Just as Jesus taught that speech was to be pure, James taught that speech was to be pure. And just as Jesus taught that the heart is revealed in the mouth, so James is teaching the very same thing. And I want you to understand that. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. They seem harmless enough. People have even collected them. But a book of matches, even one, a single match, is enough to light a raging wildfire and set thousands of acres of land ablaze. And your tongue, with even a single word, can do the same kind of damage to your relationships. So you're wise to control the speech that rolls off your tongue. Today, John MacArthur shows you how to do that, how to bless and encourage others with what you say, and keep your words pure and purposeful. He calls his study on grace to you, Taming the Tongue.
If you have your Bible handy, turn to the book of James, and here's John with a lesson. As we come again to James chapter 3, as I was looking at this, I was just thinking about the whole idea of the tongue. And I look back to my own childhood, and one of the things that I remember in my mind, very vividly, echoing through the halls of my memory, is a statement my mother used to use frequently to me. It went something like this, Johnny, if I ever hear you say anything like that again, I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap. Have any of you heard that?
Good. I don't know that that's being said much today. I'm not sure that anybody is drawing lines as to what is acceptable speech and what isn't, at least in the way they did when I was a child. But in our family, any bad words, any unkind words, any ungracious words, might have been somewhat rare, but when they occurred, when they were unfit, my mother was likely to wash my mouth out with soap. I want you to know that I can still taste it.
It was Fel's naphtha. That's the kind she chose to use, very bitter, lye kind of soap, and it really had an effect on me. In fact, to this very day, I have absolutely no tolerance for evil speech, bad speech, foul language, and I think it may relate not only to my theology, but the fact that I had my mouth washed out with soap on several occasions. And I might say that my mother stood in a long line of people who have wanted pure speech, and James is certainly at the head of that line from a human viewpoint because it's his passage here that is the most definitive in all of the Bible in regard to pure speech. And if James were alive and perhaps could speak to us today, he would emphasize today, perhaps as much as ever in the history of the world, the necessity for people to wash their mouth out spiritually, if not literally. And I'm sure that James was greatly exercised about this matter of pure speech because he understood that his Lord was also exercised by it. And knowing the way the Lord treated evil speech gave him great impetus to treat it in the same manner. And so just as Jesus taught that speech was to be pure, James taught that speech was to be pure. And just as Jesus taught that the heart is revealed in the mouth, so James is teaching the very same thing, and I want you to understand that. Jesus says that you will be justified by your speech or you will be condemned by your speech. In other words, your speech is such a revealer of your heart that based upon the way you talk, your eternal destiny can be determined.
The tongue provides the evidence of what your heart really is. Very, very important. The new birth, regeneration, salvation with its attendant transformation and sanctification makes you a new creation and part of being a new creation is new speech. Christians talk differently than other people talk.
Not perfect, but certainly different. Listen to what the Apostle Paul said in Colossians. Very important text.
Chapter 3. If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Now Paul says you have died and you have a new life hidden with Christ in God. Therefore, with your new life, you are to set your mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth. Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come and in them you also once walked when you were living in them. The implication is now that you're a new creation, you have a whole new approach to life, a transformed nature and transformed behavior. Then he says in verse 8, now you also put them all aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth.
Put them all away. They have no place in the life of a believer. Do not lie to one another. That's another kind of illicit speech. Since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the one who created him. So now that you are a believer, you have a new heart.
Now that you have a new heart, you must have a new behavior. That new behavior also involves a new speech, a new speech. In fact, your speech is best defined down in verse 16.
And let the word of Christ dwell in you with all wisdom teaching, admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to the Lord and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks through him to God the Father. So your speech is dramatically affected by your new nature, by your transformation. The new man in Christ has a new mouth, has a new tongue, new speech.
So the tongue then becomes a genuine sort of litmus test for the heart. Back in chapter 1, do you remember verse 26? If any man among you seems to be religious or thinks himself to be religious or presents himself as being religious but does not bridle his tongue, he is deceiving his own heart and his religion is useless. Unless your supposed salvation manifests itself in the way you speak, your salvation is nothing but self-deception. So we would say then, as James said in chapter 2, that faith produces works. One of the works that faith produces is speech to the honor of God. Now I want to talk about this for just a moment so you understand clearly some theological distinctions. True believers, mark this, here's the word, true believers will have a sanctified tongue. Did you get that? True believers, true Christians, totally transformed people, those who have been made new in Christ will have a sanctified tongue. Let me add something to it. True believers must have a sanctified tongue.
Did you get that? True believers will have a sanctified tongue. True believers must have a sanctified tongue.
You say, well wait a minute, if we will have, then why do you tell us we must have? Because one is a sovereign reality in the new birth and the other is a human responsibility that's really ours to fulfill. And that's the amazing tension and paradox of our Christian experience.
If we're truly new in Christ, we will have a pure speech and if we're truly new in Christ, we will take the responsibility to be sure we have a pure speech. That is a constant biblical paradox. If you understand that, and we hit that a lot of times in our Bible study, but if you understand that, you really are on the way to understanding a mystery.
You can't fully understand it, but let me give it to you this way. We are saved by sovereign grace, right? Chosen and in before the foundation of the world. Yet, we must believe. We are kept by the security of God in his sovereign decree. Yet, we must persevere.
We live by sovereign power, not I but Christ living in me. Yet, we must obey. And as James would put it, because we are new creatures, we will endure trials and we must endure them. We will receive the word and obey it and we must receive the word and obey it.
We will be gracious to the needy without partiality and we must be gracious to the needy without partiality. We will produce good works and we must produce good works. In other words, you'll never really be able to resolve the fact that what God says will be true of you must be true of you. Just because God said it doesn't mean we can lie down flat on our back and hope it happens. And that's really the mystery of the apparent paradoxes of the Christian experience. Where there is genuine living faith and true regeneration and transformation, these things will be the result and they must be the result. God will produce them in us, but he produces them in us through our commitment to them. You understand that?
That's the best we can get at it. So when James speaks of the tongue, he speaks of the truth that the tongue will reveal the heart condition and at the same time calls us to do everything we can to see to it that it in fact does that. So that we cannot just sit back and say, well God says I'm a new creation and it'll all take place by itself. God says you're a new creation and it'll all take place, but not by itself, but through your spirit energized commitment.
Very basic. So while this passage, note this, is a statement on the character of living faith as revealed by our speech, it is also a call for us to correct our speech because the two go hand in hand. What God says will be true of us must be true of us.
God takes care of the will be and we in submission to his power take care of the must be. Now James then sets out five compelling reasons for controlling our tongue. Five compelling reasons.
You remember what the first two were we went through last time? Number one, it's potential to what? To condemn. Verses one and two. My brethren, let not many become teachers knowing that we shall receive the stricter condemnation. For in many things we all stumble or offend. So the tongue must be controlled because of its potential to condemn. Secondly, the tongue must be controlled because of its power to control.
If you don't control it, it can control everything. Verse two, if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, enable also to bridle the whole body. Now we put bits in the horse's mouths that they may obey us and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships which though they are so great and are driven by fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. Now James here says, look, the tongue has tremendous power to control. It's like a bit that by pressing against the tongue controls the whole body of the horse. It's like a rudder that guided by the helmsman turns the entire great ship. The tongue is a small member.
It boasts great things and it has every reason to boast great things because it can accomplish far reaching effects though it is small. And only an absolutely perfect sinless person will never offend with his tongue and only Jesus was able to fulfill that. A mature believer, if he walks in Christ likeness as much as is humanly possible will control his tongue, but we who are in this human flesh will all sin with our tongue and the tongue has tremendous power to control. In fact what we saw last time is that James says control your tongue and that is the greatest sinning member of you and if you control your tongue you'll control all the rest because the spiritual dynamics that control your tongue will therefore control all the lesser spiritual battles with the various other parts of your humanness. So when you apply the means of grace to the discipline and sanctification of the tongue it will cover all other areas because the tongue is the leader in sinning. You sin with it more frequently than any other part of your body. You can sin with your tongue by simply saying something. As I said last time, you can't do everything but you can sure say anything. So you sin most easily with your tongue.
So do I. We sin most readily with our tongue. We sin most potently with our tongue. So we must control the tongue because of its potential to condemn and its power to control.
Now thirdly, and this is where we want to pick up from last time, very interesting, verses 5 and 6. Because of its peril to corrupt, the tongue is very dangerous. In verses 2 through 5 he was simply saying the tongue controls. He didn't say that was bad.
He didn't say that was good. He just said the tongue is a controlling member. It dominates a person and is the key to their behavior.
And because of its power to control, it must be controlled. Now he shows that the tongue because of its power to control is a tremendously dangerous thing. The power to control that the tongue has is not always good.
In fact, very often it is bad. And a definite negative tone dominates James' words as he talks about the power of the tongue and its danger. Look at verse 5 again. He had said, even though the tongue is small, it boasts great things. Then he says, and here's where the verse ought to start with the word behold, it's clearly a break, behold how great a matter, the authorized says, a little fire kindles. Now this is an exclamation at the danger of the tongue.
It has a fearful potency for destruction. The text actually says, get this, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire. Or literally, what sized forest, what sized fire kindles?
The contrast is staggering. A forest fire, you can take one little burning cigarette and set thousands and tens of thousands of acres ablaze. Fire is a fascinating thing. You can take one little tiny flame and set a whole city burning to the ground. Fire has an amazing capacity. Water cannot multiply. If you have a cup of water and you pour it out, it won't become a flood.
It can't. But if you have a match, you can light a forest fire, burn down a whole city. Because fire has a way of multiplying and the tongue is not like water, it is like fire. What it says can set a whole forest blazing. And the imagery here is vivid because in the dry brush of Palestine a small spark flying off of a fire in the cold evening could touch the dry ground in the dry season and set a blaze that would literally cover the landscape and destroy everything in its path.
We know about that in California because the terrain here is almost the same as it is in the land of Palestine. In Psalm 83, oh my God, make them like a wheel like the stubble before the wind as the fire burns a forest and as the flame sets the mountains on fire. And the psalmist there alludes to the fact that a small flame can set a whole mountain, a whole forest ablaze. Now that's a truism.
That's what we call an axiom or a truism. Behold what sized forest what sized fire kindles. Now that illustrates the power of fire and you understand that. And so what James says in verse 5 is wow, behold means wow or exclamation, how great a fire a little flame can kindle.
And then in verse 6 he makes his point. And the tongue is what? A fire. The tongue is a fire. Proverbs 15, 28 says the mouth of the wicked pours out wicked evil things. And it sees the mouth of the wicked as a fire. In Proverbs 16, 27 it says an ungodly man digs up evil and in his lips there is a burning fire. Everything his fiery mouth touches is set on fire and the fire spreads. Proverbs 26, 20 says where no wood is there the fire goes out.
So where there is no tail bearer the strife ceases. And the picture here is that the tail bearer or the one who passes on the evil report of the slander or the gossip or the lie is like the wood that fuels the fire. The same Proverbs passage verse 21 says but as coals are to burning coals and wood to fire so is a contentious man to kindle strife.
The word kindle means to burn up. The picture again of gossip and slander and contention being a fire that devastates. And then notice verse 6 again. And here I believe is the strongest statement ever made on the danger of the mouth. It says the tongue is a fire and then this a world or a system a cosmos of iniquity. It is a cosmos of iniquity. There are four elements here. So is the tongue among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course or the wheel of nature and is set on fire of hell.
The statement is so overwhelming. It has four parts and I want you to follow carefully because they warn us about the peril of the tongue. Number one, it is a system of iniquity.
Now that's a strange title for a tongue, a cosmos. We often translate that world, but it's world not in the sense of the earth, not in the sense of the physical earth, but the system of evil. And what he is saying is the tongue is an iniquitous system. It is an unrighteous, hostile, rebelling order within our humanness. It is a whole potential evil that falls short of God's standard. It is the focal point of behavioral unrighteousness within man. It inflames all of our capacities in its effort to bring the whole person into its wicked system. One commentator said it is the microcosm of evil among our members. The tongue is a vile, wretched, wicked system in its fleshly humanness. No other bodily part has such far reaching potential for disaster as the tongue. So first of all, in itself and by itself, it is a system of iniquity. It is a network that breeds evil.
Secondly, notice how this begins to expand now. Secondly, the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body. It in itself is a system of evil and then it defiles the whole body. It's like smoke from a fire stains everything that doesn't burn. It stains everything. I remember when I was in college, a store burned down and everybody said, hey, they're having a fire sale. And I went down and I needed a sport coat and didn't have much money, so they had one there for $9.
They said it was smoke damaged. And I figured, that's all right, I'll just take it out of the store and wear it a few days and it will go away. And I'll hang it out in the cold air or whatever and I'll never forget as long as I owned that coat which I came to detest, but having a limited wardrobe, frequently wore, I smelled like I was on fire. And I know that everyone I met thought I was a heavy smoker. And like smoke from a fire, I even remember the color, light blue.
It was ugly to start with. But it was like smoke that stains everything that doesn't burn. So the tongue is a raging fire and what it can't consume, it will stain with its putrid foul smoke. And so you have right in your body, behind your teeth and walled in by your mouth, this system of iniquity that wants to run off and you've heard it many times. And what it does is stain your whole person with a foul smoke if not the flames of its evil intent.
James says, it is set among our members. It is placed among our members or our bodily parts. That is to say, it is included within all of our human capacities and the tongue stains it all. It uses the word defiles.
That's a very vivid word. It's used in Jude 23 and it means to pollute. It says, others save with fear rather pulling them out of the fire hating even the garment spotted or defiled by the flesh. So something that has been made gross or evil or wretched. So mark it, a filthy tongue results in a filthy person. A filthy tongue stains the whole person. What world of iniquity is set loose in your mouth either burns or smoke stains your whole person. That's John MacArthur here on Grace to You.
He's chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary in Southern California. Today he continued his study titled Taming the Tongue. Now as we've seen, words have the power to defile and destroy. The things people say can shatter the most meaningful friendships we have. And of course, John, one key to keeping relationships together when sinful words threaten to tear them apart is knowing how to respond to those who hurt us. Yes, and I think we have to assume that there are going to be times in all of our relationships when we say things that hurt others because whoever doesn't defend with his mouth is a perfect man and none of us is perfect.
So what do we do to recover what has been wounded or what has been broken by our speech? And of course, that's where forgiveness is so powerful and so necessary. I would go so far as to say, and I think it's unarguable, that all relationships that do dissolve, all relationships that do break down, in the end break down because people can't forgive. Because if you can forgive anything and everything, then you're always on the path to restoration. So it's very important that you live a forgiving life. And I want to mention the book The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness.
And again, let me say, look, we all offend with our actions and particularly with our words, and we all are offended by others in the same ways. And we need to live in the realm of forgiveness because it provides us freedom from the sins of bitterness and anger and hostility and vengeance and retaliation and all those things. And we need to understand how much power forgiveness has to restore all relationships. The book The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, the whole book, explores the issue of forgiveness, God's forgiveness for us and ours for each other. It offers biblical guidelines as to what to do when another Christian sins against you, whether it's your husband, your wife, your father, your mother, a child, a friend, or even somebody you don't know very well. It also includes a section on the atonement and a section on the unpardonable sin.
It also has practical question and answers in each section that will help you dig deeper into the issues discussed. So we often get questions about the issue of forgiveness. This is the book we point people to, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, full length book available from Grace to You and reasonably priced and you can order it today.
Right. And once you've read this book, you'll not only better understand God's forgiveness for you, but also how you can strengthen your marriage, improve your relationships with your children, and even help unify your church when you practice forgiveness. Pick up your copy of The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness today. Call our toll-free number anytime, 800-55-GRACE to place your order or log on to gty.org.
And like many of John's books, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness is available in Spanish. Again, to order your copy, dial 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org. There are also a number of sermons on forgiveness available free at our website. Just go to gty.org and search our sermon archive. You'll find 3500 total messages from John's 53 years as pastor. You'll also find daily devotionals, the Grace to You television program, and much more, all free at gty.org. And to keep up to date with what's ahead on our radio and TV broadcasts, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and check out our YouTube channel as well. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for making this broadcast part of your day and join us tomorrow when John shows you the key to spiritual effectiveness and power. Find out how you can be a better witness to friends, family, and coworkers as John continues his study, Taming the Tongue, with another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
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