Summary: Stewardship is not only about how we manage our money; but we are also stewards of how we manage our tongues. The powerful influence of our words is examined in the light of James’ exhortation.
Stewardship of Our Words
When I was about 8 years old my friends were joining the Cub Scouts. I wanted to be with them so I asked my mother if I could join too. I didn’t know why at the time; but she tried to talk me out of it. But then I would see my friends at school and they would tell me how fun it was. So I kept asking until Mom agreed to let me join. In those days Dad was severely depressed and we were a lot poorer than the other kids at school. Our house didn’t look like the other kids houses. We were at the bottom of the social ladder. When we talked with the Den Mother she said there was no place for me. I knew what she meant. She and the other mothers did not want me in the club with their kids. Although I can’t remember the den mother’s exact words, I remember the pain I felt. I remember the sense of shame and rejection. The words had a powerful effect on me.
Have you ever had words spoken to you that left you feeling that way? Have you ever had words said about you that made you feel less than everybody else?
That Den Mother probably forgot all about what she had said within a few weeks. But I didn’t forget. It had an effect upon me for a very long time. It influenced the way I viewed myself. It caused me to relate different to the other kids. It reinforced a message that I had received from a number of other sources. Words matter! Words can wound much more than sticks and stones. Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue....”
In our text James talks about the tongue. He introduced the subject back in James 1:26, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” That is an astonishing statement. Do you mean that I can be very involved in church, very involved in the lives of other Christians—and it counts for nothing? “If anyone among you....” James is talking to people in the church. But he’s talking to self-deceived people—religious people who can’t control their tongues. They praised God during the worship service just like everybody else. But during the week they are gossiping and slandering other people. And James says their religion is useless. It counts for nothing.
Now in Chapter 3 James expounds upon that. The stewardship of our words, according to James, is a serious matter. He tells us why in our text.
I. Our tongues can assert a powerful influence (1-4).
What we think and say sets the direction of our lives. What we say to others influences them and their decisions.
James uses two metaphors to illustrate the power of the tongue. First he likens it to a bit in a horse’s mouth. Isn’t it amazing how a 170 lb man can control and direct a 2000 lb horse? He does it with a bit. The bit is placed in the horse’s mouth. When the bit is pulled to the left the horse goes that way. When it’s pulled to the right the horse moves that direction. If the rider pulls back on the bit the horse stops. That horses’ whole being is directed by what’s going on in his mouth. James wants us to think about the significance of the tongue. It is a small member—something we might discount as relatively unimportant. But James says to you and me, what you say is very important. It’s not magic; but it is important.
The second metaphor is the rudder on a ship. A huge ship is controlled by the direction of the rudder. Relatively speaking the rudder is small compared to the whole ship. But that’s where the direction of the whole thing is determined.
When Israel was in the wilderness, they started talking. They talked about what was missing in their lives. There wasn’t enough water. They were tired of the manna. They wanted meat instead. They murmured and complained when they should have been thanking God for His goodness. Instead of focusing on what God had done for them, they focused on what they thought was wrong. In I Cor. 10 Paul used them as an example of what not to do. He wrote, “Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor 10:8-10). They talked themselves out of the blessing God was trying to give them. We don’t want to use our tongues that way.