These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
I want you to think about a time when someone inspired you, motivated you, and encouraged you simply by what they said. Now I want you to think about someone who hurt you, embarrassed you, or shamed you in some way by what they said. Your personal experiences are examples of the power of words. This is why Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring death or life” (NLT). Your words not only have the power of death or life on someone else, but they have the power of death or life on you. Your own words can change your life for the better or for the worse. It’s your choice.
This is what James is about to tell us. So far, James has been hammering the truth that real faith produces actions of faith. One of those actions of faith deals with the words we say.
Over the next three weeks James is going to tell us three things. We are going to see that…
- Our words can direct where we go
- Our words can destroy what I have
- Our words can display who we are
What we are going to end up seeing is that James wants us to open up our minds before we open up our mouths. Today I want us to briefly look at five very important truths about what we say and the power it has on our lives.
Your words should be chosen carefully
Number one, your words should be chosen carefully. Whether you are talking to a crowd or to one person you need to be very cautious with what you say and how you say it. To drive home his point James gives us a warning in James 3:1, “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly” (NLT).
- He says, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church” – He is not saying don’t become a teacher in the church. God has given some of you the gift of teaching other God’s truth. You study the Word, you understand the Word, and you very good at explaining the Word to others. James is simply saying, “Don’t rush into becoming a teacher in the church. Think through it. Talk to others before you move in this direction. This is something God takes very seriously.” God understands the power of our words and wants those you talk to many be careful in what they say.
- James goes on to say, “for we who teach will be judged more strictly” – For us who teach the word of God in any form, paid or volunteer, will be held accountable for what we say, for the content of our teaching and the way we lead the church. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your spiritual leaders” for “they are accountable to God” (NLT). This means I’m accountable to God for what I say to you on Sunday morning or in a Life Group or in a counseling session. This means I’m going to do my very best to teach you what God’s Word has to say, even if it’s not popular and even if you don’t like it.
Speaking to people who teach God’s Word, Paul said 2 Timothy 2:15, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God” as “a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (NLT). This restates what James is saying here. The quality of one’s teaching matters a great deal to God and it matters to us.
So what does this have to do with you? James is pointing his finger at those who lead and teach the church, those who teach on Sunday morning or lead a Life Group or Bible study and says that that what we say is very important so chose your words carefully and demonstrate to others how to talk like a person of God. Demonstrate to others the power of your words and be an example of what it looks like to walk by faith with your mouth. So, your words should be chosen carefully this is not something to mess around with.
Your words reveal your maturity
Number two, your words reveal your maturity. Look closely at verse 2, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way” (NLT).
- James says, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” Whether you are talking to a crowd or to just one person like your spouse, your kid, friend, or someone you work with you are going to “make many mistakes.” James is not talking about perfection. He knows you are human. He knows and you know you are going to make many mistakes throughout your life.
- Then James says something very significant, “For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect.” If you can control what and how you say things, then you will have very little difficulty in controlling the rest of your life. The control of your mouth is the most difficult assignment! The word “perfect” here means “maturity.” A true mark of spiritual maturity is in what and how we speak. The word “perfect” (teleios) doesn’t mean perfection, because “we all make many mistakes” but it means striving for perfection or moving toward maturity. James is saying, “If we could control our tongues, we would be striving toward perfection and maturity.” And that is what God wants you to do.
- James ends this statement by saying, “and could also control ourselves in every other way” – James is saying that if you can control what you say, you can control the rest of what you do. If you can control what you say then you can stop a lot of bad decisions. If you can control what you say then you can begin a chain of reaction of blessings. If you can control what you say you can control your emotions, your thoughts, your actions, and your reactions.
As a result, your words will reveal who you are, what you really have, and where you are going in life. Then James begins to give us six illustrations of the power of our words. We will look at two of them today.
Your words can direct your life, in spite of internal conflict
Number three, your words can direct your life, in spite of internal conflict. To help us understand the power of our words, James compares our words to a bit in a horse’s mouth. Look at verse 3 where James says, “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth” (NLT). I’m going to tell you two stories about two horses and my relationship with them.
- Horse number one: A few years ago I was visiting someone who had some horses. I was standing at the fence and this horse comes up to me. I’m petting the horse and the owner asked me if I want to ride him. I said sure. So I climbed up the fence and got on the back of the horse. He had no saddle and no reins and no bit in its mouth. He told me to hold on to the horse’s mane. So I grabbed hold of it and I asked how do I get him going. He said take your heels and tap him on the side. So I did. He took off walking, but when he took off walking I was bouncing and the bouncing caused by heels to bump the side of the horse over and over and over telling the horse to go faster and faster and faster. The next thing I know I’ve got one hand holding on to the mane and the other arm wrapped around the horses neck and I’m flopping all over the back of this horse. This horse is going where he wants and I have no control this animal. He finally stops across the field at the other fence on the other side.
- Horse number two: I’m at a place where this guy rents his horses. This horse has a saddle, a rein, and a bit in its mouth. I get on the horse and the guy said to get him started you use your heels and bump the side of the horse and to slow him down you pull back on the rein and to turn left or right you pull the rein back in the direction you want to go. I bumped the horse with my heels and low and behold I’m riding this horse and sure enough when I pulled the rein to go right the horse went right and when I pulled back he slowed down or stop. I was controlling the direction of this massive horse with that little bit in it’s mouth.
Look at verse 3 again, “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth” (NLT). Even if that horse wants to go left, but you want it to go right you can make that horse go the opposite direction it wants to go with that small bit in it’s mouth. Like that horse that can be control by that bit, your life can be control by your words.
On the inside you may be mad (you want to take a left), but because you are able to control what you say you are able to steer your life to the right and respond with grace, patience and forgiveness. Your words are directing the direction of your life in spite of the internal conflict you may have.
The reality is this, one of the reasons your relationships seem out of control is because your mouth is out of control. You speak unnecessary words that are harsh, sarcastic, rude, selfish, and mean toward the people in your life. You think you are winning an argument or proving a point, but you really aren’t. You are demonstrating who you really are and how mature or immature you are. But if you will start controlling what you say your life and relationships can begin to go in a new direction.
Your words can direct your life, in spite of external conflict
Number four, your words can direct your life, in spite of external conflict. To help us see this, James compares our mouths to a rudder on a ship. Look at verse 4, “And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong” (NLT). Some years ago I was in Mobile, Alabama and they had a battleship and a submarine you could tour. But out on the grounds as you walked toward the ship they had one of its anchors, a propeller and a rudder so you could see what was normally underwater. Compared to me, the rudder was huge, but compared to the battleship it was tiny. That little rudder could steer that huge ship.
- So James says, “And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn” – Despite its small size, our mouths have an enormous impact. Its effect on us is out of proportion to its size. It is able to determine the very course of our lives. The chances are you can think of things you have said, or not said, that have changed the path of your life, for better or for worse.
- But notice carefully James goes on to say, “And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go” – Your ship is your life. Your mouth is the rudder. You are the pilot and you get to choose where you want your life to go. You choose the words you say. You choose how you say them. You choose when you say them. You are the pilot of your life and your words is the rudder.
- Look again at what James says, “And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go even though the winds are strong” – If a ship has no rudder it is uncontrollable. The wind will blow it wherever it wants. When the winds of this world, the winds of problems, the winds of trials, and the winds of troubles begin to blow against your life if you don’t control your rudder (your mouth) you will simply be blown where you don’t want to be. Even in the harshest of winds you can direct your life where you want it to go by the words you say.
Your words are influential
Number five, your words are influential. By now this is very obvious, but James summarizes what he has been saying about our words in verse 5 when he says, “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches” (NLT). This is a summary statement that implies something negative and positive. The first two illustration of the power of our words dealt with how our words can direct our lives like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship. That’s positive. The next illustration in verse 6 James compares the mouth to a fire that gets out of control and destroys. That’s negative. This is why one paraphrase of the Bible says, “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!” (v. 5, MSG).
James says, “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.” Think of “grand speeches” throughout history. Think of the great speeches of world leaders who inspired people to bring about change or the grand speeches that corrupted people to do horrible things. Whether your speech is toward yourself, one other person, or to a crowd your words have the power to influence, to direct.
I think we all need to pray what the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3 when he said, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (ESV).