“Taming the Tongue” Your Speech Can Destroy Your Life
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 3.5-12
James 3. Adolf Hitler knew the importance of words and his image. In a portrait on the front cover of the Nazi party’s art magazine, both were combined. One portrait has a very interesting title…the artist, Hermann Otto Hoyer, depicts the glorification of the seemingly quasi-messianic Hitler mesmerizing an audience with his oratory skills in the 1920s.
Hitler represents the bringer of light as the light over him falls on the listener.
With an eerie blasphemy, the piece of art is called… “In the beginning was the Word.” Hitler standing up and using his tongue and the rest… WWII and genocide, as they say, is history.
What war has not been started without a word…a word from the tongue? And what war was finished without a word … without negotiations or a peace treaty?
Wars can be fought and lost in each of our lives with our use of our tongues…let’s read…
James 3:1–12 1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
Last time we preached that the tongue directs the course of your life. Just like a small tiny bit can direct a 1,000 lb horse or a small rudder can guide an entire 10 ton ship, so also your tongue will guide the direction of your life.
Show me someone who’s a loose cannon, who doesn’t speak well, or who always tears down others with their speech and I’ll show you someone who’s not headed for success in the sight of God.
The tongue directs your life. Learn to control it.
Now, not only does the tongue direct your life, but it also wreaks a lot of havoc throughout your life. It can be more than a big pain, affecting your life, job, marriage, the course of your whole life and James’ point in verses 5-12 is that it can destroy the course of that life.
It directs your life but can destroy it as well.
I. The Tongue Wreaks Havoc [it can ruin your life] (vv.5b-8)
A. It wreaks havoc like a forest fire wreaks havoc (vv.5b-6).
It can destroy it like a fire can destroy a forest! … end of verse 5…
James 3:5–6 5 … See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity;
ILL: Slave Lake 2011 at approximately 1:30 pm on Saturday, May 14 a spark flew that eventually would evacuate 7,000 people, the largest displacement in Alberta history and the second costliest insured disaster in Canada’s history. 12,000 acres were burned, 433 buildings destroyed. The fire burned from May 14th to 16th. Evacuees described the horizon as being “nothing but red”, noting that thick smoke had already engulfed the town as they left town. One resident said “it looked like hell.” The incident commander described it as a firestorm, stating that “the nature of which is unprecedented. The speed it was moving, the heat it was generating, the devastation, is second to none.” 732 people were left homeless as a result.
A book was written entitled…The Sky was on Fire: Slave Lake’s Story of Disaster, Exodus and New Beginnings. On the cover of that book is a picture of that towering forest fire about to engulf what looks like a infinitesimal, but no doubt a very large, machine shed.
It all started with a spark. From where did that spark fly? The RCMP concluded it was arson, but they never figured out who set the fire.
James says … “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…”
EXP: Misusing the tongue is verbal arson. The spark of even a single word said in the heat of anger or in a moment of lust can burn down the heart of a man and affect him for years to come, even for eternity.
And that’s the case because in the tongue, James says, is the very world of iniquity. Within that tongue of yours is the world, the whole world of iniquity … sin. The tongue when it spews, can reflect the world…that is, any and all of the sinfulness of man as it’s heaped together enmasse… that world system of iniquity is on the tip of your tongue because it’s storehouse is the heart …
…your tongue is capable of any evil because your heart is evil …you might not do anything, but you sure could say anything … The world has a direct connection to your heart and to your tongue…anything is possible…
The tongue gives voice to every evil, it parades every evil, it glorifies every evil…and it forces other people to listen to that evil and absorb it.
ILL: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” False…and if you live in that world, you’ll absorb any word and say any word. Job says to his friends in Job 19:2, “How long will you crush me with words?” Words crush, even a godly man like Job.
TRANS: So…in your speech you have the capability of any evil, the very world of iniquity is on the tip of your tongue.
That’s not all…James goes on in verse 6… “the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body.”
The tongue also will put a stain on your life. Your tongue can defile you.
The tongue is set among our members, the members of our bodies. It’s a part of our body. But it is unique in that it defiles our whole person! It corrupts your whole person.
ILL: It doesn’t take long when you are in our house before something gets stained. Whether the kids are playing outside or eating at the table, … or ….playing with permanent markers [pause…] on the wall…you name it, stuff gets stained around our house. And then many times it’s unusable, or at least it needs a good washing.
That’s the world defile here. Your untamed tongue will corrupt your entire life; it’ll put a stain on your life, and everyone will see it.
ILL: I remember this funny commercial from Tide for these Tide sticks. You seen these…? A guy goes in for a job interview and the interviewer asks, “Tell me about your self.” Well, the guy being interviewed has a huge stain on his shirt, right next to his nice tie. And the interviewer keeps looking at this huge stain…and it starts talking…! Talking at the same time as the man wanting a job. And the interviewer can’t concentrate on the discussion, because this stain keeps talking gibberish!
Everyone will see your stain, people will…and you’ll be known for your uncontrolled tongue and you’ll commit sin upon sin that will show you are defiled before God as well.
TRANS: The capability of any evil, the very world of iniquity is on the tip of your tongue…and it’ll stain your life before God and before man.
But also mark this … the path of your life, the course of your life, your whole life is set on fire by the evil of your tongue.
End of verse 6...the tongue, “sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”
The evil of your tongue sets on fire the course of your life with hell fire.
The word Hell here is literally Gehenna… To the south of Jerusalem is a deep valley called the Valley of Hinnom. Gehenna is the Greek word here that refers to that place, the Valley of Hinnom.
In Jeremiah 7:31, the Lord references this place as a place of child sacrifice by burning…”They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.”
And this valley of Hinnom is the same place translated hell in James 3:6. Gehenna was a place of burning, of wicked human sacrifice. And that place basically became the city dump. Whether it was garbage, dead animals, criminal’s dead bodies… They were all thrown into this valley of Hinnom.
And it was burning constantly. You could imagine the stench…garbage, flesh….always burning. And Jesus used this as an illustration of reality…
…when He says … Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire…where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is not quenched.” Just like that ever burning valley of garbage, so also is eternal damnation.
That was exactly what was going on in that valley: the fire continuously burned and worms would constantly eat the garbage and dead bodies.
That’s the kind of fire James is talking about. It’s that hellfire that sets fire to your tongue.
ILL: What did one who experienced the fire of Slave Lake say about the tall towering flames? … “It looked like hell.”
That’s the same with abusive speech; defiling speech. The heat from your tongue feels like hell, the roar of the flames sounds like hell and the stench smells like it too. We’ve all gotten a taste of hell, when its very fire has passed from between our lips.
And then your tongue uses that very fire to set fire to the direction of your life and it defiles you in every way. The tongue catches the fires of hell, rejoices in them, and spreads that fire throughout your life. A wicked, wicked thing…more destructive than the most destructive forest fire, for the fires from that tongue will be burning on into eternity….
Proverbs 16:27 27 A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.
So in your tongue you have the capability of any evil, the very world of iniquity…it stains your whole person and you’re guilty before God for what you’ve said… but it goes even beyond just your person, … it sets fire to the course of your entire life… and everyone in your life is set on fire by it too, “the words do hurt you” in ways that sticks and stones never could; hellfire from our lips burns the souls of men.
ARG: Proverbs 6 record seven things that God hates and three of them have to do with speech: a lying tongue, a false witness, and he who stirs up division among brothers.
And Christ said … Matthew 12:36–37 36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Words are important; they reveal the true nature of your heart …. and each aspect of your life will come under scrutiny before a holy God.
Using swear words and offensive words is clear…but what about gossip…The one who gossips assassinates people’s character; he slanders them. Have you ever said, “have you heard?” Did you know” … “I wouldn’t tell you this except I know you won’t tell anyone….”
Gossip…it’s never a good thing…; it’s sets people on hellfire, the fire that comes from your mouth.
ARG: Sins of the tongue that really should convict us… like Isaiah was convicted …
Isaiah 6 … Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. Angels stand before him and they call out to one another, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.”
And the door frame of that heavenly Temple shook at the magnitude of his voice…what’s Isaiah’s response when he beholds the glory of God? He goes straight for his own sinful speech…
Isaiah 6:5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
APP: Repent…right? Did it happen again this week? And you knew we had one more message on the tongue, didn’t you? If you know someone who gossips and they claim Christ, do future generations of believers a favor and them as well and help them with it. Rebuke them…
But you to, you always need to repent…
TRANS: The whole world of sin is capable of coming out of your mouth, the very world of iniquity; it’ll stain your life before God and before man and your whole life is set on fire by the evil of your tongue.
It wreaks havoc…but why? Our uncontrolled speech, our devilish tongue will wreak havoc because you cannot tame it… verse 7 and 8 …
B. It is untameable (vv.7-8)
James 3:7–8 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue;
EXP: Humans have trained animals to do incredible things…like the parrot who sings Old Macdonald has a Farm, dogs walking only on their front paws, or South African lion tamer Kevin Richardson who has developed such a close relationship with the lions that they allow him to interact with them as one of their own, dolphins jumping over wires as thousands of people watch on, fish and pigs playing soccer, chickens running obstacle courses, and birds playing basketball and golf … but even those trainers cannot say that they have trained the tongue.
James says it’s a restless evil; it always wants to fight; you can’t hold it back…it’s always liable to break out of the cage of your teeth. !!! Oh…somehow that tongue must have control, but how?!!
No one can tame it… But why? … it’s worse than a venomous snake….James says “it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
ILL: One of the most deadliest natural poisons on the planet is Batrachotoxin [BRA TRACK O TOXIN]… One of the most powerful neurotoxins in the world, it is found on the skin of the tiny poison dart frogs. The most dangerous frog with this toxin is the Golden poison frog of Colombia. This little guy is small enough to sit on your fingertip, but one frog has enough batrachotoxin on him to kill two elephants.
Your tongue is like that, verbal Batrachotoxin … full of deadly poison…
The most venomous snake known in the world is the Belcher’s Sea Snake, a few milligrams is strong enough to kill 1000 people! They are found throughout waters off South East Asia and Northern Australia….
But the human tongue is found throughout the world, largely in China and India, but there are many in North America, and I’ve seen human tongues in Athabasca county as well … so if you ever come across one, you better watch out and handle it with care!
ARG: Speaking of human beings…
Romans 3:13 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
Psalm 140:3 3 They sharpen their tongues as a serpent; Poison of a viper is under their lips.
TRANS: The tongue is a fire, the whole world of sin is at its disposal, it will tarnish your whole life, it will set on fire those around you with hell fire, it is an untameable beast, a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.
You couldn’t find a more graphic picture of the tongue anywhere in any human language…James is relentless on this.
And one way we don’t tame our tongue is in our hypocrisy…verses 9 and 10…
II. The Hypocrisy of the Tongue (vv.9-12)
A. Blessing and Cursing come from the same mouth.
James 3:9–10 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
“James, please give me a picture of that …” see if you’ve actually seen this …
B. Neither fountain, fig tree, grape vine, or water
James 3:11–12 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
EXP ILL first: Have you ever seen it before? I’ve never seen a fig tree naturally produce olives; it’s not science. James could have also said… “do ancestors of apes produce humans?” No one has observed that either, it’s not science.
And it also doesn’t make sense with those who trust Christ to praise God and curse men… To curse means to pronounce damnation upon someone… and here’s the thing, that someone is made in God’s image…
But surely our hypocrisy is found in less than that… praising God in church, and what about … setting fire to your spouse on the way home. Praising God with warmth in heart, but losing your cool with your kids. Blessing the name of our gracious God, yet fighting with your brother or sister…. these things out not to be!
With your lips you praise God, ??but with those same lips you are hating your fellow man, who’s made in God’s image…?
1 John 4:20–21 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Hypocrisy…if you spoke the way you spoke at church at your home, would that be a big improvement? Are you one way at home and another at church? Admitting it and confessing it are the first steps.
But like James’ illustration, … a fountain or tree, the tongue also has a source. It’s the heart. Listen to yourself talk…really listen, what is in your heart?
APP: How are we going to fix this? … One solution … pray. I’ve said for years … “The more divinely you speak to God, the more humanly you’ll speak to people, who are made in the image of God.”
If you grow in your prayer life and listen to your own heart praise the living God on a daily basis and you ask him and seek his face and cry out to him, you’ll begin to treat more humanely those who are made in His image.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 3.5-12
Tame that tongue! But James says no one can! No human can…We can tame animals, but not our tongues…it takes a work of God.
It takes God giving you righteousness, understanding, and wisdom…
=>It take him giving you righteousness…
Proverbs 15:28 28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
=>To tame the tongue will take God giving you understanding…
Proverbs 11:12 12 He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.
=>To tame the tongue will take God giving you wisdom …
Proverbs 14:3 3 In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, But the lips of the wise will protect them.
It all begins at salvation … when you trust Christ alone, pour your sinful heart out to him through those sinful lips, and you plead with Him to be merciful to you,… “I’m undone, I’m dirty….” he will save you, because He’s already died to take away your sin, even every sinful word ever spoken.
And when you trust Christ, you are a new creation of God and you’ll begin to grow in your speech…
Since you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, Paul writes in Colossians 3. Keep seeking Christ who’s been seated at the right hand of God and as you grow … as you keep seeking him, you’ll have power. Paul goes on to say… “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
But Paul doesn’t stop there in Colossians 3:8 he says put these all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.
Confess the sins of your mouth as soon as you are convicted about it. And then receive God’s cleansing and thank him and praise him for forgiving you. Be in constant prayer to him in your heart, and get disciplined. Study Proverbs on the tongue. Gather up the verses and memorize some of them and meditate and think over them be wise and love wisdom.
Ask those around you to help you see where you may lack wisdom in your speech. Ask forgiveness from those you offend with your speech. Ask yourself before you speak…is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?
If it doesn’t pass that test, don’t say it. We taste the food that comes in our mouths, we should taste our words before they exit.
ILL: Legend has it that a woman known for her critical spirit was sitting in the audience when John Wesley was preaching. And all through the service he noticed that she was staring at him oddly. After the service was over, she approaches Mr. Wesley and says quite frankly, “Mr. Wesley, the strings on your bow tie are much too long… These were the old bowties with the long strings… she says… It’s an offense to me!” Mr. Wesley then turns to ask if any of the ladies present at the service had a pair of scissors. And when the scissors were given to him, he handed them to his critic and asked her to trim the tie to her liking.
After she clipped them off near the collar, she hands him the trimmings … and he says, “Are you sure they’re all right now?” “Yes, that’s much better.” “Then let me have those scissors a moment,” [PAUSE] said Mr. Wesley. “Now, my good woman, there is something about you that is altogether too long, and which has annoyed me greatly, and since one good turn deserves another, I would like permission to shorten it.”
“Certainly,” said the woman, “you have permission to do so, and here are the scissors.”
Whereupon Mr. Wesley says … “Very well, madam, put out your tongue.”
I suppose Mr. Wesley made an impact to say the least! … He who keeps his tongue will keep his soul. Your tongue, at any moment, will either be a source of blessing or cursing; a pathway of love or a highway of hellfire.
Give every part of your self to God; devote every thing to him. May your prayer be take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee… In response this morning, let’s sing that hymn…it’s number 560 Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee… the third stanza.