Summary: God wants our words to be a source of blessing to Him and to those around us.
Watching Your Words
Intro: James has already mentioned the need to watch what we say. In the first chapter of James he said James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Also, James 1:26 “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Now he devotes 2/3 of a chapter explaining why it is so vital that we watch what we say.
-The story is told about a young man who had been saying harsh things about another man in town. One day he discovered that none of the things he had been saying were true. By spreading the information he had caused a lot of damage to the man’s reputation. He went to his grandfather and asked how he could make things right. Grandfather took a pillow to the front porch, cut it open, and began spreading the feathers into the wind. "All you have to do is pick up the feathers."
-It is so important that we watch what we say! Apparently James was aware of some problems among the people to whom he was writing. Or, it is possible he was just aware of human nature. Regardless, James tackles this subject head on and uses several verses to show that an uncontrolled tongue is inconsistent with a life that pleases God. The words that we say are of profound importance! And that leads us to the main idea:
Prop: God wants our words to be a source of blessing to Him and to those around us.
TS: Let’s look at a few brief thoughts that show us what that looks like.
I. Controlling what we say is vitally important (1-6)
1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 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. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
-The more you say, the more you have to answer for. That is why James kicks this off with a warning about everybody wanting to be a teacher. James is not discouraging the gift of teaching here, but is addressing the situation where some Jewish Zealots were apparently recruiting right out of the churches or gatherings of Christ followers. They would stir up spite and rebellion against Rome, posing as teachers of God’s ways. James seems to battle these Zealots throughout this short letter in one way or another.
-James goes on to point out that of all the ways we fail and stumble, what we say is the most telling. If we can avoid failure in what we say, then the rest is quite manageable. And of course the answer is not to avoid conversation or proclamation. If we live a life of avoidance, we aren’t really winning the battle against the real enemy, are we?
-One guy joined a monastery. For three years he was given a probation period where he was not to speak at all, but at the end of each year he could say two words.
At the end of the first year he said, "Bed hard." At end of the second year he said, "Food cold." At the end of the third year he has had enough. He comes in and says, "I quit". The head priest says, "That doesn’t surprise me. All you’ve done is complain since you got here."
-James uses several examples to show how potent our words are. Small bits can turn very large horses. Relatively small rudders can turn gigantic ships. Small sparks can set fire to great forests, burning thousands of acres at a time.
-So I started wondering, “Is the tongue a thermometer or a thermostat?” And I concluded that the answer was “Yes!” It reveals what is on the inside and it can affect what is on the inside. Jesus said it like this: Matthew 12:34 “…how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” The mouth shows what is on the inside.