Summary: our words have the same power -- they can bring joy or cause despair. Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death...”
Taming the Tongue
Several years ago, Beth and I went to someone’s house for a party. After we were done eating, a group of adults starting playing volleyball while the kids had a scavenger hunt. After their hunt, the kids divided into 3 different groups. Each group picked up a bed sheet and stretched it out while a couple of adults launched water balloons up into the air. The idea was for them to catch the balloons on the sheet without them breaking.
Here’s where I come in. I was recruited to take part in the balloon launching. I must confess that I was drawn to the launch pad not out of compassion for the kids but because I wanted to blast some balloons at the volleyball players. We took turns gently lofting balloons to the kids and then turning around, pulling back as far as we could, taking aim, and launching water bombs at the grown-ups. We were having more fun launching the balloons of destruction at the unsuspecting volleyball players than we were lofting balloons of delight to the children.
Our balloons were small, and yet they had the ability to cause delight or destruction -- depending on how they were used. Likewise, our words have the same power -- they can bring joy or cause despair. Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death...”
This morning, I want to give you some practical steps that will help you tame your tongue. The stakes are high. Your words can either bring life, or they can bring death to your spouse, your kids, your parents, your siblings, your relatives, your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down.
Our study this morning will center on the Book of James. This short book has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense sound bites for life. Throughout the letter James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. The church was tolerating evil, showing favoritism and participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another. They were using their tongues to destroy each other.
Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. I wonder if we’re a bit like that church today?
We’re quick to avoid murder, stealing, and drunkenness, but we often assassinate fellow believers and leave destruction in our wake by the way we use our tongues. Husbands have stabbed their wives with words that are as sharp as daggers and wives have lashed out with tongues that cut and pierce. Parents have devastated their kids by repeated blasts of venom. Children have exploded at their parents with volleys that have leveled the family like a bomb. And churches have been wiped out by wagging tongues that have sliced, diced, and chopped people to shreds.
Listen to what is written in James 1:19, 26: “...Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry...if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
If you and I launch verbal balloons of destruction, they will have devastating consequences on others. And, our words have a direct correlation with our own spirituality -- if we don’t exhibit control over our tongues, we can render our religion of no value.
James continues his treatment of the words that come out of our mouths by devoting almost all of chapter 3 to the topic. In verse 1, James warns people to be careful about their eagerness to be teachers because teachers are held to a stricter judgment. Perhaps they were impressed with the authority and prestige of the office and forgot about the tremendous responsibility a teacher has to guard his or her words.
Teachers are not the only ones who are prone to sin. In verse 2 we see that each of us need to admit that, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” The word “perfect” is a banking term that pictures a note that has come due. If we are able to discipline our tongue, we can prove that we are a mature person.
I want you to notice how James connects sins of the tongue with sins of the body. He does this because our words usually lead to deeds. The hardest sins to control are the sins of the tongue. A mature person is able to hold the most uncontrollable part of his human anatomy in check. Proverbs 21:23 says “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”