Go

Contact Us

  • Phone: (813) 362-3573
  • Email:
  • Meeting Address:
    Lightfoot Rec Center, 10901 N 56th St, Temple Terrace, FL

Fellowship Times

  • Sunday Worship: 10:30 AM
  • Sunday Prayer:  6:00 PM

The Power of the Tongue for Evil

Aug 06, 2017

Passage:James 3:1-12

Preacher: Steven Light

Series: Speaking the Truth in Love

Category: Sunday Morning Sermons

Detail:

Speaking the Truth in Love Part II:  The Power of the Tongue for Evil

James 3:1-12

-

OT Reading:  Genesis 3:1-15

 

We continue our series on our speech:  Speaking the truth in love.  And we come to this third chapter of James which is like a bucket of cold water dumped upon sleeping man, bringing him to his senses.  The forcefulness of it is jarring.  The problem of the tongue is underestimated in its magnitude and totally misunderstood in its nature.  We need the bucket of water.

 

So I am going to try to pour that bucket on your head and mine by unfolding a bit the full severity of the issue in its magnitude and its nature.  And only then can we begin to work through the solution.

 

  1. The Magnitude of the Problem of the Tongue

 

The tongue tops the list of for small objects with massive impact.  James reminds us in verses 3 and 4 of small objects that are tremendously influential.  3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 

 

A bit is simply a small bar of metal placed in the mouth of a horse and connected to the reigns of the rider, so that even a child, by pulling in one direction or another can direct the horse.  A few ounces of metal direct the massive bulk of the horse. Similarly the rudder directs the ship where it will go.  So he compares this to the tongue.  4So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. 

 

Now just stop for a moment and think about the just how filled your life is with words.  For most of us, the first thing we do is speak.  “Good morning.”  “Where is the coffee?”  The last thing we do is speak.  “Goodnight.”  We speak about matters in the home, the routine, the shopping list, the chores needing to be done.  We express our emotions, our likes and dislikes.  We talk at work.  We communicate our ideas and breakthroughs. 

 

Paul Tripp writes,

 

“In creating us with the ability to talk, God has not only set us apart from the rest of creation, but he has determined the nature of our lives and relationships.  Want to learn?  Listen and talk.  Want to have a relationship?  Listen and talk.  Want to get a job?  Listen and talk.  Want to worship?  Listen and talk.  Want to parent your children?   Listen and talk.  Want to contribute to the body of Christ?  Listen and talk.” 

 

The tongue boasts of great things.  It is fundamental to our lives and defining of our very existence as creatures made in the image of God.  This thin little device behind your teeth is powerful in your life and in the life of those around you.  And that is where the problem enters. 

 

Verse 5 goes on:  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  In 2007 California Wildfires caused the evacuation of one million people.  The destruction of property was incredible.  There were many fires but one of the first that burned 27 homes was started by a ten-year old who admitted he was playing with matches. 

 

You can miss the child and you can miss the pack of matches slipped out of the kitchen drawer, but in the smoking aftermath you realize the full impact.  What seemed so small and easily overlooked - ended up being devastating.

 

We are talking that sort of magnitude.  If James had written today he might have mentioned that it was less than two pounds of uranium that underwent nuclear fission in the single bomb that leveled the city of Hiroshima during WWII.  Less than two pounds and the effects were unthinkably devastating. 

 

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  The forest of marriages, of friendships, of working relationships, of roomates, of peers, of whole churches - of children, impacted with life long consequences.  Then we realize that the effect of the tongue with its fire is not merely contained to the immediate casualties but it ripples outward in ways unexpected, unforeseen, maybe unknown for a long time.

 

The word “talk” is just a small word.  But how massive it is.  There have been few lies as “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me.”  So much of the smoldering devastation of this world goes back to that little device, the tongue.

 

  1. And that really brings us to the nature of our tongues

 

Now, the concern here is obviously not with the physical nature of the tongue.  Some of you speech therapists are experts on that part of it, which Is fascinating and useful.  But James goes to the spiritual nature.  Verse 6 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.

 

What is this fire?  James uses a series of images to get at the nature of it.   It is a world of unrighteousness.  A whole world is contained in our tongues.  In other words, he is saying that the tongue is a microcosm - it is something miniature that encapsulates something much larger.  Like an international airport filled with all sorts of people and languages - it encapsulates the world.  It is a microcosm of the world.

 

The tongue is a world of unrighteousness.  When Isaiah had the temple vision in chapter 6, he had the same idea in his mind.  Remember how he saw the Lord seated on his throne, high and lifted up.   And he saw the seraphim covering their faces and their feet with their wings and crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.  The whole earth is full of his glory.”  The view to God undid him and he cried out,   "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of [what?] unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

 

His speech- his lips - were a microcosm of something bigger - his very nature.  The words of our mouth are a microcosm of the fallen nature of humanity.  They are the world of unrighteousness.  The fallen world of man’s nature is encapsulated by the tongue.  That is why when the apostle Paul is proving from the Old Testament the fallen nature of humanity, he argues in Romans 3,

 

Romans 3:12-14  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."  (13)  "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."  (14)  "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."

 

Say no more, right?  The tongue is a world of unrighteousness. 

Now James goes deeper in verse 6: the tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life.  Jesus explains that exact thought:  Matthew 15:18  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  Matthew 15:19  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  The tongue - the words we speak - are simply the communication of who and what we are at the very core of our being. 

 

A typical wrong response after a conflict is for one person to say, “I didn’t mean it.”  Well, that is a lie.  Maybe you regret it, but you did mean it.  And not only did you mean it but it was a communication of who you are.  Out of the heart the mouth speaks. 

 

And here is the worst of it. Verse 6 concludes:  …and set on fire by hell.

 

When the world was created, words were beautiful.  The first words were God’s words.  God spoke.  We have a communicating God.  He communicates himself to his creation.  He brought the world into existence by his words, and he spoke to the man and woman he created.  And we have his words here and we know him, and there could be nothing so wonderful. 

 

And he gave humanity the immeasurable dignity of speech.  It is part of our nature as those who are created in the image of God.  And human words were beautiful, reflecting him. 

 

But then other words were spoken.  “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”  The slithering serpent tongue of Satan questioned the authority and goodness of God.  And Adam listened.  And on that day, the tongue of humanity was set on fire by hell.  And our words and our hearts are wrong.

 

And we should not underestimate the continued involvement and activity of the demonic in stoking this fire of the tongue.  It is one of hell’s most useful and ready weapons for setting ablaze this present world, and especially the church.

 

So, in summary:  the magnitude of the problem is vast and the nature of it goes down to the spiritual core of who we are as worshippers, and particularly as fallen in our nature, in rebellion against God. 

 

And that is why James simply says in verse 8, “but no human being can tame the tongue.”  Drive over to Orlando and you will find the biggest predator on the face of the earth - and it is tamed to perform for crowds at Seaworld.  But not a single trainer there or a single person in the audience or anyone in the world can train that little bit of flesh behind their teeth. 

 

It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  Books on communication strategies will not solve the problem.  The pathology is spiritual.  It is a poison and evil rooted in the fallen heart and Satan’s power. 

 

  • So where is the hope?

 

James comes at it indirectly, and it requires a little thought.  Remember, the book of James is wisdom literature - much like the Proverbs, and it takes wisdom to understand. 

 

In verses 9 through 12, James brings up this issue of inconsistency in our speech.  Verse 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  There is an incongruity there.  That doesn’t mesh.  Those things don’t go together.  And that is what he says, “these things ought not to be so.” 

 

Then he raises these natural phenomena in verses 11 and 12.  Springs don’t put out fresh water and salt water.  Fig trees don’t bear olives and grape vines don’t produce figs.  Salt ponds don’t produce fresh water. 

 

In other words, what comes out of a spring or pond or plant or person, should be consistent with the nature it comes from. 

 

Now think about that.  What is he saying?  He is making a statement about the needed source of right speech.

 

Behind what James is saying, and assumed in it, is the solution to the problem.  It is nothing less than the new creation of the inward person: The removal of the heart of stone and the granting of a heart of flesh - the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

 

The problem of the tongue and the heart behind it is too massive and too deep for anything less than a transformation of our nature.   Only a definite act of the power of God, shattering sin and Satan’s dominion over the human heart is sufficient to truly change the tongue.

 

This is what Jesus bought with his blood for us on the cross.  And that is precisely what happens when we trust in Jesus Christ and his cross for our salvation.  This is the hope of the gospel. 

It is an answer to our sin that does not only address the guilt of our sin and our need for forgiveness, but brings forth a new person.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

 

There is every reason for the tongue of the believer to be a world of righteousness, not a world of unrighteousness.

 

Now don’t go wrong with this.  He started by saying in verse 2. For we all stumble in many ways.  No Christian can claim sinlessness.  Quite the opposite.  James is writing this because of the ongoing problem of the tongue - of Christians!  We must not underestimate the power of remaining sin in the Christian.  But we do have a new nature.  Sin within us is no longer dominant and defining.  It is residual and inconsistent with who we truly are. 

 

And because of that, James can say - with all the more forcefulness - these things ought not to be so. 

We have drunk of the living waters of Jesus Christ who has given us life in the inner person.  Should we have flames coming out of our mouths?  By no means!  Grace does not give us license to sin.  It actually gives us reason to fight.  Fight with a view to Jesus . 

 

We have a realistic assessment here:  we all stumble in many ways. We are going to wrestle with this until the day we die. But there is a firm hope of change - the gospel of God’s grace.  The force of this calling, “These things ought not to be so” - is precisely rooted in who and what we are by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

 

That calls us to real self-examination

The scriptures knew and old are filled with instruction on our mouths.  In view of what I have just said, it is fitting to review the catalog of sins of the mouth.  And this is not comprehensive.  These are some of the big categories.  And let the Spirit of God search by the word of God.  The destructive fire needs to be extinguished, and replaced by that tongue of flame by the Holy Spirit.

 

Gossip

  1. confessing someone else’s sin publicly
  2. Proverbs 18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
  3. Destructive: Proverbs 17:9  Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
  4. Jesus has covered our offenses. We ought not repeat offenses, but rather, cover where we can, unless it is a true necessity.

 

Slander- bearing false witness

  1. Gossip might be true, slander is a false bad report
  2. Devil actually means “accuser” or “slanderer.”
  3. Can be very subtle - prejudicing of the truth or being silent when you should speak, and therefore allowing a dark shadow to be cast. Misconstruing intentions - harsh censuring of someone’s faults
  4. Destructive: Proverbs 30:10  Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.
  5. Put on the truth. Speak the truth in love, as you have been loved
  6. Flattery would be the other side of that coin - just as false, and ultimately destructive

 

Falsehood is a bigger category

  1. Lies of all sort.
  2. Paul writes, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:9-10)
  3. Lies are such a fire of destruction. Don’t underestimate their magnitude; without trust relationships cannot function.
  4. We are those who are being renewed in in knowledge after the image of the Creator who is TRUTH.

 

Filthiness

  1. Scripture is very explicit on what some have called “the language of hell”
  2. Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking,[sexual connotation in the context] which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
  3. Colossians 3:8 forbids “obscene talk”
  4. It is not Christian liberty to use profanity/obscenity/crude joking. It is not a badge of understanding grace.  It is lawlessness.  It is actually corrupting to the hearer.
  5. We are called to thanksgiving and up-building and setting our minds on what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report - which means using our tongue for the same.

 

Angry Speech

  1. Reviling, Backbiting, Bitterness, Wrathful speech
  2. 1 Peter 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
  3. Anger is a big topic, but let’s just recognize that if we are united to Christ, reviling and threatening, angry outbursts - are utterly at odds with the trusting heart of Christ.

 

Grumbling

  1. Philippians 2:14-15 Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  (15)  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
  2. The tongue that always expressing discontentment - always complaining - does not reflect a child of God. It is the contented, steadfast, non-complaining faithful worker who shines in a world of grumbling.

 

We could go on.  Boasting.  Mocking.  Scoffing.  The sins of the tongue are endless.  If you see the magnitude of this and the severity of the issue, lean into your savior and Lord.  Pro 10:20  The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.  May he refine these tongues to choice silver, by the power of the gospel.

  1. The magnitude of the issue: the tongue tops the list for small objects with large influence
    1. Bit in the horse’s mouth
    2. Rudder on the ship
    3. So the tongue - it has massive effects
      1. Specific Metaphor - a spark - or a match flame
      2. 2007 California Wildfires caused the evac of 1 million. One of those fires that burned 27 homes was started by a 10 year old who admitted he was playing with matches

 

  • The Nature of the Issue
    1. Switch metaphors - A “world of unrighteousness”
      1. It is a microcosm - something miniature that has the qualities of something much large - encapsulated in the tongue is the world of unrighteousness
      2. Our speech is profoundly part of our lives
  • Romans 3
  1. Set among the members, staining -
    1. Because the tongue is the communication of the heart - and the heart is who you are
    2. Isaiah 6
  2. Setting on fire the entire course of life - Set on fire by hell
    1. There was a time when all speech was pure and peaceable. The first words spoken in this world were God’s words.  He spoke to man and gave man the ability to speak.  It is part of being created in his image. 
    2. Satan’s words have become our words

 

  1. No merely human methodology can fix this
    1. “For every kind of beast…” getting down to the root issue
      1. Drive to Orlando- you can find the largest predator in the animal kingdom performing for crowds at Seaworld.
      2. Tongue is categorically different
    2. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison
      1. Pathology of the soul
      2. Books on communication are naïve
      3. Speech therapists - important what you do, but this is not your sphere

 

  1. Consider our profound reason and responsibility for change
    1. Consider the natural order
      1. What comes out of a plant or a spring is consistent with the nature of it.
      2. Let what comes out of you be consistent with what is within you
        1. Wait - “We all stumble in many ways” (vs 2)
        2. Raises the hope-filled reality - if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come
        3. The gospel is the hope for change
  • If you are a Christian, you do still stumble in many ways - but you actually have now a new nature that gives you reason to press toward consistency
  1. New Testament again and again addresses our speech - we need to take ourselves to task on the specifics of our lives
    1. Gossip
      1. confessing someone else’s sin publicly
      2. Proverbs 18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
      3. Destructive: Proverbs 17:9  Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
      4. Jesus has covered our offenses. We ought not repeat offenses, but rather, cover where we can, unless it is a true necessity.

 

  1. Slander- bearing false witness
    1. Gossip might be true, slander is a false bad report
    2. Devil actually means “accuser” or “slanderer.”
    3. Can be very subtle - prejudicing of the truth or being silent when you should speak, and therefore allowing a dark shadow to be cast. Misconstruing intentions - harsh censuring
    4. Destructive: Proverbs 30:10  Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.
    5. Flattery would be the other side of that coin - just as false, and ultimately destructive
    6. Put on the truth. Speak the truth in love, as you have been loved

 

  • Falsehood
    1. Lies of all sort
    2. Paul writes, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:9-10)
    3. how destructive; without trust relationships cannot function.

 

  1. Filthiness
    1. Scripture is very explicit on what some have called the language of hell
    2. Colossians 3:8 …. obscene talk
    3. Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking,[sexual connotation in the context] which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
    4. It is not Christian liberty to use profanity/obscenity/crude joking. It is not a badge of understanding grace.  It is lawlessness.  It is actually corrupting to the hearer.
    5. Contrary to Thanksgiving and up-building and setting our minds on what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report…

 

  1. Angry Speech
    1. Reviling, Backbiting, Bitterness, Wrathful speech
    2. 1 Peter 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
    3. Anger is a big topic, but let’s just recognize that if we are united to Christ, reviling and threatening, angry outbursts - are utterly at odds with the trusting heart of Christ.

 

  1. Grumbling
    1. Philippians 2:14-15 Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  (15)  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
    2. The tongue that always expressing discontentment - always complaining - does not reflect a child of God. It is the contented, steadfast, non-complaining faithful worker who shines in a world of grumbling.

 

 

 

 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,

for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 

(2)  For we all stumble in many ways.

And if anyone does not stumble in what he says,

he is a perfect man,                                                                        The tongue is indicative of the whole

able also to bridle his whole body. 

 

(3)  If we put bits into the mouths of horses                                        Disproportionately Influential for Evil

so that they obey us,

we guide their whole bodies as well. 

(4)  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. 

(5)  So also the tongue is a small member,

yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 

(6)  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.   Hell has more to do in promoting of fire of the tongue than men are

generally aware of. (Matthew Henry) contrast with Pentecost

 

(7)  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed Untamable

and has been tamed by mankind, 

(8)  but no human being can tame the tongue.

It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 

 

(9)  With it we bless our Lord and Father,                                                                              Unnatural quality

and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 

(10)  From the same mouth come blessing

and cursing.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.                                                                   

 (11)  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 

(12)  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives,

or a grapevine produce figs?

Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.