Summary: What do you think is the greatest single factor in the life of a congregation?

“Faith That Works: Setting the Temperature”

James 3:1-12

What do you think is the greatest single factor in the life of a congregation? What has the most influence in the building up – or tearing down – of a body of people? The preacher? Consistory? The style of worship? The education and youth program? According to the Bible the greatest single factor in the life of a congregation, or any group of people, is the tongue. As Proverbs 18:21 bluntly states: “The tongue has the power of life and death...” How we use our tongue, the words we say and how we say them, is literally an issue of life and death. So how will we use our tongues? WE CAN BE INSTRUMENTS OF BLESSING WEN WE RECOGNIZE THE DYNAMICS OF THE TONGUE. So let’s look at two of those dynamics this morning.

First, consider the POTENTIAL OF THE TONGUE. Why is the tongue so important and influential? One reason is that IT GOVERNS LIFE. James, in the third chapter of his letter, used two examples (3:3-5): “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 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. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” Think about THE BIT. IT RESTRAINS. As beautiful as a horse may be, a small bit in its mouth allows the reins to direct it. Without the bit, the horse is free to go wildly through the countryside; with the bit the rider can control its direction. So, said James, the tongue is like a bit – it can either allow us to run wildly off on tangents, or it can give us direction. The tongue can control us any way it wishes. As for THE RUDDER, IT GUIDES. The direction of a huge ship is determined by a little piece of metal. In the strongest of winds the rudder can put a ship back on course, yet on even the smoothest sea it can turn the ship off course. On May 21, 1941 the “unsinkable” German battleship, the Bismarck, was sighted in the North Atlantic. Immediately planes and ships from the Royal British Navy sped to the scene. As the Bismarck headed toward the German-controlled French coast where it would be safe from attack, the massive battleship, to the astonishment of all, suddenly swung around and headed straight back into the strength of the British ships. At the same time she began to steer a zigzag course, which made it easier for the British to overtake her. The reason? A torpedo had damaged her rudder and without it the “unsinkable” ship was sunk. As the rudder controls a ship, so the tongue controls a person.

Not only does the tongue potentially govern life, but also IT DESTROYS LIFE. Turning again to James 3:5-6 we read: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The 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.” James indicates that the tongue IS A FIRE! As such it can cause great harm. It speaks of sin, participates in sin, and promotes sin. Who among us has not been burned by the tongue of someone who, with a few choice words, cut us to the quick? How many of us as parents have not, at some point in time, said something that burned and harmed our children? The tongue, like fire, does lasting damage. Proverbs 18:8 says of words “They go down to a man’s inmost parts.” The image is that words, like food, are internalized, digested, and carried around forever; they live on long after they have been spoken. The fire never dies out.

The tongue also destroys life in that IT IS A FURY. It is uncontrollable. James 3:7-8: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no one can tame the tongue.” The only animal we cannot tame is the one in our mouth. We can see our dilemma in Proverbs 10:19 (TLB): “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow.” Like a tornado rendering mass destruction as it rages uncontrollably through a town, so the tongue is a fury which destroys life. Deep within our brains is the limbic system. It is the seat of our emotions. When the system is overstimulated, we exhibit our strongest feelings, ranging from rage to terror. One way to over-activate this limbic system is to talk too much; and once the system is overactivated we talk even more. Then a vicious cycle has begun. Talking too much makes us more vulnerable to emotional and behavioral chaos, and we tend to listen less and respond too quickly. Someone once aptly said that the tongue, being a wet place, is likely to slip when going fast. As the NEB translates Prov. 10:19, “When men talk too much, sin is never far away; common sense holds its tongue.”

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