Guard Your Words. James 3:1-5

Points covered: This post speaks to us the importance of our words. Guard your words because your tongue has the potential to control you and condemn you.

Click for part 2 of this sermon

Joke: Once four worship team members went for a vacation. One evening they decided to tell each other their biggest sins. The guitarist said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but my big temptation is that I never pray. My sin is worse,” said the pianist. “It’s gambling. One Saturday instead of going for my practice I went to the race track to bet on the horses.” “Mine is worse still,” said the vocalist. “I sometimes can’t control the urge to sing secular songs.” The drummer was quiet and all of a sudden, he started running. The three ran and stopped him and said we will not leave you until you say your sin. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” the drummer said, “But my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip and I cannot stop until I tell about you guys to the entire church.”

Have you ever said words that you wish they could take back? How often have we just said something out of anger or hurt and wished we could take it back? Someone said, “I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.”

Let’s open our Bibles to James 3.

Now, in this third chapter, James presents the matter of the tongue. James says that true believers of God can be discerned in the way people talk. The tongue really is you. Jesus said in Luke 6:45 For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The tongue is the revealer of the heart.

David said the tongue is an arrow. Psalm 64:4 They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows. With a sword, you can kill an immediate person and the arrow kills at a distance. The deadliness of the tongue was that it could kill the one you are talking to and also without even being anywhere near the victim. The tongue is a deadly arrow. 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? Some people have said that men speak 25,000 words a day and women speak 30,000 words a day. By the time the man comes home from work, he has already spent his 25,000, and the woman hasn’t started on her 30,000. Somebody calculated that we probably put together a 54-page book every day. A normal person, spend one-fifth of their life talking.

I remember as a child whenever my parents would take me to the doctor, the first thing the doctor would say is, “Let me see your tongue.” The nurse puts a thermometer under your tongue and tells your physical temperature. James says your tongue itself will show your spiritual temperature.

When the apostle Paul characterizes the fallenness of man he said in Romans 3:13-14 13Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

When Isaiah saw the Lord in a vision he was awakened to know his sinfulness. He said in Isaiah 6:6 For I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips.

So the mouth is the monitor on the human condition. And so, in chapter 3, James calls us to measure our speech, to see if it is consistent with our faith.

James gives us five reasons for the control of the tongue.

1. Control the tongue because its potential to condemn is so great.

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

You must take good care not to thrust yourself into a teaching position, because a teacher basically trades on his tongue, and you have such a high chance to abuse that, and to bring upon yourself potential judgment.

Now there are different type of teachers. One is a trained teacher like a pastor or a Bible college teachers and others are part-time teachers like believers who share the word. Then every believer is a teacher because we are to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey the word. Then we teach our children on right and wrong. So we are all teachers in one way or the other. The Bible says if you say something you don’t practice, you are condemning yourself with what you say. Practice what you proclaim, otherwise you will be condemned.

The responsibility of the teacher is given twice in the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 33:7-9 7“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.

Proclaim the right message. The teacher is really warned that he is sort of a watchman on the wall to warn the people, and he better be careful that he does it right, or their blood is liable to be on his hands. In other words, there is a sense in which there is great responsibility. Paul says in Acts 20:26-27 26Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Hebrews 13:17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. 2 Peter 2, and the book of Jude, where God pronounces terrifying judgment on a false teacher.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

1 Timothy 4:13 Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

So being a teacher of God’s Word is a very dangerous occupation for anyone, because of the power of the tongue to speak error, or to speak misjudgment, or to speak inappropriately, or to misrepresent Christ.

James 3:1-2 1Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways. The word here is the word “stumble,” which is a substitute for the word “sin.” What he is saying is, “Don’t hurry to your tongue because invariably you stumble or sin with your tongue.”

Illustration: If someone paid you one rupee for every kind word you said about people, and collected fifty paisa for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor?

The Bible refers a lot to the sins of the mouth: 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, etc. Did you see yourself anywhere in there? No wonder God put your tongue in a cage behind your teeth, walled in by your mouth.

Joke: Once the teeth told the tongue, “If I just press a little, you’ll get cut. Tongue replies, “If I misuse a single word, all 32 of you will come out.”

Remember your tongue is in a wet place, and it can slip easily.” The easiest way to sin is to sin with your tongue. But your tongue has tremendous potential to judge you. Matthew 12:34-37 34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Listen to this: do you realize that in final judgment, your eternal destiny can be determined by your words? The Lord keeps a record of everybody’s words. So, when you give your life to Christ, and your life is transformed, and you have a new heart, you have a new vocabulary.

2. Control the tongue because it has such power to control.

James 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. The only people who don’t sin with their mouth are perfect people.

James is saying only spiritual mature people are able to control their tongue. The only human being who ever lived who had an absolutely perfect tongue was Jesus Christ. You remember what the Jewish leaders spoke about Jesus? John 7:46 No one ever spoke the way this man does. Jesus was perfect in His speech.

1 Peter 2:22 He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. Therefore, we can say, a mature person, a godly person, a holy person, a spiritually prefect person will have a holy speech.

If a person can master his tongue, he can master his evil tendencies throughout his whole body, and that means he can master himself.

Listen, we can’t sin so easily with our body, but we are always in a position to sin with our tongue. Because the tongue can sin so easily, if you can control the tongue, the greater sinner in your body, 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.

You know what that says to me? That says if I want to bring my whole spiritual life into control, I ought to work on my what? My tongue. 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.

Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death.

Psalm 39:1 I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”

To help us understand that, James gives us two illustrations.

James 3:3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. James uses a horse to show that if you control the tongue, you control everything. How do you control a horse? You control a horse by controlling its tongue. You put a piece of metal in a horse’s mouth. It lays on his tongue. And then you put a harness around that, pull it up over his head, take some reins, and when you pull that, you pull that metal bit against the horse’s tongue.

By controlling the horse’s tongue, you control the horse’s movements. A horse, by the way, let me tell you, is useless without that. Did you ever know a horse to volunteer to pull a wagon? How about a horse volunteer to carry a rider?

And you break them with a bit in the mouth, and you control the whole body by controlling the tongue. You can direct the whole body. That’s what James is saying. You get control of your tongue and you can direct your whole body. Everything else comes into line. You want to know something? An unbridled horse is absolutely good for nothing.

James 3:4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. That’s another illustration. A huge ship is guided totally by the rudder. That small little rudder moves that massive ship. With rudder, you can navigate a ship anywhere in the ocean, deep see or to the harbor. If you can just get control of the little tongue, you can move everything else. The idea is this: Power applied at the right point is sufficient to control the whole vessel. And power applied at the right point, being the mouth, is sufficient to control the whole person.

And that’s the second point. James says control your tongue because of its power to control you.

Since the tongue can control speak good.

Speak Gracious words. Proverbs 16:24 Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and hearing to the bones.

Speak right words. Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Speak comforting words. Proverbs 15:4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

Speak only kind words. Speak only loving words, true words, thoughtful words. If you do that, you’ll control every other part of your life.

James sums up in James 3:5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What does he mean? It brags, tongue boasts great things.

Tongue really controls. It is a powerful instrument. 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. The tongue is a powerful thing, 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 apply yourself to control your tongue, because of its power to condemn you and its power to control you.”

Let’s look to the Lord in prayer.

Click for part 2 of this sermon

Illustrations & Jokes on tongue

Words – Life or Death?