Summary: How Genuine Faith Reveals Itself in Our Speech
LIVING THE REAL LIFE:
CULTIVATING A FAITH THAT WORKS
TAMING THE TONGUE
Turn, if you would, in your Bible to James chapter 3. We now turn our attention to one of the most practical matters that James deals with in his letter to the Jewish Christians scattered abroad. It is the subject of the tongue, or speech. This issue is practical for many reasons, but chief among them is the sheer frequency with which we use our mouths. Did you know that it has been estimated that the average man speaks 25,000 words a day; and the average woman: 30,000. Ladies, you have the edge in that department by 5,000 words; so you can’t say that we men never listen. But the amount of time we spend talking is shocking when we add it all up. According to statisticians, the average person spends at least one-fifth of his or her life talking. In a single day, enough words are used to fill at least a fifty page book. And in one year’s time, the average person’s words would fill 105 books, each containing 500 pages. That really puts the scope of what Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 into perspective. He said:
36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
Billions upon billions of words will be accounted for when Christ comes back to end his universe. And we accumulate this massive total without even thinking about it, really. It’s been said, humorously, that it takes about two years for a baby to learn to talk, but it takes fifty years for a person to learn to keep his or her mouth shut. We’re constantly talking; constantly communicating. So it is no wonder that Scripture pays close attention to this topic; and our passage today is one of the classic texts that address this issue. So let’s see what James has to say…follow along as I read James 3:1-12:
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, 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 things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
James addresses the issue of the tongue in a few different ways – three ways that stand out here. And the central, unifying statement is found in v.8:
8…no human being can tame the tongue…
So picking up on that statement, let’s describe what James writes here is this way: Because the tongue cannot be tamed, we should be cautious to use it in spiritual teaching, aware of its influence in daily living, and fervent in our pursuit to avoid hypocritical speech. Now the first thing in that statement and the first aspect addressed in James 3 is that because the tongue cannot be tamed, we should be cautious to use it in spiritual teaching.
BE CAUTIOUS TO USE IT IN SPIRITUAL TEACHING
Look at vv. 1-2:
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.