James 3 – Taming the Tongue
[Last week we finished up James 2 talking about faith that works.
James 2: 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
As I told you last week; James says, your intellectual agreement to believe in God is a demonic illusion. Your belief did not save you, if you did not repent. Repentance means to reconsider and change direction. The will of man is by nature sinful, Romans 3:11 says that no one seeks after God on their own. But we respond to the call of God, by surrendering our sinful will to Jesus as savior and Lord; and that surrender to God's grace changes you in faith.
So last Sunday night our daughter Amber calls to say she got saved at youth camp. Now Amber had made a profession of faith when she was 6 and was baptized. So I talked with he when she got home, and asked her when she was sitting in that service and they came to the moment of truth, what did she think was missing, what was deficient in her earlier profession of faith?
She said that she had frequently felt the need for rededication but is seemed like those times lacked the foundation of a true conversion. She said it wasn't as though she didn't believe, but that there was not a lot of faith in her life, that seeking after God in prayer and Bible study was something you were supposed to do, not something she desired.
So when the invitation time came the preacher said "I'm not asking you to say a prayer, I'm asking you to give your life to God". In that moment she felt the surrender and repentance that was missing from her profession at age 6. So as we continue in James, keep in mind that his expectation is this true confession and repentance that brings about the real faith of God through the Holy Spirit, working in our lives.]
1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
[My only thought for this verse, is our pastors never seem to mention it when asking me to teach a class. Not exactly something you would put in the recruiting brochure. But it only makes sense given all the warnings on false teachers and people being deceived and led astray by bad doctrine. So a word of caution is given, God will strictly judge anyone who causes others to stray, especially teachers in His own church.]
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
[We are given these two examples; a ships rudder, and the bit of a horses bridle, because they are small in comparison to the thing they control, we understand that they are very powerful in keeping a straight course, or not. So the tongue is to the body. James 1:19 warned us to be "swift to hear and slow to speak" and the reason followed in verse 20 "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God".
Peaceful words lead you to peace, righteous words lead you to righteousness, dishonest words will lead you away from God's truth, and angry words lead you away from God's righteousness toward violence.]
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
[When the Pharisees approached Jesus to complain that His disciples had not washed before eating He gave them this answer:
Mathew 15: 10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."
You see they had all these rules about clean and unclean that they kept with legalistic zeal, but in matters of love and compassion they were negligent. So Jesus corrected them by saying it's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out. Your words and how you speak them reveal what is in your heart.
Here James uses the example is a wild fire, every year in the west we see thousands of acres burned from something as small as a cigarette butt. Anytime I fly into California in the fall I am likely to see the brown smoke of wild fires instead of the mountains or the ocean. How many fights are started or marriages ended with just a few words, words that defile the whole body and do irreparable damage to relationships.]
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
[Today people throw about curses as if they were nothing; but to the Hebrew people a curse was a very serious thing. It struck me for the first time reading verse 9, that when we curse any man or woman we curse against the image of God. Man has successfully tamed all kinds of animals, but the natural man cannot tame the tongue. Once again we see a theme in James' letter; he highlights the parts of our life that should be different once we have been redeemed.]
10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
[In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". That is what James is pointing out here. For the redeemed who's hearts have been circumcised, self control in our speaking should be one of those good works that give evidence of our faith. James again seems to be quoting Jesus from Mathew 7 as He used these same examples of figs and grapes only growing from the right kind of plant and told us this is how we could identify false teachers so that "by their fruits you will know them". In John 7:38 Jesus said "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living
water." So we also as springs of living water should not also produce salty or bitter water.
James has such strong expectations for believers because he believes in the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the redeemed. We should have this same expectation for anyone claiming to have been born again.
James 1:26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.]
I think David understood this connection between the heart and the mouth when he wrote this:
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
If I want your mouth to be used for God's glory, then I need to give Him the "meditation of my heart". Jesus Himself put it this way in Matthew 12:34 "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". A tamed tongue is the result of a surrendered heart.