Summary: Out of the mouth come words of life and death; blessing and cursing. We must allow God to give us the grace to bridle our tongue.
The Untamed Tongue, James 3:1-12
When I was a young Marine Sergeant, stationed in Yuma Arizona, my commanding officer was a Warrant officer who stood about 6ft 4 inches and weighed just shy of three hundred pounds of mostly muscle. At the time I had just started back to college and I was in my first year of undergraduate course work. I was taking an introductory business class as part of my general education requirements. One day I was telling Warrant Officer Cox about what I had been learning in my college classes.
I was telling him about the communication cycles I had been learning about. I was telling him about what causes communication to break down in the workplace and different strategies to counteract the breakdown of communication and how to foster a positive atmosphere of communication.
I told him that I wanted to hold some training on communication for the troops the next training day that we had scheduled. He pretended as though he was interested and said that would be a good idea… and after a while of my excited ramblings he said, “I took a class like once… have you ever heard about the brick method?” I very seriously said that I had not and then asked, “What is the brick method?” To which he replied… “It’s simple, when somebody doesn’t do what I tell them, I hit them upside the head with a brick!”
This morning I want to talk to you about the untamed tongue. Very often we find ourselves resorting to the brick method in our communication with others. Today we will explore the biblical motif of the tongue; of our words.
Words contain great power. In fact, a recent scientific discovery which suggests that at the very most foundational subatomic level all matter is composed of vibrations; the still echoing voice of God from the time before time when God spoke the universe into existence.
God created with the power of His voice and as we have been created Imago Dei, in God’s image, we too have been given a great deal of power in our words. This morning I submit to you, for your consideration, that Communication, language, the art of speaking, is more than just the transfer of thoughts and ideas via sound waves. Our words contain the power of life and of death; the power of blessing and cursing; both for us and for the world around us.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” (NKJV) This is exactly why we must learn to tame our tongue; just as we must bring our thoughts captive, we must also learn to bring our tongue captive to our thoughts so that our mind and what it expresses might bring glory and honor to God.
Too often we use a modified form of the brick method, throwing words like bricks at other people. Today, let us examine the words of James in regard to the untamed tongue to learn what we may learn about the deadly and blessed tongue.
(v1) This is an interesting way for the author, James, who most likely the earthly half brother of Jesus, to begin this section of his epistle. This section of the epistle focuses entirely on taming the tongue, on controlling our language. I suppose that it is indeed fitting then that he opens this section with an admonishment toward those whose calling is necessarily involved with speech.
As a pastor I am very cognizant of the fact that my words have great power for both blessing and cursing. A careless word spoken to someone in need can easily cause lasting hurt to them as they see the pastor a representative of Christ Himself. It is because of this that I tend to be careful with what words I choose to use.
This lesson is not for pastors and other teachers alone though, is it? While the main thrust in this passage is toward those who teach in the Church, there is a lesson for all of us to learn; we must be careful with what we say and how we say it. Not so much so that our language is flowery and poetic, but so that what we say is honest and full of truth. Since the power of life and death are in the tongue, then we must take seriously the words of our mouth.
We must consider heavily the type of speech that we use. Are our words full of life; encouraging others and lifting them up or are our words full of death; causing others to be wounded and discouraged. What James is talking about has very little to do with eloquence and our manner of speech. Sometimes even bad grammar and poor enunciation, the finer points of communication are not required because eloquence isn’t necessarily flowery language inasmuch as it is heartfelt expression and commitment to the truth.