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First, the repeated use of σω̂μα (body) suggests James is thinking mainly of the influence of speech in the public assembly. He is less concerned with Christians seen as private persons and more with what is said in a churchly setting. Hence the comments about teachers. This means that James’ condemnation of hasty speaking (1:19) now takes on a more serious cast as he focuses on the way worshiping people can use their tongues to the detriment of the community as evil report and rumour are spread to affect the entire range of their corporate life (ὄλον τὸ σω̂μα, v 6). If 3:9–10 are interpreted in a church worship setting in which “praising God” is the chief component, it becomes feasible to see an even more nuanced application. James is directing his shafts of criticism against the misuse of the tongue in worship—in a manner that indirectly recalls 1 Cor 12–14, especially 12:3; 14:27–39—and is concerned for the “good order” of the church in a way similar to Paul’s maxim of 1 Cor 14:40: “let everything (you do) be done in a seemly manner and in good order”
Second, the introductory sentence regarding teachers (v 1) in which James includes himself confirms the fact that the author has the church as a “house of instruction” - a Jewish phrase of the synagogue) in his sights. It is primarily the teachers in the community who are causing dissension and division.
Thirdly, James is not speaking in isolation. This passage follows the Faith v Works debate of last Sunday. Coming to church and saying “I have faith” without a holy life-style of faith is part of the poison that we are to guard against.
Fourth Jesus spoke quite clearly that “out of the heart the mouth speaks”. Luke 6:44-45
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Putting these together, makes sense of the warning in verses 1-2. If our hearts are not right, we cannot control our tongues, so the result is poison instead of words of life. What is said in public on a Sunday morning will rightfully be affected by the spiritual life of the worship leader and the speaker. So it is essential for you to be praying each week for those who speaks, that they speak the very words of God.
The trap is instead of praying, we like to criticise. Our lazy spirituality leads us to complain about the worship leaders choice of music, the length of the sermon, the behaviour of the children. That is where the tongue in the congregation shows its propensity for evil. If you are one who is complaining about what is happening in our services, you need to repent. If there is a problem about the lack of spirituality of the leaders, you should pray for them. Encourage them in their spiritual life. There is no church hierarchy, where we have bishops and popes to pastor the leaders. Our leadership team is pastored by the church itself, in house groups and private encouragement. The point James is making here is that the church is guided by words from the leadership and the problem that those who we look up to can misguide us.
Let’s take a serious lesson from our recent history. How
many of us believed that the war in
So be careful what you say in church. Rumours often take a life of their own and are repeated with the belief that they are facts. Where you can, check the information. That is especially true of our Bible teaching. That is why you are encouraged to have your own Bible with you while the speaker is speaking.
We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. It has all that is necessary for teaching us to live our lives in holiness and faith. So check out what is said. And if what we say is in line with what God says, then obey because God has spoken.
So lets look at the metaphors that James uses.
First, horses bits. This one is from the terracotta army so is 3-4000 years old. Bits have been used for ever to control horses!
Your words affect your family, we use them to control each other, we use them to convey our feelings when we are happy or irate. Our neighbours here what we say. Is it good stuff or bad? We speak of small-talk, do we ever use our tongue for the big story, the story of Jesus? We need encouragement to speak the good news because we find it all too easy to gossip and enjoy repeating bad things.
Second the rudder.
This was an even more potent picture in New Testament times where the rudder was an oar put over the side of the side. It even looked a bit like a tongue!
Today, the helm of a vast cruise liner or super carrier is a little joystick on a table. This is what the bridge of the Coats Concordia looked like.
Get it wrong and lives are lost –the Costa Concordia tells you how a little lever on a desk can do so much harm.
This clearly suggests that the tongue has a lot to do with leading. We are persuaded by what is said, the church decisions come from discussions and teaching and so much is carried on what I said.
Thirdly the forest fire.
The image is terrifying. And yet it is the result of a match or a thrown away bottle concentrating the sun or a BBQ in the woods. Careless words cost lives!
Quoting a WW2 poster
“Many of us can’t help seeing and hearing – we can help repeating: above all we can keep our mouths shut in public places.”
We hear a snippet of information, and repeat it because we are excited by it. Sometimes we are excited for the right reasons but we do not check, we fail to think of the consequences. “ Did you know so-and-so said….? And the game “Chinese Whispers” tell us that messages get changed. The Emergency Prayer Chain is an example where we must be scrupulous in recording and repeating exactly what was told us and then NOT talking about it to others but praying about it. The message often is produced in the heat of the storm, so it is not always accurate. It is a cry for help. So help by praying!
So should we shut up and say nothing! Maybe and certainly if we said less and listened more we would save ourselves a lot of grief.
But I want to go back to the teaching of Jesus.
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
The reason your tongue is untameable is because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. There is only one solution to the heart mouth problem, that is to let Jesus, through the working of the Holy Spirit transform your heart from a heart of stone to a place of holiness, purity, so what comes out of the heart is pure and good and helpful and true. But don’t think the Holy Spirit somehow by-passes your will.
But we keep failing, rejecting the conscience triggered by the Holy Spirit and we think and then say what we know is not good, in fact downright bad.
C. S. Lewis commenting on our weakness and failure to be holy wrote this:
Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still.
You have to commit yourself to listening to his word and responding to it. You have to look into the mirror and, seeing the need of change in your thinking, begin to change the way you think. Last year’s motto was “Let God change the way you think” that is the way you tame the tongue so that what you say is wholesome. You have to learn patience as we fail and ask forgiveness, try and fail and ask forgiveness, again and again. The tongue is never going to be safe until we finally are released from life itself and transformed into his likeness at the resurrection of the dead. In the meantime, keep working on it.
And starting next week you have a great opportunity to train in godliness!
Sharing Jesus is about ‘how to put faith into words. Instead of lighting bushfires, train yourself in telling the good news of peace! If you believe the Good News is worth telling then sign up to a Sharing Jesus course, either now or in February. Everybody I know who has been on the training course says its good stuff, so make the effort, spend 4 evenings investing in the Kingdom of God!
This passage lies where it does because in James 1 we are told to be doers of the word not hearers only, In Chapter 2 we are told that faith without action is dead. We are now in a place to understand that the key action – the movement of our mouths has to be connected to our faith and trust in Jesus. The heart has to be right for the mouth to say what is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.. Now we can begin to understand what wisdom is. It is not intellectual knowledge, it is about what we say and what we do. It comes from God and in essence the reflection of his character in our lives.
So, says James,
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Show faith by your actions!
14But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks. The bitter envy, selfish ambition is what ends up coming out of our mouths.
15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Peacemakers are not UN negotiators, they are plain ordinary folk whose hearts are so infested by the Holy Spirit that what comes out of their mouths is a blessing to other. They speak peace and as a result see a harvest of righteousness. Their talk leads others to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into changed lives. You can make a difference in this world. What you say matters. The untameable can be transformed as the heart and mind are turned over to God. The battle ground is not on the streets but in the heart. Will you open your heart to the Holy Spirit this morning , commit yourself to reading God’s word and living by it, asking God to change the way that you think. If you do the mouth will speak peace and others will be blessed.
Listen to the qualities of wisdom listed here.
is first of all pure;
full of mercy
and good fruit,
These are the guidelines we should use for speaking. Remember, the mouth speaks what the heart thinks, so start with submitting to God, accepting his mercy, being filled with the Holy Spirit so that love, joy, peace well up from the heart into words.
Proverbs 25:11 says (in the ESV)
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Let God Tame the untameable in your mouth!
Let’s finish today by using our tongues to bless our Jesus as we sing,
Jesus the name high over all..
Happy if with my latest breath, I may but gasp his name..
Sign up for the ‘Sharing Jesus Course’ and maybe your words will bring life to a friend , a colleague, a family member or even a stranger.Return to top