What would you say is the biggest lie of all lies? The check is in the mail; I was just getting ready to call you back; we’ve been really busy; this won’t hurt a bit; that was the best _____ I’ve ever (eaten, seen, read, experienced…) or I’m just fine? While these are really, really good lies, I’d like for us to go back to our childhood for what I believe is the biggest lie of all: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me! And we say collectively…baloney!
The fact of the matter is that our words do more than hurt, they leave deep wounds that can take years to recover from – if we recover at all. Words mark us, wound us and cause us to harm ourselves. We are seeing this over and over again in our kids, teens, young adults and frankly, throughout all age-levels of humanity. And with so many different ways available to us today to speak harm against others, our words in this information age are even more impactful than ever.
The writer of the Book of James was Jesus’ half-brother. He came to faith after Easter and became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. For some, the Book of James is the NT version of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. James uses five short chapters to pack in practical and spiritual advice and guidance for the early church. His main focus is in teaching right Christian behavior through hearing the truth of the Gospel and putting it into practice as a holy disciple of Jesus Christ daily!
Our sermon series is titled “Old Preacher Advice” as we look at, and glean from, James’ words of wisdom that we sometimes forget and need to be reminded of as we strive to live holy lives in the ways we act, think and speak every day. I remember a man who told me that he tried to live his life in such a way that if someone found out he was a Christian, they would not be surprised! Today let’s consider the power of the tongue and how Christians are called to live with tongues that have been tamed by the Holy Spirit.
Growing up, my parents told me over and over again that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This “gem” of wisdom seems to grow more valuable the older I get. How many of us know others who seem to spend an enormous time talking about others and “some” of what they say is almost true! We seem to daily speak so many words and most of them are probably not worth being heard!
James recognizes the importance of conversion in action. The tongue, while a part of our mouth, is spiritually attached to our heart, our minds, our convictions and the core of our existence – our souls. While the tongue has no mind of its own, it reveals what is inside of us at our deepest level. To discover what another person thinks, feels and believes, listen to them talk for a while.
The tongue is dangerous! Pain from a tongue comes through words spoken in anger, jest, sarcasm and by devious plot. James tells us something we already know through experience: the tongue is small – yet strong! It can spark a great fire (internally and externally). If not tamed, the tongue can bring about a world of evil.
The tongue can corrupt the whole person. Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain both are attributed this quote: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Something similar is found in Proverbs 17:28: Even a fool is thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongue (NIV). James reminds us that the tongue can set the course of one’s life on fire (blow it up). The tongue is tameless, restless, evil and a deadly poison. Not real flattering is it!
Can an untamed tongue produce spirituality? Romans 10:9-10 places great emphasis on the tongue confessing our faith: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
So how is it that the same tongue can praise God and curse others (made in God’s image)? James reminds us of the obvious: you don’t get strawberries from apple trees nor will you produce figs from a grape vine!
James wants us to remember to never underestimate the significance of words. There are really no “mere” words. God’s word created and continues to create and re-create the world. And while our words may seem small and insignificant, they do have great impact in both positive and negative ways!
The taming of our tongue starts with admitting that our tongue needs taming! Are we guilty of praising God with our mouths and then cursing others? I remember a friend of mine asking a man who had just finished a series of foul-mouthed curse words to a person who had made a mistake in his fast-food lunch order, “Is that the same mouth you use to kiss you wife and kids?”
Can we acknowledge that sometimes our tongues can speak words more from our frustration and anger much quicker that we realize? Can we admit to having a “Oops, I didn’t mean to say that” disease? Can we ask ourselves “Why, how, when and where am I saying something about another person or persons?” Are my words intended to harm, destroy or damage that person; or are my words intended to correct, build up and inspire another person?
Do we use most of our words to bless or curse? Are we using the same words at church than we do at home…at work…at play? May the Lord help us all to realize the impact of our words on the lives of others. May God help us to use our tongues as an instrument of blessing and that our words would be spoken in love – just like Jesus (the word made flesh) spoke. May God restore a clean and upright heart in such a way that the words from our tongue reflects a heart in love with Jesus Christ