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Worship Message - "Taming The Tongue - Part 2"

Taming the Tongue, Part II
James Message #6

We are in the midst of a summer journey through the New Testament Book of James.  

So far, we have considered chapter 1, in which we are taught to face trials with joy because it is trials that help us to grow as Christians, and chapter 2, in which we are taught a couple ways to live out our faith. Those ways are to show no partiality and to display our Christian faith by helping others.

Last week, we considered part of chapter 3, which includes a very difficult challenge. The challenges in chapters 1 and 2 are difficult enough, but in chapter 3 is the challenge to tame the tongue.  As James acknowledges, that very difficult to do,  but it must be done so our tongues do not create problems for us, for others, or for God’s kingdom.

Last week I mentioned a few examples of people’s tongues being used improperly. Specifically to manipulate or to divide. A warning was also given to avoid having a hasty tongue, as in speaking without thinking.

In this message, we are going to complete chapter 3 of James, but before that, let’s consider some other improper ways of using the tongue. And before that a disclaimer. With the emphasis on being careful about what is said, it can easily go to the extreme of choosing to say nothing at all. That, however, can lead to some problems as well.

For instance, there is a report about a husband and wife who were upset at one another. The way they handled it was to give each other the silent treatment. Neither would talk to the other.

One night, the husband realized he needed to be awakened at 5:00 the next morning so he could make it to the airport in time to catch a flight for a business trip. I do not know why he did not set an alarm, but work with me here. Realizing he had to get up extra early the next morning, he asked his wife to wake him at 5:00. But he did not ask out loud.
Remember, they were not talking to each other. The man did not want to be the first to break the silence, so he wrote his wife a note, in which he asked her to wake him the next morning.

The next morning, the man woke up. Not at 5:00, but at 7:00. Which means he missed his flight. When he noticed the time, he leaped out of bed. He prepared to angrily confront his wife. I guess then he was ready to talk to her. That is when he noticed a piece of paper on his nightstand. The note, written by his wife, read, “It’s 5:00. Wake up.”

Silence is not always the best way to proceed. But we do need to watch what we say. We do need to think before we speak so our tongues are not out of control and get us involved in behaviors that are displeasing to God.

Behaviors such as being divisive. We referred to that last week. Here is another thought about it.

In Proverbs 6 there is a list of seven things God detests. The first six are arrogance, lieing, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, and a false witness. The seventh is a man who sows discord among brothers, be they physical brothers or spiritual brothers.

That is from the Old Testament. It at least hints at avoiding having a divisive tongue. In the New Testament is this from Paul in Ephesians 4. He encouraged the congregation in Ephesus - the encouragement is meant for all Christian congregations, even now - to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Paul giving that challenge is an indication he knew peace does not come automatically. It requires effort.

Including effort against the tactics of Satan, who may cause us to become offended over a harmless statement or read more meaning into a comment than the speaker intended or to assume something bad about someone else’s behavior or believe a lie.

Another example of improper use of the tongue is slander. Making malicious statements about others, whether true or false, with the intention of damaging their reputation, character, or good name.

We see that in politics, do we not? I am sure there are some who avoid attacking their opponents, but what we hear most can often be called slander.

I remember many years ago in Omaha - I think I was in high school or maybe early college - there was a former newscaster running for some office. He never, as far as I heard, ever criticized his opponent. He instead shared what he planned to do in office if elected.

His opponent, on the other hand, did little except criticize the former newscaster.

The positive candidate’s response? “I can’t believe he would say such things, but let me share my plans for what I want to do.”

The result? The positive candidate lost in a landslide. Of course, maybe those who voted did not like that candidate’s plans, but I wonder if he lost because he did not slander. Even though that was obviously the correct thing for him to do, I wonder if it hurt him politically.

Manipulation. That is a wrong use of the tongue. Division and speaking before thinking. Those are wrong uses of the tongue. Gossip and slander. Those are wrong uses of the tongue.

They are, according to James 3, things we are to avoid as we tame our tongues to not do what is displeasing to God, instead doing what is good and positive and encouraging. Things that are honoring to God.

And again, as discussed last week, that is tough to do. This is also what James wrote in verses 7 and 8. “Every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind. We talked about that last week in the case of a horse. A horse can be tamed - a horse can be persuaded to do what we want it to do - by putting a bit in its mouth. “But no human being can tame the tongue.” At least, not on our own, which we will get to in a bit.

How frustrating it is, for us and for God. Verse 9. “With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

We know that is true, do we not, at least on our own? How easy it is when at church to bless God. How difficult it can be to later say kind things to family members. Or how difficult it can be to not react negatively in certain circumstances. I am thinking, for instance, of coming across someone not driving to the standards we set.

And hey, it is not just us who fight against discrepancies like that. So, too, did Jesus’ disciples.

Like Peter, who promised Jesus he would not deny the Lord. He promised to stay loyal to Jesus, even unto death. He found it easy to say that in the presence of Jesus.

But remember what happened later? When in the midst of a potentially dangerous mob, Peter did deny the Lord. He denied three times, once with an oath, another time cursing himself if he was lieing about not knowing Jesus, which he certainly was doing.

What about John? In one of his letters, he wrote, “Little children, love one another,” but earlier he, along with his brother James, wanted to call down fire to consume a Samaritan village, the people of which would not receive the Lord.

Blessing and cursing with the same tongue. It is so easy to let that happen. But “my brethren,” James wrote, “this ought not to be so.”

It is not even natural for it to happen. James added, “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree yield olives or a grapevine figs. Salt water cannot yield fresh water.”

Again, the point is to tame the tongue - to tame it to the point that it is used for good, for things that are helpful to others, for things that are pleasing to God. That is the point. That is the challenge.

But again, we cannot do that on our own. It is possible only through the power of God. Power that will give us wisdom.

We talked about wisdom earlier when we considered chapter 1 of James. At that time we were taught to ask God for wisdom. If we happen to lack wisdom, we can receive it by asking for it from God.

And remember the definition of wisdom. It is knowing what is right to do, that knowledge coming from God’s word, then putting that knowledge into action.

Here in chapter 3 of James, wisdom is applied to taming the tongue. Listen to how that wisdom is described.

It “comes from above.” That is mentioned in verse 15. It means we do not attain it on our own. Wisdom is a gift from God.

And verse 17. “It is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.”

Pure. Pure enough to approach God. So cleansed of ulterior motives and of self that we become pure enough to see God and bear His scrutiny.
Peaceable. Having peace with others and with God. It means having no superior contempt of others. It means not hurting others with clever but cutting words. It results in bringing people closer to one another and to God.
Gentle. Wisdom from above - wisdom needed to help us tame our tongues - knows how to forgive, even if justice calls for punishment. How to make allowances for others. When not to stand on our rights. To know that sometimes there are greater things than rules and regulations.
Open to reason. Wisdom from above will make us easy to persuade. Not in the sense of being pliable or weak, but in the sense of not being stubborn. Wisdom will make us willing to listen to reason. To not be so rigid that we become unwilling to listen. It will help us at being skilled at knowing when it is wise to yield.
Full of mercy. Mercy for someone in trouble, even if the trouble is his or her own fault. The kind of reaction that is a reflection of God’s pity.
Mercy reflected in good fruits. That means pity is not only an emotion, but also an action. As in giving practical help to the one in need.
Without uncertainty. Not wavering or vacillating or blowing in the wind. With wisdom from above we can know our mind - our Christian mind. We can choose our course - our Christian course. Including the importance of taming the tongue. We can, with wisdom, abide by what we have decided. Wisdom from above keeps us certain of the truth given to us by God through Jesus.
Without insincerity. Without hypocrisy. Never pretending to be what we are not. Never acting a part simply to gain some advantage.

Now, there is, according to James, another kind of wisdom. Wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” It brings about jealousy, boasting, selfish ambition, disorder, and vile practices. All of that coming out in improper uses of the tongue. All of it driving people apart rather than bringing them together. All of it producing strife rather than peace.

But that lower wisdom is wrong. We are instead to strive - to strive with the help of God - for wisdom from above so that in all ways, including in our words, we can be pleasing to God.

The tongue can bless or curse. It can soothe or wound. It can speak the fairest or the foulest things. Make sure your tongue speaks only such words as you would wish God to hear.

Do that, for as it also taught in Matthew and in Proverbs, it is so important.

In Matthew 12, “By your words you will be justified, by your words you will be condemned.” May we get closer and closer to God by taming our tongues.
iIn Proverbs 15, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” May we also strive for peace and to encourage others.
In other words, it is through our actions that we are to display our faith in Jesus. That includes what we say. Verse 13 of James 3. “Who is wise and understanding among you, by his good life let him show his works.” For today we add, let him or her show by his or her words that he or she knows the truth and has the spiritual strength to put that knowledge into action.

*       *       *       *       *

Before we go, let me share two more thoughts, one from the book 30 Days to Taming the Tongue. I mention this in case you ever have faced or ever do face this improper use of the tongue - either doing it yourself or being the victim of it. It has to do with the intimidating tongue.

A Biblical example of an intimidating tongue is David and Goliath.

Remember? David was a young man of normal size. Goliath was a giant of a man. A very strong man who stood nine feet tall.

Goliath often insulted God and the people of God. Eventually, David had heard enough of the snide remarks. He decided to go out and challenge the giant, going to him with just a sling shot and five stones. No other weapon. No shield or armor. Just the shot and the stones.

Remember Goliath’s response? It was one of intimidation. Goliath sneered at David, seeing him as just a young man, but listen to what Goliath said. Listen to his intimidating words. “You come to me with sticks. Is that all you’ve got? Come on. Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”

Earlier a deal had been proposed by Goliath. He offered to fight someone from the people of God. If the man of God won, all of Goliath’s people - the Philistines - would be slaves of the people of God, but if Goliath won, the people of God would be slaves to the Philistines.

I guess I can understand the willingness of Goliath to intimidate. He was huge. He was well-armed. All the soldiers of God were scared.

But how did David react to the intimidation? He used his tongue to praise God. To express his belief God would bring him victory. That God would lead to Goliath’s death.

David stood up to Goliath, even though the giant was intimidating. Even though a loss to the giant would have horrible results for the people of God.
David stood up to Goliath, doing so in action and in word.

First, he told Goliath, “You come to me with weapons, but I come to you in the name of God. The God who will deliver you to me. This day you will die. This day the bodies of the Philistine army will be given to the birds and the beasts. That will happen so the whole earth will know there is a God in Israel. That He is the one and only true God.”

David then slung one of the stones toward the giant. God directed the stone to the one vulnerable spot not covered with armor. The stone struck Goliath’s forehead. It struck so hard Goliath died.

Two things about that.

First, if you use an intimidating tongue - I don’t know that anyone here does, so I’m just saying - if you use an intimidating tongue, stop it. Intimidation is an improper use of what God has given you. It is improper because it causes fear and resentment and eventually rebellion, rather than the peace and the encouragement God wants fostered among His people. And, being kind rather than intimidating might persuade other people to join us in our faith.

If you use your tongue for intimidation, stop it. Second, if you are a victim of intimidation, turn to God for the strength to survive. And no, you or I might not - we should not - kill anyone who intimidates us. But we can rely on God to survive, thereby perhaps avoiding things like anxiety, insomnia, upset stomachs.

And then this, the final point for today. We must confront sin. We must teach and preach boldly. As mentioned at the beginning of this message, we are not called upon to remain silent - to be so afraid of saying something wrong we don’t say anything at all.

But let’s watch what we say. Let’s think before we speak. Let’s make sure that whatever we say, the motive is pure, which is to have the wisdom to use our tongues to unite people spiritually and to please God.

Tame the tongue. With God’s help, let’s work on that day-by-day in our Christian walk.

Today’s closing song is Help Us, O Lord, to Learn.

Help us, o Lord, to learn
The truths Thy word imparts;
To study that Thy laws may be
Inscribed upon our hearts.

Help us, o Lord, to live
The faith which we proclaim,
That all our thoughts and words and deeds
May glorify Thy name.

Help us, o Lord, to teach
The beauty of Thy ways,
That yearning souls may find the Christ
And sing aloud His praise.

Next Sunday, a message based on chapter 4 of James, that one dealing with the topic of how to handle interpersonal conflict.

For now, let’s know the importance of taming the tongue. Let’s work on taming the tongue. Including asking God for wisdom from above. The wisdom needed to use our words to help and encourage others. The wisdom needed to make our words pleasing to God. Amen.

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