Today, it’s time that we should give our tongues to the Lord.
Thank you so much for that worship – wonderful worship with Marsha and Graham and the congregation singing. It always is each week. I know I say it every week, but each week it warms my heart to hear God’s people singing praises to God. Before we get started this morning, let me welcome Jonas, our associational missionary is here for Rowan County. So, hello, Jonas. Jonas does a fantastic job serving the churches of Rowan County. A fun, interesting story – I knew his daughter years ago. His daughter would come to the vacation Bible schools at Pleasant Grove, and so it’s good for him to be here and worshiping with us this morning.
Let me invite you now to take your copy of God’s Word. We’re in the book of James. Chapter 3 is where we’re going to be picking up, and last week was a hard message because it dealt with that tension between faith and works. But this week’s message will step on your toes. And how do I know that? Cause I had to put on my boots all week as I studied, OK – the steel toed. Yes, because it’ll make you think, and so I want you to think about this.
Have you ever said something you instantly regretted? I mean, have you ever said something that the moment it came out of your mouth, your foot went in? Anybody? How many of you like have tasted your feet more than you’ve tasted steak? That’s right. I mean, you find yourself standing there, right? And the words – you can see them coming out of your mouth and you’re like, no, come back! Come back! Anybody? I mean, I saw some people raise their hands.
Has anybody never misspoke? See that would be a lie, and that’s a sin too. Thus, you would have just misspoke and so you’d have done that. Maybe it was a joke that was inappropriate. Maybe it was a joke that wasn’t funny. It was offensive. Maybe out of anger. And husbands, wives, you know this. Maybe out of anger, you spoke a harsh word to your spouse. And my question is, how did that work for you, right? Maybe as a student, you’re not allowed to go and do, and you say a harsh word to a parent, and the parent follows with a harsh word back.
Maybe you accidentally say a curse word in front of your child. That child in turn goes to the home of a shut in during Christmas to sing Christmas carols and repeats that word in front of the shut in. That’s pretty specific, wasn’t it? It’s almost like I’ve been there. Maybe you’re preparing to take, you know, youth students to camp, and you send an email to their parents telling them what size bed sheets to bring, and you misspell the word “sheets.” That’s pretty specific too, isn’t it? I’ve been there. What’s funny is, I thought you were going to have a misspelled word in your notes, but I actually had blanks in that spot this morning.
And so just to share with you. There was a game that for 12 years the folks at Pleasant Grove played – find the pastor’s grammatical and spelling errors. You experienced that last week as I almost sent our church into heresy saying that faith is not necessary. But we got it fixed. It was just a blip on the screen.
Maybe you said something behind someone’s back, and it got back to them. Maybe you’ve been the person who was talked about behind your back, and it got back to you. Words are incredibly powerful things. Words have the power to build someone up, encourage, motivate, inspire. As a football coach, inspiring young people to play above their abilities is important, and words have that power.
Words also have the power to tear down, destroy. And they leave horrible scars. Some of you here are living with the horrible scar of hurtful words. And some of you are the ones who said the hurtful words. James has a lot to say about the tongue. We’ve already seen two of these verses. We went in depth on one of them, and the second one, we kind of skipped over until today. But in chapter one we see the words – be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. At the end of chapter one, we see this very powerful sentence. The believer who does not bridle his tongue is not truly religious.
As we look at Chapter 3 today, James really expands and expounds upon the power of the tongue, and what we learn and what we see – kind of the main idea that we get, is the tongue is a powerful tool that can have devastating effects. And all of us, everybody here, me included – I’ll be the first one to step forward and say I struggle with my tongue. You know, frustration and anger. Things don’t go my way. I mean, I struggle. The Panthers were three and 0 – now, I don’t know what they’re going to be. Words during games – uncontrolled.
As a football coach, I thought I had it under control. But referees are not good. You’ve heard me say that. And when I coached, you know, 15 years ago, I was penalized and ejected from wrestling matches and all that stuff, and I couldn’t control anything. I thought I had fixed that, so a couple of years ago, I was coaching the middle school football championship game. Really bad call, and the opportunity came for me to bend the ear of a referee. He walked over to us. Anyway, I couldn’t control my tongue.
We all struggle with taming our tongue. Now, I believe if James were writing this today, he would add a little caveat to it. He goes, you need to tame your tongue, and you need to tame your thumbs. Right, we do more damage with these two things – on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat than we ever do speaking. Teenagers use those platforms to bully, make fun of, and hurt others. Adults use these platforms to complain and criticize, spread rumors and falsehoods, and slander other people. What does that say about our faith? What does it say when in our bio it says “Christian,” and our news feed is filled with hate or complaining or criticizing or gossip?
And so, James is just a pastor who’s trying to pastor a church, and so I want us to be pastored by James today. Can we do that? These are his words, not my words. If it steps on your toes, know that it stepped on my toes all week.
James 3:1-12 – Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body. 3 Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we direct their whole bodies. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 Every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish is tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.
Let’s pray. Father, it’s a good Word today. It’s a hard Word, a convicting Word, a challenging Word. And as we walk through it, may Your Spirit convict us, reveal to us our failures, and lead us to repent of those sins. Father, as always we ask what we know not, You would teach us. What we have not, You would give us. What we are not, You would make us. In Jesus name, amen.
So again, the main idea that James is talking about is the tongue is a powerful tool that can have devastating effects, and there’s three insights he gives us. The first one is this.
1 – The tongue is directional.
It can guide the path of your life, and it seems kind of odd to a lot of people that he starts out with a warning to teachers. It’s almost as if that’s kind of out of place a little bit, but it’s not, because think about a teacher. A teacher has great influence on its students. A teacher has the ability to direct the path of a student, to teach truth, or to teach falsehood. And so, James says, listen, you need to be very careful whether or not you want to be a teacher, because there’s great responsibility that comes with it. There’s a weightiness to teaching – very specifically, teaching the Bible as a pastor each and every week.
Yeah, people ask me all the time – do you get nervous? I don’t get nervous to talk to people anymore. Public speaking is something that, you know, I’ve gotten used to. What I’m always week in and week out nervous about is faithfully explaining the Word so we understand it. That is a great responsibility of a pastor – to speak truth from the Book of Truth in a way where you can live it out and understand it in your life.
Now James is making a warning because the teachers of that day had a little bit of power. They had a little bit of prestige – they were viewed as you know, maybe a little higher up than the normal everyday person.
And so, there were some of that day who desired to be a preacher because they wanted the attention – they wanted people to look at them. They wanted to have a platform where they had power to do this, and they don’t really care so much about what they said. They just wanted to be looked at – they like to hear, y’all know preachers like this, they like to hear the sound of their voice. I’m not like that. This might be a longer sermon than normal today, but I’m not, I’m not like that. Teachers were prominent and had a prominent position in the life of the church.
And James just wants to give them a little bit of a warning that what you are teaching matters. The direction you’re leading your people matters, and if you lead them in a wrong direction, as a pastor, you’re going to be held accountable for that. Do you know that I am your pastor, and I will stand before God and give account for you? Did you know that? You’re like Pastor, where do you get that? Where I get it from is Hebrews. The author of Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” We will give an account for you when we stand before God, and he continues “so that they can do this with joy and not grief.” I don’t want to stand before God and be like, oh Graham, I have no joy with him. No, I want to be able to stand before God and give an account like man, I saw him grow. I saw these people grow. I saw them go from immature and mature.
And then I’m going to have to give account for my mistakes. Well hey, this sermon was wrong and you lead them down a wrong path. I will answer for that. And that is a weighty thing for all pastors and Sunday school teachers. Now I got to be careful cause I don’t want a Sunday school teacher to resign when I’m done with this. Sunday school teachers, you have a great responsibility as well. You will give an account for what you teach.
The seriousness of preparation isn’t Saturday night specials or God forbid, Sunday morning specials, which I’ve done – not sermons. But think about what, what would you think about me if I showed up like, well, I didn’t prepare this week, so let’s just open it up and see what God’s got? Y’all wouldn’t think too highly of me.
Sunday school teachers, you have a serious role – to prepare and to teach and to apply God’s Word because you’re leading your people, and you can lead them in a good direction. Or, you can lead them in a bad direction because our words are directional.
Another group is parents. Do you know all parents are teachers? All parents are teachers. What are you teaching your children? Men, listen to me, you are the spiritual heads of your house. It’s very counterculture today, isn’t it? Men, how are you leading your family? It is your responsibility to speak truth into their lives. It is your primary responsibility to raise your children in the ways of the Lord, and it is a great responsibility and you need to take it seriously.
If you do not lead your children or your family to follow the Lord, the world will teach them how not to follow the Lord. The schools will teach them very successfully how to not follow Jesus. And parents, you will have to give an account. Now I want to be clear – parents, you can teach and you can pour the Word into your kids and sometimes kids just go astray, don’t they? It happens. But, we just keep praying for them. We keep loving them. We keep supporting them, and we keep teaching them. It’s all you can do is teach them and pray for them, but if you don’t teach them, don’t be surprised when they fall away.
So, your tongue is directional and you will be held accountable for that which you are teaching. And I love what he kind of goes on to say. He says everyone stumbles. Is that not encouraging? Is that not encouraging – everyone stumbles with your speech. Everyone yells at a referee. Everyone gets angry. And then he kind of, this is like very sarcastic, but if you never stumble, you got it. You’ve arrived, you’re perfect. If you learn to control your tongue, you can control your whole body.
Basically, he’s saying if you believe that your mouth is perfect, then your whole body better be perfect cause the tongue is the hardest part of the body to control. Then he illustrates it with a bit and a rudder. Now I know nothing about horses and I know less about boats, but I know this. I have ridden a horse. I’ve been on a boat. That’s it.
But I know that the bit is small, and it goes in the mouth. I watched a video on this on how to put it in there this week, and it’s that bit that is attached to some reins and the rider sits on the horse. Is that what it’s called the reins? I don’t even know. I didn’t watch the whole video. So the reins – you can make the horse go any direction by just pulling on those reins. Now think about a horse that’s not tame, a horse that does not have a bit in its mouth. It just runs wild. It just goes crazy.
And then think of a boat, a little bitty rudder, and you’ve got the captain who goes, go starboard or go port or do this. I don’t even know what those words mean. I’ve just heard them on TV. Yeah, those little rudders control these big ships. The bit and the rudder can set the course for those things, and they’re so little. They’re so small – the tongue and this tiny little mucous membrane in our mouth can set the direction of your life.
The tongue can set the course of life, and if it is uncontrolled, it will run wild with no direction and maybe off a cliff like you see horses in the old Western movies. I went to the beach with my in-laws and watched a lot of Western movies these last few days. A lot of horses who are just running crazy, getting ready to fall, you know, every Western movie has a scene like that. Where there’s a woman on a horse, and it’s running wild. And somebody has to save her, and it falls off a cliff. Without that little bit, it falls off the cliff, right?
A boat without a rudder? The wind will sway it back and forth until it runs into the rocks, causing a shipwreck, hurting both you and others, and both the rudder and the bit have to overcome contrary forces. The bit must overcome the wild nature of a horse. The rudder must fight against the winds and the currents.
But don’t miss the important part of the illustration, the bit and the rudder are controlled by a captain or a rider. You can see down in verse seven that humanity has tamed the birds, the reptiles – you can go and pet snakes, king cobras will let you pet them. We contain elephants. I’ve ridden an elephant – not for long, but I rode the elephant. We contain animals, we can’t tame the tongue. It takes a strong rider or a good boat captain.
And listen, if you want to tame your tongue, you have to first tame your heart. And here’s the secret. You can’t do it without Jesus, right? Jesus is the rider of the horse. Jesus is the boat captain steering the rudder. We have an old nature. We have a sin nature that wants us to spew out things from our mouths and do things that we shouldn’t do. And without Jesus, we can’t control that. We have to let the Lord control our heart. When the Lord controls our heart, He controls our lips.
Jesus says that from the mouth speaks the overflow of the heart. If you love the Lord, if you’re following Jesus, if your heart is completely surrendered to Him, what comes out of your mouth will be holy and gracious and merciful because He is controlling it. And your life will be going in a godly direction.
So, the tongue is directional, but he also says it is destructive. And it is deadly.
2 – The tongue is destructive and it is deadly.
How many of you remember Smokey the bear? Is that that the coolest thing ever? Only you can prevent forest fires. Yeah, that was a big thing when I was growing up, and we used to hike the Appalachian Trail all the time. We would go and do that. We would camp, and I know the one thing that we were focused on the most was well, the first one was making sure the bears didn’t get our food. The second one was making sure we didn’t start a forest fire, so we were very careful and very meticulous about how we built the fire, how we surrounded and protected the fire, and then when we left, we would take 5-gallon buckets of water or jugs of water and pour it all over the fire.
We wanted to make sure it was out because what do you know about fires? A little spark, just a little bitty ember, can set the whole forest on fire and next thing you know, there’s no trees and there’s nowhere to camp. I wouldn’t go camping now if somebody made me, but we have to, you know, the fire can be so deadly. You see it as we get into spring and summer – the wildfires out West. I mean, they’re so destructive. They destroy vegetation, they destroy trees, they destroy homes, they kill animals, and they can kill people.
Fire is destructive, and usually most of the time it starts with just a little spark. One word out of your mouth – to kill the self-esteem of a kid. One word, one wrong word out of your mouth, can destroy and divide a church. One wrong word can divide and destroy and kill a family.
It’s devastating. Here’s the thing. Once you say it, you can apologize all you want to, but you know what? It never goes back. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. So, what am I talking about? First and foremost, gossip. There are few things more destructive, well in life, but in the life of a church, than gossip.
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary, he tells a story about a pastor friend. He says this – a pastor friend told me about a member of his church who was a notorious gossip. She would hang on the phone most of the day, sharing tidbits with any and all who would listen. One day she came to the pastor and said pastor, the Lord has convicted me of my sin of gossip. My tongue is getting me and others into trouble. That’s good. Got to admit you got a problem. But the pastor knew that she was not sincere because this lady had done it many times before. And so, he gradually asked, well, what do you plan to do now that you’re convicted? And she said, well, I want to go lay my tongue on the altar. Now, this bold, brave pastor said to this little lady, there’s not an altar big enough. He had his resume out the next day. But he knew.
I mean, we all know big mouths, we know gossips. Gossip is hurtful and that’s funny because I wanted to lead with that funny story to share with you what Ray Orlander says about gossip. And I couldn’t write it any better than this. Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube. It erodes trust and destroys morale. It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearance of friendships is really sincere. It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation. It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.
It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip, and to the person being spoken against. Now don’t miss this – it makes the body of Christ look like the Antichrist. Strong words about gossipers. Destroyers rather than healers. It exhausts the energies that we would otherwise devote to a positive witness. It robs the Lord of the church that He deserves. It exposes the hostility in our hearts, discredits the Gospel, and the eyes of the world.
And we wonder why we don’t see more conversions. Gossip is a deadly thing. We shouldn’t have any part of it. You shouldn’t spread it. If you’re being gossiped to, you don’t have to be rude. I don’t want you to be mean, but gently stop it. Gently stop it. Say hey, we need to stop that. Oftentimes, gossip is disguised in things like have you heard or did you know or they tell me, or hey, keep this to yourself. The honest truth, in my experience, it comes like this – some people are saying. You know what I think when somebody says some people are saying, you’re the one saying it and you just don’t want to admit to it.
Another one is complaining. We don’t get our way. Things aren’t going the way we think they should. We whine like little children. I loved this. When I went to Romania on a mission trip, it was a hard trip. We were given a shirt that we were to wear at least once. And it said, “No whining. No complaining.” And in fact, we were told not to wear it until we were told to wear it, and the director of missions would tell us to wear it on the day we started to complain the most. I got to wear mine the first day. It had been a rough flight.
Criticism is so discouraging. I have seen on the ballfields – soccer, baseball, I have seen parents belittle and criticize and discourage their kids to the point where they have nothing left in their tank. Now I don’t mean to say we should never correct, and constructive criticism is good. But it’s the tone. I think for me, the most convicting part is how I talk to my kids about homework. I can get frustrated when they don’t do their homework. I can get angry if they mess up. I have to watch my tone and my criticism of that. Now, it doesn’t mean they should never do their homework, but I watch the way I respond.
Social media bullying, boasting, which is pride, lying and spreading rumors usually anonymously, slander. See, the tongue is a very tiny thing that can ruin somebody’s reputation, divide a church, divide a nation, and even blasphemy God Almighty.
The tongue is directional. It sets the course of our life. It is destructive, it is deadly.
3 – The tongue is revealing.
It’s revealing. This is how James ends his point in these last few verses is that the mouth reveals what’s on the inside. Now I want you to be honest – be honest this morning. How many of you are skilled in religious vocabulary? How many of you are skilled in the art of coming to church and talking churchy while going to the Family House and not talking so churchy. Or, going to work tomorrow morning and using sarcastic, critical, harsh, or even letting filthy words spew from your mouth. We can play nice at church and then talk bad about people behind their backs.
Another word that could be used to describe how he ends this section is hypocritical. First-hand blessings and cursing come out of the same mouth that you just blessed the Father with, that you just sang praises to, that you just worshipped with, that you just prayed with, and you turn around and curse people with, and by the way, these people are made in the image of God.
All of them, Christian and non-Christian alike. We are all made in God’s image. When you dishonor somebody’s character, you are dishonoring God. Think about that the next time you are talking about someone in a different political party than you. Think about that the next time you’re talking about an immigrant. Think about that the next time you’re talking about someone with a different skin color than you or a different job than you or a different socioeconomic status as you. How do you talk about them? What words come out of your mouth? If you dishonor someone created in the image of God, then you dishonor God.
Listen, there are non-Christians out there. They don’t deserve to be talked bad about. They deserve to be recognized as lost people who need the love of Jesus. Don’t talk bad about them. Don’t be hypocritical with the words that come out of your mouth because it really just reveals who you are. It reveals what’s in your heart. James talks about how absurd it is by using these illustrations. You know, a fig tree cannot produce olives. That would be absurd. A grapevine cannot produce figs. That would be absurd. Saltwater cannot come from fresh water, and fresh water can’t come from salt water. That would be absurd.
Being a Christian speaking Christian language is one minute and then acting like a non-Christian the next minute is absurd, and he says it shouldn’t be. He basically tells this church to stop doing it. Let God have your heart and stop talking about people behind their backs or lower to their face for that matter. I would much prefer it to my face to be honest with you. Stop the gossip. Stop the complaining. Stop this hateful criticism or this boastful pride. It dishonors God above all else. When Jesus talks about the 10 Commandments, He kind of elaborates on them. He says, thou shalt not murder anybody. Basically, I’m going to paraphrase. If you character assassinate someone, it’s the same thing as breaking the law of do not murder. Keep that in mind when you open your mouth.
I want to give you four things you can do, action steps to help you tame your tongue. The first one we’ve already touched on – it’s this:
Ask God to take charge of your lips and guard your mouth.
This happened in Isaiah 6: 5. “Then I said woe is me, for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah is confessing to God that he’s got unclean speech, he’s got unclean lips, and he lives among people with unclean lips. He’s crying out to God. He’s asking God to change him.
And in verse 6, “Then one of the Seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it, and said now this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed, your sin is atoned for.”
That’s the first thing you got to do is you got to pray – say God, cleanse me of these unclean lips. God, as you transform my heart, transform my words. Because we can’t do it without Jesus in our life. When you decide to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes into you and transforms you. He is the pilot. He is the rider. And I want to encourage you with this today, because I hear a lot of sermons about gossip and complaining, and it’s always really harsh, isn’t it? And it should be. But, this is what I don’t hear come out of a lot of those sermons.
So, I don’t want you to miss this. Jesus died for the person who struggles with gossip. Jesus died for the complainer. Jesus died for the person who criticizes. Jesus died to forgive you of those sins. Jesus loves you enough to say that’s not how it’s supposed to be, and I’m going to do something to fix it. And He did. He went to the cross, so if those are sins, if you struggle with the sins of the mouth, He died for you. And He says, come to Me, bring it to Me, and I will clean you up. Bring Me that messy mouth and let Me wash it. In essence, this is a very silly illustration, but in essence the cross is the soap that your momma put in your mouth to wash it out. Some of that soap tastes bad. But it works.
A second thing you can do is keep receiving the Word.
Saturate your soul with scripture. The scripture will change the way you think, act, and talk. When you are immersed in the Bible, it has got the authority and the sufficiency to help you with your speech.
Third, discipline yourself.
I mean you have to be a disciplined person. Stop being critical. Stop gossiping. Stop gossip when it’s received.
And the fourth thing, become a person who is committed to speaking words of encouragement and building people up rather than tearing them down.
Let me tell you something, our nation and our world would be so much better if everyone would commit to that. We’ve got differences. We’re different. We have disagreements. You know what? That’s OK. God created us to be diverse. Don’t let it divide us. Build each other up. Encourage each other. And so, maybe today it’s time that me first, and all of us, should give our tongues to the Lord.
Psalm 19 says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, my Lord, my strength, my Redeemer.” The invitation is really simple this morning. Come to the altar, if the Lord leads you, and lay your tongue on it. Give God your lips. Give God your tongues. Pray that prayer. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.
Let’s pray together. Father, it’s a Word that’s convicting cause we all struggle. And James even says we all struggle with it. Father, take over our hearts so You can take over our lips. When we speak ill of somebody, when we gossip, immediately convict us with Your Spirit so that we may seek repentance of that sin. Father, help us to be a people that love like Jesus, that build up and encourage others and we ask this in Jesus name, amen.