Summary: Our words reveal what our heart contains, so listen carefully to yourself to see whether or not your faith is real.
Consider this short poem entitled “Power of Words:”
A careless word may kindle strife
A cruel word may wreak a life
A bitter word may hate instill
A brutal word may smite and kill
A gracious word may smooth the way
A joyous word may light the day
A timely word may lessen stress
A loving word may heal and bless
(Source: Sermoncentral.com – author unknown)
What do your words say about you?
That is James’ question in James 3:1-12.
We will look at the first portion of this today, and examine verses 6-12 next week.
We All Stumble with our Words.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 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.” (James 3:1–2, ESV)
Here, the word MANY is emphatic. In the Greek text, it is the first word in verse 1 and also verse 2 and is meant to get our attention to the comparison James is making. Translated word for word without allowing for the differences between Green and English, the word-by-word translation would sound something like this: “many teachers NO, there should not be.... Many ways to stumble there are.” Now we wouldn’t translate it this way, not unless you like sounding like Yoda! I mention this because James is making a comparison between the fact that there should not be many teachers, but there are many ways in which we all stumble. The biggest and most glaring way is represented by the words that we use which express the true condition of our hearts.
The word STUMBLE
The Greek word means “to fall.” It is used 4x in the NT
1. Concerning ISRAEL. “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” (Romans 11:11, ESV)
2. Concerning failure to keep the whole law......“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10, ESV)
3. NEVER FALL. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:10, ESV)
Another insight we gain into the way that this word was used during the first century is to examine how this Greek word was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the Septuagint. There, the word “stumble” from James 3 is translated ENSNARED (Deuteronomy 7:25), DEFEATED (1 Samuel 4:2), BEATEN (2 Samuel 2:17), and DISMAYED (2 Kings 19:26).
It is clear that the stumbling to which James is speaking of is much more than a simple slip of the tongue. James is warning us of words that express MORAL FAILURE.
James’ Frequently addresses our WORDS to show us if we are walking with God. His reference to our speech is found in every chapter of the book of James.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19, ESV)
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, ESV)
James 3:1-12 (our passage in this sermon)
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” (James 4:11, ESV)
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12, ESV)
This emphasis continues in the book of James. So today I would like to examine 4 TRUTHS about the POWER of OUR WORDS
1. The Power of our Words is Disproportionate to the Comparative Size of our Tongue.
There are Three Illustrations of this truth.
James 3:3. A small man can control a large horse with just a small bridle.
James 3:4. A large ship is controlled by a small rudder. The Greco Roman world had large ships. Paul had been aboard a grain ship which carried 276 passengers plus cargo. Josephus records that he was on a ship with 600 passengers. He describes its dimensions as 180’ by 65’ by 44’.