Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

09/16/12 Sermon

James 3:1-12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy Sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen



As I begin today I want to first of all say thanks to everyone for their prayers as we traveled to Memphis to welcome and celebrate our first grandchild.

And as proud grandparents you usually want to share pictures, so I thought we’d just look at photos of my grandbaby today.

What a wonderful and joyful moment childbirths are.

But when I read today’s scripture I was reminded of another childbirth I attended about 30 years ago that wasn’t quite a joyful moment.

I was 18 years old and my oldest brother Gary called me to let me know that he and his wife were at Baptist Hospital getting ready for the birth of their first child.

So my good friend and college roommate Dennis went to the hospital and found a seat in the waiting room.

And while we were waiting Dennis asked me about my brother’s in-laws.

Well, my brother didn’t have such a good relationship with his in-laws, so I proceeded to tell Dennis just how much my brother detested them and how cantankerous he thought they were.

Of course my language back in those days was also a little more colorful.

Well after I had thoroughly trashed them, my parents arrived at the waiting room.

But before they greeted me they turned to a couple that was sitting directly behind Dennis and me.

And of course you know who they were---my brother’s in-laws.

Well I think we can all probably relate in some way or another to that slide (foot in the mouth disease).

-Our words can get us in trouble. And unfortunately once they leave our mouths we can’t get them back.

Like the children illustration of squeezing toothpaste out of the tube and then trying to put it back in, our words are impossible to take back once they’ve come out.

Now as we see in our scripture today, James is telling us that the words that come from our tongue have power to them.

Usually when we read this scripture we often simply see the bad or evil aspect of our tongues.

-But in verses 3-5 we can see that James really focuses on the power the tongue has; which can be either positive or negat

James first talks about the tongue’s directional power.

He uses the metaphor of a horse’s bridle that turns the whole animal and a rudder on a ship that determines where the boat will sail.

-While our tongues are small in size, they have much power in the direction they can lead us either positively or negatively.

But how?

Well for those who speak words of discouragement and fear. Their words show them headed toward a life of worry and anxiousness and darkness.

For those who speak only about themselves, or use words to manipulate others, they find themselves headed in a direction of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Then there are those whose words show that they have no direction in their life. Their tongues avoid commitment, afraid to obligate themselves to anything.

And of course our silent tongues speak to the direction of our lives as well. Not speaking out against injustices or to be silent against immorality shows a direction of going with the ways of the world instead of the Kingdom of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke to this as he spoke against what was happening in Nazi Germany when a Fascist government used its words to point in the direction of racism, injustice and hate.

Bonhoeffer said

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  

Of course there are countless examples like Bonhoeffer, whose words were headed in the right direction---who put us in the direction of freedom and justice and the ways of God’s Kingdom.

Our tongues truly have a directional power that influences both our lives and the world we live in either positively or negatively.

Now besides the power of direction with our tongues, James also speaks to the tongue's power to hurt. He calls the tongue a restless evil full of poison.

In many places in the scriptures we see the tongue referred to as a sword.

Psalm 64:3 says:

They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.

Proverbs 12:18 says:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

This image of the tongue as a sword is so true in many ways. The sharpness of our tongue can wield slices that are subtle and naked to the eye. But the wounds can cut deep and have long lasting effects on our lives.

You know we often hear the term abuse and we think of someone who is physically abused, beaten and battered. In those cases we can visually see the wounds.

But the tongue can damage in a way that we can’t see those bruises.

We can’t see the slices it takes out of our self-confidence. We can’t see the damage it does on our feelings of self worth.

There are people who are here today that if we could see their insides we would be horrified.

Spouses verbally abused, children verbally spanked. Classmates, colleagues, workmates ridiculed and put down.

People who have been told they’re not pretty enough, big enough, smart enough, religious enough.

There are people here today who are beaten and bloodied, sliced and diced so badly inside that it would make your stomach turn if we could see them.

Still James speaks of another way the tongue can do harm. And this is the metaphor of the tongue being like a fire.

And when we think about a fire we think about how a fire consumes everything around it. It looks to destroy everything in sight.

And of course a good example of this is gossip. Because once gossip gets started it can lead to an all consuming fire that gets out of control especially in churches.

Jim Cymbala spoke about this in his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. He said, “I know what most easily destroys churches. It's not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds. He said it's gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.

Of course the tricky thing about gossip is that it is often spread with what appears to be good intentions.

For example, we gossip by trying to protect others from making a mistake or at least that's how we put it. (ex. Did you hear about so and so’s kids…well you need to be aware for your own kid’s sake).

And then there’s that gossip that we spread because we want to show our concern about the individual we're gossiping about --"Did you hear about poor old so and so and their problem---why I’m worried about them and praying for them"…

Prayer lists can often be like the National Enquirer---inquiring minds want to know.

Someone gets put on a prayer list and the next thing you know they’ve been given 6 months to live.

The bad thing is that this gossip unfortunately gets back to the person and scares them to death----I mean with these kinds of concerned people who needs enemies!

And have you noticed how others get upset because nobody shared the gossip, I mean the prayer concern with them!---

Gossip can truly be a consuming fire.

Now there can be such a thing as good gossip.

Good gossip occurs when we stop the consuming fire of "spreading our concern" by instead going directly to the individual and talk and pray with them about their difficult situation that we’ve found out about.

Whether it’s a health issue or a family issue or a personal issue we stop the harm of consuming fires by going directly to them.

Of course the problem we have today, is that we’re not really close to one another. We’re strangers to each other.....we want to respect their privacy.

But Christians have concern and care for each other; even in those touchy difficult issues…..

Now I also want to touch on another way the tongue can cause a consuming fire and that has to do with criticism in the church. And like going directly to an individual when we hear something we should do the same with church leadership.

When something happens that we are troubled by, we go to the pastor; we don’t go around complaining.

When we handle things this way, we throw water on the consuming fire and snuff it out before harm is done.

Alright, so we see, the tongue is powerful; it has directional power and power that is capable of both good and evil.

So with that in mind, the question is how do we tame the tongue to make sure we use it to do good?

Well the answer is we can’t!

James says in verse 8 that no human being can tame the tongue----our tongue is untamable.

But why?   

Well the problem is our nature.

We can’t tame our tongues because the place inside where our words originate from is an untamable, sinful place.

Even though we can do good sometimes, we can’t do good all the time.

In verse 9, James says with our tongues we praise God and at the same time we curse others who have been made in God’s likeness.

We praise and curse.

There's an old adage that says if you really want to know about a person's character, watch how that person treats the waiter at a restaurant.

Another example is how we treat a telemarketer.

All of us at some time or another have treated someone poorly using words that have cursed them.

But everyone is made in God's image so whenever we curse someone we are cursing God.

You can't bless God and curse his image at the same time. 

So we fall short and that's why we can't tame the tongue.

So what do we do?

Well James doesn’t give us a remedy or a three-step method to stop this cursing.

But what he does do, is remind us that it is untamable and that we need to be aware of that.

In other words we need to be aware of this dissension that’s within us.

We need to pay attention to what’s going on inside of us because when we do that, we learn to try and do something about the source of where our words are originating from.

James says fresh water and salt water do not come from the same spring.

A fig tree doesn’t produce olives and a grapevine cannot produce figs.

We have to draw from the spring or the tree where words of blessing come out-- not words out of the sinful pool of cursing, gossip and self-centered agenda.

So how do we go about drawing our words from this pool or tree of blessing?

Well it means we pay attention and cultivate this inner pool of blessing which means we make an intentional, active choices each day, each moment of our life to follow Christ.

This calls us to a life of daily discipline, obedience and commitment, of spending time with God in prayer and the word in order that a spring of blessing will grow inside of us where we learn to tap into with our words. 

Therefore when the temptation comes to speak harmful words we will instead draw from the well of our cultivated inner lives and choose to either be silent or choose to speak words of encouragement or blessing.

And the more we do this, the more natural and easier it becomes even though we're always dealing with an untamed tongue.

I’m reminded of the old Greek story of the Isle of Sirens who when sailors heard their voices would be lured to shipwreck and death.

And there was the story Ulysses who sought to refrain the temptation by tying himself to the mast and putting wax in his ears—such a pitiful attempt at a negative goodness.

But then there was Orpheus who sailed past who was also a musician. Instead of tying himself up and plugging up his ear, he sat on the deck indifferent when they past the Isle because in the well of his heart there was a more beautiful music than the discord of the Sirens. 

Now that's what happens to us as we cultivate the well of our souls.

There is transformation and change and as a result when the temptation to speak words of selfishness or harm comes what comes out of our mouths instead are words of blessing and encouragement that shed light on the Kingdom of God and God's ways of goodness and justice, peace and hope, love and life.

In closing today, we’re being reminded that while the mighty tongue will never be completely tamable until Christ returns, when we seek to give the reigns of our tongue to God, seeking to follow Him, we are opening the door for Christ’s words to speak thru us.

So today, let us be mindful of every word that we speak, let us cultivate our inner lives and be reminded that everyone we speak to is the image of God.

Let us give ourselves completely over to him, for when we do, our tongues are changed from weapons of darkness to powerful instruments of love and life…..

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen