Taming The Tongue

Series: The Book of James

Sunday 27th March 2016 – Justus Swart

James 3:1-12; James 1:5; (Matt. 7:3); James 2:12-13;
2 Tim. 3:16-17; (Gal. 6:1); Matt. 15:15-20

What we occupy our mind with, the negative or the positive eventually filters through in our exchanges with other people. But we’ve heard it said that as His people, we need to be dispensers of His presence. Wherever you are and whatever you do, you are a dispenser of His presence. People do not need to come to church to feel His presence, all they need to do is tap into you and find out what is happening.

Not many of you should presume to be teachers my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal or take ships as an example although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers can fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs. Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (James 3:1-12). James is assessing your spiritual health by looking at your tongue; by the way you talk about people and the way you talk to people. How often do we challenge ourselves about the conversations we have and the things we say? James is addressing people in teaching positions about the influence they have over others by the words that they use. Many of us are in teachings positions, at our work, at our school, or even as a parent or influential person in our friendship circle. Teaching happens 50% in the classroom and 50% in day to day life. Children learn by simply observing the way you go through life. People in teaching positions need to be careful what they say by checking their facts because teachers are judged more strictly. Lord, give me the wisdom that I may handle your word correctly, because there is a penalty for those who do not (2 Timothy 2:15).

James is not trying to discourage people from taking these positions, but he is making sure that we do it for the right reasons. It is not a power or authority thing; it is one of the humblest places you can be. Teaching is a sacred calling. That is why James says, “Brothers do not presume to be teachers based on a whim, or because you like the sound of your own voice, there is a penalty for those who mishandle the word of truth”. He also says, “Do not presume to be a teacher over others simply because it is easy to correct everyone’s behaviour”. We feel it is our duty to point out faults and flaws and sometimes we do it with harsh words. We break people down in the name of helping them, but it is never truly helpful. Jesus says we should not be so concerned about the tiny splinter in our brother’s eye when we are walking around with a plank in our own eye (Matt. 7:3). Everyone loves to be the one who bring correction, but it is never nice to be the one who is under correction. James reminds us that we all stumble in many ways; everyone stumbles over something (James 3:2). We are all fighting a battle. Do not be quick to jump and correct someone when they are working through something and they make a mistake. Everyone has a path they are walking, a path of progress, change and transformation; to some it comes slow and to others it comes quicker. We like to jump into someone else’s progress because it is easy to be a critic. “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man, true nobility is being superior to your former self”Ernest Hemmingway. That statement changes your direction and the way you look at others because you take all that energy and direct it towards yourself. Sometimes we look at the faults of others to hide the faults in ourselves. This causes us to re-evaluate the need we have to fix things; to re-evaluate the urgent sense of justice that has to be implemented especially in the church. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:12-13).

However, we cannot have a community in which certain behaviour goes unchallenged. We cannot remain quiet about things going wrong because they do all the time. There must be a space in which one can bring correction to somebody without causing total destruction. Is there such a thing as a loving rebuke? How do you bring correction to somebody without wiping them out entirely? How do you do it without breaking the progress they may be on? All scripture is God –breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). There are definite times where rebuking, correcting or training is necessary.

What is a loving rebuke not suppose to look like?

  • We are not to let our tongue loose on someone’s character. You cannot unload criticism on someone (verbally assassinate them) and expect them to thank you afterwards.
  • You cannot use the time to break someone down and fall back on the excuse that it is the truth. James is saying that our words have an impact like a tiny little spark can set a forest ablaze; your words can cause destruction like that. He is trying to get us to take responsibility for the consequences of what we say. Some people are brave on the outside yet very fragile on the inside and you might not see the damage that you have caused them. It reminds us that everyone, everywhere, at all times is fighting their own battle. God may be working with that person and we come in thinking that we are being useful and helpful but we end up hurting the process that they may be on. If we do not have a tight reign on our tongue we might end up leaving the person worse off than before we decided to rebuke them.
  • People are left feeling afraid of judgement and stop coming to church and their connection to God is disrupted by it, leaving them isolated and alone.

What is a loving rebuke supposed to look like?

  • It has to come from someone who genuinely cares for you. The person saying these things has to have a real love for you. This also places a responsibility on the person bringing the rebuke. If you do not genuinely love that person, find the love! Love is not just a feeling but a concrete decision to seek their best interests.
  • The defining characteristic of bringing correction or rebuke is that it has to bring that person closer to God. That person then feels whole, and closer in his progress and journey towards God.
  • The question we have to ask ourselves is: how will it bring this person closer to God? You cannot fix people for your own sake because you are a perfectionist. It has to be wholesome for that person. If someone is caught in sin you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Gal. 6:1). Those who bring the rebuke must know that your call is to be gentle. Come in and listen, do whatever is necessary, but it has to be in the spirit of gentleness. You could be saying all the right words and what you are bringing is real, but the person could react because you did not bring it in a gentle way. The person will respond to the way in which you come to them.

Learn to live your life in such a way that people can give you input; live your life in an open way to the community. It is easy to shake someone off who brings the correction because you say they did it wrong with the wrong heart or attitude. This plays a huge part of people leaving churches today because they are not treated respectfully. People have also resisted correction and left church only to carry that baggage into the new church with them.

The question needs to be asked, “Am I being equipped for good works?” People in church need to have a thicker skin knowing is it preparing them for good works. We have to learn to accept correction as it is a way we are prepared. With our tongues we worship God, giving a sacred devotion to God. You cannot then go behind somebody’s back and gossip about them, insulting them and slandering them. These things have no place in the community. We have to devote our whole body to God; that includes our conversations as much as anything else. If last week’s conversations had to be a worship song to God, could it be? What we say to people and what we say about people is so important. It is not separate from the actual worship we sing to God. It is crucial we make that connection. With your tongue you worship God and with your tongue you go behind somebody’s back. That cannot be! When you are outside the meeting with family and friends, do you have a good reign on your tongue? Peter said, ‘ Explain the parable to us?’ Are you so dull? Jesus asked them. Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean (Matt. 15:15-20). Jesus was saying that what goes into your mouth does not concern your spiritual life that much, but what comes out of you is a reflection of your heart.

What do others hear coming out of our mouth about ourselves, about our friends and family or circumstances, and most importantly about God? We know He is capable of doing anything. I challenge you to go out and tame that tongue!