Jack Graham - Taming the Tongue
Your goal is spiritual maturity, that's what the Book of James is about, growing in your faith and becoming more mature in Christ. That's your goal. A true mark of Christian maturity, life maturity, is how you use your mouth, how you manage your mouth, how you use your tongue. Let's begin reading in chapter 3 verse 1. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness". Always gives me pause when I read that because I know I'm highly accountable to God for what I say and what I do.
Verse 2 says "For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man", meaning a mature man, "also able to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also is the tongue a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire", watch these words, "course of life", will of existence literally, "and set on fire by hell".
"For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water".
James is a master illustrator. In this passage on the tongue he gives us some metaphors regarding our mouths. There are 6 of them, he talks about the bit in the mouth of a horse, he talks about the rudder on a ship, he talks about a fire, a spark that can set ablaze, he talks about a beast, that the tongue is like a beast or like a monster in the mouth. It's like poison, it can produce poison. He said it's like a fountain and it is like a fig tree. With all of these illustrative comments, very practical, James ever practical tells us about the tongue and what it can do and how it sets the course and even the character and the destiny of our lives.
A couple of things, one our words give us direction, that's the first thing. Our words, what we say give us direction in life. That's why he uses the illustration about the horse and the bridle. It's amazing you could take a 1,200 pound animal and put a 90 pound child on it but with reins and a bit a small child can control that great horse. Same is true of the rudder on a ship, no matter how big the ship it is moved by the pilot at the direction of the rudder. He's saying here that our tongue controls the direction of our lives. Change the way you speak, change what you say and how you talk and you can change the direction of your life. It's true. I'm going to say it again, change the way you speak, how you use your tongue and it will change the course, the direction of your life.
Proverbs tells us in Proverbs 8:21 that life and death are in the power of the tongue. A very powerful thing is the tongue. If you speak negatively, if you're constantly reflecting negativity in what you then ultimately you will live a negative life. It's a simple principle really. How you talk to God, how you talk to yourself, how you talk to others dramatically influences the course of your life. If you are filled with words that are worthless or careless or empty or even profane, then ultimately that's the way your life's going to turn out.
Let me share a couple of ideas. For examples, words are powerful, they can change your life. You go to an altar and you say "I do", and I promise you that changes your life. If someone stands before a judge and the judge says "You're not guilty" that changes everything. If you're before a doctor and you hear your doctor say "You're cancer free" those words are life changing. If say no to a temptation, when you're under attack and you can feel the breath of Satan on your neck and you say no in the power of God's spirit to temptation, that can change the course or the direction of your life. When you say "Yes I will follow Jesus Christ" that not only changes your direction, it changes the destiny, your eternal future.
Your words matter. Words can change history and have. If words are demonized out of the mouth of a Hitler then war and disaster comes, but words that come out of the mouth of a great evangelist like Billy Graham can change history as well. Words are powerful. If you speak words of faith then your life is filled with faith. If you speak God's word, God's promises, God's will upon your life, it changes everything for the good, and the reverse is true. Colossians 3 verse 17 is a scripture you should note. It says "For whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, with gratitude in your heart, giving thanks to God the Father through him".
When we put Christ first in our lives, we put him first into what we do and what we say. We are able, according to this, we shouldn't speak or say anything or write anything or post anything or send anything, which we can not sign the name of the Lord Jesus. If you cannot glorify God and magnify God with your words then don't say them. You need to ask in every situation if you post it, if you send it, if you say it, social media is a whole new world of being able to express ourselves but as Christians and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, I shall always ask myself, "Does this represent Jesus Christ and reflect His love in my life"?
Growing Christians learn how to control their tongues under the guidance of the holy spirit because it sets the course of our lives. Secondly our words can bring destruction, not only they bring direction but our words can bring destruction. James illustrates with a spark and a fire. Just a small spark, we've all had experiences with matches and fire. Just a small spark can destroy a house or destroy an entire forest. James says the tongue, (I noted and stopped when I read it), sets on fire the course of nature, the very wheel of existence. In other words all of life is affected by our words, and all the people in our lives. James says here that the tongue can be set on fire of hell. The word is Gahanna. Gahanna was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, burning constantly, smelling sulfuric. It was disgusting.
Jesus described hell as the eternal garbage dump burning with fire. It's the rubbish of the universe. He said the tongue can reflect garbage, regurgitate filth. James tells us an evil tongue defiles and destroys the entire body. A tongue set on fire of hell. You ever heard that in conversation? Somebody says to somebody else "Okay, give them hell". Give them hell, it's what he's talking about here. The tongue can start a hell fire that can never be put out in a person's life. When you think about the words we use on the negative side, let's start there. We'll flip it in just a second. Here are the kinds of words that can start a fire that you can't control. Let's start with careless words. You ever been run over by a hit and run mouth? Careless words, meaningless words, vain words. Some people they don't use vile words, they just use vain words.
Jesus said "We'll give it a count at the judgment seat of Christ for every vain, idle word that we speak". Scary. Careless words can destroy lives in a matter of minutes. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Not true. Words can hurt and they can hurt a lot. A sports writer for the Atlanta Constitution several years ago wrote these words about the tongue. He said "I am more deadly than the screaming shell from the howitzer. I win without killing, I tear down homes and break hearts and wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is gossip".
Just idle words that can become very hurtful words. I wonder how many careless, thoughtless words have ruined relationships and fractured families and torn churches apart and destroyed reputations. Careless words, words without thinking. We should always ask the Holy Spirit to help us think before we speak, that we would think before we sinned. Then there are contemptuous words. Angry, hostile words. Someone said "Make your words sweet because some day you may have to eat them".
I wonder how many wives have been beaten down by the words, the verbal abuse of an angry husband. How many children have been wounded for life by the hostile words, the angry words of parents who don't pay attention. They're like weapons, they can break down spirits. Criticism and destructive language, words that wound. You have to live with the consequences of what you say and often people around you live with the consequences of what we say. Contemptuous words, hateful, angry. Censorious that's the next kind of words, censorious words. Negative, critical, caustic, slanderous, backstabbing, backbiting.
James who is our brother here says "Brothers and sisters, this should not be true about us". If we open our mouths and say ah, and the great physician looks down, what does he see? What's coming out of our hearts? I say, "Well I don't gossip but people tell me stuff". Don't let somebody use your ears for garbage cans. Don't participate in gossip or slander, in censorious words. And then carnal words, fleshly words, filthy words, profane words. He speaks of both blessing and cursing in this passage. Blaspheming God and blaspheming others. Filthy words, potty mouth, porno words, immoral words that come out of the heart.
Did you know that all of the 10 commandments can be broken by our words, not just our deeds? That's why we can pretty much know that we've broken all the commandments, at least by our words if not our deeds. We could dishonor by our words. We can exhibit false worship and idle worship with our words. We can offer murderous accusations and assassinations with our words. We can tell lies and bear false witness with our words. We can covet with our words. We can express vile and lustfull thoughts, adulterous thoughts with our words. We can steal a person's reputation with our words. Words matter. It's true when James says this can set off a course of events, a fire in your life that can destroy everything. He talks then about this monster, a beast. He said "We can tame the animals".
James takes us on a trip to the zoo, he said "You can tame animals but this beast uncontrolled in your mouth, this monster in your mouth is restless and is powerful and is poisonous. A few drops can kill". But that brings me to the final word here, which says "Our words then display our character". That's what he's talking when he says out of one side of our mouth comes blessing and the other side of our mouth comes blaspheming or cursing. Blessing and cursing. Someone said that the profanity of the church is greater than the profanity of the streets. What that means is we come to church, "Hey brother how are you doing? Let's praise God together" and then in the parking lot same guy cuts you off, "You jerk! What's wrong with you"? Or we go home and before we even get home we're in on a rancorous argument with someone in the family. It happens all the time because our tongues cause us a great deal of trouble.
One minute we're praising God, the next minute we're profaning people that God made. That's what he's saying here. Great people in the Bible had trouble with their tongues. Job who overcame such disaster in his life said "I am vile. I lay a hand over my mouth". Like that. Isaiah, the great prophet, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, he said "I am a man of unclean lips amidst a generation of people of unclean lips". That's descriptive of our generation. There's just so much filth in the air. There's just so much vileness in vocabularies. Both men and women are spewing out this filth, words. Sending out poisonous words. Moses was angry one day, he ended up out of the promised land because of it. It says in Psalm 106 verse 33 that because he was angry he said "I spoke rashly with my lips".
How many times have we spoken rashly, we wish we could get it back but of course it's like slitting open a feather pillow and the wind blowing the feathers everywhere. You could never get some of that stuff back in the pillow. Peter sinned against Christ in denying Christ, with the same mouth he confessed him and said "I will never deny you". And yet when he was warming his hands by the fires of the Romans he ended up running away, denying Christ. It's disturbing isn't it? When I look at my own life and I see in my words both blessing and cursing, it's disturbing. James uses these words, these illustrations of a fountain. Whether it's sweet water or salt water, or whether it's a fig tree, these illustrations of nature, by saying what is the root will bear the same fruit.
The problem is with the heart. The person with a harsh tongue has an angry heart. The person with a negative tongue has an anxious heart. The person with an overactive tongue has an unsettled heart. The person with a filthy tongue has a impure heart. A person with a critical censorious tongue has a bitter heart. And so on. Let's flip that on the other side. A person with compassionate words has a loving heart. A person with an encouraging tongue has a happy heart. A person with a truthful tongue has an honest heart. Our words come from our hearts and the only way to tame the tongue is first of all to get a new heart.
The Bible talks about getting a brand new heart because the old heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. The only way to transform our tongues is not reformation or even education. You can improve your vocabulary with education, you can improve maybe your attitude with reformation, but you can only change your tongue and your actions and your words and your deeds with transformation. We need a new life. This is how Jesus Christ changes our hearts and changes our lives. I can tell you I've seen it over the years many, many times. How a man or a woman whose tongue was off the charts but then transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Then ask the Holy Spirit to control your tongue, give God control of your tongue.
James says we can't do this on our own, we need the supernatural power of God. The Psalm has said it this way in Psalm 141 verse 3 "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips"! Set a guard over my mouth, Lord watch my mouth. Or pray the prayer in psalmist in Psalm 19 verse 14, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer". God watches our words and looks into our heart. And then use your tongue to the glory of God. Use your tongue for God's glory. The best way I know how to transform the tongue by the power of Christ is to use my tongue and my words to magnify Christ in praise and in worship.
The Psalmist said "Thy loving kindness is better than life. My lips will praise you. O magnify the Lord with me. I will bless the Lord at all time, his praise will continually be in my mouth". The scripture says that we're to bring to God the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips. I don't know why we seem to be so reluctant to use our words to worship. What we say or what we sing. Praise God with your words, with your worship to him. Remember worship flows out of the heart and it's possible that you don't worship with your lips because you don't have it in your heart to do it. I'm not saying tip the cup, but if it spills over shout to the Lord. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. "O For a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise"!
I wish God would give me a thousand tongues and a thousand lifetimes to speak of the wonders of his love and the power of his grace in our lives. That's how we're to use our tongues. Our words is our witness. Our tongue is a testimony. How are you doing? How's the testimony of your words? The testimony of your worship? How's your life going? Is it negative and downhill going in the wrong direction and your words are destructive, self destructive? Or are your words powerful and persuasive. Joshua 1:8 says that we are to keep God's word in our mouths at all times. Speak the word of God over your life. Speak God's promises over your situation. Express God's praise, no matter what. Your words, your tongue will be transformed through the glory of Jesus Christ. The most important thing you could say with your tongue are four words. If I only had four words to say to the world, these would be my four words, "Jesus Christ is Lord".