Summary: Based on James 3: 3-12, this message looks at the sins of loose lips and the way of dealing with them through discipline and a change of attitude.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what does the phrase “Loose Lips Sink Ships” remind you of? For some of you it may be a war-time poster. This phrase originated during World War I in England. Enemy spies frequented local pubs listening on the seamen’s conversation, until after a few pints of beer they would talk about where their ship was going and when. The information was then forwarded to German submarines which targeted those ships and many lives were lost because of what someone uttered carelessly. Posters were printed and placed in conspicuous places with this warning: Loose Lips Sink Ships!

Or, perhaps you are reminded of the movie “Uptown Saturday Night” in which the comedian Flip Wilson played the role of a pastor who delivered a rousing sermon titled “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” In it he mentioned not only careless talk, but also loose lips out there going around kissing lips that don’t belong to them. Such loose lips sink relation-ships.

Well, today’s lesson from the third chapter of James could be titled “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The Letter of James offers much practical guidance about how to live out our Christian faith. Now, what does it mean when we say something or someone is practical? It means that person has the ability to take knowledge and apply it in real life. We need that in our faith journey.

By the work of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Gospel, we came to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We understand why He suffered and died for our sins and we believe in our hearts that He rose from the dead. Standing on God’s promises, we live in a certain hope of our place in eternity. We know where we are going.

But how do we live as followers of Christ until we get to heaven? The Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that those who are in Christ are new creations. The old has gone, behold the new has come. When Christ comes into our lives, we are born again. We die to the world and live for Christ. We grow closer to God and strive to be more like Jesus. These are wonderful theological truths. But how do we take a theological concept and apply it in practical ways to our every day life?

Well, the Letter of James provides concrete steps, the “how to” that we so desperately need for living out our Christian faith. James brings out many practical points: perseverance in times of trial, compassion for the poor, looking after orphans and widows, avoiding bitter envy and selfish ambition, resisting the devil, giving up boasting and bragging, but exercising generosity. All these practical things characterize our new life in Christ.

And, in the third chapter, James talks about taming the tongue. Turn to the back cover of your bulletin and follow as I read, starting with verse 3: If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.

For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.

Loose lips sink ships. Many a sin has been committed by the tongue; by what we say and how we say it, and by what motivates us to say it.

Pastor Don ------ who now serves the congregation of ------------- in Las Vegas once shared about teaching his Confirmation Class the 8th Commandment, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Since he talked about the sins of the tongue, he decided to provide a memorable illustration which he kept hidden in a bag until the end of the session. Then he plopped in front of them a beef tongue. All the girls went, “Heeew, gross!!!” The boys went, “Cool!”

Well, I wanted to get some beef lips this morning but couldn’t find any at Safeway. Aren’t you glad? So let us at least figuratively look at the sins of loose lips. I identified seven: cussing, snapping back at people, vain talk, flattery, gossip, backbiting, and slander.

Why do some people cuss and swear? Probably out of a bad habit. The hammer hits the thumb instead of the nail - and you know what follows. Couple of days ago we were in a store parking lot and the wind was blowing hard that day. It pushed a loose cart into the side of one man’s car. He let out an evaluation of our windy city that I could never repeat from this here pulpit. There are people who use bad language as part of their normal vocabulary. But they do not realize how their dignity suffers because of it. But we are called to be different. The Lord said we are the salt of the earth, not the pepper of the world.

The Bible says in Colossians 3: 8, Get rid of filthy language from your lips.

The next is snapping back at people, usually in anger. We are tired, frustrated, late for an appointment, somebody makes us mad – and we let them have it! But this too is out of place, and it can lead to lots of trouble. Confrontations may lead to violence. Or, people may loose their job because of snapping back at the boss. And, it certainly does not make us look good to blurt things out when we are angry. Listen to the advice from Proverbs 29:11: The foolish give full vent to their anger, but the wise keep themselves under control.

The third sin is vain talk, careless talk, wise cracks, one-liners that don’t come out right, things we regret saying right after we uttered them because they hurt somebody’s feelings. I know about this one. I stand before you guilty. I have said dumb things. Maybe I wanted to sound funny or witty, but I have said things I shouldn’t have, and people took offense. Now, they may not come to the Bible study anymore, may even have drifted away from church. What bugs me is that I may not even have realized that anyone would feel hurt, but they did. I want you to know I am deeply sorry for my vain talk, for saying things without thinking.

Now, some people have the gift of quick wit and the ability to talk their way out of trouble. I heard about a young man working in the produce department of a large supermarket. One day a woman was pestering him about buying a half a head of lettuce. He tried to explain to her that the store sold only full heads of lettuce but she insisted. In frustration, he told her, “OK, I will ask the manager,” and shuffled off not realizing the customer followed right behind him. He came to the manager and said, “There is this crazy old woman who wants a half a head of lettuce.” As the manager gestured to him, he turned and noticing the woman, he quickly added, “And this nice lady wants to buy the other half.”

Later that day the manager commended the young man for his quick thinking and asked him where he was from. “Originally from Edmonton,” he replied. “The city known for great hockey players and ugly women.” The manager’s face dropped. “I want you to know that my wife is from Edmonton,” to which the young man briskly responded, “And what hockey team did you say she played on?”

Some people have such a gift. For most of us, though, once we put a foot in our mouth, it stays there. We try to back-paddle but end up in worse mess than before. And so, if you are anything like me, then recite with me the prayer from Psalm 141: 3: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

The next thing to look at is flattery – insincere sweet talk. Saying nice things to someone, usually to a person of higher authority, for the purpose of obtaining a favor. “Flattery will get you everywhere,” the saying goes, but this isn’t really fitting into our new life in Christ. Yes, we are to share positive comments with others, but it isn’t to make ourselves look good in their eyes, but to encourage one another as the Body of Christ.

Watch out for flattery. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm 12: 2: Flattering lips speak with deception, and A flattering mouth works ruin (Proverbs 26:28).

The fifth point is a biggie – gossip. Oh yea! This is the one our human nature really struggles with. “Do you know what I just heard? Yack, yack, yack, yack. Have you ever played the game sitting in a circle, the first person whispered an information to his neighbor? Then he turned to his neighbor repeating it, and so on? It is no surprise that by the time the information reached the end of the circle, it was a whole different story all together! Why? Because we human beings like to dramatize. One withholds this, another adds that, and the truth suffers, and so does the reputation of the one in question. And this is not to mention issues of confidentiality. Some things should never be shared with others.

The best way to deal with gossip is not participating in it. Break the chain. Zip up those loose lips before they cause harm. Remember the Scripture teaching in Proverbs 16: 28, Gossip separates close friends.

And gossip is only a stone’s throw away from backbiting. Backbiting is deadly. It happens on the job, at school, even in churches. Backbiting is done by negative people who go around looking for reasons to criticize, always pointing to faults of others but turning blind eye to fault of their own. These loose lips sink fellow-ships.

Jesus warned us about this when He said to take out first the log out of your own eye before you pay attention to the speck in your brother’s eye.

Have you ever noticed that backbiters often use half-truths? They want to create a shadow of a doubt in order to make others believe them. But let us not fall for half-truths, because a half-truth is also a half-lie. And we know who is the author of lies, don’t we? It is not God.

Just as gossip is closely related to backbiting, so is backbiting to slander. Intentional, malicious attack against somebody’s good name. Character assassination they call it. When backbiters don’t get their way, they may turn to outright lies, intrigues, setting traps and things like that. We see it in politics, or in business. It rarely happens in the church but when it does, it is so destructive and painful.

Paul says in Galatians 5:15, If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. We, children of God, are called by Christ not to tear each other down but to build each other up. Loose lips sink ships but Those who love a pure heart and whose speech is gracious, will have the king for their friend (Proverbs 22:11).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not give the devil the opportunity to succeed through our lips, but let us be open to God’s power to transform us from the weaknesses of our human nature to the likeness of His Son.

This transformation is two-fold: it takes discipline and a change of attitude. Even unbelievers learn how to stay out of trouble by not using bad words – it should be easier for us to develop such a discipline. Anybody can apply anger management skills in preventing blurting out things. So can we. And we can reprogram our minds to avoid flattery, gossip, backbiting and slander. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, Amen?

The motivation behind these disciplines is the desire to follow Christ and the yearning to be more like Him. The key to success is recognizing our weaknesses and tapping into the power of God’s grace. We will celebrate victories and suffer failures, just like in other aspects of our faith journey. In the victories we will give thanks to God. In our failures, we will not give up but go to the cross and seek forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. It is at the foot of the cross that we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and enabled to go forward with a clean slate. This is the great privilege and blessings for the followers of Christ.

We walk in the newness of life in Christ, with each new day providing an opportunity for a new beginning. Never give up, keep going, keep trying, keep changing, for He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion!

Join me in reciting the prayer from Psalm 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.