A Mouth Braced By Grace - Part One
Scripture: James 3:1–5
A Mouth Braced By Grace-Part OneJames 3:1-5a
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
Do you know how many words a person speaks in one day? For the average individual it is 18,000. And we all know if you live in New Jersey the number is much higher! If you wrote down all the words you spoke in one year, there would be enough to write a large 400-page book like this - which would be only one in a set that contains 108 volumes! We do a lot of talking so we should not be surprised that the Word of God frequently talks about the way we should be using our mouths!
As we enter James chapter 3 we remember the conclusion from the previous chapter. Our Lord through the mouthpiece of James has been stressing the need to have spiritual deeds that give evidence of our faith. First there were two negative examples given. Verses 15 and 16, if we say we have faith and then care not about the needs of another Christian, our faith is useless. And if we say we have faith, verse 19, what makes us any different than the demons who also believe? Then James provided two positive illustrations of faith that works from a respected patriarch and a former prostitute. Abraham validated his faith in verses 20-23 when he obeyed the command of God even when that command defied common sense, natural affections and lifelong dreams. Rahab in verse 25 is also an example of genuine faith in the way she responded in hiding the Israelites. True faith is a faith that works.
James would agree that we are made right with God solely on the basis of faith. James would agree that we rest not on our spiritual works, but the work of Jesus Christ alone on the cross to save us. Yet James would also stress, as he did throughout chapter 2, that if we have true faith, it will show itself in our desire and ability to bear spiritual fruit. As we abide in the Vine of Jesus Christ, spiritual fruit will naturally grow on the branches of our lives.
So James has taken the lid off this controversial box. He can go many places now that he has piqued our interest on this essential topic. What should our life look like now that we are Christians? What specific actions will be present in our lives if we have true faith? Hmmmm…. You'll want to tell others about Jesus! He doesn't go there. You'll read your Bible! He doesn't go there. You'll get more involved in the church! He doesn't go there. You'll change your spending habits! He doesn't go there. So here is James with all the options before him. Yet as he considers the variety of spiritual fruit, he chooses to make an immediate beeline to our speech or as he commonly calls it "the tongue." His point - true believers will possess a sanctified tongue. This should not be surprising for us. Remember his comments in 1:26? "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his ownheart, this man's religion is worthless."
One pastor called the tongue, "That uncontrollable red rebel that lives in a cave guarded by two rows of white soldiers called teeth." Of course James is not concerned about the 70-gram muscle in our mouth. The tongue is only a metaphor for our speech. And even our speech is not the main culprit, because we know as Jesus said that all of our words are ultimately an overflow of our heart (Mat. 12:34).
So James being a "show me the money" kind of guy is again stressing the need for professing Christians to show evidence that they truly believe. For if they truly believe they will have been given a new heart. And probably the clearest indication of a new heart will be the words that it now produces. Lord willing, this is where we will be going for the next two weeks. This week will be the power of the tongue. Next week will be the practice of the tongue.
1. A WORD FOR TEACHERS
James begins this section with a word for the teachers, our first point. In verse 1 he says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment."
The teachers he is referring to are obviously those men and women who teach the Scriptures in the church. There is no doubt when the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts, one of the gifts He dispenses is the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28-29). It would be impossible to see a church built up if people were not able to communicate the Bible for the edification and instruction of others. Like guitar players, a church can never have enough teachers. I praise God for the excellent teachers we have in the various ministries. If you have this particular gift, you should be using it. So why does James specifically single out this gift with an extremely serious warning? Why does he create a hesitation before anyone would jump into a teaching ministry (Jas. 1:19)?
It goes back to his main point in this section, the power of the tongue. Teachers have more ability than any other to influence the direction of the church. What they say when they act as a mouthpiece of God can be either extremely wonderful or totally disastrous to God's children. On the extremes compare the apostle Paul to the Pharisees or Charles Spurgeon to Jim Jones or Elizabeth Elliot to David Koresh. That is why we are very careful as to whom we place in teaching positions here at the Grace Tabernacle. And the greater the influence, the greater the caution we exhibit.
So say you want to be a teacher in the church. How can you apply the warning presented in 3:1? First, are you gifted (1 Cor. 12:28)? Can you communicate biblical truth in a way that people understand? Have others affirmed your ability to teach? Does God bear fruit through your instruction? Do you really have a passion to serve in this way? Second, what are your motives (Phil. 1:17)? In other words, why do you want to teach? Is it because you enjoy being in a position of power and authority? Is it because you desire the attention of others? Is it because you believe it will bring you greater honor in the church? Or is it because you love God and people and the Bible and humbly want to be used by God to instruct people in His Word? Is being a teacher God's call upon your life or is it simply personal worldly ambition? Third, do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible and are you in agreement with the doctrinal distinctives we hold here at the church (Lev. 10:3; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:7)? Can you teach the Word accurately and does your instruction come in line with what others teachers and parents are presenting here at Grace? Fourth, are you ready to make a serious investment (1 Thes. 2:8)? Teaching, possibly more than other ministry requires diligent preparation behind the scenes. Are you willing to labor in the Word? Are you willing to labor in prayer over your students? And fifth, does your lifestyle support your instruction (Rom. 2:21f; Tit. 2:7)? The easiest way to invalidate your message is by failing to practice what you preach. If you are a teacher, many will be looking to you as a role model. Are you prepared for that type of scrutiny?
We take our teaching positions from Risers all the way to the Pulpit very seriously. One unqualified teacher can destroy a church more so than a hundred attacks from the outside. Because of the power of the tongue, James says many of us should not become teachers because (Jas. 3:1) God will hold all teachers accountable with "stricter judgment" (cf. Mt. 18:6)
2. A WORD FOR EVERYBODY
A concern for people wanting to teach leads to a general warning for everyone about the power of the tongue, point number 2.
Because of the defective nature of even a redeemed heart which shows itself in our words and the power of our words when we do speak, we should not be jumping into teaching assignments without caution. Yet that does not mean if you are not called to be a teacher in the formal sense that this instruction has no application for you. Verse 2 begins with the word "for." In other words James is using verse 2 to explain the truth he just presented in verse 1. Not just teachers, but "all [of us] stumble in many ways." What he is saying is that we all sin (even as Christians) in a variety of ways.
I can still remember the day tossing a Frisbee with my friend just a few months after I trusted Jesus Christ. I repented from the "big sins" and was thinking to myself, "Wow, I'm a pretty righteous guy!" And then something strange began to occur in the months ahead. The more I continued to grow in Christ, the more I understood God's holiness. And the more I understood God's holiness, the more I became aware of my sin. So as I progressively became more holy, in an ironic way I felt more like a sinner. By God's grace, even today, I am not the person I was twenty years ago when I received Christ, but I see myself as a sinner in greater ways than I did back then. Like the apostle Paul proclaimed as a believer, "Wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:24). And like Paul I see the need more now than ever - "thanks be to God" for a Savior named Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:25).
I told myself I wasn't going to share these remarks if my motives were not right. Just this morning I added it to the sermon. Earlier in the week I rearranged my days so I could spend a couple nights camping in northwestern Maryland. I had a nice trip planned, but the moment I arrived I received notification from Julie that our dear friend Sam Hanna went into the hospital. I spoke with Julie, Pastor Russ and his wife, all of whom encouraged me to stay. I believe it was permissible to stay, but I still wrestled with the conflict of my pleasure verses the comfort I could bring to Sam and his family. I felt very selfish. Around 8:00 PM I decided to return. The selfish conviction went away, but by 8:01 PM I struggled with the opposite sin. From the self-centered bum to the self-righteous Pharisee! "Isn't Sam fortunate to have me as his pastor!" See the ever-present battle?
As James said in verse 2, we all (spoken to Christians) sin in many ways. Sounds again like Paul, "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want" (Rom. 7:19). This is the fight of every Christian this side of heaven. The closer we draw to the light, the more we see of our inner darkness, the more we see our lives permeated with sin. We sin with our minds. We sin with our bodies. And the most common and most difficult one to overcome - we sin with our mouths. That is why James makes the point in verse 2, "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect ["teleios" - mature] man, able to bridle the whole body as well."
Think about it: Angry words, inconsiderate words, lying, swearing, overtalking, slander, gossip, complaining, coarse jesting and the list as you well know continues. If we could just get control over that little red rebel in our mouths, James argues we could have mastery over every part of our bodies. Maybe that is why the Bible is filled with commandments that indicate Christian maturity is often seen first and foremost in the ability to bridle or control one's mouth (cf. Jas. 1:26).
Is James overstating this point? Is the tongue really that powerful? Can the tongue really exert that much influence over our Christian lives? His answer would be, "yes," and to bolster his argument he now provides two illustrations of the tongue's mighty power.
The first one is found in verse 3: "Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well."
I have a 60-pound girl able to control a 1,000 pound horse of raw muscle and power. How is that? She uses the reigns to control the head. How do the reigns control the head? A small 5-inch bit on top of the horse's tongue. Here's the point: Something so small with the ability to control something so large.
The second illustration is found in verse 4: "Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires."
I was reading this week about the most famous German battleship. Do you know what caused the "unsinkable" Bismark to sink? Its rudder was damaged by a British torpedo and the ship was condemned to going in circles as a sitting target before being sent 15,000 feet to the bottom of the chilling Atlantic. The mightiest ships that have ever sailed are at the mercy of a very small rudder. Again, something small controlling something very large.
Like a small bit that can affect the direction of a horse, like a small rudder that influences the course of a ship, are our tongues that influence the destiny of our lives. Mastery over the tongue means the ability to master everything else as well. Or the opposite, an unrestrained tongue means a body that is out of control. King David knew it, "I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle" (Psm. 39:1). Or his prayer in Psalm 141:3, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips."
"So also," says James in 3:5, "the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things." In other words, the tongue makes claims that have considerable power disproportionate to its size. Don't ever underestimate the power of your words. They can build people up in ways that express the deepest forms of love, or they can bring people to the greatest points of despair. And I believe we have all dished-out and have all received both ends of the spectrum. Proverbs 18:21, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." The power of our words from the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln that can inspire a nation to the words from Osama Bin Laden that can devastate a nation.
We will get to the specifics next week, but for now God wants you to realize that He takes seriously every word that comes out of your mouth (Mt. 12:36). Is your language a reflection of His character of purity, truth, encouragement, edification, comfort, hope, wisdom, gentleness, peace, gratitude, humility, grace and patience? Do you have self-control over your tongue? For all these things are only possible if Jesus Christ dwells within your heart. For our words are simply an overflow from that which is within. Is Jesus your Lord and Savior? Or as James would say, is there evidence of your faith based upon the way you speak?