The Bible says a lot about what we say, our words. One of the Ten Commandments is this: You shall not bear false witness.
The very first word spoken in the Bible is by God when he gave the command, “Let there be light.” God’s words are powerful, and God created you and me in His own image and likeness. So we should not be surprised to learn that OUR words are powerful as well.
Listen to just a few scriptures that address this:
- Proverbs 6:16-19 six things the Lord hates… at least three of these have to do with what we say.
- Proverbs 18:21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue…
- Proverbs 21:23 tells us: He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from trouble.
- Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of his mouth, this defiles the man.
- In Matthew 12 Jesus and James sound a lot alike. Listen to what Jesus said in verses 31-37.
Notice: the only sin in the Bible that is unforgivable is something that comes out of our mouth.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians 4:29:
Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up that it may serve the need and give grace to those who hear.
We are studying through the book of James and today we enter chapter 3. This chapter starts with teachers and ends with wisdom, but the largest section is in the middle and it is on the tongue. James has more to say on how we talk than just about any other book in the New Testament. In fact, he writes something about it in every chapter.
Look at it with me. James 3:1-12.
Now this is not an instruction on how to handle our tongues. This is instruction on just how powerful and potentially evil our tongues can be.
James gives us six different illustrations that size up the tongue, point to how uncontrolled it is, and then show the irony of how we use it.
I call this section of James spiritual speech therapy. It is not a how to section, but it does leave us with a clear sense of warning to watch over this slippery little part of our bodies.
Most people talk a lot. Some more than others. In 2006, Louann Brizendine, founder and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic, published The Female Brain. One of the most cited gems within its pages was a claim that women are chatterboxes, speaking an average of 20,000 words per day, nearly three times the mere 7,000 spoken by men. But this claim is not based on actual case studies.
James Pennebaker, chair of the University of Texas at Austin’s psychology department, says he was skeptical when he read this and prompted an actual study on it.
Researchers used a special recording device to collect data on the chatter patterns of 396 university students (210 women and 186 men) at colleges in Texas, Arizona and Mexico. In most of the samples, the average number of words spoken by men and women were about the same. Men showed a slightly wider variability in number of words uttered, and boasted both the most economical speaker (roughly 500 words daily) and the most verbose yapping at a whopping 47,000 words a day. But in the end, the sexes came out just about even in the daily averages: women at 16,215 words and men at 15,669.
Where did the original claim the women speak more words than men come from? No one knows for sure but it became popular and accepted as scientific without being tested.
The point is, both men and women are vulnerable to the dangers of the tongue.
James shows us that our tongues, though small in size direct our whole bodies and even our lives. :Like a bit in a horses mouth, or a rudder on a ship, your tongue determines where you go in life to a large degree. As a preacher, I think about this a lot. My work has more to do with words than anything else. Words are important. More important than we may think. In Acts 6 the church was growing exponentially and there were some Greek speaking widows who began to grumble because they were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The Apostles gathered the church.
Listen to what was said.
Acts 6:2-4. What did the Apostles consider to be their priority? Should they stop talking and wait on the tables of the widows? Or, should they delegate that work to others and keep on ministering through prayer and the word? The ministry of the word of God is not to be neglected. James will tell us though, that words without works is useless. Don’t just SAY to the poor, “Go in peace, be warmed, and be filled” but do nothing for them. That’s useless. But teachers of the Word of God have a place that brings stricter judgment too.
Second, James shows us that our tongues have powerfully destructive properties. He illustrates it this way: see how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire? The tongue is a WHAT? A fire. But not just a fire. James says it is a very world of iniquity. What is a world of iniquity? That’s a world of evil. James says that the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles our entire body. Then he takes it two steps further. First, it sets on fire the course of our life. That means it can burn up your career and destroy your reputation. I think of the political figures of our country today. Wow! One bad sentence from them can bury their political reputation and destroy their career. What about the recent fraternity scandal about the college guys chanting racist words and the backlash there. That’s just the point. Second, James says of the tongue that “it is set on fire by hell.” Sort of makes you want to say, “What do you really think about the tongue, James?”
But he’s not done! In fact, James is just warming up!
Next, he tells us that the tongue are beyond being tamed. You can tame nearly any animal, but not the tongue. Now, before he really makes his point, he throws in this final critique of the tongue saying, “it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
Is anyone ready to say, “Uncle?” How much more bleak a portrait can he paint?
Let’s review: it is really small, but it is really dangerous! It boasts great things, it is a fire, it is a world of iniquity, it defiles the entire body, it sets the course of our lives on fire, it is set on fire by hell, it can’t be tamed, it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Hmmm.
Why is James saying all of this about our tongues?
Here’s his application. After all this build up of concerns this is the only thing that James point to. Are you ready?
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be.
What James has done here is build up his case to a singular climax. We bless God, but we curse those made in His image.
Is that so bad? If you don’t think so, then you don’t think what James says is true. You must at least admit that James thinks it is bad. And I mean really, really bad.
It sounds a little like what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. You have heard it was said, “You shall not kill. And whoever kills shall be liable to the court. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be guilty before the court, and anyone who insults his brother shall be guilty before the Sanhedrin, and anyone who says to his brother, ‘You fool,’ shall be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Peter says to us, “Bless and do not curse.”
Anyone of us that claims to be religious, but does not bridle our tongue, but deceives our own heart, our religion is… well, you know.