Summary: The tongue that is itself set on the fire of hell can be tamed and quenched by the refining and sanctifying fire of the Holy Spirit, if we will only allow the Lord to do so.
Text - James 3:1-12, RSV
1. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
2. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the
whole body in check with a bridle.
3. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. 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.
7. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the
8. but no one can tame the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
10. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
11. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?
12. Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
I am sure that at some point in your lives, you might have had the opportunity to see a sculptured image of three monkeys; one with hands over the eyes, the other with hands over the ears and the third with hands covering the mouth. The monkeys tell us that we are to see no evil, hear no evil or speak no evil. Even though this is a moral message that is not linked to any particular religion, these values find a place in the bible. This morning’s reading from the book of James focuses on the use of our tongue and how we are to be careful about speaking evil. As James puts it “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body, it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of a man or woman’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell”. With the same mouth we are capable of blessing and cursing. Wonder which of these we do more often!
Most of you I am sure are familiar with the story of Job. Job was a very rich man but at the same time, one who feared God. But there came a time when the Devil challenged God about Job’s integrity and when that happened, Job began to see bad days. He lost everything including his family and not only that, he was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. And then, his wife who I believe at sometime vowed to be with him for better or for worse, in sickness and health said “Are you still holding on to your integrity Job? Why don’t you just curse God and die!” We know from the story, that job never allowed himself to speak evil with his tongue or curse God. In the end, Job was blessed twice as much as he ever had. Job’s destiny was determined by the words that came out of his mouth.
So is the case with you and me. You and I can ruin wonderful relationships with a bad or unruly tongue. A person is measured as being good or bad not by they way they dress or how beautiful they look but rather by the words that come out of their mouths. A golden rule us when you are unsure of what to say, “turn the sound off” because one’s character is revealed by one’s speech. We relate to one another through conversation. We are capable of speaking kind and loving words as well as words of slander, lies and hatred. Pious and edifying language is the produce or fruit of a sanctified heart; and no one who understands Christianity expects to hear curses, lies, boastings or evil words from a true believer’s mouth.
A lot of what we become is a consequence of how we have been raised and the kind of values we subscribe to. It also depends on the kind of friends you keep and the kind of fellowship you are in. All of you are wonderful people,and God loves you immensely - no question about that, but you will agree with me that once in a while your tongue lets loose and betrays you. You say something you should not have said and now you can’t take those words back. For some people the mouth works faster than the mind and by doing so, we can cause much hurt and pain. If you can’t control what you speak, you will definitely end up answering for it.