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Taming the Tongue

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
March 29, 2021 2:00 am

Taming the Tongue

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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Please turn with me if you would once again to the book of James. Tonight we begin chapter 3 of this short letter a letter that is crammed full of very practical godly instruction for the believer in our text tonight. James deals with the subject that is relevant to anyone who has a tongue, or we might admire day and age fingers with which to type.

It's the topic of communication, specifically the power and danger of ungodly communication.

Read the passage together and then will share some comments for few moments that I James chapter 3 verses one through 12. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness, for we all stumble in many ways and if anyone does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey as we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also know they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of Pilate directs, so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire in the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell for every kind of beast and bird reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison with it we bless our Lord and father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God from the same mouth come, blessing and cursing.

My brothers these things ought not to be so does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater can figtree my brothers bear olives, or grapevine produce eggs. Neither can a salt pond yield freshwater's the word of the Lord has pray for the first thing we see you doing in Scripture is speaking you said, let there be lights in there was like you were a God who communicates with words and we know that your words are pure and just because you are perfectly pure and just. Father, we bear your image in bearing that image, we too are communicators we like you speak and convey thoughts and attitudes we we communicate desires and motives, in the words that come out of our mouths, but Lord, unlike you are. Words are not always pure and just because we are not pure and just. We are fallen so Lord, we find ourselves in predicament, which on the one hand we bear your image, but on the other hand we so often bear that image poorly or inaccurately sort.

Thank you for text like the one before us tonight because they expose our our poor image bearing.

They point us in the direction we need to go to be more like you in thought and speech and behavior.

Holy Spirit would you take these living words tonight and work them into our souls so that we might be all the more conformed to the image of Christ in his name I pray meant to be seated the veil between the spiritual realm and the temporal realm is perhaps the most invisible when it comes to the matter of our speech. The mouth really is a barometer of the soul what's inside the invisible realm of our heart and mind and emotions in spirit comes audibly gushing out of our mouths in our speech.

Both the words we say and the way we save them are a mirror to the soul exposing what's inside for all to see. Now speech is not an inherently bad thing. It it has the potential to be used badly but it also has the potential to be used for great good. As we will hopefully see tonight. The mouth is not the problem. The heart is the problem unless our hearts get fixed, our mouths will continue spewing destruction and hypocrisy and do great harm to the glory of Christ in us. James's instruction manual on the Christian life would be incomplete if it did not address the matter of the tongue words speech communication of all sorts because the tongue is so integral to our bearing the image of God and because as fallen people who have distorted the image of God, the tongue has such devastating potential for evil, and it is precisely because our speech has such potential for evil that we need our tongues to be tempered by the power of God's over the next few moments is think about speech about the power inherent in our words and about our own fallen tendency with regard to how we use our words to break up the text tonight into two parts. First, the problem of speech.

In verses one and two and secondly the power of speech in verses three through 12 so the problem of speech want to the power of speech in verses three through 12. First, we see the problem of speech and the problem of speech. As James frames it for us here is that to miss use our words is to encourage judgment and words are easily misused at the problem to miss use the words is is to encourage judgment and it's so easy for us to to use this gift of speech, if you play with fire you get burned. If you run with scissors you get stab if you speak sinfully. You will incur judgments and James is very clear. You will speak sinfully. It's in your nature to do so.

In fact, the more you talk the more you will speak sinfully therein lies the problem. James begins his monologue on speech by considering those who are vocational talkers.

They talk by trade, a people whose job is to speak and to speak authoritatively. Teachers, he says in verse one, not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Second 11 like mom telling her 11-year-old son don't grow up to be a football player because they have to make in conscience. Don't be a policeman. They get shot at by the bad guys. It's not that playing football or bring a policeman or bad things. It's that they incur great risk.

The teacher incurs great risk in his vocation, not because his vocation is bad because the main tool of his ministry is the part of the body most difficult to control the tongue and James's point is not to talk about teacher specifically he's a he's merely using that to illustrate a more general point that an improper use of words in general incurs judgment and the more you speak, the more you will miss use words. Notice how he expands the application in verse two. For we are all teachers and non-teachers alike stumble in many ways and if anyone does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. So this passage isn't just about teachers.

The teachers aspect as a launching point to talk about speech in general for all people. When I was in high school I was that I was required to memorize the book of James, and I remember getting to this verse and thinking to myself man if I can just control my mouth that I won't have any struggle with any other sin because it says if anyone does not stumble in what he says is able to bridle his whole body.

So I strategically set out to control my mouth excited about the prospect of becoming the first descendent of Adam to achieve sinless perfection told myself I was not to speak at all unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then, my work had to be asked you and efficient as possible. I think I made this resolution right after lunch and it lasted till about right before supper. The principle is true though if a person is perfect and speech he will be perfect in every arena of life.

My problem wasn't that the principal didn't hold true.

My problem is that I'm not perfect. None of us are. We are sinners and sinners abuse the gift of speech and abusing that gift incurs judgment a stricter judgment for teachers. Those who speak a lot and who are entrusted with some measure of authority in their speaking but judgment. Nonetheless, for every body who speaks and who stumbles in their speech stumbles. Is that a nice way of saying sins in their speech. Jesus says it very plainly. Matthew 1236 and 37 he says. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified by your words you will be condemned. The problem of speech is that to miss use our words is to encourage judgment and words are so easily misused. In fact, let's think for a few minutes about how easy it is to miss use our words and sing for a moment about the power of our speech.

The power of our speech and this is James a second point in verses three through 12. Speech is incredibly powerful, its potential to do good and and to do harm is so easily underestimated and overlooked. First, James tells us that speech.

The tongue is capable of great influence speech is capable of influencing the trajectory of a life as it steers events and people in certain directions and and sways emotions and attitudes as it shapes thoughts and philosophies that affect behavior. Speech is powerful because of the great influence it exerts. James illustrates this aspect of the power of speech with a couple of analogies verse three. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Verse four. Look at the ships also that they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs the average full-grown horse can weigh anywhere from 900 to 2000 pounds. The average bit weighs one or 2 pounds and yet all of the muscle and strength that a horse possesses can be harnessed and controlled with ease. With the simple use of this bar in its mouth the size of the bit is really disproportionate to the influence that it exhibits the rudder on a ship must be 1/70 of the total length of the vessel. My Google search was accurate 1/70 of the length of the boat and yet it's able to steer that boat right where it needs to go again. The size in proportion to the effect it has on the vessel is surprising. James says, so also the tongue is a small member easily underestimated. Yet it boasts of great things is another way of saying it possesses great power, great ability.

Great influence how many words does it take to change the course of a life, very few back. I imagine there are people here tonight who can think back to something that was said to them, something that in retrospect exerted great influence, perhaps even altered the course of their life for good or for bad, just to the words that were said member, friend telling me in my late teens that I should consider going into ministry. I had never thought about ministry as a viable option. Until that moment and we never spoke about it again after that moment, but that one sentence had a profound effect on the entire direction of my life speech is powerful because it is capable of great influence but notice also that speech is powerful because it is capable of great destruction. James highlights two aspects of the destructive power of words. First, the destruction caused by our words is an irreversible destruction can't be undone. Once our words of cause there damage.

There is no reversing is not taking it back like a wildfire that has destroyed a forest. It only takes a spark to destroy an entire landscape and once that landscape is destroyed.

There is no putting it back in a tree that's been burned down to ash is never going to resemble a living tree again.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire in verse six the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. Not only is this destructive power of words irreversibly permanent. Its destruction is also comprehensive. The latter part of verse six says the tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. The power speech is such that when it destroys it thoroughly destroys he doesn't just set on final pieces of life. It sets on fire the entire course of life is comprehensive in its destructive power.

1/3 quality of speech that demonstrates its its innate power is the fact that it is incapable of being tamed.

Verse seven and eight.

Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.

Try as I might when I was a teenager I was incapable of taming my tongue for even half a day. Why was that because no human being can tame the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison and no match for the most resolute of intentions within man. Augustine points out that we cannot tame our own tongue anymore than a horse can tame itself, but Augustine adds God can tame it is. James doesn't say no one containing the top, tame the tongue. He says no human being can tame the tongue to think about that some more here just a minute. But notice, this means that if we find within ourselves any degree of self-control or virtue it comes to our speech, we have to admit that ability, that virtue has been brought about by the pity and help in grace of God. So far, speech is this for little formidable foe so formidable. In fact, that it is untamable without divine intervention then be assured tongue is a powerful tool for good or for evil speech is powerful to powerful force because it is capable of great influence is capable of great destruction is incapable of being tamed by humans and the one final quality of speech that demonstrates its power. We see in verses nine through 12 and it's that the tongue is capable of great hypocrisy. Verse nine with that is with our mouths with our words. We bless our Lord and father, and with it we curse people were made in the likeness of God from the same mouth come, blessing and cursing. My brothers these things ought not to be so when we bless our Lord and father with our mouths, we are declaring that God is the Academy of beauty and goodness and truth, but then if we turned around and cursed people who are made in his image. In other words, those who most fully reflected in their very nature the truth and beauty and goodness that we just finished admiring and we are disparaging that image.

We are deprecating the glop of the God we claim to be honoring. It's the height of hypocrisy and then a good James fashion. He draws some more analogies to illustrate the point.

Verse 11 does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater can a fig tree, my brothers bear all as rig grapevine produced space. Neither can a salt pond yield freshwater and think about that last analogy is a salt pond cannot yield fresh water how much salt does it take to make freshwater non-freshwater any salted all right the least little bit of impurity. I mean, by definition, the essence of freshwater is its freshness and its watering this you can't have sort of freshwater any more than you can have sort of watery water it's not entirely pure. It's not at all pure.

The venerable Venerable Bede was a theologian, a monk from the eighth century and he commented on verse 11 and he said this, he said not only is it impossible for sweet and bitter water to come out of one of the same fountain, but it is also true that if the to get mixed is the bidder which will affect the sweet, not the other way around. Put blessing and cursing together and cursing will win out. Every time bad habits, corrupt good manners and wicked talk has the same effect had a friend he once said, you can mix ice cream and manure together doesn't really affect them manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream. The nature speech is such that all it takes is a little bit of impurity a little bit of hatefulness a little bit of untruthfulness to spoil the whole thing and if we claim to be fresh pines of virtue blessing the Lord with our mouths on Sunday, but then turn around and cursed God's image bearers with words that cut and demean and mislead.

We are demonstrating the height of hypocrisy. Speech is so powerful that it is capable of turning worshipers of God into those who demean God and don't even know they're doing. Such is the power of the tongue. We walk through this text we heard James's warning regarding the misuse of our words. We've certainly observed that James's tone is almost exclusively negative in this passage is telling us what not to do is warning us of the bad things that will happen if we do what we ought not to do and it's very helpful. We need to know where the danger zones are.

We need signposts that warn us where the potholes are many lighthouses that steer us clear of the rocks and so the intended purpose of these verses, I think, is to wake us up to the dangers of ungodly communication. We ought to come away from these verses, wary of ourselves.

With regard to our speech. I think this text ought to have the same effect on us that God had on Job at the end of Job's trial. When God showed up and spoke to Job out of the world. When Scripture says in the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge God proceeds for two or three chapters to interrogate Job with a series of unanswerable questions that put Job in his place and in Job answered the Lord and he says behold, I am a small account. What shall I answer you. I lay my hand on my mouth and a realization of the magnitude and wisdom of God and of our own finitude and an foolishness ought to have that same effect on us. It make to make us put our hands on our mouths is a good chance that for many if not most of us. The effect this text ought to have on us as a realization that we really do talk too much that we fancy ourselves to be teachers or evangelists or profits in ways that God has never called us to, or equipped us. We just like the perceived preeminence of being God's mouthpiece, but all the while, God is saying.

Be quick to hear and slow to speak and got a saying I will fight for you. You only have to be silent, and he is saying. Be still and know that I'm gone. And when you draw near to God. Draw near to listen. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few folks, this text is in the Bible because God knows we are prone to impure speech and we are prone to excessive speech we need to be tempered, but having said that, there is a time to speak. There is a purpose in the place for godly edifying words solace to spend the remainder of our brief time together night thinking about what godly speech looks like we know that wicked speech is something to be avoided, but how do we pursue godly speech. What is the right use of our words. James doesn't go into specifics here, but the rest of Scripture goes into great detail explaining to us what kinds of patterns of speech we ought to pursue and what kinds of avoid effect on draw your attention to an exceptionally helpful resource when it comes to evaluating the use of our tongues. It's our own confession of faith, specifically the Westminster larger catechism questions 144 and 145.

I will write that down because I'm not gonna read it all tonight, but I encourage you to home and read it.

Questions 144 145 of the larger catechism these questions deal with the ninth commandment, you know, the ninth commandment, that shalt not bear false witness. The commandment that most specifically addresses the use of the tongue now before we look at the larger catechism's answers that I should point out a couple principles that need to guide us as we approach the 10 Commandments first principle is that a negative command of a prohibition at thou shalt not carries with it by implication, a positive expectation behind every thou shalt not is implied at thou shalt do the opposite right and vice versa. Positive command implies a negative prohibition. So for example the seventh commandment is that so not commit adultery. It's not merely about not committing adultery. It's about being faithful to your spouse. Honor your father and mother also means don't do anything that would dishonor them. We don't keep the ninth commandment by merely not lying. We must also actively speak, edifying, gracious, truthful words sets up an important principle to keep in mind whenever we approach any of the 10 Commandments. The Bible itself illustrates this principle. Exodus 21, for example, gives us a case study in the sixth commandment thou shalt not murder it says when an ox gores a man or a woman to death. The ox shall be stoned but the owner of the ox shall not be liable but if the ox is been accustomed to goring the past and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in negligence it leads to loss of life, and it kills a man or woman.

The ox shall be stoned and its owner shall be put to death. In other words, the prohibition against murder also immorally obligates us to preserve life positively whenever it lies within our power to do so principle concerning the way we understand and apply the 10 Commandments is that a command as it is formulated in the in the Decalogue in the 10 Commandments is Principi you'll not exhaustive. It's up it's given in the principal form and is not exhaustive. In other words, it gives the moral principle behind the command but not every possible application of that of that command of that principle. So, for example, the fifth commandment to honor your parents establishes a principle of honoring all authority, of which parents is merely the most fundamental of the most representative examples of the New Testament speaks of wives submitting to their husbands were slaves to their masters were members of the church to the elders or citizens to the king. These are all applications of the fifth commandment, which establishes the principle of submission to God given authority. So, in light of these two principles. The Westminster catechisms, ask two questions of each command. They ask what does this command require and then what does this command forbid because everyone is command is requiring something positively and negatively.

It's permitting something I silent to prepare you for the answer to questions 145 and one 4144 145 of the larger catechism these answers include 19 things that are prohibited, and 12 things that are required of godly speech now money to take the time to go through all 31 of these items tonight, but go home redo these lists carefully, and ask your reading through these these things. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and expose any sins of omission or commission in your speech. I do however want to highlight a handful of the items mentioned in hopes that the Lord will even out correct our consciences with regard to our communication. So I've I've edited these of a bridge these from the Westminster of updated the language just to make it more relevant to what were doing here tonight but listen to this. Using our words in a godly manner requires the following speaking the truth and only the truth. Sincerely, freely, clearly and fully in all things requires the preserving and promoting of the good name of our neighbor and requires a charitable esteem of others requires covering the infirmities and weaknesses of our neighbors freely acknowledging the gifts and graces of others defending the innocent C of the innocent, godly speech requires discouraging talebearer's flatterers and slanderers requires keeping all lawful promises we have made so that's a positive expectation of godly speech is the negative godliness of speech prohibits prejudicing people against the truth giving false evidence concealing the truth speaking the truth unseasonably or maliciously to a wrong end we just pause on that one for a minute because I think we overlook it just because it's true doesn't mean it godly to say if it's not edifying if it's unseasonable, even if it's true, it needs to be kept to yourself. Godliness of speech prohibits perverting the truth in order to mislead or confuse people prohibits slandering backbiting, tail bearing, whispering, scoffing and reviling a prohibits misrepresenting the intentions words and actions of others, prohibits flattery and boasting godliness of speech prohibits speaking to Haile or to lowly of ourselves or others. Isn't that one interesting ever thought of speaking to lowly of yourself as sinful, false modesty is what that is and is wrong or speaking to lowly of others making too much of small faults unnecessarily exposing weaknesses in others raising false rumors receiving and countenancing evil reports godliness of speech prohibits refusing to hear a just defense prohibits evil suspicion of others envying more grieving at the deserved credit of any and endeavoring or desiring to impair that credit godliness of speech prohibits rejoicing in the disgrace and infamy of others is a very convicting list and there's more where that came from. Go home and read the rest of the list. Look up the verses that go with it and let God spirit convict you where you need convicting. We took even half of those admonitions, the heart, I wonder how fruitful and life-giving. Our speech would become. I want my lips to be poisonous.

I want my words to spark and burn like wildfire out of control to the detriment of all who hear me brothers and sisters. You don't want that either. So how do we get to that place of godliness of speech. Matthew 15 gives us the key and I'll close with this. Matthew 15 beginning in verse 11 Jesus says it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person with but what comes out of the mouth. This defiles a person what comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the heart in this defiles a person, for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, C church. Our problem is not primarily our mouths. It's our parent.

We have a mouth problem because we have a heart problem and the only way to fix the mouth problem is to fix the heart problem. The good news is that Jesus Christ is come to give us new hearts as we grow in the grace of that new heart, our speech, our words will reflect that grace.

More and more and I'm excited about where James is going to go next because he's gonna deal with the heart issues that are really the very cause of all of our speech problems. So next time together in the book of James will take a look at the heart that is governed by wisdom from above (file your words to us are gracious and kind and true and helpful manner words to others be the same kind when they fall short of that standard when they injure and burn employees and others. Would you forgive us and grant us the grace to repent. So Lord may May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord rock and a Redeemer pray in Jesus name, amen

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