I'm sure we've all heard the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.
We learned that in grade school and junior high school, and yet it's really true. You can look at a regime that tries to hold power by a sword, and you'll notice it's often, not every time, but often undercut, not by other people with a sword, but by people with words. And that's how the Shah of Iran lost his kingdom. He definitely had a sword, but the Ayatollah Khomeini undercut his ministry with no political power and no military strength, no power of any sword. He undercut the Shah's power and displaced him from power and ran him out of a country and took over the entire land of Iran with nothing but words.
That was it. Words that struck a note in those people's hearts, and they responded, and all the swords in Iran were not strong enough to hold power. Words are powerful things. And we are going to talk this evening from the book of James about the tongue, which speaks the words that are so powerful.
We're going to talk about this, and this is a very serious subject. I must confess, as I read these verses, that I am struck deep by this because, as James says, to control the tongue is a very difficult thing. And I don't know about your tongue, but mine seems to be constantly running out of control.
Very difficult. And I trust we'll listen carefully as the Holy Spirit speaks to us this evening from his word. James begins in the first five verses of James chapter 3 by telling us that the tongue has great power.
That's point number one. The tongue has great power. My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. But if anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, a mature man, able to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships.
Although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so, the tongue is a little member, but boasts great things. The tongue has great power. James begins by telling us in verse one, by warning these people, mostly Jews that he's writing to, not to be too quick to desire to be teachers of the word for prestige's sake. Now the Jews had a special problem with this.
You don't have to turn there, but in Matthew 23, allow me to read to you the words of our Lord. Matthew 23, verses 67, talking about the Pharisees. He says they love the best places at the feasts, and the best seats in the synagogue, and they love to be greeted in the marketplace and to be called by men, rabbi, rabbi, which means teacher, teacher. They love it. Nothing gives these people more pleasure than to have others refer to them as rabbi, teacher.
Oh, the prestige. And it truly was a very prestigious thing in the Jewish economy to be called a teacher. Back until recently in America, it was very prestigious in this country to be called a teacher. James warns us not to be too quick to jump at this. Now there's nothing wrong with aspiring to be a leader or a teacher for God's glory. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul says if any man aspires, craves, reaches for the work of a bishop, an elder, an overseer, he desires a good work. Nothing wrong with desiring it, but the stakes are high. Because as James says, we shall receive a stricter judgment.
The stakes are high. So James says you better be careful before you leap into this for the prestige, because you are leaping into a position where God will judge you more strictly than he judges someone else. A verse in the book of Hebrews that I'd like to share with you, again, you don't need to turn there, but I want you to listen. If you're not a teacher or an elder, this verse really won't have that much effect on you as I move towards the end of it.
It will at the beginning. It says this, obey those who have the rule over you and submit yourselves. Now that applies to you, and we'll talk more about that some other time. We will talk about that sometime, but not now.
But listen to the end of that. For they, that is your leaders, watch out for your soul as those who must give an account. Who do you think we're going to give an account to? To the congregation? Or we need to be responsible to the congregation, there's no doubt. But this account we are going to render is going to be to someone far higher than this congregation.
There will be a day when your elders and your pastor will stand before our Lord. And when he takes out the scales to judge us, and even as he judges us here on this earth, he tends to use a slightly different scale for us. So James starts off by telling people to be careful about desiring to have this for the prestige. And there is some, perhaps, because stricter evaluation is involved. Now at first glance, you may not really see why this applies. I must confess for a long time, I didn't see why this applies. And after I explained to you why I see it applies now, you may still think, I don't know why it applies. But I think the reason that he put this in right where he did is to relate to what's to come.
Why will teachers give a stricter, have a stricter evaluation? Why will we give a stricter accounting of ourselves to the Lord? I think James is intimating that it's because we as teachers employ one of the most powerful tools in the entire universe in our jobs, in our ministry, and that's the tongue.
I think that's the connection. Like no one else, someone who teaches God's Word uses that tongue for his ministry. I think that's what James is talking about, the potential for good is so great, but the potential for harm is so great that stricter records will be kept on that man because of the possibility for damage that he can do. But regardless of whether or not we've understood that totally correctly, let's move on because the real meat of this thing that I want us to see for our lives is yet to come.
James goes on to say that the tongue has great power. He says in verse 2, we all stumble in all sorts of ways. We all have problems. And there's lots of us who have different things under control. You may not have a problem with self-discipline, but you may have a problem with something else. You may not have a problem with that particular thing, but you may have a problem with self-discipline. We all have different problems. Ah, but there's one problem every one of us has.
There's one problem that every one of us struggles with. And James says if anyone doesn't stumble in Word when he uses his mouth, that is a perfect, that's a mature man who is also able to bridle the whole body. James is saying if you can control your tongue, there's not another part of your body that you can't control. And he goes on to say that often small things exercise large amounts of control. He says in verse 3, we put bits, little tiny bits, about that big, in a horse's mouth. And we take a horse that weighs hundreds and hundreds of pounds, and with that little teeny tiny piece of metal, we pull it and he turns. And we pull it and he turns. And most horses, when you pull it this way, stop. Most.
There are a few who will challenge you, but most will stop. And you're moving around those hundreds of pounds with a little tiny piece of metal. Or look at ships. They displace tongues and fierce winds is what it takes to move them around, and yet a little tiny rudder in comparison to the size of the ship.
You turn it and that ship goes wherever you want it to go. James is saying oftentimes we see in nature that little things have great power, power over even much larger things. So too, verse 5, even so the tongue is a little member. Ah, but it boasts great things. It has great power, a very powerful thing.
Our first point is that the tongue has great power. The man that I took over the college and career ministry from that I was involved in before I came to be your pastor, you support him. He's one of your missionaries.
He's in Portugal. His name is Joe Henricus. He and I are old friends. We went to seminary together, spent a lot of time together.
I have a lot of respect for that man. And he was back visiting about a year after he left that class and I had taken it over, and he came back about a year later to visit. We went out and had lunch together. We were sitting there talking. He said to me, you know, one thing I've really learned on the mission field, one thing I've really learned in the ministry is how powerful what I say as a minister really is.
He says, I mean, I throw something off the top of my head, a thought, something that suddenly popped in, an idea. And someone takes that and goes out and lives their whole life differently because I said that. And he said, I'm beginning to realize what power there is in speaking, especially as a representative of Jesus Christ.
He's right. I had a professor in seminary who used to warn us. He'd say, men, in those days it was mostly men. When you go out here to be pastors or Christian workers or whatever it may be, he said, don't you forget that most people are going to take what you say to be totally equivalent to what God says. And you can tell them day in and day out to look in this book and check you out because you could make a mistake, but they won't.
And you can warn them over and over to consult God on it and not just take what you say at total faith value, but they won't. And he said, imagine what it's like if a widow comes in and talks to you and asks you if she can get remarried. Not a widow, forgive me, a divorcee. And you say to her, no, it's my conviction in reading this scripture that your divorce was not in line with the scripture and you can't. So for 20 years she cleans, she scrub floors, she works two jobs to raise her kids. And then 20 years later, you change your interpretation of that verse. And you call her up and say, you know, Mrs. Smith, I really ought to tell you this, I don't know quite how to say this, but you know, I'm convinced now that 20 years ago you could have remarried.
Defect my life as the pastor? No, it didn't really change me much. Ah, but do you see what it did to that woman? Changed the whole course of her life with an off-the-cuff comment of a conviction made without enough study. My friends, the power of words are great. This thing that operates in your mouth called a tongue, we all know, can do more damage in a split second than you could do with a sledgehammer the rest of your life.
We know that, don't we? How many times have we slipped and we said, oh, I wish I hadn't said that. Put it back in, back in. No, I can't do that.
No, it can't happen. Powerful thing. That's what James says.
That's why teachers need to be careful, because they are using the most powerful part of the human body. Now let's see what else he says. He says not only is it powerful, but to make matters worse, it's hard to control. He says in the end of verse 5, see how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, and a world of iniquity, and the tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire by hell, for every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It's an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of God. Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?
Thus no spring should yield both salt water and fresh. Our second point of a two-point outline, just two, is that the tongue is hard to control. James starts off by saying the tongue has great potential for evil. He says in the end of verse five, it doesn't take much fire to set a forest going, and you don't have to come in there with a blowtorch like they used in World War II. All it takes is a match. In fact, I would reckon that more fires are burned up with tiny little matches than with big things. How often do you ever hear of a propane gas tank blowing up and setting a forest on fire? Most people do it with little matches. It doesn't take much. And so too, James says, the tongue, verse six, is a fire, and it can set lots of things on fire.
It can do much harm, verse seven. For we have succeeded in taming all sorts of animals. You ever watch these people in the circus with these lions and tigers? You know that guy that's on the American Express commercial? I've forgotten his name.
You know, it's a name, takes up about three-quarters of the card. But he's that guy where the lions jump over him and jump through the hoops, and he carries them over his shoulders, the tigers and the leopards and those things. Well, I don't know about you. You wouldn't get me in there with one of those things. I mean, I'm afraid of chipmunks, but he gets in there with those things, and he snaps a whip and yells at them, and I don't know how he does it, but they listen to him.
He's still alive. There's wild as can be. And he's tamed them. But James goes on to say, no man, verse eight, can tame the tongue. It's an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
It's pretty heavy stuff. And you know something? With just the flesh to help us, he's absolutely right.
You cannot, with fleshly power, control that tongue. How many times? I'm sure many of you have said. Now, when I go over this person's house tonight, I'm going to be very careful, or I'm never again going to say anything nasty about anybody. I'm only going to speak what's positive.
Sound familiar? Always what uplifts. That's what Paul says. Always what edifies. And then you find yourself in a conversation, and when you leave it, you just feel plain rot with some of the things you said.
That ever happen? I see smiles. It must have. You see, whatever has great potential for good also has great potential for harm. That's a rule of human existence.
That's the way it is. Or if you're dealing with a boy and a girl, if they're dealing on the level of like, then they'll deal on the level of dislike. But if you're dealing on the level of love, they deal with hate. See, love has more potential for good than like, but when love goes sour, there is nothing more vicious than someone who's been in love where that love has really gone sour. That's a vicious thing.
Why? Because the potential for good, the love, was so much greater, but with it, automatically, by God's design, comes the always present danger of greater harm. That's a rule of existence. So the tongue, which can do great things, can praise God, can preach sermons, can tell people how to get saved, can also do great damage. The more the potential for good, the more the potential for harm.
It's a rule of life. No risks, no rewards. Now, electricity is a good thing. Electricity is nice. If we didn't have electricity, we'd be by candlelight tonight. We might not even be here tonight if it wasn't for electricity. Electricity keeps our refrigerators going and our alarm clocks when it doesn't go off going and our everything.
It's nice. Love electricity. In fact, you know, with all the electric appliances we have, stoves are such a nice thing. Can you imagine if you were back in the old days when you had to build a fire under a pot to boil water? Imagine how much trouble it would be to have a cup of tea if you had to go out there and start a fire every time you wanted a cup of tea. It takes me about 20 minutes to start a fire in my fireplace, and another 15 to get it going, and probably another 15 to heat this kettle of water. By then, who cares about the tea? So you're just walking in, you flip the button, boom, here comes this electric stove. Burner gets all red hot, stick that old pot of water on there in a couple of minutes, pow, tea. Isn't that great?
Tremendous source of blessing. Do you know, when I was a little boy, my favorite color was red. And I can still remember, very vaguely, oh, but I remember being about four years old, maybe three. And I was just about eye-high if I stood on my tippy-toes to the stove. And I can still remember one day coming in and seeing that burner, red.
And I loved red. And I can still remember my mother saying, now don't you put your hand on that burner, it'll hurt you. You know, I can still remember reaching up there, that little hand, and just setting it on top of that burner. I can't remember much of what happened next. I think it's probably because I fainted.
I don't know. I do remember being at the hospital. I do remember them working on my hand. I do remember the fact my mom told me I burned all the skin off my hand. It was on the burner. Potential for good?
Oh yeah. Potential for harm? Oh, you betcha if you misuse it. Same's true with the tongue. Potential for good? Certainly. But you misuse it, and you watch your tongue become an evil, godless, destructive thing.
That's what'll happen. James goes on to say it's one of the most common evils that we have. One of the most common things we do with it is to malign, to speak evil of people.
He says in verse 9, with it we bless our God and Father. Now there's a good use. And with it we curse men.
That's not such a good use. Who have been made in the likeness of God. Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be. We use the same mouth to bless God, our Heavenly Father, who created mankind and who saved us.
And then we use the same tongue to malign and speak evil and dissect systematically God's creation. James says that ought not to be happening. He says nature normally prohibits a contrast like that. Look at what he says. Can a spring send forth both fresh water and bitter water from the same spring? I mean, can you go to a water fountain and the left half of the water stream that comes out the fountain is good water and the right half of the same stream is bad water? Impossible.
Ridiculous. It's either good or it's bad. And he says in the same way, look at the fig tree. Fig trees don't bear olives and figs, just figs. It does one thing or the other. And grapevines don't bear figs, they bear grapes.
And springs don't yield both fresh water and salt water, one or the other. And so James is saying our mouth ought to do one or the other. If we're going to bless God, we need to bless people. And if you're going to curse people, you might as well curse God.
At least make it consistent. James says our mouth should not present that kind of a contrast. My brethren, these things ought not to be. Blessing God's great, but we need to be careful how we speak of God's greatest love, and that's men. And I would say we as believers need to hear this.
We need to hear this about seven times a week, like every morning. Because I find as believers we sometimes are more careless what we say about people than people who don't even know Christ. We're so careless. And we speak evil of one another. It'd be bad enough if we just spoke evil of people outside of the fellowship of God who didn't know Christ.
That would be bad enough. But to speak evil of our brothers and sisters, the members of the same body, that, my friends, is despicable. James says that ought not to be happening. I'm not talking about disagreeing on doctrine.
I'm talking about slander and backbiting and rumor and gossip and maliciousness, and it happens with Christians all the time. Now I don't know how personal I should get here. Not too long ago I had the chance to meet Eldridge Cleaver, and many of you know about the dramatic conversion experience that he has very publicly talked about. Now since then he's had some problems with his public conversion.
But at the time I met him, things were going along okay for him. And he said to me, you know, it's the most incredible thing. Here I come, and I come back from Algeria, and I'm talking about being a Christian, and I'm talking about receiving God, and I'm talking about being born again, and I come and give myself up, and I don't expect the world to welcome me.
I didn't really expect the Black Panther Party to have a welcoming committee at the airport, at least not a friendly one. But he said, you would think, wouldn't you, that other believers would have welcomed me with open arms and comforted me and encouraged me and shared how excited they were for me, wouldn't you? And I said, sure, I would. And he said, well, a few did, but you know what most of them did? He said, most of them did to me what the early church did to the apostle Paul. I showed up in town, it's kind of like, well, that's very nice, but we just don't want, not right now. And people started talking behind my back and figuring out all the ways I was trying to use this for ulterior motives just to get away with not being prosecuted. He said, some of the worst things that I was ever accused of didn't come from the Black Panther Party, and it didn't come from the world, it came from Christians.
And I didn't really know what to say. And you know, if we're really honest, I'll bet you each one of us here would admit that we are guilty of doing the same thing. We do it to other churches. The church I came from, before I came to hear, has probably had some of the most vicious publicity against it that I've ever seen.
And I admit, perhaps, methodologically, I might not do things exactly like it did it. But you know, I read one day, in Luke chapter 9, where the Lord had his apostles come to him, and one of them complained, and said, hey Lord, there's a guy out here who's baptizing, and he's not going around with us, and he's not doing exactly like we're doing it, and we were going to stop him. And Jesus said, don't you dare, because he who's not against us is for us. We need to learn that God is going to hold us responsible for hindering other people's ministries, just because they don't do it quite the way we like it done. And I've seen some vicious comments made in one church about another church, from the people in one church about the ministry of the other church. Vicious things said, cruel things!
I couldn't believe it! I'm Christians! Both serving the same Lord.
My friends, James said, these things ought not to be so. The psalmist said in Psalm 141, verse 3, if you want a life verse, here's a good one. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth. Let me repeat the verse, Psalm 141, verse 3.
It's not over yet, but I want you to catch it. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, and keep watch over the door of my lips. That's a good verse. That's a good prayer. And that's the only way you'll control that mouth of yours, it's the only way I'll control this mouth of mine, is if the Spirit of God controls it.
As one man said, a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows sharper with constant use. Let's pray together. Heavenly Father, Lord, we're just people, you know that.
And you yourself have told us what we already know, and that is that our tongue is very difficult to control. So Father, we confess to you in our own power, we cannot control it. We pray for your help. Dear God, I can't preach this message to every Christian in America, not even every Christian in Washington, but I pray from a claimed Bible church that we might be a congregation whose mouths have been consecrated to you. Lord, help us not to say or do things that would damage one another, that would damage this fellowship, that would damage your reputation. Give us wisdom and self-control and power from the Spirit of God to control our mouth. In your name we ask it. Amen. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-09 10:28:11 / 2022-12-09 10:38:50 / 11