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James #12 - chapter 3, verses 5b-12
The Book of James
Taming the Tongue, Part 2
James 3:5b-12
 
One fo the most vivid memories of my childhood years in elementary school is getting my mouth washed out with soap.  I don’t remember what I said but I remember the punishment.  And just so I don’t cofess alone, how many of you had that experience (and God knows if you’re lying in church)?
 
I doubt that kids are threatened with that at school these days, first because teachers live in fear of the repercussions of punishing kids these days, and second because the lines between what is acceptable and what isn’t are so fuzzy, at least the way they did when I was a child. 
 
But in our family and school, any bad words, any unkind words, any ungracious words were rare and when they occurred, the punishment was swift and without mercy.  In fact, I can still taste that soap if I think about it very much at all!  And it still has an effect on me and my intolerance for foul language and evil speech. 
 
Apparently Mary, the mother of James, must have used the soap on him from time to time also.  By the way, can you imagine what it must have been like to have been rasie the younger brother of Jesus?  Don’t you know he hear his mother say, “Why cant you be more like Jesus?  He never uses these words!  HE never acts like this!   He never mesees up like you do!”
 
Fortunately, in our family, the perfect brother was born last instead of first and I never had to hear that!
 
But for whatever reason, as we discovered last week, James has an intolerance for misuse of the tongue and the first twelve verse of the third chapter of James are devoted to that topic as he offers this sixth of twelve tests regarding the authenticity of genuine faith. 
 
If we’re truly new in Christ, it will affect our speech and to that end, James gives five compelling reasons for controlling our tongue. We looked at at two of them last week. 
 
First, because of 
 
1. Its Potential to Condemn
 
Verses 1-2
 
In these verses James says the tongue has tremendous potential to bring judgment and he uses teachers as his illustration.  Everyone is responsible for the use or misuse of their tongue and that is especially true of those who teach and speak regarding the things of God. 
 
 Because of that, don’t hurry to be a teacher of Holy Scripture because no one can avoid offending with the tongue.  And when you’re a teacher and you offend with the tongue, the ramifications are far-reaching.  So first, the tongue must be controlled because of its potential to condemn. 
 
Secondly, the tongue must be controlled because of its
 
2. Power to Control 
 
Verse 2
 
If you don’t control it, it can control everything and he illustrates that with the bit of a bridle being able to control a large animal like the horse and a small rudder being able to control a large ship
 
That is the power of the tongue.  It may be a small member, but if you can bring it under control, then you can control everything else in your life.
 
 So we must control the tongue because of its potential to condemn and its power to control. 
 
Thirdly, we are to control the tongue because of its
 
3.  Potency to Corrupt
 
verses 5-6
 
The tongue is very dangerous.  It’s interesting that in verses 2 through 5, he simply talks about the power of the tongue.  It’s not necessarily good or bad, just that it has that power of potential, and because of that it must be controlled.  . 
 
But there is an implication that it is very often negative and bad.  Notice verse 5 again.  It seems to me the verse break would make more sense if it began at the word “behold” or “see” so what is included at the beginning of verse 5 was actually included at the end of verse 4.  
Then verse 5 would begin the thought of the danger of the fire.  That’s clearly where the break in though occurs and it shifts the illustration from a positive one of controlling the horse and guiding the ship to a negative one of a fire causing destruction.  
 
While the tongue has great potential to bring about good and productivity, it also has the staggering potency for destruction. The text actually says, “How great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire,” or literally, “What sized forest, what sized fire kindles.”  The contrast is staggering. 
 
You and I have witnessed that.  Take one little burning cigarette and set thousands and tens of thousands of acres ablaze.  Take one little tiny flame and set a whole city burning to the ground.  Fire has an amazing capacity. 
 
It is so separate and distinct from other elements in nature.  For instance, water cannot multiply.  Take a cup of water and pour it out and it will never become a flood.  But take a single match and give it the right environment and you can destroy an entire forest or city because fire has a way of multiplying.
 
In Chicago on October 8, 1871 at 8:30 P.M., a single spark started a fire in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn and before it was over, 17,500 buildings had burned killing 300 people and leaving another 125,000 homeless.  The damage was estimated to be in excess of $400 million and it all started with a single spark. 
 
That’s the potency of fire and in that regard the tongue is just like it.  And when James says “see” or “behold”, he says it with wonder in his voice.
Read your Bible and time and time again you will find warnings about the devastation brought by words. 
 
Proverbs 15:28 says, “The mouth of the wicked pours out wicked, evil things.”  In Proverbs 16:27 it says “An ungodly man digs up evil, and in his lips there is a burning fire.”  Proverbs 26:20 says, “Where no wood is, there the fire goes out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceases.”
 
The same Proverbs passage, verse 21, says, “But as coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”  The word “kindle” means to burn up.  The picture again of gossip and slander and contention being a fire that devastates. 
 
In Psalm 52:2, “The tongue devises mischief like a sharp razor.”  That same Psalm says in verse 3 and 4, “Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness.
 
Job 19:2, Job says, “How long will you crush me with your words?” 
 
The greatest fear those of us in the ministry have is of what people might say.  The same is true for school teachers or police officers or public servants. People can say anything, and oftentimes all it takes is an accusation to destroy a lifetime of service. 
 
Such is the potency of the tongue to corrupt and destroy.  In fact, James goes on in verse 6 to describe it as a world of iniquity. 
 
Verse 6b
 
That is the most powerful statement on the danger of the tongue ever made.  Why does he use the word “world”?  Well, it is a very complex thought and I’m not sure we can fully understand it because the statement is so overwhelming.
 
Why does he use the word “world”?  There are four elements included in that thought that warn us about the potency of the tongue. 
 
First, it is a world of iniquity. 
 
A world is a system.  The word comes from the word “cosmos”.  And that seems like a strange way to describe the tongue but it a cosmos, not in the sense of a planet but of a system of thought. 
 
And what he’s saying is the tongue exists in a world of its own.  When it is not under the control of God, is an unrighteous, hostile, rebelling order within our humanness that falls short of God’s standard. It is the driving force behind everything else. 
 
One commentator said, “It is the microcosm of evil among our members.”  So first of all, in itself and by itself, it is a system of iniquity. 
 
Secondly, the tongue is set among our members and defile the whole body.  It in itself is a system of evil, and then it defiles the whole body.  It’s like smoke from a fire that stains everything that doesn’t burn.  Have you ever bought anything from a fire sale?  It will always bear the odor and aroma of the fire. 
 
The tongue is like that,  It is a raging fire in and of itself and what it can’t consume, it will stain with its putrid, foul smoke.
 
Thirdly, and notice how the effect continues to spread, it sets on fire the course of nature. 
 
What does that mean?  The thought is expanding.  First is the system of wickedness.  Second, it stains the whole person.  Now, it sets ablaze, and the Greek is, “the wheel of birth” or “the circle of life.”  What does that mean?  It affects everything in and around your life.  It not only burns you, it touches everything you touch.  It goes beyond the body to touch every participant in the circle of your life.
 
Listen, people know you by how you talk.  Your tongue reaches way beyond your mouth.  In fact, it reaches beyond your body to touch the whole network of people that are touched by you.  Gossip, rumors, slander, false accusations, lies, evil speech all have a way of staining and polluting and destroying a whole family, a whole group of people, a school, a church, a community. 
 
And then he speaks of a fourth factor in the danger of the tongue at the end of verse 6, “It is set on fire by hell.”  And notice, that is a present-tense statement.  In other words, it is habitually and continually being lit, as it were, by hell.  Boy, what a vivid, vivid thought.
 
By the way, the word “hell” here is Gehenna and the term Gehenna is used outside of the gospels in only this one place.
 
The Lord used it at least ten times and He always used the word Gehenna to refer to the eternal place of burning where damned souls will go.  It is the place where the fire never goes out, where the worm never dies, where the thirst is never quenched.  It is that eternally burning place. 
 
Now here it is translated “hell,” but the actually word is “Gehenna” so a literally translation of this verse would be “It is set on fire by Gehenna.” 
 
So what is Gehenna?  Gehenna roots back 2 Kings 23:10 where King Josiah led in a great revival and return to the Lord. 
 
One of the things he did was abolish idolatry, and in particular worship of the god Molech, who was worshipped by people sacrificing their children to him.  The children would be burned alive in a fire as human sacrifices and those sacrifices took place in the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna.  
 
So from the very earliest references available, the Valley of Hinnom was a place of burning characterized by the stench of the burning flesh of little children.  The Jews, then, came to regard the place with deep hatred and that very valley, just outside of Jerusalem, became the city dump. 
 
So the garbage and refuse, including the dead bodies of animals and even criminals were pitched into the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. And in order to burn the garbage and make sure the stench did not become overwhelming, the fire burned all the time. 
 
 
Can you imagine the sickening stench from the combination of garbage and burning flesh?  And it was because of that “Gehenna” became a symbol of a fire that never went out and the crawling worms that fed on the filth as an illustration of Hell itself.
 
And in that eternal hell, Jesus said, the fire will never be extinguished and the worm will never die.  So we might say that hell, then, is the eternal rubbish heap of the universe. 
 
And when James thinks about the danger and the potency of the tongue, it is that picture of Gehenna that comes to his mind.  The tongue is a system of evil on its own, it effects the whole person by spewing out its filth, it stains everything it comes in contact with, and it originates in hell itself.
 
That tongue that you have and that I have is potentially a tool of Satan that he will use to pollute your whole person, to corrupt your whole circle of life, and it all comes right out of the pit of hell, and it all leads right back to the pit of hell.
 
That’s a pretty strong description, isn’t it?  No wonder James is so greatly concerned that we bring the tongue into control to the honor of God, because of its tremendous potential. 
 
We find the fourth danger of the tongue in verses 7-8 and we’ll call this one its  
 
4.  Probability of Conflict  
 
Verses 7-8
 
The tongue wants to control, not be controlled.  What he’s saying is the tongue is untameable.  It is uncivilized, undisciplined, humanly untameable; that’s why it’s so dangerous.
 
And to illustrate that, James says God gave man the power to control animals.  We are introduced to that though early in the book of Genesis. 
 
But even after the Fall, Noah was able to get all the animals in the ark.  When God said, “You’re going to bring them in two by two,” God gave Noah the ability to control those animals to make sure they got in there two by two.  And today, man still dominates; man still is able to tame animals.
 
If you’ve ever been to the circus, you’ve seen lions and elephants and tigers and all sorts of animals brought under control. In verse 7, James says that can happen with every kind and then he names those that walk and fly, and then those that swim and crawl.  Man can tame the wild animals. 
 
But no one can tame the tongue.  No one has the power to do that.  Even in believers, the tongue breaks out of its cage, right?  We can’t control it.
 
And notice, James doesn’t say it can’t be tamed; he points out that man can’t tame it.  There’s a difference.  Did you get that?  So who can tame it?  God can, by His power. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Think about this:  the first recorded sin after the Fall came from an untamed tongue when Adam blamed God for his sin.  Then the first act of the new creation and the church was the taming of the tongue, because the first thing that happened after the Holy Spirit came was everybody received, as it were, cloven tongues of fire, and they all immediately spoke the wonderful works of God. 
 
The first sin was a sin of the tongue, and in the birth of the church, the purified tongue spoke the wonderful works of God.
 
But here James says the man can’t do it by himself because it is a restless, unruly evil.  It’s always ready to break out.  It fights against restraint.  It doesn’t want to be held back. 
 
Then he says it’s a deadly poison.  It is not only like a caged animal wanting to break out of its restraint, but when it breaks out, it carries a death-dealing venom, like a snake’s tongue, killing reputation, killing joy, killing peace, killing love, killing everything in its wake.
 
So the tongue must be controlled because of its potential to condemn, its power to control, its potency to corrupt and its probability of conflict.   
 
Finally we see the tongue and its. 
 
5. Possibility of Compromise
 
Verse 9
 
 
 
The tongue is a hypocrite. It will say one thing one time, and another thing another time.
 
Notice that the tongue can be a blessing and be used to bless God, the Father.   Isn’t that amazing?  Your tongue, my tongue can be used to bless God, even the Father. 
 
And then the same tongue that sang songs of praise on Sunday is used to curse fellow humans who are made in the likeness of God on Monday.  And by the way, that is an indestructible likeness.  It has been marred, but it is an indestructible likeness. 
 
There is a word to describe that behavior and it is hypocrisy.  The same tongue that blesses God, curses those made in His image, slanders them, criticizes them, accuses them, abuses them, in anger, and jealousy, and envy, and hatred, and bitterness. 
 
And so, in verse 10, he says, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing – out of the same mouth, blessing and cursing.”  And so he says at the end of verse 10, “My brothers, these things ought not so to be.” 
 
That’s a strong negative, by the way.  It’s used only here in the entire New Testament’.  He’s saying, “ – “That isn’t right” or “That’s not right.” 
 
Any profane speech is inconsistent, it’s unacceptable, it’s a compromise.  God has saved us, and when God saved us, He transformed us, and when He transformed us, He gave us a capacity for new speech, and He expects us to speak that way.  It’s an impossible compromise to tolerate. 
And James illustrates the obvious with three pictures: verse 11, you don’t get bitter water and sweet from the same fountain, verse 12, you don’t get olives from a fig tree and you don’t get figs from a grapevine. 
 
And the conclusion of it is no spring yields both salt water and fresh. End of discussion.  He is saying a clean heart, a fresh heart, a saved heart can’t produce bitter water, and a bitter heart can’t produce fresh water.  So the taste of the product tells the nature of its source. 
 
And with that, we’re back where we started.  True believers will be revealed by their speech.  And if you’re a true believer, it should be able to be seen by your speech.  In fact, it will be seen by your speech. 
 
The true believer is known by his speech.  A true believer speaks with a tongue that is under control. 
And so James warn us about two things: one, that we are revealed by our mouth; two, that our mouth has tremendous potential for disaster.  And so he calls for us to have a tamed tongue.  And if we do, it’s evidence that we’re a Christian.  And if we do, it’s evidence that we’re walking in obedience.
 
And as you look at your life, beloved, if you see those things coming out of your mouth that ought not to come, you need to confess it as sin and turn from it.  And how you react to those times when bitter water comes out of the sweet fountain is the key to your spiritual strength, the key to your spiritual effect and power. 
 
Let’s pray
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