We’ve all heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But the truth is that the tongue is powerful, and words have the power to shape our lives. In this message, we study James 3:1-12 to learn three truths about the tongue.
Let's go! Welcome, friends in the room, friends in Fort Worth; Houston; El Paso; Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; Northwest Arkansas; Scottsdale, Arizona; Cedar Rapids; Boise, Idaho; Pennsylvania; wherever you are joining from or if you're just tuning in online. We are continuing this series on the book of James. I'm going to start by reading the passage, and then we'll go from there. James, chapter 3, verse 1:
"Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." Let me pray.
Father, I pray you would use the instructions and the writings your younger brother was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write to instruct us all on how to more effectively and faithfully follow you. I pray for anyone who has never had a moment where they didn't just have you be Lord of their lips, but Lord of their life, tonight would be their night. Thank you for Jesus in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.
We are continuing this series James. If you're just joining us, we've been walking through the book of James. The book of James was written by Jesus' younger brother. You may not realize, like many of you have siblings, Jesus had younger siblings. James spent his entire life and most of his early adult years not believing his brother was the Son of God or the Savior of the world, just some guy starting this kind of fringe cult movement…that is, until Jesus died on the cross and came back alive three days later.
James went from saying, "My brother is crazy" to "My brother is the Savior of the world," and he spent the rest of his life spreading the message that there's a God who loves humanity so much he gave his life, he died on the cross, and anyone who accepts the free gift of Jesus in their place will have eternal life.
To kick off where we're going to be headed tonight, as we talk about words, I'm going to frame up something that happened in my world. This past weekend, I enrolled in a bowling league, which is why I have this. No, that's not true at all. This past weekend, I was out with my son. We're on a longboard. It's a great day. Things are going great. He gets his scooter out. I have a 5-year-old son named Crew, and this is one of the ways we get energy out.
I'll jump on the longboard, which I'm clearly way too old to be doing, and he will get on his scooter, and we'll just race down hills around our neighborhood. So we're racing. It's kind of a mixture when you're dad of, like, "Hey, sometimes I let you win and sometimes I show you who's boss, bro. Here we go." This was one of those moments where I was like, "You've won enough. I've got to put you back in your place."
I'm racing down the hill, and I'm catching up to him. As I'm moving toward him… We're catching up, we're going down this hill, and I'm going faster because he was ahead. He moves over in my direction, and he continues to move in my direction, and right at the last minute, the dude just swipes into me with his scooter. The back of his wheel hits the front of my wheel, and Boom! Right on the pavement. Just total flat-out fell down.
I get up. It's one of those moments where you're like, "Ow! Oh man! That hurts so bad. I cannot believe you did that, you 5-year-old…" No, I didn't go there. I jumped up, and I realized, "Man, something is wrong with my hand." I go home and put ice on it. I'm like, "We're done. Done with the games. Everybody back inside." I put ice on it, and my hand continues to swell. I wake up Sunday morning, and we were here at Watermark. I bumped into a friend who's a doctor out there, and they were like, "You should really get that checked out."
So I leave and go to a doc-in-a-box and get an x-ray done. They come back out, and they're like, "Yeah, your hand is fractured." Basically, this pinkie has a bone that runs underneath it, and it totally fractured inside of it. I'm like, "Okay. What does that mean? What am I going to have to wear?" She's like, "You need to go see an orthopedic surgeon." So I go to the orthopedic surgeon. I'm like, "Can I do this without a cast? How about a Band-Aid?"
She looks at the thing, and she says, "No. You're definitely going to have a cast. You'll probably have to have surgery." So that has been my week this week. I had never broken a bone before. You realize something when you break a bone. It's incredibly painful. So, if at any point I accidentally bump something up here and something comes out of my mouth, we are talking about the tongue, and it is an illustration. Okay?
I start there because when we grew up as kids, there was a phrase that was related to bones and related to words we say. It's "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." The premise of this statement is really simple. There are things that can break a bone, and that's going to hurt, but words and people saying mean things to us… This is our response on the playground to Billy the Bully: "Hey, you can tease me all you want. Your words will never hurt me. They're nothing as painful as breaking a bone."
Although breaking a bone is incredibly painful, that sentence is just not true. We know it's not true. Even the reason we say it is to make ourselves feel better, like, "No, I don't care what you say." Deep down, we know words are incredibly powerful. This bone is broken and will heal, but there are some words people have said toward you or even words you've said toward other people that there are still deep wounds that exist from them.
Some of the most painful moments in your life involve what someone…a parent, a father, a sibling, a roommate, a best friend…said to you, a comment somebody made at school about the way you look or the way you dress or about your car or about you in general that you could think back on and you could play the reel of those memories. There are a lot of memories… Most of your life you won't remember. How crazy is that? You don't know what you had for breakfast six months ago, but there are moments in time that just freeze that have at the heart of them the words someone spoke.
James launches into the conversation about words, and he says when it comes to believers, there is a very specific way you and I are to understand the power of our words and to use our words toward one another. So, we're going to continue looking at this book of James where he covers 14 different subjects. We call it a book. It was really a letter written by Jesus' younger brother to Christians who lived all over the known world at that time. He covers a number of different topics, and he moves through.
James begins to address words, and we're going to walk through what he lays out as "Here's how powerful your words are. Here's the potential that, if you're not careful with your words, your mouth can create." Then he launches into, ultimately, the source, because if we're going to have a solution for our words and some of the carnage we've caused or carnage and hurt that has been caused toward us, we have to know the source and the solution that comes as a result of that source.
So, I'm going to read again verses 1-4, and then we'll pause and talk about what he says the power of our tongue is. "Not many of you should become teachers…" To me it's like, "Whoa, bro. Why do you have to go there, right there, just like that? That's what I do." "…because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." Why would he immediately launch there? Well, he's bringing up the conversation of words. And what does a teacher do?
The role of a teacher, especially a pastor or somebody who's on a stage doing what I'm doing right now, is to use their tongue to communicate, to use their words to talk to people. He says you need to know that people who do that are going to have a lot of words coming out of their mouth, which means they're going to have a lot more they're going to be held accountable for, especially if they're someone who leads the people of God astray.
In other words, false teachers, or people who claim to be Christians… And they're all over the place. There are churches that are filled with people, or they claim to be churches or claim to be Christians, who stand on a stage and sell something the Bible doesn't teach. They communicate things God doesn't say are true. For whatever reason…a desire for profit, a desire for a crowd…they sell a message that is not what Christianity talks about, and they're going to give an account.
James brings up the conversation by saying, "Hey, this is why it's a dangerous thing to be someone who uses their words constantly or whose entire job is related to their words, because your words can be an incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous thing." Proverbs 10:19 says, "When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise."
Then he launches into: "We all stumble in many ways." How encouraging is that? There are some passages where you're like, "Oh man, I just can't relate to that." If you can't relate to that, you are blind, bro. Nobody is perfect. "Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check."
In other words, he's like, if you could learn to control and restrain your tongue, you would be a perfect person, because everything you want to get out of control… A lot of problems exist out there…a lust problem, an anger problem, an idolatry of the way you look problem, a money problem. All of those are problems, but if you could master your tongue, you'd have such self-control you could master all of those other things. He's bringing up and hammering home the idea of the tongue.
"When we put bits into the mouths of horses…" He goes into an illustration. You've got to love it. He's totally a teacher, because he goes through six different illustrations back-to-back. He doesn't even unpack them all the way. He's like, "Here's a horse. What about this boat? Here's a tongue. Here's a fire." He just goes one to the next to the next.
"…to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal." If you didn't grow up on a farm, like me, you may not know what a bit is. This is a horse bit. You would put this into the mouth of a horse. It's a very tiny thing, but an animal that weighs thousands of pounds, this enormous… I was talking to a friend just a few minutes ago whose family has horses, and they do horse things.
You'll have this giant animal that you could put hundreds and hundreds of pounds on the back of. They can pull enormous trailers. They're incredibly powerful. They could end your life with a single kick. You put this in their mouth, and you can control their entire body and everything they do. He says that's what the tongue is like. If you can learn to control your tongue, you will learn to control the direction of your life. I'm going to explain even more what he says.
Then he brings up another great illustration, which is a rudder on a boat. These massive, massive boats… If you've ever seen a cruise ship or been on a cruise ship, you see this enormous ship, and then at the back of this half-mile-long ship you'll have this rudder that's not much bigger than I am, this tiny little rudder in proportion to it. He says you turn that thing, and it turns the entire direction of a ship. He's using the point that your words and your mouth is connected to the direction of your life.
"Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts." The first idea I want to talk about is the power of your words. It is a tiny muscle with a titanic or an enormous impact. If I were to ask, "What is the most powerful muscle in the body?" what would you say? Legs. Heart. (That's a muscle. I didn't even think about the heart.) Mind. Glute. I would have said the glute. Apparently, it's actually the jaw in terms of proportion or strength.
The tongue is also a muscle. It's the only muscle in your body that never needs rest. How about that? Some people, you'd be like, "Dude, they need some rest on their tongue." It's the only muscle that never wears out and never needs rest. I would argue, not in terms of strength or physical force, but it is the most powerful muscle the human body has. The destruction you can do to someone… You could be sitting in your chair right now and ruin a person's night.
You could be sitting next to someone and with a sentence have them in tears. Sentences shaped your life, where somebody came in and said something, and your family was never the same as they announced that with words. It's an incredibly powerful tool. It's this tiny little thing. James is just trying to say, "It seems tiny, but this thing has the potential to direct the entire course of your life." It's one of the smaller muscles we have.
If we were going to put it in proportion… Do you guys know what this is? Where are my farm people? This is a cow tongue. I cut this out of my cow this morning. Old Betsy. To fit in terms of teaching James, who loves illustrations… The proportion of the impact of our tongue in our lives is far greater than this tiny little thing. It would be far bigger if we could see it in terms of its impact in our lives.
James is saying, "Your tongue is powerful. It has the power to direct the course of your life." What do I mean by it is powerful and can direct the course of your life? The job you have right now is because of the words you said. Think about it. In other words, if you have a job and you're able to pay bills and you can afford an apartment or afford rent or make ends meet… Your ability to do that, because you have a job, is directly connected to the things you said or didn't say in that interview.
Your ability to get a date is directly connected to the things you do or don't say. In other words, the fact that I got married happened because I got down on one knee and with words asked my wife to marry me, and with two words, "I do," everything changed. Your ability to not be put in the friend zone… Do you guys know what the friend zone is? The friend zone is a dark and lonely place to be in. It's when you're a guy, she's a girl, and you have interest in her, and she is like, "Man, I like you like a brother." Your being placed in the friend zone is directly connected to the words you say.
Whether or not he or she is going to go out with you is directly connected to the sentences you use when you speak with him or her. They really do. They shape. They direct. They're a huge part of our lives. Your opinion of somebody is shaped by the words they say. The type of person they are is directly connected… You think about, like, "Oh, they're so kind" or "They're so polite." Try to describe who they are and it not have anything to do with their words.
Someone's opinion of you is shaped by the words you spoke today. You've been interacting. You may have met somebody new, and it's directly connected to whatever words they expressed. They're powerful. They have the ability to direct our lives. Some of your life was shaped and directed by the words and the power that came from the words of somebody else, for good or for bad.
Some of you guys… Somebody believed in you, and they came alongside of you, and you're a doctor or you're in medical school today. They were like, "You are really good at science and math. You should do this." You believed that, and you were encouraged by that, and it changed your life. Some of the most painful, biggest insecurities you have are a result of the words someone used when you were young, when you were old, a year ago, or five years ago.
There are people who, because of the power of words… Maybe it was some of the things their parents did or didn't say. It has left this hole, this insecurity you've been trying to fill ever since. The reason you hook up with guys on the weekend is because you feel insecure because some words weren't shared by your mom or your father or the words that were shared were harsh. They were abusive.
Candidly, some of you guys have really sucky parents, and that sucks. You didn't deserve that. They weren't kind with their words. There's some real harm and real hurt, and it really impacted you. It has directed your life. God didn't want that for you. God loves you. There's healing that can happen there. Words have enormous power in directing our lives. Our words have enormous power in directing our lives.
Today, you may have made a comment, and you haven't thought about that comment at all, but you said it to someone about either the way they look or the way they're doing their job, or something, and they haven't stopped thinking about it since. Candidly, talking about this subject… Anyone a verbal processor here? There are three of you? Really? The rest of you are like, "Nope. I calculate everything before I speak it." Good grief. Verbal processors, you are my people. Honestly, it's the only way to live. It makes life exciting. I don't know what's coming next.
But there are some downsides that come with that. As much as any topic in this book, candidly… My mouth has gotten me in trouble, and my words and an offhanded thought or sarcastic comment or something that was over the line really hurt people, and I hate it. This was a reminder for me. James would say, "You have a weapon constantly with you." You may not think your words are powerful. You may not think you could actually do damage in somebody's life, but you have a powerful weapon you carry around with you by using your words.
Then he goes into the potential our words have. So, they have power to direct and then they have the potential to do something else. "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark." He uses another illustration where he goes into a spark. In 2020, California had the largest number of forest fires and destruction in modern history. It's estimated by AccuWeather that between $130 billion and $150 billion worth of damage was created, millions and millions of acres. If you turned on the news at all, you were probably familiar with all of the different forest fires that were out there.
All that began with a spark, and that single flame just set on fire. James is saying, in the same way, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body." In other words, distinct from the other ways, the damage it can do. You can hit somebody in the face and break a bone, but you can hit somebody with your words and break a lot more. "It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire…" It can be incredibly destructive. "…and is itself set on fire by hell." In other words, it could be a tool that is used by Satan.
The second idea is the potential of our words is for incredible damage. The potential of your words is that they can be incredibly damaging in your life and in my life. Some of you… You know this. It goes without saying. There were words that were spoken, maybe words you spoke, and they caused a fire. And what does a fire do? It has victims. Your dad said something, your mom said something, your old roommate said something, your old boyfriend said something…
There were words that were used about you. "Why do you look that way?" or "You're a little chubby," and you were 12. You've carried that. It shaped your life. It turned into an eating disorder, and still today, the way you post pictures on Instagram is related to wanting to be seen a certain way, because you still carry the pain from those words. You're a burn victim. All of us, in some degree, are burn victims of other people's words and are the perpetrators of creating burn victims in our lives and in our world. James says you need to know you carry something that has tremendous power to damage.
"All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind…" I love that line. First, because it's like, "Really? James, in your day people…" Like, today, you go to SeaWorld, and they have Shamu, and he's going up there. They throw him a fish, and he's up and waving at you. James says in their day, they were doing the same thing. Reptiles, animals, birds, sea creatures…they were all being tamed, which feels awesome if James is going down to whatever ocean and seeing Shamu down there.
His point is you can teach a dog to sit. You could go to the zoo in Dallas and see a lion, and they have exhibits where they'll be like, "Oh look. This is Simba. Simba, sit." And Simba sits, and they'll shake. This animal that 100 years ago would have been terrifying if you ever ran into it out in the wild now is sitting in there wagging its tail like it's a puppy. He says you can tame all of that. "…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."
Poisonous. The word he uses is a word for venom or snakes or for something that had poison that would come out of it. He says that's what our words can be like. In my yard, we'll have weeds that grow. I was kind of in a hurry, and I was trying to get these weeds to stop growing in the midst of the grass, so I took this weed killer. It was a weed killer that will kill anything. I didn't realize it kills anything.
In my mind I was thinking, "If I just spray it right on the weed, it'll just take the weed out and everything will be fine." So I went around and sprayed different weeds inside of the yard. Fast-forward a week later, and these huge patches of dead grass are all over my yard, like aliens invaded or something, because that poison seeps out and destroys anything it touches. James says that's what our words can be like. Somebody who has a loose cannon or an inability to control their words… It's like poison that can spew out, and it's going to affect and infect all over their life.
What types of poisonous speech does the Bible talk about? There are a lot of them. Some of the most relevant ones to this room, underneath the category of poisonous speech… They're going to impact in a negative way those around them. One would be gossip. Gossip is talking negatively or talking bad about somebody whenever they're not present. The Bible hammers over and over and over again how gossip is a big deal to God.
Think about that. Thousands of years ago, God was like, "I don't want you guys circling up and talking about Bill without Bill here." That's pretty profound. Because what does gossip do? It destroys, it erodes relationships. If I'm talking with Jonathan about JD, and JD is not here, and I'm like, "Man, JD is the worst. What's he doing with that hat? What a goof," Jonathan is going to hear that, and his perspective on JD is being shaped. He's not even around. It's dishonoring. It's wrong. It's sin. It's evil. The Bible hammers this is not to be something that marks people of God.
Proverbs, chapter 16, says this: "…gossip separates the best of friends." When you talk negatively about someone who's not there… As Christians, we're called to, "Hey, if they're not around, I'm just not going to talk about them." Anything that is negative about somebody that someone else starts telling me about, if that person is not there, I'm not going to talk about it. I'm going to cut them off. I'm going to say, "Hey, have you gone and talked to that person?" or "You should share that with that person." I don't need that, and it poisons the listeners.
The Proverbs say they're like delicious morsels that go down into the inner parts, which is a genius analogy. If you gossip, which is something that, honestly, is one of those sins we kind of easily tolerate, but you know exactly what he's talking about. It's like, "Oh, delicious morsels." They go deep into the inner body. In other words, they're delicious morsels. They taste good. You're like, "Mm, give me the tea. Come on." But they ruin the listeners who hear them.
One of the things that was so astonishing to me when I started working on staff here a little over 12 years ago… I came on staff, and I was told about something called the 24-hour rule. What's the 24-hour rule? The 24-hour rule was that if anyone approaches you and talks to you or you and someone else or if you're in a group and anyone brings up and talks negatively about someone or criticizes or talks not in a kind, positive, encouraging way about someone who is not present, you have a responsibility to ask, "Have you told this person that?"
If they say, "No," to say to them, "Okay, great. Well, you have 24 hours. I'm going to give you 24 hours. You need to go tell Bill what you were just telling us. If in 24 hours you haven't, I'm going to go to Bill. I'm going to widen the circle and say, 'Hey, when you were not here, he was telling me about all of the relational drama and, honestly, how you're a little annoying to him right now, and I just think you should know, so let's all talk about it right now.'"
Do you know what it did? It did something really beautiful and healthy to our staff. It made gossip not safe. It did. It made it to where you were the person, and you're like, "Hey, have I told you about Bill?" and they go, "Have you told Bill?" and you're like, "Oh man! Now I'm going to have to go tell Bill that I was telling you about Bill." It made you not want to talk about it. Christians, God over and over says you are not to talk negatively about him or about her, even if it's "Let's just pray for them. They're really off right now."
I am called to talk to people, not about people when they're not present. Let me say one last thing about gossip. You know how they say, "If they cheat with you, they're willing to cheat on you"? If somebody gossips to you, they will be willing to gossip about you. Just food for thought. Those same morsels you're eating they are dishing out to other people when you're not around.
What's another type of poisonous talk? Another type would be slander. What's slander? It's just more malicious. Twitter feels like it should change its name to Slander, because it is talking negatively and demeaning to people, attacking people, addressing motive to people, making assumptions about people and talking negatively about them. It's another poisonous speech that is not to take place among Christians.
Candidly, slander is satanic. Why do I say that? Because the very first person who slandered or talked negatively about someone in the Bible was Satan. The garden of Eden. Adam and Eve running around naked. There's the fruit. Satan, the Serpent, comes up and says, "Hey, you should really eat that fruit." She's like, "No. We were told not to."
He's like, "Really? Did God really say you shouldn't eat the fruit? I mean, come on. You know why he did. It's because he knows if you eat it, then your eyes are going to be opened and you're going to be like him. He's trying to hold out on you. You should eat the fruit." The first person to slander was Satan. Its origins come from that. God says honor matters. How you talk about people, how you interact with people, how you tweet at people, what you text to people, what you say about people behind their back really, really matters.
What's another one? Tearing people down. This happens to someone's face. "You're always like this" or "You're just not…" where you would tear someone down with your speech. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome…" The Greek word there is rotting. "…talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
Another one would be angry speech, that I would be quick to lash out when somebody attacks me and assign motive and just come right back at them. Sometimes this happens where we lash out in our words because somebody hits a nerve of a wound from our past where we have trust issues. I grew up, and I had trust issues. Then somebody breaks my trust, and I just come at them in angry speech.
James said earlier in the book, " [You are to be] quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." There's something I was told about called the tongue test. I want you to try it for one day. One day. See how far you get. That you would not do these five things and do this one thing…for one day. Try for one hour tonight at Torchy's and see how far you can get.
No complaining. Tomorrow you wake up, go to the office, and you're not going to complain about anything. Some of you guys won't have the ability to interact with coworkers because your entire relationship is built on complaining. That's all you do. You get there, and you're like, "Oh my gosh. Did you see Beverly? Really? She parked there again? Who does she think she is? And who drinks decaf? This is ridiculous." Your ability to even interact with people… They're going to come at you and be like, "Who drinks decaf?" and you'll be like, "I don't know. It's probably better for us. Let's give it a try." Try, no matter what someone says, "I am not going to complain." For one day.
Don't brag. That you would not be quick to say anything that is bragging about yourself; that you would not gossip or repeat bad information about someone else; that you would not insult any person; that you would not defend or excuse yourself. You wouldn't be defensive. You wouldn't say, "Yeah, I was upset, but it's because of [X, Y, and Z]." That you wouldn't excuse any behavior. So, you wouldn't complain, don't brag, no gossip, no insulting, no defending or excusing behavior, and that you would affirm and encourage people. "I'm going to intentionally be encouraging."
This, honestly, is one of those things… I was talking with my teammate. I can't remember who said it earlier. Girls are way better at this, honestly, than guys. This is maybe one you're going to have to hammer on tomorrow, that you would be encouraging to people around. Guys, this just doesn't come naturally to us. You sit around, and you just dog on one another all day long. I want to encourage you or challenge you to say something encouraging to somebody in your life…to that roommate, the people around you…to affirm, to celebrate, to point it out, and to share it.
The last thing I would say is to those of you who have been burn victims or have been wounded or have done wounding. There's damage that will take time to heal, because the power of our tongues is incredible and the potential for destruction is enormous. You have been hurt, and somebody did say something, or you are the person who said something. You can say, "I'm sorry" and you can ask for forgiveness, but those are wounds that take time to heal.
You can say something, but words are like toothpaste. When they're out, you can't put them back in. It may take time to heal and being gracious and patient with people in your life. My son can be like, "Sorry, Dad. I cut you off, and you fell down on the ground," and that's one thing, but it doesn't mean it's going to heal any faster. There still has to be some healing involved. For that to take place… I love where James points us to next, because he brings up the source and where that healing can take place.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness." How true is that? We can all be sitting in this circle right now (I know I can) and be like, "God of revival, pour it out! Pour it…" And then leave here and on 635 be flipping the bird to somebody who's going by or attacking and immediately chewing out the IKEA person on the phone because all of those furniture pieces didn't come together. In a moment, you go from praising God to cursing him. I know I can be preaching right now and by 9:30 tonight have my wife in tears. James says, "This should not be so." That's what he says.
"Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters…" He's bringing up the source. "…can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." He brings out a lot, but ultimately, he points us back to the source. When it comes to the words we say, they come through the tongue, but they come ultimately from the heart. Jesus would say in Luke, chapter 6… He said this multiple times. "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
The power of our tongues is to direct our life, the potential of our tongues is incredible destruction, and the producer of our words is the heart. "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I love that he brings up made in God's likeness. Why is that powerful? He basically says you praise God, then you curse people made in God's image.
James wrote to an audience that wasn't like the audience we live in today. In other words, his audience had just been introduced to the fact that "Every single person you've ever met, no matter where they live, how much they make, what they look like, how old, young, married, single… All of them are made in God's image, so anytime you offend them, you are offending their Maker whose image they are made in."
We think that's normal. We think it's natural. We think everybody should think that. That is not the way most of history has seen the world. That's not the way many cultures today see the world, that every person out there matters, is significant, because they're all made in the image of God. He points out to his readers, "When you insult them with your words, you insult their Maker, their Creator, which should not be so."
Just like when someone insults my kids, they insult me. If they came up and were to insult my children, those who are made in my image, I'm not being like, "Oh man. Yeah, he's the worst, isn't he?" They insult me. James says you don't just insult them with your words and who you attacked. When you were short with the person at your office or when you were dishonest and disrespectful to that old girlfriend or that one night stand, you dishonor God, and this should not be so.
But in order to address the problem, you have to go to the source, and that source is ultimately the heart. The mouth is not the problem; the heart is. Just like water coming out of a well… You can tell what type of well is there, if it's salt or if it's fresh, based on whatever type of water is coming out. What is coming out of a person tells you what is on the inside. To change the sentences that come out of your mouth, you have to change the source they're coming from, which Jesus says is the heart.
If you stop and think about it, we know this is true. Why do people gossip? There are a lot of reasons probably. One of the reasons is "I'm going to talk bad about this person because, candidly, I feel bad about myself. I'm insecure. I'm jealous of that other person. I just want to feel good by being the person who knows the tea and knows the information."
There's something broken on the inside, there's an insecurity, there's something messed up in the heart, James would say. That's why you gossip. You need to dig deeper and address that. Why do I lash out and get angry whenever somebody is late? Because I feel disrespected, because my parents weren't around enough when I was a child, and it's disrespectful, and they were not on time. I lash out at them, and I feel justified.
James would say the problem is you have a messed-up heart. If you're going to change the source of those words, the source of those sentences, you don't go to the tongue; you go to the heart they're coming from. As Jesus said, again, in Luke 6:45, "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." If you're dating someone and you want to know what's in their heart (and you want to know what's in their heart before you move forward), how can you know? It comes down to what they say.
This passage is a really interesting one, because James doesn't give a lot of "It's in the heart, and the spring, and here are the three steps. Let's walk through them. A: always be kind. B: be careful to make…" He just ends the passage. He moves on, as we'll cover next week, into the next subject. But he points out the words you have are incredibly powerful. They can cause tremendous damage and destruction in your life, and the source of those words, the production of those… They reflect that there's something going on inside of the heart of someone, so if you're going to address it, you have to address at the heart.
I was seeing that surgeon yesterday, and I was talking to them. I was getting options, and she was basically walking me through, like, "It's broken. We need to operate. We need to operate this week." I said, "We need to operate this week? Really? Is it that bad? What's going to happen?" I don't know where you're at on the spectrum of medical stuff. I feel like I err to the side of "Can we just throw a Band-Aid on there, and I'll get back in the game, and we'll see what happens?"
She was like, "Yeah, you can do that, but if you do that, because it's displaced, it's not going to heal correctly. Bones will heal. It'll heal. It just won't heal correctly, so for the rest of your life, when you grip something it won't be as strong. It'll probably bother you whenever you squeeze something. So, you could try to do it on your own. You can throw a cast on there and not have surgery and not throw pins inside of it. It just won't heal correctly."
When you read this passage, James mentions some really interesting things. You've got to love the Bible, because it's so honest. It says three things that are both encouraging and reminding and, candidly, sobering. He says, "Hey, look. The tongue is untamable." You can tame Simba or Shamu, but you can't tame that. He says, "We all stumble in many ways. If you were a perfect person, you'd be able to control your tongue, and nobody out there is perfect."
Then he says, "This inconsistency with our mouths, where in one moment I'm praising God, I'm speaking kind truth and words that are wise and loving and caring, and then the next moment I'm angry or I'm gossiping or I'm spewing poison… This should not be this way." It shouldn't be this way, but it is this way because the tongue is untamable. All of us are imperfect, and all of us stumble, and all of us mess up with our words. What are we supposed to do with that?
This is why the source matters so much. Just like in that scenario where, "Hey, you can try to fix it on your own; it just won't work…" You have to take it to a doctor who knows how to fix the problem. The Bible says that when it comes to the things we say, that is a heart issue, which is God's arena. That's an issue we bring front and center and we bring to him. You could try to fix it on your own. It just won't work.
We take those areas of our hearts where we realize, "Man, I am prone to gossip. There is something inside of me that is messed up. It is a not good or okay thing that I get delight in seeing other people fail and talking about it. There's something messed up, God, that that is present. Will you help me?"
The Bible would say we bring those issues of the heart to the one who can change, who can heal, who's in the business of changing hearts, of healing those hurt, angry parts of your past where somebody lied to you or somebody cheated on you or somebody abused you, something that you still carry with you, and it impacts how you interact with other people. The Bible is clear. You bring those to the God who is able to do what you and I can't, which is heal the heart.
So, if you're a Christian, the application for tonight would be to remember your words are powerful. You carry around a loaded gun with you everywhere you go with tremendous potential to do damage, and that weapon is one that Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 12, "Every idle word will be given account for." How sobering and crazy and convicting is that? Every word you and I will give an account for.
So, the first would be remember, and the second would be surrender. God is Lord of our lives, which means he has to be Lord of our lips and the things we say. When we find ourselves speaking in poisonous, destructive, damaging, un-Christlike ways, we're called to confess those things, to surrender, and say, "God, will you help me?"
Confess them to other people. Bring it right into the light and say, "God, will you help me? There's a heart issue that's taking place here. Why did I respond in such anger in that moment? Why did I lash out at this person that way? Why am I so upset about that? Why am I so prone to talk bad about that person behind their back?" and we would bring those things to God who is in the business of bringing about healing.
The second application, for those who are not Christians in the room, is that you, if you've never had a moment where you surrendered not just your lips but your life, that you accepted the free gift of God, who became a man, who died on the cross in your place, who is the older brother of James, who lived and who James spent the rest of his life telling the message that we call the gospel… What's the gospel? It's the good news. It's what I just said.
God has made a way for you to spend eternity… He wants to spend eternity with you, not because of any way you have earned it or would ever earn it or could ever earn it or deserve it, but because he loved you despite all of the different ways you've used your words, your life, your body, yourself in a way that didn't honor him, was wrong, and you knew it was wrong at the time. All of those things nailed to the cross, paid for, debt canceled, paid in full.
Your invitation tonight is not just to say, "I'm going to get a cussing jar and try to not do that as much," but "I'm going to surrender my life. I'm going to accept the free gift that God offered by giving his life for me on the cross." Because God, when he was here on the planet, gave three words that, for many of us, changed everything. Dying in John, chapter 19, the final words of the Son of God: "It is finished."
What does "It is finished" mean? It means everything you've ever done paid for. It's done. It's over. It's nailed to the cross. You couldn't out-sin the payment God has already offered. He knows sins you're going to commit next Thursday you don't even know about yet. All of it, paid for on the cross. He has offered and extended out of his love for you and me… That's what Christians believe.
If you think Christians believe you come to church, you have to learn the songs, try to be nice, pay your taxes… You know, it's the American way. That's not what Christians believe. Christians believe we are so messed up we'd never be able to earn a relationship with God, but God did what we could not do by dying in our place, and then he rose from the dead. Do you know what happened to James? James saw his brother buried in the ground come back out of the grave, and James spent the rest of his life saying, "It's true!"
He went around, and he ended up losing his life eventually, saying, "It's true." People tried to stone him. They tried to kill him. They threw him off a building at one point. He says, "I don't know what to tell you guys. I saw a guy die. He went into the ground. He was my brother. I knew him my whole life. I wept. I was broken up. I couldn't believe 'He's gone. He's gone. He's gone.' Three days later, he came out of that grave."
Do you know what James went around telling people? Do you know what the New Testament says everyone went around telling people? It wasn't "Hey, be a nice person. Turn the other cheek. Really try hard. Give to Caesar what's Caesar's." They all went around and said, "I saw a man die. Like, dead in the ground, over Rover, and three days later he came back alive. You can kill me. You can do whatever you want to me. You can tell me I can't talk about that. I don't care. I saw a guy dead alive again, and he said if I accept him as Lord, as Savior, as payment for my sin, I will spend eternity and live forever with him."
He used his words and his life for the rest of his days to tell of the God who, today, is extending that same invitation, that same love he had for James, for every person who has ever lived, the same love that sent him to the cross for you and me. Tonight is your moment to surrender not just your words but your life by accepting that free gift by faith.
"God, I believe I'm a sinner. There's nothing I could do to earn a relationship with you, but I receive. I believe that's true. I believe you gave your life for me. I accept that. You died and you rose again, and because of that, I will live forever with you." That's the invitation, wherever you are, that he extends to you tonight. Let me pray.
Father, thank you that it is finished. Every time I have misspoken, spoken poorly… All of it was nailed to the cross. Father, I pray for people in the room… They were tremendous burn victims. They grew up in an abusive home. They were attacked by people close to them, and they carry the wounds and the scars. I pray you would do what you do, which is heal, that you would allow them to experience at a heart level healing from some of those pain points and moments.
I pray you would help us to use our tongues to remember the power of our words and surrender our lives and our lips to you. I pray for anyone who has never surrendered their life, has never trusted in Jesus. They think Christianity is about being a good person, which is not at all what it is. It's about accepting the free gift from the only one who is good, which is you. Father, would you help us? We surrender to you our lives and our lips. We worship you now in song, amen.