Summary: The words that come out of our mouth only reveal what lies in the heart. The only real way to take care of a tongue problem is to allow God to change our heart.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” In James 2:18, the passage we looked at last week, the brother of Jesus writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” It would be fair to sum up James 2:18 and all the discussion that went along with it by that good old saying you and I have heard and said so often, “Actions speak louder than words.” And just when you think you have a handle on what James is saying, he shifts gears and points to another very real truth.
James comes back in the very next passage and says, “Don’t get me wrong, what you say is important too. Just because your actions are central to your faith, don’t be fooled into thinking that the way you communicate with others is a little matter.” You have a tongue to take care of too, you know!
Read text: James 3:1-12
Now if you and I were to think about all the trouble we get into in the course of our lifetime, I believe we would find out that it was often our mouths that got us there. If we could step back and see all the conflict that we have faced, all of the pain we have felt and caused, at the heart of almost every time we have faced off with other people is a flapping tongue. So James addresses the issue so that we realize what the tongue is like.
1. The Power of the Tongue.
It is impossible to read through this chapter of James and miss the incredible images that he uses to portray how powerful the tongue is. James wants to make sure you get the picture of the force your language carries.
A. The bit of a horse which though small steers the animal.
B. The rudder of a ship that directs the vessel to safety.
C. The spark that begins a great forest fire.
D. Wild animals that are out of control.
E. A natural spring and a fig tree with olives on it.
James is offering us a slide show, a series of thumbnail sketches that portray how powerful a tool the tongue is. It can be used for either good or destruction, to build up or to tear down.
Whenever I think of the power of the tongue, I am reminded of my WWII history. Adolph Hitler had a powerful and poisonous tongue. With it he laid out his strategy for making Germany the rulers of the world. By his powerful rhetoric, he enflamed the German nation so that they could without conscience slaughter millions of Jews and put together a ruthless machine that set out to conquer the world. What a powerful and deadly tongue Hitler had.
On the other side of the war were great speakers leading the Allied nations. Winston Churchill roused the sleeping nation of England to battle courageously against overwhelming odds. FDR with his fireside chats and speeches encouraged the United States to fight for the world’s freedom. It would be impossible to over-estimate how important the use of the tongue, that little instru-ment of communication, was to both starting the war, and bringing it to an end. What incredible power to encourage and to destroy!
But you don’t have to go to world history to see the power of the tongue. Just look around you at the people you know. Do you know someone who lives with the criticism of an angry spouse or a critical parent? If you do, you probably know them to be someone who struggles with insecurity and depression. The children’s rhyme says “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I wish that were true, but the reality of life is that words are a powerful force for forming our lives. Good, encouraging words can accomplish great things in a person’s life. Bitter and critical words can do tremendous damage. And the scary reality is, you have to have a license to drive a car, or to carry a concealed weapon, and some training goes with that. But everybody gets a tongue, and there is no mandatory training that goes with this powerful instrument. For some it’s worse than a loose cannon. The tongue is a powerful tool, and it can do great good or incredible harm. But James is not only interested in us recognizing the power of our words. He also tells us of…
2. The Privilege of the Tongue.
A couple of times in his discussion of the tongue, James points out some real privileges we have with the gift of speech. Note v. 9 “With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father.” What a tremendous gift it is to be able to come together to praise God. It is the highest privilege we have as human beings. Nothing we do is a greater honor than being able to come before the throne of God and tell Him how wonderful He is. At this may I have your closest attention. Make sure you act like you are honored by the privilege of worship. For worship we shouldn’t shuffle in as quick as we can get here, mumble out a few songs and do our best to hold our heads up without nodding off in the presence of God. What a gift it is to be able to worship Him. Take that seriously!