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JAMES 3:1-12
Series:  Real Faith in Real Life - Part Six

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 23, 2013

Please join me at James 3 - starting at verse 1.  We are in a section of James’ letter - that we began back at chapter 2 verse 1 - James is focusing us on this truth:  Real faith in real time produces real love.  What real faith looks like in our relationships with others.


James has been giving us a series of teachings - with examples - for us to compare our lives to.  What do our actions towards others tell us about our faith?  Is our faith kind of a shallow faith of convenience and culture?  Or, is our faith a deep faith - coming from the core of who we are?  What do our actions towards others tell us about our faith?


Here in chapter 3 James is going to focus on what comes out of our mouths - our words - our speech in the real time of real life.


A little boy was selling a lawnmower.  A Baptist pastor came along and wanted to buy it.  He asked if it ran.  “Yes sir,” said the boy.  The pastor pulled and pulled the starter rope.  After a bit he said, “Son, this thing won’t start.”  The boy said, “That’s ‘cause you ‘gotta cuss at it.”  The pastor said, “Son, I’m a Baptist pastor and I haven’t cussed in 18 years.” 


The boy said, “Keep pulling.  It’ll come back to you.”


What can our words tell us about what’s in our heart?

Let’s read verses 1 and 2 together:  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.


Verses 1 and 2 focus on The Problem of Our Tongue. 


James begins with teachers.  With a warning.  Not a condemnation.  Let’s agree that being a teacher is a good thing.  But let’s be clear on James’ warning. 


In James’ day there were Jews who were pursuing being rabbis - teachers - because of the position - the clout - the recognition.  It made them look good.  Gave them a standing in the community.  Christians wanted to be leaders in the church because it came with a degree of recognition.  Point being that they were more concerned with the position than what affect they were having on other people.  Not much changes does it?


Doesn’t seem like the teachers we learn the most from are the teachers who actually love to teach - who genuinely care about their students and what it is that they’re teaching?  What makes a good teacher a good teacher isn’t the degrees they have or the years of experience - it’s the heart of the teacher.  What’s in the heart comes out in their words and their actions - good or bad - and has an affect on us.


People joke that pastor’s only work 1 hour a week.  The reality is that getting up here to share on Sunday morning is a product of a minimum of 20 hours of preparation - meaning prayerful study - coming to an intellectual understanding of the text and a process of thinking through how to present what’s being taught by God’s word so that it makes practical - applicable real life - sense.


And more so - days - if not weeks - if not a lifetime of God systematically - lovingly - working to transform my suborn will into something that resembles what it is that’s being shared here.


James is warning us that those who teach are judged with a greater strictness - and they should be.  What they’re teaching affects lives.


A teacher is responsible to speak the truth - to teach what God’s word says even if it goes against our personal opinion - even if exposes areas in our own lives where we struggle.  Teachers are expected to speak the truth - to live the truth - at the heart level.


Then - looking at verse 1 - did you notice who James is warning?  “My brothers.”  James goes on “we who teach” - verse 2 - “we all stumble.”


Let’s not miss this.  What James is writing here applies to all of us - not just those who are in a formal “upfront” role of teacher.  Parents teach children.  Siblings teach siblings.  Christians teach non-Christians what it means to be a Christian.  We all have roles - at home - at work - at school - where we have influence - good or bad - we all have some influence on others - good or bad.


James writes:  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.


We all stumble means that we all... stumble.  In what we say - in our speech - in what’s coming out of our mouths - we all get tripped up. 


Which means not one of us is perfect.  Not one of us is able to bridle - reign in - control - his whole body - how we’re living.  We all have a problem here.


Which means that for all of us who teach - formal or otherwise - this is really really serious.  Lives are at stake.  Our nation.  Our community.  The church.  Our homes - families - generations.  All are stake here.


Have you ever wished you could take back your words?  Anything ever slip out that shouldn’t have?  We all stumble.  The tongue catches everyone - regardless of position or desire or maturity.


James is warning wannabe teachers who may be pretending they’ve got it all together - image and position being important to them.  He’s calling on the rest of us to think seriously - honestly - about our lives.  We’re not perfect.  We need to pay attention to what James in writing.


Verses 3 to 5 focus on The Influence of Our Tongue. 


Let’s read these verses together and then come back and unpack what James is teaching.  Verse 3:  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.


Example of influence number one:  A bit in the mouth of a horse - of course.


A harness goes over a horses’ head.  A harness that has a noseband - a browband - attaches to the reigns - and a bit - a few straps of leather - a uniquely shaped piece of metal - a bit goes in the horses’ mouth.  The purpose of which is to restrain or guide the horse.


Some of you have horses.  Large animal.  Small bit.  Pull the reigns and the horse turns.  The horse may not always want to go that way.  But ultimately, where the head goes the body must follow.


In a similar way the tongue can guide the direction of a person’s life.


Example of influence number two:  The rudder of a ship.


(picture) Anyone know what ship this is?  KMS Bismarck.


Commissioned by the Nazis on August 24, 1940.  She had displacement of almost 51,000 tons - which means she was big.  She could reach speeds of 30 knots - which meant she was fast.  She had 8 - 15” guns - which meant she was powerful.


On May 18, 1941 - the Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen made a break for the North Atlantic.  Their goal was to wreak havoc on conveys carrying supplies to England and to draw as many British ships as they could away from other patrols.  If these two ships got into the North Atlantic it would have decimated the British war effort.


The British sent every ship and aircraft they could to hunt down the Bismarck and sink her.  On May 24th - HMS Hood took on the Bismarck. 


The battle cruiser Hood was the symbol of British naval power.  She was the flagship of the British Atlantic Fleet’s Battle Cruiser Squadron.  Known as The Mighty Hood - she was the longest, heaviest, fastest armored warship in the British Fleet.  If any ship could sink Bismarck - Hood could.


The battle lasted only 20 minutes.  During the battle, one 15” shell from the Bismarck struck the Hood.  She exploded - sinking in 3 minutes.  Only 3 of over 1,400 crewmen survived.  The effect on the British was devastating.  Bismarck seemed invincible.


After days of pursuit and skirmishes - what finally did the Bismarck in was a last minute - almost in darkness - miracle hit by a single torpedo - that jammed mighty Bismarck’s rudder and steering gear.  So that - after that hit she was only able to steer in a large circle in the general direction of the British fleet.  She became a sitting duck.  The British fired almost 2,900 shells at Bismarck - finally finishing her off with torpedoes. 


James is talking about the merchant ships of his day.  Driven by the power of the wind - manned - complex - impressive.  The Bismarck's of the day.  All that turned by a small teeny tiny rudder.


In a similar way the course of a person’s life can be influenced by the tongue.


James - verse 5:  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  Point being:  The tongue is small but it has great influence.


Going on in verse 5 - James’ next set of examples focus on The Destructiveness of Our Tongue. 


Let’s read these verses together:  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.  For every beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.


Luciano Mares of Fort Sumner, New Mexico had a small mouse problem.  Pun intended.  It seems that he caught a mouse inside his house and wanted to get rid of it.  Mares, who was interviewed at his motel room, Mares said, “I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw the mouse on the fire.”  Then, Mares watched in horror as the - now on fire mouse - ran back to the house - to just underneath a window from where the flames spread throughout the house - destroying the house and everything in it.


Much more serious is what’s being going on up in Mariposa this last week - the smoke of which we could see from Merced.  Last Sunday afternoon a small unattended campfire turned into a blaze that threatened 800 homes - forced 1,000 evacuations - burned about 1,700 acres - brought 2,000 plus firefighters from around the state - and has cost around $5.5 million to fight. 


Have you ever driven through an area destroyed by fire?  Acres and acres of charred grass or trees - black - all because of single spark.


Congregations - families - places we’ve worked - can be like that.  When gossip gets out of control - backbiting - nasty things get said - people get shredded up front or usually behind the back.  Loose lips and unrestrained tongues.  Have you been there?


James says the tongue - burning its path of destruction - is a world of unrighteousness - ungodliness.  Its like all the evil in the world is wrapped up in that little thing in our mouths.  Anger, lust, bitterness, resentment, hatred, greed, malice, jealousy.  Its hard to think of a sin that the doesn’t somehow involve the tongue.


Notice three things about the tongue’s world of unrighteousness.


First:  It defiles the entire body.  The Greek word for body is “soma.”  It has the idea of everything that we are:  Mind, Body, Soul.  All of who we are is connected to what comes out of our mouths.

Second:  It defiles the course of our lives.


A woman was vacationing with some friends and just happened to wander into a jewelry store in Beverly Hills where she found this exquisite diamond necklace costing $10,000.  Not wanting to buy it without checking with her husband - she texted him about purchasing the necklace and the price.  His response came back, “No, price to high.”  Unfortunately, he left out the coma.  “No price to high.”


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never - what?  hurt me.”  James is saying that’s a lie.


If we’re told, “You’re a failure.” Or, “You’re stupid.”  Or, “You’ll never amount to much.”  “You don’t have what it takes.”  “When you were born you were so ugly the doctor slapped your mother.”  If we’re told that at the right time or often enough we begin to believe it.  Words effect how we look at ourselves.  They effect our actions. 


Words can be devastating - can radically change the course of our lives.


Third:  That defilement is ignited by the fires of hell.


The Greek word used here for “hell” is “gehenna” - not the Hebrew “Sheol” or the Greek “Hades” - which are other words meaning Hell or the place of the dead - think location.  “Ghenna” was the Jerusalem City Dump - located in the Valley of Hinnom.  That sounds kind of the same, doesn’t it.  Gehenna - Hinnom?   


All of the putrefying refuse - the filth - whatever defiled the holy city - was thrown there.  All of that was burned.  Dead bodies - ceremonially unclean - the dead were thrown there.  The god Molech was worshipped there - pagan rites of children being burned alive.  Gehenna was a continual stinking fire that never went out.


Gehenna is visual.  The people of Jerusalem used the term “Gehenna” as an expression for hell.  Because they could see it and smell it and it just looked like hell on earth.  A place one would never want to exist for one day let alone eternity.


James’ first point about the destructiveness of our tongues is that the tongue can be set in motion by the worst evil crud of this world.  That ongoing evil - unleashed by the tongue - is hugely destructive to our whole lives and the lives of others around us.


Second James point about our tongues destructiveness is how difficult it is to control our tongue.  We can tame beasts and birds and reptiles and fish and on and on.  The tongue is worse than all those feral cats running around Merced.  They can be caught.  Maybe even tamed.


But, James writes, no human being can tame the tongue.  We - left to our own power and will and efforts - whit - wisdom - and working - we’ll never be able to tame the tongue.  We cannot adequately or completely control it.


David writes in Psalm 39 that he tried to keep his mouth shut.  But, the more he tried the more stressed out he became - the more he was burning inside - till finally what was inside came out - words that should not have been spoken.


Ever have that experience?  “I’m not going to say nothing.”  And then “BOOM” out it comes.

James writes, our tongues are restless - literally unstable - like a drunk weaving and wandering - staggering - out of control.  And, full of poison.  The purpose of poison is destruction - incapacitation - death.


Bottom line:  The tongue is out of control - unrestrained deadly destructiveness.


Then James focuses on The Inconsistency of Our Tongue. 


Read verses 9 to 12 with me:  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?  Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.


This is way too close to home isn’t it?


I’m driving and listening to a CD or something.  Music that’s taking me to just this side of heaven.  Presence of God stuff.  The volume is up to where I’m threatening the guy with the woofers in the car next to me.  We’re together?  Just me and God.  Praising God and the top of my lungs.  Pure worship.


And some jerk who gotten his license off the internet - who’s texting the whole dictionary - cuts me off - switches lanes right in front of me - without signaling - without even looking.  From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.


How many of you have been there?  Happens.  We all stumble.  Sometimes that stumbling comes with our Sunday afternoon critique of what went on a Church - or after a Bible study or time of prayer.


Chuck Swindoll shares this illustration:


After a long Sunday morning service, a family sat down to eat lunch.  The father bowed his head and led the children in the blessing.  He thanked the Lord for the food, for the day, and for their home.  Shortly after saying, “Amen,” he proceeded to fuss about the preacher, the church, his job.  Nothing but complaints poured from his lips.  Following all that, his little daughter tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Daddy, did God hear you when you said the blessing?”


Switching to theological authority, Dad answered, “Yes, darling, He did.”


“Well,” asked his daughter, “did God hear you when you fussed right after you prayed?”


“Well… uh, yes, honey, I suppose He did.”


“Then, Daddy,” she said, “which one did God believe?” (1)

We all stumble.  I am just as much in process with this as everyone else in the room.  Just ask my kids.  We all stumble. 


One minute we can be speaking so lovingly to our wives - or husbands - God’s creation and gift to us - and the next minute we’re speaking words of anger.  We speak kindly to our children - God’s creation and blessing to us - and then the next minute so harshly.  We clean up our speech for our siblings at church but when we get to work we can swear with the best of them - gossip - tear others down.


The tongue is amazingly unique.  It has the ability to both praise God or to curse God.  It can seemingly flip from one to the other with great ease.


James asks.  How can this be?  One minute we’re praising God.  Then next minute we’re shredding His creation.  Slicing and dicing people that God created in His image.  Which is akin to shredding God - His creation - His people - His image.


There’s a disconnect here.


James gives four examples from nature - starting in verse 11.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Answer - “No.”  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives  Answer - “No.”  or a grapevine produce figs?  Answer - “No”  Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.  No, of course not.”


Do you see what James is getting at here?  The source determines the flow.  The nature of the tree determines the type of fruit.  Someone flip-flopping - talking out of both sides of their mouth - is only demonstrating what’s going on in their heart.  Inconsistency in reality demonstrates consistency.


This is a very serious question.  The tongue is influential.  Its destructive.  Its untamable.  Its even able to curse God.  What are we producing with our tongues?  If there’s an inconstancy it means there’s a consistent disconnect between what we say we believe and what’s really going on at our heart level - at the core of who we are.


Some Pharisees and Scribes had come up from Jerusalem and were going on and on about Jesus’ disciples and how Jesus’ disciples were breaking with their religious traditions.  These are religious teachers of God’s people that for the most part - theologically and doctrinally - were right on.  They were meticulous in their doing of what they did to keep right with God who were adamant in their teaching of what others needed to be doing to keep themselves right with God.


So here they are - up from Jerusalem - questioning Jesus on what His disciples were doing.  How the disciples are living out their relationship with God verses how the Pharisees and Scribes were living out their relationship with God.


Jesus just nails these guys.  Calls them hypocrites.  Points out how all their traditions were more important to them than God’s word.  He calls them blind guides to the blind who are leading their followers into a pit - to destruction.


In the midst of that exchange Jesus makes this statement to the people who were listening to all this.  Jesus said, “Hear and understand:  it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth defiles a person… meaning great theology and doctrine and righteous actions are all important - but what comes out of our mouths demonstrates where a person really is in their relationship with God. 


Jesus goes on:  “whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled[.]  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person - meaning defines their true relationship with God.  For out of the mouth come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  (Matthew 15:1-20)


Point being that we can claim to have our act together before God.  But our words - when we stumble and we do - our words will reveal what’s really going on in our hearts.  They defile us. 


In processing what James is teaching here - thinking about what’s coming out of our mouths - what that says about our hearts and how all that affects others around us - there are two statements that James makes that it would be really easy for us to skip past.  Which would be a shame.  Because those two statements open up huge possibilities for us.

James writes in verse 10 -
“My brothers, these things ought not be so.”


That is a hugely encouraging statement.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  As messed up as all this is - as much as we all are stumbling around - getting tripped up by all this - this isn’t the way it has to be.  There is another way. 


Isn’t that encouraging?


James’ teaching isn’t about laying a guilt trip on us about what we already know is true.  James is talking to fellow brothers in Christ - and sisters - who desire to rise above all this.


Isn’t that us today?  Us - who way too often have wanted a do over on some epic failure of something we’ve said?  Us - who realize that there is a disconnect in our faith?  We need the encouragement James is offering.  It doesn’t have to be this way.


James is giving us an opportunity to ask ourselves just where this inconsistency in my speech is coming from?  To consider just what our tongue reveals about our hearts - our faith - about what’s really going on in our relationship with God.  Put simply:  James is offering us a moment of truth.

James writes that the tongue defiles.  It shows us that at the heart level if  we’re focused on ourselves - justifying - defending - evading - trying to deal with our relationships with others and God on our terms - not God’s


James writes that the source of all that is the pit of hell - demonic activity bent on producing disorder and evil.  What ought to not be going on in our hearts.  Its not of God. 


If we’ve got all that going on in our heart - we need to stop being so arrogant - to stop letting Satan do a number on us - stop ignoring what’s really going on and be honest - we need to accept God’s truth about the condition of our heart.


Which is another hugely encouraging thing that James writes.  In verse 8 James writes:  “no human being can tame the tongue.”  We can’t.  But, God can.  Who can?  God.


We need to surrender our attempts at self-controlling our tongues.  Meaning, in the moment of truth that James is offering us we’ve got to be honest about our own inability.


Controlling our tongue is not going to happen because we simply just try harder.  We’ve done that with obvious results.  Controlling our tongue is not going to happen as the result of some Bible study or some self-help book or program - as useful as those may be.

Ultimately control of the tongue only comes as we surrender the core of who we are to God.  This is a spiritual issue of heaven and hell proportions - a battle waged at the level of our hearts - that requires our total surrender to God.


Which is where the rubber meets the road of real life - where all the things that James has been describing about the tongue - break into how we behave in our relationships with others - unleashing the unrestrained influence and destructiveness of the tongue.


When our words - what comes from our heart surrendered to God - when we’re from the heart trusting God with everything we are - He will produce from within us words with no sinful coming from hell motive - no selfishness - no competitiveness.  But words that promote peace - are seasoned with gentleness - consideration - compassion - mercy - sincerity - love.  Producing what can only come from the activity of God within us.  Rather than disorder and every evil thing - rather righteousness is produced.  People are drawn ever closer to God.


Remember Isaiah chapter 6?  Consider that scene in the context of what James writes.


Isaiah before the throne of God.  The angels are singing.  The temple is trembling all the way down to the foundations.  The whole place if filled with the presence of God.  Remember this?


Isaiah - in that throne room - Isaiah says, “There is no hope for me!  I’m doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful.  And yet, with my own eyes I’ve seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”   (Isaiah 6:1-17 GNB) 


The angel comes to Isaiah and touches his mouth with a live coal - signifying the forgiveness of Isaiah’s sin - purifying him from the lips on down to his heart before God.   Then - and only then - is Isaiah ready to go out and serve God.  To speak - to be used as God’s messenger.


That’s what you and I need this morning.  James’ moment of truth - honesty about ourselves before God.  We’re all in need of cleansing - from our tongues all the way down to our hearts.  We need the touch of God on our mouths.  And on our lives.  So that what we say can be a blessing to others.  And not a curse.


God gives us a choice.  He invites us to let Him touch our lives - to purify us - to sanctify our lips - and do His work in our hearts.


James’ point in this section of his letter:  Real faith in real time produces real love.


I was reading about Florence Nightingale.  Remember Florence?  She was a British nurse during the 19th century.  At that time, the military medical camps were very unsanitary.  Florence Nightingale fought hard to make them better.


Which meant a lot of people didn’t like her.  The doctors thought she was attacking them.  They told her she wasn’t welcome.  Even her own mother and sister criticized her.  Attitudes and circumstances that would led a lot of people to give up.


But Queen Victoria was one of her biggest supporters.  The Queen kept encouraging Florence.  “You’re a hero of the British people.  No wonder the soldiers love you so much.  Keep doing what you’re doing.  Don’t give up!  Let me know if there’s any way I can help.”

Later on, Florence Nightingale talked about how much the Queen’s encouragement meant to her.  How it gave her the strength to go on.

We don’t have to be a queen to make a difference in someone’s life.  The very words we say can make a significant difference in someone’s life.


The tongue is influential.  That influence can be used for good.  The tongue is powerful.  But that power doesn’t have to be destructive.  It can be used strengthen and uplift and encourage.  Rather than cursing God - or cursing people that God has created - we have the opportunity to sow seeds of righteousness - to lead people closer to God - to encourage them to go deeper in their relationship with God - to hang in there faithfully trusting God.


What James says about the tongue should alert us to a great opportunity.  “It only takes a spark to get a fire going” could be a good thing



1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010


Additional reference:  Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.