Behold, the Tongue! (James 3:1-6)

First Baptist Church http://fbcbartow.org

“Behold, the Tongue!”

(James 3:1-6)

Series: Living the Faith

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

February 18, 2018

 

Introductory Comments:

Church, we are here this morning to lift high the name of Jesus!  We’ve been changed by Him, we are grateful to Him, we want to serve Him, we want to live consistent lives directed by Him.  Amen?

We are continuing our series in James.

James has been calling us to live changed lives.

Today, we will begin to look at James’ discussion of the tongue.

Since we’re in the book of James, I want to tell you about a friend I have named James. His friends call him Jim.

Illustration: Jim is one of my best friends in the world. He is a forester in Kentucky. Jim travels all over the country to fight fires when it’s “fire season.”  He’s been to New Mexico, Idaho, Georgia, Tennessee, and even Florida, to fight fires. I enjoy talking to Jim about the fires that he fights.

Usually about once a year we hear a story about a great forest fire.

It’s fascinating to hear how small causes often start a great forest fire.

One of the largest forest fires of all time is the Great Fire of 1910. This fire burned over 3,000,000 acres in three different states. It affected ten national forests. It killed 87 people. It was just a terrible fire. Of the causes of the fire, one of the causes is said to have been embers and sparks that flew off of locomotives. Just small embers and small sparks started a massive fire.

You see, James is going to talk to us this morning about how the tongue, just a small part of our body, can start a huge fire; and, we’ll see just like a forest fire, it can be very dangerous.

Let’s see what James has to say.

Read the Passage

Read James 3:1-6

1 Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body. 3 Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we direct their whole bodies. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Let’s pray together.

(Prayer)

We have here several warnings from James regarding the danger of the tongue.

The tongue has great power. Behold, the tongue! It is very dangerous!

(pause)

James says it can do several things to us, so let’s look at three dangers of the tongue this morning.

First, . . .

I. The tongue can make us stumble.  (vv. 1-2)

Look at verses 1-2.

1 Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body.

First, James says that not many of should become teachers.

This may seem out of place to some at first reading.  However, when you consider the context of the danger of the tongue, it fits perfectly.

James is saying, what we say matters, especially when you are a teacher.

As a teacher of the Word of God, people are intentionally looking to you to learn, and what you say can have drastic effects.

You can teach someone the deep truths of the Creator of the universe.

You can also lead someone astray, teaching them lies from Satan, while they believe that you are teaching them the truth.

What a teacher says has tremendous power and influence.

James says not many should become teachers. Why?  Because there is an inherent risk that comes with teaching. You are opening yourself up for a stricter judgment.

Because there were many new believers and followers of Jesus Christ, there were probably also many who wanted to teach. James was saying, whoa . . . take your time.

Don’t just do this without putting thought into it.  We should count the costs.

There are dangers associated with teaching.

Teachers will be judged more strictly.

This should also be a warning to those false teachers of the Word of God out there, and there are plenty.

They distort the Word of God to say what people want to hear, and most of the time to make themselves rich and famous.

Make no mistake: they will be judged more strictly.

James then says that all of us stumble.

He says in verse 2, “we all stumble in many ways.”

None of us is perfect.

We all struggle with sin. The question is, “What do we do about it?”

(pause)

James then speaks specifically about stumbling with the tongue.

He says that if someone doesn’t stumble in what he says he is, “mature, able to also to control the whole body.”

Apparently, James thinks it’s a great feat to be able to control your tongue!

He must think that a lot of us struggle with what we say! 😀

(pause)

He speaks here of maturity again. This is like in chapter 1 when we hear about trials making us complete and mature.

The person who can control his or her tongue, has learned, grown, and matured in life.

James also says that if you can control your tongue, you can control your entire self!

The tongue possesses great power. If we can master our tongues, we can master our entire selves!

Of course, the implication is that the tongue is the most difficult thing to control.

James says, “If” anyone is able to control his tongue. That’s a big “if!”

James’ point is that if you have enough spiritual maturity to control your tongue, you probably have enough spiritual maturity to control the rest of your life.

(pause)

Next, James speaks of how . . .

II. The tongue can control us. (vv. 3-5a)

Look again at verses 3-5.

3 Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we direct their whole bodies. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things.

James gives us these two examples of things that are controlled by something very small: a horse and a ship.

First, he said that a horse is controlled by a small bit. Indeed this is the case.

A horse, a huge animal weighing on average about 800-1,000 pounds, can be guided by a small bit, weighing just a few ounces.

It’s funny that James should speak of horses again. Earlier in the letter, he spoke of having a reign on our tongues. Remember?  We’re supposed to say, “Whoa Nelly,” when we get out of control with our tongues.

Now, he says this small bit can control a huge beast.

Similarly, the tongue can control our bodies.

Second, he speaks of a ship being guided by a rudder.

A ship, no matter how regal, how humungous, or how unsinkable is useless unless it can go somewhere, and it cannot go anywhere without a small component called a rudder.

The rudder sits in the rear of the ship and guides it along, causing it to go left or right as the captain so desires.

Likewise, the tongue, although small can change the entire direction of our lives.

Can you imagine a ship drifting aimlessly at sea, or a horse with a rider on it running wildly?  What a mess!  In the same way, when we let our tongues go wild, what a mess!

(pause)

Here’s the basic point from what James is saying: he’s reinforcing his first point. If you can control your tongue, you can control your life. You are mature in your faith.

Your tongue will steer you, so you need to steer it!

If you want to focus on a spiritually healthy life, focus on your tongue!

As with a ship, you must have an experienced pilot. So, also, it helps to have someone who knows what they’re doing when they jump on a horse. Similarly, we must practice controlling our tongue and using what we say to direct the rest of our lives. It takes practice and it’s a learned skill.

One danger of our speech is that it will make us stumble. Another is that it can control us, and if we’re unskilled, that’s a problem.

Finally, . . .

III. The tongue can scar us. (vv. 5b-6)

Let’s finish up the passage.  Look at the second half of verse 5.

Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Just like the Great Fire of 1910, a small spark can start a huge fire.

A large forest can be burned to the ground by just a small spark.

A fire can leave lasting damage and so can what we say.

James says, “the tongue is a fire.”

He not only calls it a fire, he calls is a “world of unrighteousness.”

This world of unrighteousness is among our members; that is, it’s a part of our body!

This dangerous body part is a part of our body, and it can destroy us!

It can set the course of life on fire!

It is set on fire by hell!

This is dangerous stuff!

When a forest is ablaze, it’s very difficult to put it out. At times, crews will work for days and even weeks to put out a fire.

So, also, it’s hard to stop the damage that comes as a result of dangerous speech.

Illustration: After something has gone through a burn, there’s usually evidence of the fire leftover. At my previous church there was a fire many years ago in the sanctuary. You could see where the fire had burned. Rumor had it when the organ really got going, ash would fall down from the ceiling.  Years later, you could still tell that the church had been through a fire.

So also, our speech can leave lasting damage, for years to come.  It can scar.

The tongue can burn and it can cause great damage.

What are some types of damage that can be caused by the tongue?  Well, I’m glad that you asked.

Here are some different types of dangers that can come from our speech:

Lying.

Blasphemy.

Gossip.

Slander.

Destructive speech.

Negativity.

Discouragement.

Abusive speech.

Bragging.

Inappropriate flirting.

Manipulation.

False teaching.

Exaggeration.

Complaining.

Lustful speech.

Crude joking.

Perhaps other things we say are harmful as well.

(pause)

God will hold us accountable for this. For the way we speak to our family. For the way we gossip about our brothers and sisters in Christ. For the way we slander our pastors. For the way we put down our church members. For the way we discourage our children. For the way we are negative towards our spouse. For the way we flirt with someone that we’re not married to. For the way we speak down to an employee, or a waitress, or a church secretary. For the lack of compassion in the way we speak about those with whom we disagree. God will hold me accountable and He will hold you accountable.

(pause)

The tongue is a great danger. James calls it a, “world of unrighteousness.” We must be careful. We must learn to control our tongues.

As we would dread to be the cause of a great forest fire, we must also dread the thought of bringing great destruction with our speech.

Concluding Thoughts:

We who profess Christ as our Savior must especially be careful with how we speak.

If Jesus in us, Jesus must come out of us.

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 15:11

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person.”

The danger is real.

We can cause great damage, and we can reveal that we are not really truly changed.

I would be tempted to think that I’m being too strong here, but James is very strong in his warning about the tongue.  He says it is set on fire by hell. It is dangerous.

That brings us to our bottom line:

Bottom Line: Beware of your tongue.

(repeat)

It’s dangerous.

Be careful.

(pause)

Take up this challenge as you seek to be cautious with your tongue.

Weekly Challenge:

  1. Consider what damage your tongue has caused.

Have you caused damage already?

Have you burned someone?

Do you need to make it right?

  1. Consider a way to use your tongue for healing this week. 

Right a wrong.

Speak positivity into someone’s life.

Share the love of God with someone.

(pause)

Here’s a secret to get you on the right track with your speech. One word: humility. Start speaking with humility.

  1. Reflect on Philippians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 this week.

Study these passages and let them guide you along in the way you speak.

Let them be your bit and your rudder.

Learning godliness in our speech will help us develop godliness in other areas.  Your tongue is like a bit, or like a rudder; it will bring control to your life.

If you don’t take control of your tongue, you will not be able to take control of your life.

Closing:

If Jesus is in you, you will be changed.

Is Jesus in you?

Have you given your life to Him?

Have you asked Him to come into your sinful heart and make you new?

I did that when I was eight years old and He’s been changing me ever since.  I have a long way to go; I’m not perfect, but I’m on the path of becoming more like Jesus.

What about you?

In just a moment we will sing Have Thine Own Way Lord. Let God have His way with you!

(Gospel Presentation)

(Closing Prayer)

Closing Song: Have Thine Own Way Lord

Benediction:

Thank you for being here this morning, church!

Tonight we will be gathered at 5:30 to study I Will by Thom Rainer. Tonight we will be in chapter 8, “I will avoid the traps of Churchianity.”  You can join us even if you’ve missed the other weeks.

Let’s dismiss by singing the Doxology. 

(Sing Doxology)

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.