Everyday Faith (James 3:1-12)

MOTIVATE

The human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Our body has many muscles:

  • Largest muscle: gluteus maximus (buttocks!)
  • Smallest muscle: middle ear; less than 1mm long
  • Longest muscle: sartorius; runs length of upper thigh crossing down inside of knee and provides hip flex.
  • Widest muscle: latissimus dorsi (lats); middle portion of back
  • Most active muscle: eye; blinking avg 15-20x per min and making 10K coordinated movements.
  • Hardest working: heart; beats 100K each day, pumping 2,500 gallons of blood through a system of vessels more than 60K miles long.
  • Strongest muscle: masseter; located on each side of your jaw. When all the jaw muscles work together you can close teeth with a force as great as 200 pounds.
  • Versatile muscle: tongue; It can shorten/lengthen, curl/flatten/round and all kinds of gymnastics with a huge range of motion, extraordinary strength, and tireless flexibility. It is used during speaking, eating, swallowing, and even works while we sleep.

While the tongue is the most versatile, it can also be the most vicious. Whoever said “sticks and stones can break our bones but words never hurt” was wrong. Words have weight.

God has chosen words to carry power. It was God’s words created life as He spoke the world and all creation into existence (Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3). Satan twisted and cast doubt on God’s words, which led to the fall of humanity (Genesis 3). So, our words matter.

The book of Proverbs is perhaps the greatest book of the Bible to describe the power of words.[1] Proverbs 10:11 “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”
Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

The average person speaks 16K words a day.[2] The average book has about 75K words[3], so pretty much every month the words we speak are writing almost 7 books. I wonder what the titles would be; what would the books be about?

Today’s world of talk radio, incessant news and social media, and constant conversations have created a world of thoughtless and trivial talk. People are decreasingly responsible for their words. The next generation is growing up behind electronic screens where without understanding information and application (so many tangents and other sermons…!).

No doubt, the book of Proverbs and the Lord Jesus has inspired little brother James 3. Today’s text will understand 3 reflections of our speech to help us watch our words and manage our mouth.

EXAMINE           How can we live with our lips?   /   “Don’t let your tongue lick you” (sorry, bad pun)

James 3:1-12         

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.

Our speech reflects devotion (3:1-2).

James’s letter is continuing to challenge Christians against self-deception. He is reminding them their behaviors are a reflection of their beliefs. The topic of speech is not new, as previously stated “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (1:26). So, James addresses the church to take seriously how they speak toward others.

Teachers were/are somewhat of an office in the church, and most likely synonymous with the role of pastor-teacher.[4] A teacher’s words will have greater judgment – before God, but also before others. And while a pastor wants to please people because they hear almost immediate evaluation of their words at the end of a sermon or receive feedback later that same week, good pastors are most conscious to please God. If a pastor-teacher’s words are not in alignment with God’s word, then soak up the people-pleasing accolades now, because judgment day will be a rude awakening.

James notes, “we all stumble in many ways.” James is displaying vulnerability and humility with his audience. He’s saying, “We all need to watch our words, including myself as a teacher of God’s word. And the hard things I’m saying to you are not for intimidation but inspiration to be and do better.”

The one who does not stumble/fall in his words, he is perfect (complete – sanctified – developing faith[5]). Our speech reveals who we are and to whom we belong; if we are spiritually sick or spiritually healthy. In fact, have you ever noticed when you go to a doctor, one of their first exams is for you to open your mouth and stick out your tongue!?

In all, we know every person will be accountable for the words they speak/sing/share/send. We are responsible

for our comments, status updates, tweets, and even thoughts, because our words indicate our worship.

Proverbs 13:3a “He who guards his lips guards his life…”

Proverbs 18:4a “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters”  

Jesus says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks… on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat 12:34b, 36-37).

  • Sins of the tongue: backbiting, boasting, bullying, complaining, conflicting, cursing, deceiving, flattery, gossip, insulting, lying, misleading, quarreling, ridicule, slander, threatening, etc… These sins should not be sanitized, and God takes seriously – so we should too. This message is for disobedient children, rebellious teens, and stubbornly prideful adults.

  • Intake determines output. “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against God” (Ps 119:11).
    • Talking with a college student this week who is studying Spanish & Russian language. He stated he spends 1 hour each day trying to learn the language. My friends, if we want to speak words that spread God’s truth and love, then we need to invest time in God’s word. The discipline of reading, studying, and memorizing God’s word takes commitment.
    • A simple action you can do is bring your Bible with you… to church… to work/school… put app on phone and in those down moments, instead of playing bubbles and jewel games, read God’s word.
  • If you have been undisciplined in speech, unfortunately we cannot take back what has been said. Unscrambling eggs just isn’t possible. Yet, we can ask for forgiveness and a fresh start… try it.  
  • Pray
    Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch of the door of my lips.”

Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight”

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.
Look at the ships also: though 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.
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!
And 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.

Our speech reflects our direction (3:3-6).

James indicates our speech not only reflects our devotion but the direction of our life. He provides three illustrations of how small items can have significant control on the direction of an object.

  1. A 6” bit can guide a 1,600 lb horse to go straight or stop, turn left or right, even to jump or prance.
  2. A modest rudder can direct the course of a large boat or massive ship, even in rough seas and strong winds.
  3. A small spark can set ablaze a full forest with untold damage to nature, wildlife and human habitats.

Likewise, just a slight phrase or single sentence can change the course of a person’s life.

  • Your tongue is the steering wheel of someone’s life.
  • You can likely recall something someone said to you that has lingered and stuck in your mind (positive or negative). A boss, a spouse, a friend…
  • Children are shaped by the words of parents, teachers, and coaches. 
  • Our words can impact and influence the direction of others and ourselves. If we do not like the direction of our life, then 1) watch the company you keep, 2) watch the self-talk.
  • Proverbs 12:25 “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
  • Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
  • Proverbs 25:11-12 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”
  • Find a biblical mantra.[6] A mantra is a true statement to repeat to yourself, and maybe others[7]. While some may use mantras as mindless chanting, Christians are called to meditate on God’s word (Ps 1) and let it dwell in us (Col 3:15), and concentrate on things that are honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence, and praiseworthy (Php 4:8). In all things, we pray to keep our focus on the Lord and the Holy Spirit (Isa 26:3; Rom 8:6; Php 4:6-7). Biblical mantras are not meant to be mindless or magical formulas to manipulate God[8], but instead a means to remind us who God is as Sovereign and Father.
    Here are some examples:
    • All things under Christ’s feet (Eph 1:22). This affirms the Lordship and care of God in your life.
    • Jesus loves me/God’s love endures forever. This affirms God’s faithfulness to never forsake you, even if others do.
    • Maranatha (1Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20). Lord come… come near in this moment.
    • Brown family:
      • Grace & Gratitude: Are we grateful or grumbling? (we don’t raise whiny kids)
      • How much do I love you – so much.
      • Each child’s first & middle name is attached to a bible verse; use as discipling tool.
  • Write a letter to someone this next week to impact them with astonishing goodness, marvelous mercy, remarkable grace, and overwhelming compassion of God and forever family with God’s people. When we truly dwell on the gospel for us and in us, then we cannot keep it to ourselves.
  • Again, it’s quite possible we are convicted by the realization that our words have set us in a direction that we are discontent. It’s conceivable that someone’s hot temper has bubbled and boiled over into words that have blistered and injured those you care about. Perhaps it could be said you’re a verbal arsonist, setting fire to family, friends, and anyone in your path.

Proverbs 16:27 [foolish] speech is like scorching fire.”

The appropriate response to a fire is to pour water.
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Begin to speak softly and specifically to the hurts that have been caused and apply wound care. If the wounds are too significant, it’s likely you’ll need professional care. 

For 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. It 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.
10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?
12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water
.

Our speech needs divine discipline.

James provides several more illustrations to help us manage our mouth and watch our words.

  • Animals can be tamed but not our tongues.
  • A water source cannot dispense both fresh and salt water.
  • A tree/plant will produce fruit of its kind; fig trees don’t produce olives and grapevines not figs.

Essentially, James is saying, apart from God’s help we cannot control our communication. Our heart and our words are a contradiction.

  • In one moment, we show respect for God and in another show rebellion toward God and reflect worldly ways.
  • In one conversation we speak life to refresh and encourage and in another we discourage, curse and tear down others.

My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.

A few environments of discourse needing heightened discipline for Christians:

  • Church: When it comes to church, the body of Christ is family as adopted brothers and sisters. We must learn to speak with greater charity and empathy. When one is hurting, we don’t rush to over-speak with our own experiences, but we come alongside to bear burdens. When one has hang-ups, we don’t rush to judgment, but instead “speak the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love… Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another… Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths but only such as is good for building up, as it fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:15-16, 25-29).

  • Outsiders: Christians must hold their convictions tightly while also identifying ways to build relationships with those who do not believe as we do. We should embrace the mindset of the Savior, friend of sinners, who came to seek the lost (Lk 19:10) and sees crowds of people as harassed sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36). Don’t minimize speaking of faith but limit the Christianese – be real, and unafraid to share doubts and struggles.
    “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:5-6)
    “[Pray] that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19)

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever wins souls is wise.” (Prov 11:30)

  • Disagreements: In today’s age, how we speak to others who disagree with us is a revealing test. Whether we are having personal conflict or political discourse, our true person, our faith and hope are on display. Too often we are trying to push and pull others to the right or to the left, and we only bring each other down. Instead, we need to find ways we can pull each other up. Elevate the conversations by finding common ground. James says we bless or curse people who are made in the likeness of God. Our common denominator is our humanity.

APPLY/THINK

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

My problem is not my mouth but my heart…

  • Overactive tongue = Unsettled heart
  • Boasting tongue = Insecure heart
  • Filthy tongue = impure heart 
  • Negative tongue = Fearful heart
  • Critical tongue = bitter heart
  • Judgmental tongue = guilty heart
  • Harsh tongue = Angry heart
  • Unfriendly tongue = hurt heart, maybe even hardened.
  • Gracious tongue = a redeemed heart.

Let’s use our mouths to sing of God’s Amazing Grace.


[1] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2015/03/09/life-in-proverbs-my-words-before-god/

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/women-talk-more-than-men/

[3] https://manuscriptagency.com.au/word-count-by-genre-how-long-should-my-book-be/

[4] See Acts 13:1; 1Cor 12:28, ff; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:2; 2Tim 1:11. Richardson, K. A. (1997). Pillar NT Commentary: James (Vol. 36). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2020/10/19/everyday-faith-james-214-26/

[6] https://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-a-mantra.html; also see Mark Batterson, Praying Circles Around Your Children, ch. 3.

[7] Paul says, “This saying is trustworthy…” ex. 1 Tim 1:12-17; 3:1; 4:9; 2Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8.

[8] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/whats-the-difference-between-christian-prayer-and-mantra

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