September 18, 2011

A Mouth Braced By Grace - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 3:5–12


A Mouth Braced By Grace-Part Two

James 3:5b-12
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

Why my schedule came out this way I will never know. I was a junior in high school, but for some reason started school later and needed to make a choice between two options. Either ride the bus with my friends and attend school earlier than necessary, or sleep in but take the bus composed primarily of freshmen. Obviously I chose the latter.

Being older I sat up in the front and basically minded my own business. All the freshmen sat in the back. Every day the bus would take the same route adding students. Every day I would take my seat by the driver and the back of the bus would swell with rowdy fourteen year-olds. At the end of the route was a student that lived off the beaten path. Once the turn was made the complaints would multiply. I don't remember his name and I can barely recall his face, but I'll never forget the greeting he received when he entered the vehicle. The verbal abuse was brutal and relentless. It seemed all those around him found extreme pleasure in inventing creative ways to cut this kid down. Every day he entered and every day the results were the same.

Then one day came when the driver was prepared to make the undesirable turn to his house and a kid from the rear of the bus shouted, "You don't need to pick up 'so and so' - he's dead." A note was found sitting by the shotgun and his bloody corpse: "I just can't take it any more."

The point of this story is not to condone a selfish act like suicide nor is it to express my disappointment in failing to come to this kid's defense. The point of this story is to show the power and subsequent destructive nature of the tongue.

We have all heard the simple rhyme: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and we all know that oftentimes just the opposite is true. Words do hurt! I am sure we can recall a reckless comment from a teacher twenty-plus years ago that devastated us in front of the class. I am sure we all know the pain of having other people believe lies about our character. I am sure we've all been there when someone we love and trust says something cruel and malicious. The wound is deep and the remembrance seldom fades.

We have been learning in the Bible about the influence and power of our words or as James calls it, "the tongue." The tongue is a metaphor for our speech. And we know that the mouth is not the origin of our words. The mouth may take the rap, but the mouth is only a conduit as to what flows from the heart. Jesus could not have made it clearer: "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Mt. 12:34). Or again, "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart" (Mt. 15:18). A pure heart will produce pure words - an evil heart, evil words. God cares about the heart, but our words give evidence to ourselves and others as to what is really existing inside. This is the point James has been making, the theme of his letter: True faith, or I could say a renewed heart, will show itself in the way we act.

Last week we were given several illustrations regarding our tongues. Verse 3, the tongue is like a small 5-inch bit that can control 1,500-pound horse. Verse 4, the tongue is like a rudder that can direct a massive battleship. And now he says in verse 5, the tongue is like a small spark that can set a whole forest ablaze. In all these illustrations the point is the same - the tongue has power and influence disproportionate to its size.

Yet here as we begin the new material with the fire illustration, James makes a shift. Not only does the small tongue have tremendous power, like a bit and a rudder and a spark, it also has the tremendous ability to destroy. The second half of verse 5, "See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!"

What comes to mind when you think of the tongue compared to fire? Here are a couple thoughts that came to my mind this week:

You ever seen video footage of a military flamethrower? To different degrees that is an apt description of every mouth in this room. When we open them we have the potential and often the "success" of mowing people down. Sometimes it is in the fit of malicious rage. Sometimes it is in careful diabolical strategizing. Either way, people are scorched by the flames that flow from our mouths. Fed upon the fuel of our hearts, we have the potential to be fire-breathing dragons. Our Lord again, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Mt. 15:19).

Or how about gossip? Like one small spark that can set a forest ablaze is one small slanderous comment that can spread like wildfire. God is often shared and received with reluctance, but how easy it is to find a listening ear for some juicy gossip. And once the gossip is out, like a raging fire, it just feeds upon itself. And even when it is finally extinguished, it leaves in its wake the indescribable destruction of one's character often permanent in the minds of others.

James strengthens this thought in verse 6. He no longer says the tongue is "like" a fire. Now he says, "the tongue is a fire." He continues, "[It's the] very world of inequity." The tongue is characteristic of this evil world in which we live. It packs the heat and is able to release all the flames of the world's wickedness. Every wicked thought can be and often is expressed with our words. He says it "defiles the entire body," it "sets on fire the course of our life" and itself "is set on fire by hell."

What James is saying is that the fuel for the tongue comes from the heart which has a pipeline originating in the pit of hell. After all, that place is the "furnace of fire" (Mt. 13:42, 50) and that place is the home of Godless living and corruption and punishment and the chief citizen is Satan, the "father of lies" and foulest blasphemer who ever lived.

Can I make the straightforward presentation of Scripture any clearer than what we just read in verse 6? Betraying words, slandering words, cynical words, know-it-all words, manipulating words, intimidating words, complaining words, lying words, harsh words, tactless words, dirty words and rude words are intended in our hearts to punish others. They go forth like a flame and reduce people to ashes. Their origin is not from above, but from the fiery pit below. Satan is honored as his influence is acted upon and his character is reproduced. Justify your unbiblical words as you wish, but God and heaven are not part of the equation.

James is not done. He now provides evidence ("for") that the tongue is set on fire by hell. Verse 7, "For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race."

I believe James is here reflecting the creation account in Genesis. As he lists the four animal types they parallel all that walks, flies, crawls and swims (Gen. 1:26). And when he talks about the ability to tame all these animals, we recall God's promise to Adam that he would "subdue…and rule over" (Gen. 1:28) all of creation.

Obviously the Fall changed things, but still in a general sense humans have been able to tame every species from the animal kingdom as James said in verse 7. I believe we have all witnessed this. Maybe you've seen killer whales playing with a ball or bears that can dance or cobras that can be kissed on the lips or lions that jump through hoops. James' point - name the fiercest animals out there and humans have found a way to control them.

"But" by way of contrast James says in verse 8, "No one can tame the tongue." Apart from Christ the Bible declares that there is no hope to gain mastery over the tongue. Parents, more rules will not change your child's speech - that's only a Band-Aid. What they need is a heart transplant from Christ. I have seen adults break dominating habits like placing addictive drugs in their mouths, but none are able to break the uncontrollable urge to sin with words that come from their mouths apart from Jesus. You would have a better chance of domesticating a pet scorpion not to sting you than clean up your words through personal reformation. If you don't have one yet, you need a new heart (Eze. 11:19). And the only way to receive that heart is to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

So you ask, why is the tongue impossible to control on our own? Look in verse 8, "It is a restless evil." The tongue is always on the prowl. "Akatastatos" (the Greek word) - it is restless. That is the same word James used in 1:8 that is translated "unstable." It appears to lie innocently and undetected in the mouth barred between two rows of teeth, but once those teeth come apart and those lips are opened it is unleashed. And at the end of verse 8 James compares its product to "deadly poison." Verbal cyanide spews forth not only in the choice words, but also in the timing and tone employed. Someone once compared it to a snake, a tongue never at rest and filled with deadly venom. When the apostle Paul wanted to describe the lost condition of all humanity he said, "Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Rom. 3:14-24; cf. Psm. 10:7).

James continues to prove his point regarding the vile nature of the tongue, yet here he gets specific and speaks of the tongue's inconsistency. Verse 9, "With it we bless our Lord and Father" (stop right there).

So the tongue can accomplish good. The tongue has ultimately been created for this purpose. The primary reason God gave us mouths is so they may respond with praise to Him. James even uses the word, "Father," which speaks of the intimacy in which we approach Him. In praise our hearts go out to Him in love and trust and thanksgiving. But then right after our tongue concludes this noble spiritual exercise, the remainder of the verse says, "We [go out] and…curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God" (cf. Lk. 6:28; Rom. 12:14; 1 Jn. 4:10-11).

What is the problem? I think it is two-fold. First, as verse 9 says, these people we curse have been made in God's likeness. Do you realize that every person is the most special part of God's creation? Only humans have been created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). So what must God think when we tear down the most prized, creative and valuable part of His creation? It is a personal attack on Him!

Imagine your child coming home and you welcome her with kind words of affection. Then she proudly pulls out of her book bag an art project she's been working on throughout the whole year. Instantly your words turn nasty toward the artwork and you rip up her prized creation in her face and throw it on the floor. Do you think she'd be offended? Think she'd take it personally?

Second, when we praise God and curse people we are committing double-minded hypocrisy - a theme James returns to several times in his letter (Jas. 1:8; 4:8), a theme that God absolutely detests. It is like many men of whom it has been said, "He's a saint in the church, but a devil at home." Akin to this, would be the family singing praise songs to God in the church and then arguing and complaining with one another on the way home in the car. It is like the parent who can hear a sermon, preach it to her kids on the way home and have no intentions of following it herself. It is the man who can speak polite words to his secretary, but nothing but demeaning and condescending remarks to his spouse. It is the student who can speak like a Christian in the Youth Group and then have the mouth of a cesspool when in the company of unbelievers. It is even the apostle Peter who can first confess Jesus as Lord (Mt. 16:16) and then shortly afterwards deny Him three times with cursing and swearing (Mt. 26:74-75). Double-mindedness! We do it frequently with our mouths. Love and hate. Words that build up and words that tear down.

Look at verse 10, "From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing." The inconsistency of our speech shows a greater inconsistency in our hearts. In speaking to Christians, James says in the verse, "My brethren, these things ought not to be this way."

What is this inconsistency like? Three illustrations: One, verse 11, "Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?" The desert climate in Palestine depended on fresh water wells. Some wells produced fresh water. Others produced salt water. Some may have even produced a mixture of salt and fresh water. But no well brought forth pure fresh water one day and then bitter salt water the next. Two, verse 12, "Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs?" A plant produces according to its own kind (cf. Mt. 7:16). Three, verse 12, "Nor can salt water produce fresh." Can you go down to the beach and scoop up a gallon of ocean water and expect it to be fresh? The point is clear. How can we claim to have a good heart, praising God one minute, and then permit it to produce such destructive vileness toward others? It is an inconsistency that is unheard of in nature.

So how do I get God-honoring words? I have six quick points all of them listed on the back of your sermon notes.

1. Know Jesus Christ

Good words only flow from a good heart. You will never get this right until your heart is changed. You need to be recreated. Jesus is the only answer. In verse 8 James said "No one can tame the tongue." On your own it is hopeless, but through the grace of God all things are possible. As the unknown poet said, "May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day, by His love and power controlling all I do and say." Proverbs 10:11, "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" (cf. Pr. 16:23).

2. Hate Sin

Understand how your sinful words crush the heart of God. Understand how your sinful words are verbal arsenic poisoning those you claim to love the most. Start hating (Rom. 12:9b) foul speech so that you will desire change.

3. Pray

Ask God for help because it is impossible without Him. Ask Him for an awareness of your sinful speech. Ask Him for strength to repent. Ask Him for self-control. Ask Him to show you how to speak loving and encouraging words.

4. Consult the Bible

Look at all the verses I included in your bulletin. Get your marching orders from the Bible, not society.

Put On Words That Are:
Patient (Pr. 15:18)
Self-Controlled (Pr. 10:8, 19; 17:28)
Kind (Pr. 16:21)
Wise (Pr. 8:6; 10:13; 12:18; 16:23)
Edifying (Eph. 4:29)
Graceful (Col. 4:6)
Truthful (Pr. 23:16; Eph. 4:25)
Loving (1 Cor. 16:14)
Comforting (1 Thes. 4:18)
Gospel-Orientated (Ac. 1:8; 1 Thes. 2:2, 4; Tit. 2:1)

Put Off Words that Are:
Rash (Pr. 12:18; 18:13; 29:20)
Gossiping (Pr. 16:27; 20:19; Rom. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:3)<<br /> Lying (Pr. 14:15, 25; 19:19; 25:18; Jn. 8:44; Rom. 1:29)
Flattering (Psm. 5:8; 12:3)
Backbiting (Rom. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:15; Jas. 4:11; 1 Pet. 1:21)
Boasting (Psm. 12:3; 75:4; Gal. 5:26)
Profane (Eph. 4:29; 1 Pet. 3:10)
Foolish (Eph. 5:4)
Complaining (Phil. 2:14; Jas. 5:9; 1 Pet. 4:9; Ju. 1:16)
Blasphemous (Jas. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:2; Rev. 13:6)
Silent (Mk. 8:38)

5. Apply the truth

Put off that which is vile. Put on that which is wholesome. Imagine the blessings that would come to our families and church! Probably for most of us, keeping our mouths closed a little more often wouldn't hurt. Proverbs 10:19, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise."

6. Get Accountability

Find someone that will hold you accountable to do the right thing.

Let's remember the power and potential destructive nature of our words. Let's remember Jesus "who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet. 2:22). And let's remember that, "we can do all things through [Jesus Christ] who strengthens [us]" (Phil. 4:13).

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James