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The Tongue

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James 3:1-12

This very practical book of James shows us the need for a ‘makeover’ of some parts of our anatomy. Unlike today’s TV programmes James is talking about a spiritual makeover rather than a physical one because there are certain characteristics God wants us to have.

In Chapter 1 James tells us that God wants to give us big ears so we can grow in our knowledge of God, build relationships and get along with each other, and so hear what God has to say to us.

In Chapter 2 he says God wants to give our hands a makeover; not nicely manicured hands with soft skin, but hands that work and are prepared to get dirty, willing to help people in need and serve as a practical expression of our faith.

I wonder what sort of shape you’re in? Have you allowed God to give you big ears and dirty hands!
I hope so because today God, in James chapter 3, wants to further enhance your body by giving your tongue a makeover so it conforms to God’s pattern of beauty and purpose.

Pierced tongues might be fashionable but James is concerned about the use of the tongue to achieve God’s purposes. He’s talking about taming the tongue, restraining it, piercing through its tendency toward evil. In previous chapters he’s warned about saying one thing and doing another, also about the need to listen more than we speak. God created us, in His image with two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and one mouth!

The eyes, ears, and nostrils all help make us aware of things around us. Our tongues though, are used to comment upon what we see, hear, and smell. Do you think that God designed us to listen and observe twice as much as we speak? Maybe we should stick our tongues out to let God look at them!

Verse 1 talks about teachers (of Christianity) - don't think it doesn't apply to you! Society has lost contact with the church and what all of us say must be good and correct false notions.

Verse 2 says all of us make mistakes, and James includes himself. Today when someone says ‘We all make mistakes,’ the next line we expect is, ‘And that’s ok.’ But that's not what James says. He isn't interested in mediocrity. He's urging us toward more perfect lives and practicing what we know is right. That means keeping control of our tongues and exercising self-discipline.

Verses 3 and 4 James speaks of the enormous power of the tongue, using the examples of a small bit in the mouth of big horse and the little rudder that turns a big ship.

Think about the power of words: e.g. when two people come here and say ‘I will’ as they commit themselves to each other for life.

Power for the good but words are so powerful they can also destroy. James gives more images to help us understand how lethal words can be: fire and wild animals (6-9).

Forest fires are often started by a tiny spark. Our words can start fires. I think of someone released from prison after 17 years. False testimony had put him there. Think what happens when people gossip about others, or put them down. We need to speak truthfully to and about others. A lie is often a coward’s way of getting out of trouble.

We've done a great job of taming wild animals but no one has tamed the tongue. He calls it a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Animals can sometimes be tamed and fire can be controlled to generate power, but our tongues are a problem. Our tongue acts like a thermometer showing our spiritual temperature. If our words are bad it reveals the condition of our spiritual state. If our hearts are filled with the love of God, our tongues will follow.

We may not be able to control the tongue ourselves, but God’s power can pierce through those poisonous tendencies of our tongues. Jesus said, ‘It is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks.’ If your heart is extremely glad or happy, even if we have no words at the time, it seems impossible to restrain at least a cheerful whistle. But, if your heart is full of anger, the mouth can be a sort of pressure relief valve, like the whistle on a kettle, it’s eager to get those feelings out in the open.
And when it’s out there - it’s OUT THERE and no matter how much we wish we could take words back once they fall from our lips, the damage is done and we're forced to deal with it.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.’ That’s wrong! Broken bones heal a lot quicker than wounds left by an ‘out-of-control’ tongue! Maybe it should be; sticks and stones may break my bones - but words can break my heart. When Karen Carpenter, who sang ‘We’ve only just begun’ first started singing with her brother, a critic referred to her as ‘Richard’s chubby little sister.’ This so demoralized her and that from then on, every time she looked in the mirror, she said to herself, ‘I’m Richard’s chubby little sister.’ She started taking drugs to lose weight. She became bulimic and anorexic. Most people thought she was skinny, but when she looked in the mirror, she saw fat. She couldn’t stop hearing those words until she died of heart failure at 32. A tragic example of someone who was killed by someone’s careless words.

Words have power: Genesis says God used words to create the entire universe, He literally spoke our world into existence. And though our words are in no way as powerful as God’s, the ability that He’s given us to communicate with each other with words is a wonderful gift.

Words have the power to delight, like the satisfying, delightful taste of water when we’re thirsty.‘The words of the mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.’ Proverbs 18:4. Water gives life and words can too. Think of encouraging words others have given you and what they meant to you. Think of how words of kindness and forgiveness provide life and hope to the troubled soul. Who could you bring life to?

We often don’t know what effect our words have on others. But the Bible says there’ll come a time when we find out. We’re accountable for every word we say. The average person spends one-fifth of their life talking. If all our words were put into print, a single day’s words would fill a 50-page book and in a year 132 books of 200 pages each!

Among all those words there's bound to be some spoken in anger, carelessness, or haste. Most of us suffer at sometime from ‘foot IN the mouth disease’ - where we talk long enough or at the wrong moment and say something we shouldn’t. Less than 1% of our words can ruin the effect of the other 99%. It takes 9 affirming comments to even out the negative effects of one, so remember to be encouraging when you speak. ‘Encourage one another daily!’ Hebrews 10:25

Florence Nightingale fought hard to make unsanitary military medical camps better. Lots of people didn’t like her. Doctors thought she was attacking them and told her she wasn’t welcome. Even her own mother and sister criticized her. But Queen Victoria kept encouraging Florence. ‘You are a hero of the British people. No wonder the soldiers love you so. Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up! And let me know if there’s any way I can help.’ Later, she talked about how much the Queen’s encouragement meant to her and gave her the strength to go on. You don’t have to be a queen to make a difference in someone’s life. The words you say can make a difference in someone’s life.

Some of us know Christians who are always negative: nothing good or positive to say about anything. If you talk negatively, you'll receive negative results because your words create a negative environment. If you talk positively, you'll receive positive results because your words create a positive environment.

James knew of Christians who were double-tongued. A Christian with a double-tongue's a contradiction. I wonder if these things make the world some-times think: ‘If I'm going to be treated the same way in the church that I am treated in this world, I won’t go’. 

‘Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so, (James 3:10). As Christians, we must learn to control our tongues: the productive tongue doesn't grumble or complain!

St Paul tells us ‘In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’

God wants to change our lives from the inside out, so our words bless Him and those around us. I like Isaiah 6 when the angel comes to Isaiah and touches his mouth with a live coal. Only then is he ready to go out and serve the Lord. That’s what we need this morning - the touch of God on our mouths and on our lives so that what we say can be a blessing to others and not a curse. I invite you to let Him touch your life and sanctify your lips. If you've not yet had a complete makeover, let God do it beginning with the tongue today.
If what we are about to say does not pass these tests, we should keep our mouth shut!
is it  True?
is it  Helpful?
is it  Inspiring?
is it  Necessary?
is it  Kind?

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