe that these 2 Christian men, men who are respected by thousands of people made these statements? I hold Robertson as responsible as Falwell, because he just sat there and agreed. Doing nothing is almost as bad as saying what Falwell said. Can you imagine having lost loved ones in these attacks and a Christian leader says the attacks were the result of Americans who are gay, feminists, abortionists and involved in certain organizations? I may call certain lifestyles sinful, but they did not cause the terrorist attacks. If you were considering becoming a Christian and you heard that statement, it would make me think that we are no better than those terrorists.

Today we are looking at James 3, attempting to learn more about the power of our words — how they impact others and the damage they can create. Again, throughout this practical book, we seek to become more authentic Christians, as we pursue holy living, and holy living means that we must tame our tongues.

Chapter 3 begins with a warning to those who speak and teach in the church. James says, ‘not many of you should become teachers, for those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.’ That’s an intimidating statement by James. It really doesn’t make many of us want to teach if we know we will be judged more strictly.

During the time of the early church, the rabbis were the teachers. And rabbis were very highly esteemed. Often times they became legends during their lives and were so pampered that some began to feel that they were as important as the Word of God which they were supposed to be teaching. In essence, they were not teaching the Bible. As a result of their teachings, people were deceived and were led away from worshiping God to worshiping the teacher. James tells us this type of teaching, teaching that is done for your own benefit will lead to a stricter judgment. This doesn’t mean you can’t make a mistake, instead James is looking at the motivation and purpose behind what you are saying. If your heart is set in the right place and your desire is to teach and inspire children and adults to learn more about Jesus, then that is all God expects from you. It is a matter of heart.

So James reminds us that not all people are perfect, in verse 2 he tells us ‘everyone will make mistakes.’ In a sense that’s reassuring, because I know that I’m not perfect and while James says that someone who doesn’t make mistakes is perfect, the literal meaning of perfect in the Bible is mature. When you don’t make mistakes speaking it’s a result of your maturity, not that you are perfect.

How do we become more mature? In short, we do it by our willingness to be transformed by God into a new creation. Step one is our conversion. Step two is trying as best as we can to live a life that is filled with holiness. Obviously men like Falwell and Robertson make mistakes, and Falwell has since apologized for his statements. Remember from a few weeks ago where James says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (1:19). That’s a great beginning to growing in maturity.

But, James goes on to tell us that it really isn’t that easy to tame our tongues. And of course, James gives us some great illustrations. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go horseback riding. The last time I did, about 23 years ago, I had a horse that was much larger than I needed. Pride got in the way and I said ‘of course I can ride that horse.’ The horse was smarter than me and knew I was petrified. It didn’t help that I knew nothing about riding a horse, especially that I could control the horse by the bit in its mouth. Eventually the horse was moving pretty fast and heading for a tree, so I did the only thing I could think of. . . I jumped off the horse in full stride.

It’s interesting that James uses a horse for an example because the horse, as big as it is, can be controlled by the little bit that is in its mouth. Pull hard enough to one side and you turn the horses head and it goes in the direction you want.

James also tells us to look at ships. As huge as some ships are, they are controlled by a small rudder. When fully loaded, the largest U. S. aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz has 85 aircraft and weighs approximately 97,000 tons. It has 2 nuclear power plants running it, is over 1,000 feet long and 20 stories tall and can travel in excess of 34 MPH costing about $4.5 billion. As immense as this ship is, it is controlled by one rudder that weighs about 100 tons. The rudder is just over 1/10 of 1% the weight of the ship. The worlds largest aircraft carrier is controlled by one person, and goes ‘wherever the will of the pilot directs.’ In other words, an amazing ship like the USS Nimitz can be controlled. All the commander of the ship has to do is give the order and the ship goes wherever it is directed.

James next tells us that this isn’t necessarily the case with our tongues. He compares the tongue to a fire. A forest fire in fact. How many times have we heard of forest fires being started by one match. Or think of the Chicago fire on October 8, 1871. It started when Mrs. O’Leary was milking her cow and the cow kicked over an oil lamp; some hay caught on fire, until all the hay in the stable was on fire, then the next building was on fire, and the next and the next!

When the fire was finally extinguished, there were only two buildings standing. The little flame from that lamp destroyed 17,500 buildings, 300 died, 125,000 homeless & $400 Million damage.

Is your tongue like that? D you have no control over it? Think back to the beginning of the worship service when a few of us pretended to be gossiping about people who are totally fictitious. You were able to over hear us because we did that on purpose. And I am certain that there were some of you who wanted to hear the names and get them right so that you could tell you friends some juicy gossip.

I organized that group simply to show you how easy it is to get into a situation where our tongues become set on fire and before we know it a forest fire has started. Sometimes we start a conversation that was to be Christ centered, yet we turned it into a gossip-fest. It happens before, during and after church. But it shouldn’t. But it’s so hard to resist. Why do you think the National Enquirer has the largest circulation of any paper? Because it’s filled with juicy gossip about the stars.

Have you ever wondered if they had zoos in those days? I’m not sure if they did or not, I assume they didn’t. But James reminds us that we can tame any animal, but we still can’t tame the tongue, it’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We can go to Sea World and sea a killer whale kiss its trainer, we can see people hold deadly snakes, we see lions and tigers tamed, but it’s so difficult to train our tongues not to be filled with a deadly poison.

You see, we say lots of things, some of it is edifying to God, but some of it can be the wrong things. That’s why James tells us that we use our tongues to bless God and also to curse God, because we curse people who are made in the image of God. We can praise God, pray to God, confess our sins, encourage and comfort others, and sing to the Lord, but we can also curse one another, lie, gossip, use negativism, slander, have a critical spirit and so on.

So, who do we learn to tame our tongues?

A few practical suggestions —

If you can’t say something good, say nothing. President Lincoln once said, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Another president, Calvin Coolidge once said, "I have never been hurt by anything I did not say."

Proverbs 10:19 tells us "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."

Think before you speak. Again, remember James practical advice from 1:19, ‘listen, listen, listen, be slow to speak and slow to become angry.’

If you hear someone gossiping, you can challenge it. Ask the gossiper, now how can we help this person. Don’t let them off the hook so easily. Or maybe you can say, "May I quote you on that?" That might shut them up. Another idea is to ask someone if they have spoken to the person in private.

If you think you are heading down the wrong path of injuring another person because of what you say or how you say it, then ask yourself "How can I build up instead of tear down?"

Proverbs 12:18 says "Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Is that true for the way you react when someone says something you don’t like. Do your words just come flying out. . . before you can think.

Then use the acronym think —

T - Is it true?

H - Is it helpful?

I - Is it inspiring?

N - Is it necessary?

K - Is it kind?

If what we are about to say does not pass these tests, we should keep our mouth shut. It works!