************ Sermon on James 3:1-12 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 26, 2006

James 3:1-12
James 3:2,8
"Taming the Tongue"

Topic: Tongue
Index: 3308
Date: 5/1997.101
Title: Undo

There is a small island in Indonesia called Sumba. On the Eastern Coast of this island there is an area called the Tanjung Undu, which in English means, "The Land of the Undo People." After extensive research on this area, I have decided that this is where I would like to live. Due to an atmospheric anomaly, and the way the rotation of the earth affects that part of the world, the people of this region have been gifted with an Undo function that allows them to quickly and easily take back the last thing they have said:
A husband speaks harshly to his wife; no harm done, just use the Undo function.
Two neighbors gossip; no sin committed, just use the Undo function.
A word is spoken in anger between two lifelong friends; no relationship broken, just use the Undo function.

The "Undo" function is one of the nicest features of various computer software programs I use. I delete a paragraph by mistake I can undo it just like that. I mess up the indentation and formatting of a document I can undo it just like that. I don't like the changes I made to a picture I can undo it just like that.

While there is a place called Tanjung Undu on the East Coast of Sumba, in reality, the people who live there struggle with the problems their words create, just as we do. And as nice as it might be to have an Undo function to correct the things we have said and done, odds are unlikely scientists will develop this in our lifetime.

James speaks to us this evening about our tongues. He reminds us that "with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father" (James 3:9). Using simple words, we can express love, gratitude, honor and many other positive emotions that we feel for others. But James also reminds us that with the tongue "we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness" (James 3:9). All of us, says James,"stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). He tells us "no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).

I Teachers
A I am sure you realize by now that James is like a broken record. He keeps coming back to the same themes. In our passage we see that he again speaks about the tongue and the sins of the tongue (cf James 1:19,26).

Don't forget, James is speaking to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1). He is speaking to brothers and sisters in the Lord. He is telling them how to live out their faith when it comes to their tongues. He wants to encourage Christians to have a vibrant, active faith even as they face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). James makes it very clear that how we talk, how we control our tongues, our use of words, is one of the chief ways we show our faith to be real.

In talking about the tongue James' overall point is that the tongue needs to be controlled. It needs to be tamed like an animal trainer at the circus tames an elephant or a monkey.

B In our opening verse James tells us the tongue needs to be controlled by those who are teachers.
(James 3:1) Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
James is talking about teachers in the church. Notice, he includes himself in that number "we who teach," he says. Therefore, we can safely conclude that James includes preachers in what he says. I think we all realize the main instrument used by teachers and preachers is the tongue. Teachers can't teach and preachers can't preach without the tongue; if they lose their ability to speak they have lost their jobs.

Getting back to my opening illustration, teachers and preachers can't take back their words once they have been spoken. There is no magical undo function. Once spoken, once taught, once preached, it is almost impossible to undo something incorrect or heretical or unloving. So, "not many of you should presume to be teachers" (James 3:1). The reason why is because teachers "will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).

Why will teachers be judged more strictly? The more responsible a position we take in life, the greater risk we have of doing damage with out tongues. For instance, someone who flips hamburgers can say something about interest rates and nothing will happen. But when the chairman of the Federal Reserve speaks about interest rates the financial markets can make huge gains or have great losses. Jesus tells us that every idle word will be brought into judgment (Mt 12:36). How much more will the statements of teachers and preachers be judged since they so deeply influence our knowledge of God and development of Christian character. Don't forget, teachers and preachers shape a person's life for time and eternity.

Don't take a position of leadership in church unless you are prepared to be honest, pure, and loving in your lifestyle. Leadership is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. God holds teachers of His truth doubly responsible because we who lead are in a position where we can either draw people toward Christ or drive them away from Him.
Topic: Call
Subtopic: Divine, To Leadership
Index: 1790
Date: 10/1987.5

This is illustrated in the life of Mark Twain. Church leaders were largely to blame for his becoming hostile to the Bible and the Christian faith. As he grew up, he knew elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He heard men using foul language and saw them practice dishonesty during the week after speaking piously in church on Sunday. He listened to ministers use the Bible to justify slavery. Although he saw genuine love for the Lord Jesus in some people, including his mother and his wife, he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders that he became bitter toward the things of God.

C If you are a teacher or a preacher, this means you need to prepare your lessons and sermons carefully. You need to spend time on preparation. You need to make sure that you teach only what the Bible teaches. And, if you can't answer a question, don't make up an answer. Instead, state your need to study the matter and do some research.

Most teaching takes place outside the classroom, lecture hall, or church building. Parents and grandparents, for instance, are teachers of the children entrusted to them. Did you realize that whenever we speak, we put forward our ideas as true, and those who hear and trust us our led by our words. So, in a certain way all of us are teachers and all of us are being told to be careful. Furthermore, all of us are fallen creatures living in a fallen world. "We all stumble in many ways," says James (James 3:2). We all have been and will be wrong in how we use our tongues. Therefore, when we have opportunities to instruct others in the Gospel, we ought to approach these situations with great humility and caution. Every Christian needs to do all he or she can to teach only the truth and not error.

II Tongue Control
A The tongue is not very big. There are other organs in the body that are far bigger. There are other organs in the body that are even more important. We can live without our tongue, but we can't live without a heart or a liver or a kidney or a brain.

Yet, the tongue is the one of the keys to living the sanctified life. Did you catch what James says in verse 2?
(James 3:2) If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
Do you want to live as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you want a faith that is vibrant and active and alive? Start by getting your tongue under control. Because if you can control your tongue then you can also control the other parts of your body. Tongue control is the starting point for Christian living.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true if you can't control your tongue, you can't control the other parts of your life as well. If you don't want to control your tongue then you don't want to live for God and Christ. If the words that come out of your mouth are always cursing, bitterness, anger, criticism, and filth then you can't be one of God's children. That is what James is saying.

B James gives us a number of examples to show us how deeply influential the tongue is. Each of these examples show us how something small controls something big. Each of these examples show us how the control of something small leads to the control of something big.

In verses 3,4,5 James compares the tongue with the bit used to control horses, the rudder used to steer ships, and the spark that sets an entire forest on fire. A bit in a horse's mouth does not just affect the mouth; it allows us to turn the horse's entire body. The horse that was headed in one direction is easily turned in another direction. The same thing is true with a boat. Despite the force of the wind and the tug of the water, you can steer a boat on a totally new course. And, not that long ago the news was filled with the fires down south. It took only one match or one cigarette to start the fire and thousands of acres were burned.

Truly our tongues are but small things. But like a bit or a rudder or a spark, our mouths are capable of great power. The tongue of the Christian, when brought consciously under the control of Jesus' love, turns a whole life toward that caring love.

C Tongue control. That's what we need as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we go about doing that? I found a prayer based upon the words of James in our Bible reading for this evening. Listen to this prayer:
Topic: Words
Subtopic: Wise
Index: 3297

Lord Grant this one request I pray:
Guide thou my tongue!
The words I say can never be called back again.
Should they cause anger, sorrow, pain
then in an ever-widening sphere,
they spread their havoc far and near.
So guide my tongue in every word,
that it may bless where it is heard.
We need to pray, asking God to help us keep our tongues under control.

We also need to be very conscious and selective about what we say and the kinds of things we say. When Paul thinks of the tongue, he thinks of stuff we need to get rid of:
(Col 3:8-9) But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (9) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices ...
Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus don't let their tongues be used for things like this. Instead, they use their tongues for praise, encouragement, prayer, and other things that build up the church. I came across a quote this weekend: "To speak kindly does not hurt the tongue."

You have all heard the warning at the start of a TV show: "Warning: This show contains adult language. Viewer discretion advised." Have you ever noticed that bad language is equated with "adult language"? Let me tell you what is "adult language" from a Christian's point-of-view: Character! Integrity! Commitment! Forgiveness! Sacrifice! Moral Values! That is grown-up talk! That is adult language! That is the kinds of things that should come from our tongues.

I am a member of Rotary. When I joined Rotary I was given a plaque to put in my office (HOLD IT UP). Listen to what it says:
THE FOUR-WAY TEST of the things we think, say or do:
first ... Is it the TRUTH?
second ... Is it FAIR to all concerned?
third ... Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
fourth ... Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
If what you want to say doesn't meet this test, then you had better not say it. James would say a hearty "Amen" to this four-way test.

D Tongue control. That's what servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ need to do. Yet, listen to what our text says: "We all stumble in many ways ... no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:2,8). Ironic, isn't it?! We can tame tigers and lions and dolphins and elephants. But we can't tame the tongue (James 3:7).

I cannot control my tongue at least, not on my own. You cannot control your tongue at least, not on your own. No person can control the tongue himself or herself. But with God's help we can. God, through His Holy Spirit, can enable a person to exercise self-control (Gal 5:23). Self-control is a sign that you have the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is a sign that you are a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I cannot control my tongue. So, in this life and on this earth I will hurt my brothers and sisters in Christ. So, in this life and on this earth I will hurt my children and my wife. So, in this life and on this earth I will hurt the heart of God Himself by what I say.

Once I have said something mean or nasty or untrue I cannot take it back. I cannot press an Undo function.

What hope is there then? Are we stuck in the hells of our own making? Are we forever torn between the praise and cursing James mentions in verse 10?

While God did not create an Undo function for the words we say, He did give us a way to Undo the damage and the hurt and the pain. It is called repentance and forgiveness. And perhaps more than any other function, it is this ability to ask for and receive forgiveness from others, that holds the Body of Christ together. It is one of the central functions that separates us from the world around us.

Unfortunately, this is a function we do not use often enough. Perhaps it is pride or fear that keeps us from asking for forgiveness. Perhaps a hardened life keeps us from forgiving someone. Perhaps it is weariness that keeps us from opening up our lives one more time to those that have hurt us, or to those whom we have hurt.

I can't undo what I have said. But I can undo the damage because God has shown us how to repent and restore and forgive.

Guide thou my tongue!
The words I say can never be called back again.
Should they cause anger, sorrow, pain
then in an ever-widening sphere,
they spread their havoc far and near.
So guide my tongue in every word,
that it may bless where it is heard.
And when I cause hurt let me repent.
And when I am hurt let me forgive.
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