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James #11 - chapter 3, verses 1-5a
The Book of James
Taming the Tongue, Part 1
James 3:1-5a
 
If you remember, in the little book of James, the half-brother of our Lord is presenting his hearers with a series of tests designed to authenticate faith.  True believers can determine the authenticity of their faith be administering these tests. And if you have a dead faith it will be revealed by the same tests as they are failed.
 
So far, we’ve seen five of the tests, including perseverance in suffering, blame in temptation, our response to God’s Word, impartial love and righteous works. There are seven more to go and test of the tongue. 
 
True faith, authentic faith will be demonstrated by speech, and byt the way, so will false faith.  Nothing is more telling on the heart than the tongue and it’s of great concern to James.  In fact, he mentions the tongue in every chapter, twice chapter 1 at verses 19 and 26, again in chapter 2, verse 12, chapter 4, verse 11, chapter 5, verse 12, and this large portion in chapter 3 before us tonight where he says new life, transformation, salvation will show up in the way people talk.  Their tongue, their speech, will tell on their heart. 
 
So why does James use the tongue, rather than some other body part?  Why doesn’t he use, for instance, the heart?  After all, the tongue only reacts to the heart.  Jesus said the mouth speaks from the heart.  It’s what’s on the inside that really matters.
But in Hebrew thought, the distinction between the man and the guilty member is not so clearly distinguished.  The Hebrew focuses very often on the guilty member rather than on the heart issue.
 
For example, we read about “feet swift to shed blood,” as if the feet were the culprits in a murder.  We read about “eyes of adultery,” as if the eyes were guilty, when we know, of course, it’s the inner person. 
 
But in the Hebrew desire for concrete expression and practical expression, they very often spoke of the very member of the body itself as if it were the guilty party.  So when James talks about the mouth and the tongue, it isn’t that he in fact blames the mouth and the tongue as if they operated independently of any other impulse.  It is simply that they are the organ by which the heart expresses itself.  And so James, in a sense, personifies the tongue as the living symbol of what is in the heart.
 
In fact, nowhere is the union of faith and works more visible than in our speech. In fact, somebody said, “Every one of us is carrying around a concealed weapon.  All we have to do is open our mouths and it’s unconcealed.”  Do you realize that you speak about 18 to 25,000 words a day?  I know some women who go way beyond that!
 
We speak a tremendous number of words a day.  Lots of people are wearing their FitBit to count the number of steps they take.  Someone needs to invent a monitor for the number of words, and especially the hurtful and negative words. We might be amazed!  If you’re an average person, you will spend one-fifth of your life talking.
And I find it interesting and you probably remember as a child, whenever I would go to the doctor, the first thing the doctor would say is, “Stick out your tongue.”
 
Well, in this chapter, James is saying the same thing, “Stick out your tongue so we can determine your spiritual condition.”  Nothing is more liable to reveal our true spiritual condition than our mouth.  And just as the people in the courtyard said to Peter, “The way you talk gives you away” referring to his physical speech, our spiritual speech reveals us as well. 
 
It’s interesting to me that in Genesis, chapter 3, verse 12, we find that the first actual sin after the fall was a sin of the tongue.  It’s as if in the fall, the first expression of sin came right out of the mouth as Adam slanders God by blaming Him for the sin. 
 
Follow that line of thought and you will find reference after reference to the sins of the tongue.  Isaiah used it.  The Psalms use it.  The book of Proverbs warns of it.  Jesus talked about it.  Paul wrote of it.   
 
So the mouth is the monitor on the human condition and right words, right use of the tongue and speech is a manifestation of a righteous life.  That’s what James is saying in chapter 3 as he calls us to consider our speech to see if it is consistent with what we claim to be the reality of our faith. In this text, he offers us five reasons to control the tongue.  We’ll begin looking at them tonight. 
 
 
 
 
First, we are to control the tongue because of
 
1. Its Potential to Condemn
 
 verse 1
 
Now even though it is not specifically mentioned, the context of what he says at the beginning is our speech and the use of the tongue.  And the implication of what he is saying is, “You need to understand those who assume the responsibility of speaking for God are under a higher degree of judgment. 
 
That’s the point he’s making and he begins with teachers.  How we speak is the mark of true faith.  We saw that in chapter 1, verse 26 where he says that, “If any man among you seems to be religious, but bridles not his tongue, he deceives his own heart, the man’s religion is useless.”  A faith which does not transform the tongue is no saving faith at all.  
 
So since speech is the mark of true faith, it should be a proper measure, then, of those who articulate the faith and those who teach need to take a personal inventory on their speech to see if their faith is real. 
 
And having introduced the subject at the level of teachers in the beginning, he will then move to a discussion more generally of everyone, and everyone’s speech. 
 
Look at verse 2
 
 
There might be a tendency to say, “Well, since I’m not a teacher, then it doesn’t matter so much.”  “Not so” says James. 
 
We all sin and we all sin in many ways. The word “stumble” carries the idea of a moral lapse or failing to do what’s right.  An offense against God is the idea.  We all do it and we all do it commonly and we all do it in many ways.
 
And one of those myriad of way is with the tongue.  It has such great potential in the arena of sin. And in context, what he’s saying is something like, “Don’t hurry to be spending your life using your mouth if you realize how potentially disastrous that is.  Because you are a sinner, you’ll take it quite reluctantly rather than hurriedly.”
 
Scriptures refer often to the disaster of the mouth.  The Bible refers directly or indirectly to a wicked tongue, a deceitful tongue, a lying tongue, a perverse tongue, a filthy tongue, a corrupt tongue, a bitter tongue, an angry tongue, a crafty tongue, a flattering tongue, a slanderous tongue, a gossiping tongue, a back-biting tongue, a blaspheming tongue, a foolish tongue, a boasting tongue, a murmuring tongue, a complaining tongue, a cursing tongue, a contentious tongue, a sensual tongue, a vile tongue, a tale-bearing tongue, a whispering tongue, an exaggerating tongue, and on and on the list goes. 
 
Did you see yourself anywhere in there?  No wonder God put your tongue in a cage behind your teeth, walled in by your mouth.  The truth is most of our problems root back to the tongue.  We all stumble and we stumble often with our tongue.
 
Nothing is more representative of man’s sinfulness than his mouth, and there is no easier way to sin than with your mouth, because you can say anything you want to say.  There are no restraints.  You can’t do any evil deed you might want to do, because maybe the circumstances aren’t there for you to do it.  But you can say absolutely anything. 
 
And notice, verse 2, “If any man doesn’t stumble in word, in other words, if he can control his tongue, then he is a perfect or mature man who is able to control everything else in his life. 
 
Now get this because it is a tremendously practical spiritual thought.  If a person can master his tongue, he can master any evil tendencies that he will ever have.  So what leads James to that conclusion? 
 
The tongue is the instant expression of the heart.  It can sin more easily and more often than any other member of the body just because of circumstances.  See, you can’t always get in a position to sin in every way with your body, but you’re always in a position to sin with your tongue.
 
It’s always available and it is always willing and if you can gain control of it as the greatest sinning part of your person, then by virtue of controlling the greater, you have gained control over the lesser. 
 
The person who controls the tongue will also control the body with all of its other impulses.  Since the tongue responds more immediately and more quickly and more easily to temptation, if it is controlled, then the slower-responding parts would also be controlled.
You know what that says to me?  That says if I want to focus my Christian life on one thing, if I want to get my act together, if I want to bring my whole spiritual life into control, I ought to work on controlling my mouth. 
 
Whatever spiritual disciplines work to control your tongue will also work to control the rest of you. Isn’t that practical?  Just focus on your mouth.  And if the Holy Spirit gets control of the most volatile and the most potent member, the rest will be subdued.
 
Warren Weirsbe tells the story about a pastor friend who came to him and said he had a member of his church who was a notorious gossip.  She would hang on the phone most all day long, sharing tidbits with anybody who would listen to her. 
 
She came to this pastor friend of Warren Weirsbe one day and she said, “Pastor, the Lord’s convicted me of my sin of gossip.  My tongue is getting me and others into trouble.”  He says, “My friend knew that she was not sincere, because she had gone through that routine so many times before.  And guardedly he asked, ‘Well, what do you plan to do?’  Very piously she said, ‘I want to put my tongue on the altar.’”  To which my friend calmly replied, ‘There isn’t an altar big enough.  Just fit all of it that you can!’”
 
Well, I don’t want to argue with him, but I think there is an altar big enough.  I think we have to focus on our mouth, that’s what James is saying.  And do it understanding there awaits a judgment on the use of our mouth beginning with the teachers and reaching all of us. 
Then to help us understand that, James gives us two illustrations. 
 
Illustration #1 is a bit in the mouth of a horse. 
 
Verse 3
 
How do you control a horse?  You control a horse by controlling his tongue.  You put a piece of metal in a horse’s mouth and attach  it to the reins and by pressure exerted on the tongue of the horse you can control him. 
 
By the way, a horse is useless without that control.  Did you ever know a horse to volunteer to plow a field?  Just show up one day, “Like to plow your field, sir.”  Did you ever know a horse to volunteer to pull a wagon?  How about a horse volunteer to carry a rider?
 
You have to break them and you break them and control them controlling the tongue.  That’s a great illustration of what James is saying.  You get control of your tongue and you can direct your whole body.  Everything else comes into line. 
 
The second illustration is that of a great ship controlled by a small rudder.
 
Verse 4
 
A small little rudder gives direction to the totality of the ship to which it is attached.  It’s the same picture through a different set of circumstances.  James is saying if you can just get control of the little tongue, you can move everything else. 
So what’s the principle?  That’s the second point of the outline.  Not only does the tongue have the potential to condemn, it also has
 
2.  The Power to Control
 
Think about it like this:  power applied at the right point is sufficient to control the whole vessel or horse.  In like manner, power applied at the mouth or tongue is sufficient to control the whole person.
 
Verse 5
 
Do you know why the tongue boasts great things?  It is because it can accomplish great things.   
 
Your tongue is like a master switch.  One commentator writes, “If our tongue were so well under control that it refused to formulate the words of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these things are cut down before they have a chance to live.  The master switch has deprived them of any power to switch on that side of our lives.  The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity; it is also the means to it.”
 
Most of us are familiar with the breaker boxes in our homes.  We’ve had a breaker through and have to reload it.  If you notice, each breaker controls a set of circuits.  And you can play with those and affect certain areas of the house. 
 
But at the top is the master switch or breaker.  If you throw it, everything shuts down.  It doesn’t matter if you turn them off and on or not, they aren’t doing anything because they are void of power.
That’s essentially what this writer is saying.  Your tongue is the master switch.  Throw that thing off, and nothing else can function.  Every other thing becomes inconsequential.  That’s what James is saying in verse 5. 
 
It’s potent and it is proud of its power to control, and it can really do it.  It can tear down people.  It can tear down churches.  It can destroy relationships.  It can wreck a marriage.  It can devastate a family.  It can rip up a nation.  It can lead to murder.  It can lead to war. 
 
On the other hand, it can build up.  It can create love, enthusiasm, encouragement, comfort, peace, joy.  What power there is in the tongue.  And if we get a hold of it and control it, it can control all the rest of us. 
 
So James says, “Look at your speech.  Is it the speech of living faith?  And determine to control your tongue because of its power to condemn you and its power to control you.”  What a practical word that is for us. 
 
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