Peninsula Community Church
April 28, 2013
The Power of the Tongue – Part 2
James 3:1-5 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also 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 the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
This morning we will continue to look at the tongue. As we noted in last week’s message the tongue has the power to bring life and death. The tongue is capable of bringing healing or it can bring additional hurt and pain to those we encounter.
In the text before us today, James uses several word pictures to explain or illustrate the power of the tongue. Words pictures are great tools of communication as they grab and direct our attention. Word pictures also bring communication to life and have the power to lock thoughts into our minds. The inspired authors of the Bible have a unique ability to present word pictures to illustrate the point(s) the author is trying to make in a way that causes us to remember the lesson being taught.
The first set of word pictures used by James are used to illustrate that the tongue has the power to steer and direct. James uses the word picture of a horses bit and a ship’s rudder to illustrate the ability of the tongue to steer and direct one’s life and one’s actions. Not only can they steer one’s personal life but the life of the people they influence and those they encounter.
He states that a small bit enables the rider to control a horse, and a small rudder enables the pilot to steer an entire ship. The bit in a horses mouth is able to direct the whole body of the horse in the direction the rider would desire. The same is true of a ship’s rudder. A small rudder has the possibility to guide a ship in the direction dictated by the pilot of the ship. These instruments of guidance have the capability of directing the actions of the horse and the ship respectively.
Since these small items have the power to direct and thus they have the ability to affect lives, can you imagine the damage that could be caused by a run away horse in a crowd or the damage realized by a ship that has lost its ability to be guided. When my daughter was younger I remember that she was riding a horse at a friend’s house in Florida. She was doing very well until her foot slipped out of the stirrup and when she bent over to get her foot back in the stirrup she did not realize that she had jerked the reigns to the right. The horse responded immediately and turned right, throwing her from the horse. Fortunately, she was not seriously hurt but she had a fear of riding that horse after that.
A second illustration of this power is a story related to me by my son who was in the Navy and whose ship was sent to the Persian Gulf. While stationed there the ship lost all power, including its guidance systems and steering capability. When all the systems were restored they found that they were within five miles of Iranian waters which could have caused an international incident. Fortunately, there was no incident but the potential was there.
Just as the bit and rudder are small, the tongue is also a small member. As a small part of the body, the tongue has the power to accomplish great things. The tongue has the power to effect the course of history. The tongue has been known to start wars and it has the power to end wars as well. Both the bit and the rudder must overcome contrary forces to successfully accomplish its task. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds and currents that would drive the ship off its course. The human tongue must also overcome contrary forces. Our carnal nature, sinful desires, past experiences and our heart condition all direct the action of the tongue. We must control if we will speak words of healing or words of destruction.
The second word picture illustrates the tongue’s power to destroy. James relates to us that it only requires a spark to start a fire. Listen to the words of the writer of Proverbs who noted “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:20-22).
Fires start small and then grow. Studies have shown that most of the wild fires on the west coast were started by either a lightning strike or by an unattended fire. When our kids were younger we would take them camping. We decided to take a weekend trip to the end of Long Island where we would camp. I had started a fire and we had enjoyed an evening of food and songs and stories around the fire. When the night was over I took care of the fire and had put it out; so I thought. About three in the morning, we awoke to a fire blazing in the fire pit. Why? One of the embers had been flamed by the wind which had been blowing through the night and it erupted into a fully ignited fire.
Fire burns and it hurts. Our words can burn and hurt as well. Fire spreads, and the more fuel you give it, the faster and farther it will spread. James reminds us that the tongue has the power to “set the whole course of one’s life on fire” (James 3:6). Once the fire has started the damage is done. And when we give fuel to the fire by not controlling our tongue the fire grows out of control.
Not only does James compare the tongue to a fire but he also proclaims that the tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:5-8) All it takes is a little poison to do damage. Poison can kill or it can debilitate one’s ability to function. Words kill and they debilitate us to the point where we can cannot function.
The third word picture used is the spring and the tree has the power to delight. (James 3:9-12) “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)
The spring and the tree has the power to delight. I can remember going to my grandfather’s house in upstate Alabama. On the way to his house, we would often stop at a spring on the side of the road where we would fill jugs of water with the fresh water that came from the well. The fact is when a spring is right, what comes forth is good water. The good fresh water refreshes and renews the thirsty body. The same is true when we are filled with the word of God so that what comes forth from us refreshes and renews.
What James is saying here is that the tongue is not the real issue, the real issue is with our heart. What we put into our minds shape and mold our hearts. What is in our hearts will be revealed in how we live and in what we say. The fact is we cannot have both fresh and bitter water coming from the same source. If we think we do, something is wrong and we must begin to admit that we are duplicitous and need healing. We need to have our hearts cleaned up so that we speak life and life alone. We must cease presenting a persona that all is well while at church and then treat our spouses and family members with evil intent. We can be so good at being sweet when we want to and bitter at other times but this does not define the life of a passionate follower of Christ.
There is life and death in our words. Life begins with an honest appraisal of who we are and how we act. Too often when we are duplicitous, we are actually being untruthful with ourselves. As we gain control over our hearts and our minds we will have a greater capacity to control our tongue. Secondly, the more we surrender our ways to Christ’s ways and we surrender to the direction of the Holy Spirit, the more we will be able to control what we say and how we say it.
When we are passionate followers of Christ, we will make sure that sweet water come from our mouth. This does not mean thy we are always perfect as we all fail to speak in a way that honors God, is truthful and loving all the time. The key is that we are honest with ourselves and with God.