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.
We have been going through the book of James and we are now in a section where God’s Word is focusing on what we say and how we say it. Through James 1 & 2, James has been trying to teach us what real faith looks like and acts like. One of the things we have learned is if you are a believer eventually your faith will produce actions of faith. This means that the faith you have Jesus for salvation will begins to transform your thinking, behaving, and speaking. Overtime you will begin to speak like one who has been changed by God on the inside. Since the Spirit of God lives in you, He will help you to start thinking before you speak. You will begin to sound like someone who loves God and loves people.
Last week be began this series of lessons on the power of what we say.
- Last week we saw that our words can direct where we go
- This week we will see that our words can destroy what we have
- Next week we will see that our words can display who we are
With that said let’s look at James 3, beginning at verse 1.
Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 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. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. 7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. (NLT)
Verses 5-8 tell us that what we say can destroy what we have. Let’s unpack this one thought at time. Three things you need to see.
I can destroy with verbal arrogance
Number one, I can destroy with verbal arrogance. Look at verse 5, “The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches” (NLT). This is a summary statement that implies something negative or positive. A grand speech can move people toward doing something wrong or something right. A grand speech has the power to influence people to begin something great or to begin something evil. A grand speech can head someone in the right direction or get them going in the wrong direction. James just gave us two examples of what he means with the bit in the horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship.
However, there is another implication this statement can mean. One translation says it like this, “So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things” (CSB). One of the biggest dangers we all face at some degree is pride and that pride can often be seen or heard in the words we say. Our boasting, bragging, or arrogance can be a dangerous thing.
This reminds me of the frog who wanted to escape the coming winter by going south to the warm weather.
So the frog found two birds that were getting ready to fly south for the winter and asked if he could go with them. The birds said, “There’s no way we can fly you south with us.”
But the frog came up with a clever idea. “Why don’t we get a stick? One of you can hold one end and the other can hold the other end. I will hold on to the stick with my mouth and you two can fly me south.”
The birds thought about it and replied, “OK, we think we can do that.” So they got a stick and grabbed each end and the frog took hold with his mouth in the center of the stick and they flew off headed south.
As they were flying over a farmer’s field, the farmer looked up, saw this unusual sight, and remarked out loud, “That is the most ingenious thing I have ever seen in my life. I wonder whose idea it was.”
The frog was so flattered he said, “It was miiiiiine….” Bragging can cost you.
In reality, there is power in what you say. You can bring life or death into your life or a relationship simply by what you say and how you say it. When you mix arrogance with words it becomes a deadly combination. Proverbs 18:16 says, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (CSB). When you begin to speak words of arrogance toward your spouse, toward your children, toward your boss, toward your parents, or toward others it opens the door to destruction and a fall. Everything you think or feel does not need to be said. You can hurt yourself and others with verbal arrogance.
I can destroy by being a verbal arsonist
Number two, I can destroy by being a verbal arsonist. To help us understand the destructive nature of our words, James gives us an illustration of a “tiny spark.” Look carefully at what he says in James 3:5, “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself” (NLT). James is bringing the hammer down on our words. This is a serious statement by James and we need to pause and pay attention to this. James gives us an anatomy of our mouths and it is devastating reading. Let’s dissect what we are told.
- James says, “A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” James is comparing our mouth – our words – to a “tiny spark” that can turn into “a great forest” Proverbs 16:27, “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire” (ESV). Proverbs 26:21, “A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood” (NLT). All these statements are reminders at how hurtful and destructive our words can be if not guarded and watched over.
- Then James says in verse 6, And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. James is trying to get us to understand that our mouths are on fire. Every time we speak we need to be aware that a spark can fly out and ignite our lives, our families, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, and those at work or school. As you will see, there is an evil fire in your mouth trying to make its way out to burn, scorch, blister, singe, char, and sear everyone in your life, including you. James says, “The tongue is a flame of fire.” It’s already on fire, the fire is trying to get out.
- James goes on to say that our mouth and the words we speak, “… is a whole world of wickedness.” What we are being told is that inside our mouth there is a world of wickedness waiting to come out in the form of words. James is saying that the full range of sin can find an outlet through our mouths. Think about it. Think about a person being angry and expressing that rage through their words. Bitterness sours our speech. Think about how pride sounds, greed speaks, and selfishness sounds. Our mouths are a gateway to a “whole world of wickedness” and that’s why Ecclesiastes 5:6 says, “Don’t let your mouth make you sin” (NLT). This is also why the Psalmist prayed, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3, NLT). There is a potential of a “world of wickedness” trying to escape our mouths.
- Then James goes even deeper and says that your words are “corrupting your entire body” (NLT). The idea is that our words can corrupt our entire lives like a stain spreading through cloth or like a virus corrupting a computer. When our words are destructive it will affect everything and everyone in our life. If it’s not dealt with can become a great fire that is hurtful to many.
- Then James adds that our words “can set your whole life on fire” (NLT). When James says “your whole life” he is referring to both every area of your life and the duration of your life. Your words affect every aspect of your life and every moment of your life. Fire spreads everywhere; sparks are constantly flying out of our mouths, spraying in every direction. These sparks are an insulting innuendo, a harsh word to our parents or children, a cutting remark to our spouse, a little gossip, a tiny bit of slander, a little word of envy here and a little word of anger there and before long one of those tiny sparks grows and spreads and sets our whole life on fire.
- Then James lets us know where this tiny spark in our mouths originated when he says, “…for it is set on fire by hell itself” (NLT). Everything that hell represents and everything that can be found in hell is trying to “set on fire” our words. Your sinful nature, the deception, the selfishness and all sorts of temptations are trying to get you to say something that comes from the kingdom of darkness rather than the kingdom of light.
Our mouths and the words they produce can be like a spreading fire that can break out at any moment.
I can destroy by being a verbal assassin
At this point I wish James was done, because I don’t want to hear anymore. But he wants to make sure we understand the destructive power of our words so he gives us one more illustration and this takes us to number three, I can destroy by being a verbal assassin. Look at verse 7, “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (NLT). Our words can kill.
- James takes us to the zoo to help us understand the power of our words. He says “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish…” (NLT). When it comes the animal kingdom and dealing with wild animals we have done some incredible things. We have dancing bears, seals that play music with horns, monkeys that can do sign language, chicken’s that can play a piano, dogs that can jump through hoops and dance, lions that trainers will put their heads into, and we have trained all kinds of animals to perform all kinds of labor oriented task for us. We have the ability to tame all kinds of animals.
- In contrast to the wild animals we are able to tame, James quickly states, “but no one can tame the tongue” (NLT). The negativity of James’ description of the tongue is blatant here. He seems almost to have delayed this statement until he could make a forceful enough argument for it. Your mouth and the destructive words trying to get out cannot be tamed. Every other creature can be tamed, except this one. You may not be able to “tame” it, but by God’s power we can cage it and control it. We will talk about how to do that in minute.
- James describes the words in our mouths as “restless and evil.”
- It is “restless” (unstable) always trying to break out. You and I will never be able to say, “I am now in perfect control of my mouth and I will never say anything selfish, prideful, rude, unkind, insensitive or destructive again. I will never say anything that will grieve the Holy Spirit again.” This side of heaven, you will never be able to say that.
- This restlessness is connected to “evil.” This means it tends toward anger (1:20), self-deception (v.26), offense (2:6), quarreling (4:2), boasting and bragging (v.16), and swearing (5:12).
Does this mean that our words are always destructive and dangerous? No. As we will see next week, we can speak blessing and praise (v.9) over people and our lives as well.
- James goes on to say that our mouths are “full of deadly poison” (NLT). If you spend a few minutes looking online for information on some of the world’s most poisonous creatures you will quickly discover that some of the world’s most poisonous animals are very small in size. Why would a small jellyfish or spider or small frog really need to pack enough poison to drop an elephant? But James adds one more creature to this list of deadly poison and its our mouth.
The Psalmist had been bitten by the words of others and said, “Their tongues sting like a snake; the venom of a viper drips from their lips” (Psalm 140:3, NLT).
In describing one of the results of the power of sin on people in general Paul made this statement in Romans 3, “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness” (vs. 13-14, NLT).
According to James your words are full of deadly poison.
When you hear and understand what James is telling us then it’s not surprising to read Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue can bring death or life” (NLT).
James reminds us in verse 2 that “we all make many mistakes.” You and the people in your life are going to make mistakes. They are going to say things they shouldn’t. They are going to say things that hurt, offend, and annoy. Their immaturity will come out of their mouth eventually. It’s just going to happen.
The question for you is, how will you respond?
- First, place a guard over your mouth. Let’s pray Psalm 141:3 over our lives, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (ESV).
- Number two, be careful with what you say. Proverbs 21:23 says, “People who are careful about what they say will save themselves from trouble” (ERV).
- Finally, make allowance for each other’s faults. Colossians 3:13 says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (NLT).