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Presented, May 7, 2006 pm



James 3:1-12


This morning, we began our study of the tongue.  We noted what the tongue is and several general passages that speak of how important it is that we learn to control the tongue.  This is the beginning of a study of both sins of the tongue and how to properly use it.  Perhaps one of the best known passages to us in dealing with the tongue is James 3:1-12.  Tonight, we want to examine this text in more detail to help us understand just how powerful the tongue can become.


               i.            Vs. 1 – The warning, “let not many of you become teachers.”  That is the primary focus of this text and even the explanation concerning the tongue. 
A teacher HAS TO know how to properly manage his speech or else he will be ineffective or even causing more damage than good.  Timothy was encouraged to give himself to his work and the Word –   1 Timothy 4:12-16
The best example of this would be Jesus Himself – as the wise master teacher.  He carefully weighed His every word and spoke what was best and needed.
Another consideration in this is the FALSE TEACHER – who either with ignorant words or malicious intent lures people away from the gospel.  2 Peter 2:1-2 – they use deceptive words.  He WILL answer to God!
 I believe the “stricter judgment” is directly related to this fact – primarily, we must make sure that as teachers and preachers we are doing all that we can to ensure that we do as much good as possible.  When we abuse the tongue, whether it be with an improper attitude or with dishonesty (false teachers, twisting the truth, etc.) we influence others.  God will hold us accountable for that!


              ii.            Vs. 2- for we ALL stumble in many things, but especially the tongue. 
While James has teachers specifically in mind, the principles are practical and MANDATORY for ALL of us!  (Just as Romans 6 while mentioning baptism, is actually about the fact in baptism we put to death the old sinful man and thus we should not sin any more, rather than a discourse on baptism – BUT what he says applies.)
The fact that we ALL stumble is something we all know.  We ALL say things we shouldn’t and leave unsaid what we ought to be saying.
In this verse he pointedly states that if we can learn to control our tongues IN ALL THINGS we can be perfect (complete, brought to its end [Thayer] – completed state, meaning you have reached your pinnacle in that).  Consider 2 Peter 1:8 which describes one as being perfect WHEN he applies the various “graces” described in vs. 5-7. 
NOTE also that implied in this verse is that we CAN control our tongues.  But it is NOT an easy thing to do.


            iii.            Vs. 3-5a – Little tongue, GREAT power.  Two examples are given – a “bit” placed in the horse’s mouth and the rudder, which in comparison to the ship is rather small.  Both have the power to turn the whole body.  Similarly, the tongue controls the whole body.  That is, what proceeds from the tongue has an impact on everything else.  We all know how powerful words can be.  They can make or break the person. 
Have you ever wondered why we are afraid of someone else’s words?  After all they are just words (not sticks and stones) but we tremble at the thought of someone speaking evil against us. 
We fear because of what others might think and say about us.  Often times, such words cause us to say nothing or carefully weigh our words.  Sometimes this is a good thing, but at other times we have been intimidated or bullied into silence, by words.  There are many who are verbal bullies.  They use their words to threaten, belittle, and intimidate others into submission to their wants.  Diotrophes was of this sort in 3 John 9-10.  Many of the Jewish leaders were like this.  Consider John 9:20-23 where a formerly blind man defends Jesus, but his parents won’t.  Also note John 12:42-43 where many feared the Jews. 

            iv.            Vs. 5b-6 – it can be like a forest fire.  Here in Southern California we are very familiar with the damage such fires can do.  Often started with a small match or even a cigarette butt thrown out the window, and it rages destroying everything in its path.  The tongue can do the same thing when introduced to the right “fuel.”  As we study the various sins of the tongue we will see the damage this little member can do. 
 I do like what Solomon said in Proverbs 26:20-21, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.  As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.
It’s potential damage is also seen in the way it is described here:

1.        A world of iniquity – the word iniquity is often translated unrighteousness.   It means that which is wrong or what it ought not to be (WS Dictionary NT).  It is that which is against God.  The tongue either initiates or produces many evil schemes which are against God.

2.        So set as to defile the whole body – don’t let its smallness fool you into thinking it is not powerful.  It has the potential to affect everything about us.  Often reputations are determined by the way one talks. 

3.        It sets on fire the course of nature – this speaks of the progression of the tongue’s use either in our own lives or the world as a whole. The word “course” is a word used only here and is believed by most scholars to refer to a wheel.  I think of the expression, “get the ball rolling.”
Some believe this refers to the cycle of life of a man – from youth to death, our words help determine our fate and the direction you life is headed – the type of job you get, who you marry, who your friends are, etc.  
Some believe it has reference to the world as a whole, either all ages (from the beginning of time when Satan lied) or the direction the world of our age is headed.
ALL of these possibilities have been influenced by the tongue.  Because, often times what is said doesn’t end the story.  Like the small match only begins the fire, harsh or bitter words are either added to or responded to.  Ungodly men don’t simply dismiss words of anger or condemnation, they retaliate with stronger words.  Wars have started this way.  Lives have been destroyed.  CHURCHES HAVE DIVIDED.

4.        It is set on fire by hell (Gehenna) itself (the only time the word is used outside the teachings of Jesus in the gospels).   James notes that the evil tongue originates with the devil.  He often uses the tongue to accomplish his evil schemes.  He used it to lie to Eve.  He used it to turn the mob against Jesus to crucify Him, etc.  AND, ultimately, those who fail to control their tongues will fuel the fires of hell for all of eternity (unless they repent).


             v.            Vs. 7-8 – difficult (but not impossible) to tame
We have been successful in taming various types of large and dangerous animals.  Man has domesticated many otherwise wise beasts.
But we can’t tame the tongue.  This does NOT mean that you cannot learn to control your own tongue, but it does say that if you have started a fire with it, it becomes VERY difficult to put out.  ONCE you start down the road of profanity, gossip or lying they become a way of life for you and VERY HARD to stop. 
To our youth, I plead with you, NEVER compromise your speech just to fit in!  Like smoking, it becomes a habit that is very painful to break.  There are many in this congregation that will testify to that fact.
BUT, also consider the fact, that while you may succeed in controlling your OWN tongue, you cannot do much to control the tongues of others (unless they want to change).  So language as it applies to society and the world is even MORE difficult to tame.
James then says the tongue is FULL OF DEADLY POISON.  Just like the poison of a venomous serpent can kill you, so the tongue can do great and permanent damage.  In Romans 3:13 in describing the evils of mankind Paul spoke of evil words being compared to “the poison of asps”.  Taken from Psalm 140:3.


            vi.            Vs. 9 12 – we often use it inconsistently – blessing God and cursing men.
I believe these verses are the concern that prompted James to write the words about the tongue (along with inspiration).  He noted inconsistencies in their conversations with one another.  He will address some of these in the next chapter (speaking of their warring with one another, selfish desires, etc.). 
We all understand the importance of praising God.  Numerous lessons have been devoted to the importance of this; cf. our studies in the psalms.
Consider the example of Peter who swore that he would NEVER deny His Lord (Matthew 26:33) and yet we find him denying Him 3 times, even cursing (Matthew 26:69-75). 
What about us?  Is our conversation consistent?
With one breath they praise God – perhaps as they assembled together.  And with the next breath – they curse their brethren – perhaps on the way home from worshipping God as they start picking apart everything that was WRONG with the worship service or those who were there.  This is especially true of their “enemies” – the ones they don’t like or a looking to criticize.
James is emphatic when he says, “MY BRETHREN, THESE THINGS OUGHT NOT TO BE SO!”
Examples are given including a spring bring forth both fresh and bitter water.  The idea of “bitter” water is unfit to drink.  A spring cannot have both, as the bitter water will contaminate the fresh water.
Other examples include a fig tree producing olives.  It won’t happen! 
Nor will a fountain produce both fresh water and salt water.  (Note: I believe that is something that can be done now, but it is very costly and elaborate – and that is what it takes to purify a corrupted tongue.)


For whatever reason, James chose to approach his admonition from a negative standpoint.  We are not told why, but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that many brethren were not acting the way that they ought to, especially teachers.   But after this in vs. 13 James says “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”  In this short phrase he calls for all of us to act the opposite of all the evil he has just described.  He equates the proper use of the tongue with WISDOM.  And in that he has already reminded these brethren that they ought to call upon God if they lack wisdom (James 1:5).  YES, we can get God’s help in properly using our tongues.  Let us do so.

 Considering this text, what is your tongue saying about you? Are you controlling your tongue the way you ought to?