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.
James is wanting our faith in Jesus to affect our speech as the followers of Jesus. He has been trying to teach us that real faith will produce actions of faith that include what we say and how we say it.
- He has already established that our mouths are unbelievably powerful directing where we go in life like a rudder on a ship or a bit in a horse’s mouth.
- He has told us that our mouths are relentlessly destructive like a spark that turns into a great fire or poison that could kill.
- He now tells us that our mouths reveal who we really are; it flawlessly shows what is really going on inside of us.
Let me be clear here. Your words, whether they come out of your mouth, show up in the form of a letter, an email, a text, on Facebook, or some other form of social media or communication reveals what is really on the inside of you and who you are really 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)
Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father
James says in verse 9, “Sometimes [our mouth] praises our Lord and Father.” Even though our mouth is like a fire trying to spread and destroy and even though our mouth is like a small creature full of poison able to bring death into a relationship there are times we say things to God that praise and bless Him and sometimes we say things about others that praise and bless Him.
- “Sometimes” we praise God for who He is. Lord you are a great God who can do great things. You are all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. You are full of wisdom, knowledge, grace, love, mercy, and justice.
- “Sometimes” we thank God for what He has done. Thank you for forgiving me, loving me, providing for me, and getting me through that valley. Thank you for all the wonderful blessing you have given to me throughout my life.
- “Sometimes” we gather with other believers and sing praises to His name. We sing and rejoice about His greatness and goodness.
I think you and I would agree that we want to be more like the psalmist who said, “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises” (Psalm 34:1, NLT). Every believer should find it natural and comfortable to speak the praises of God no matter life’s circumstances. This should be as natural as an apple tree producing apples.
and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God
However, the reality is “sometimes [our mouth] curses those who have been made in the image of God.” One moment we are praising God and the next we are cursing the people He created, loved, and died for.
So what does it mean to “curse” people?
- To curse someone can refer to a solemn announcement intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something. When James was writing this there were people who worshipped other gods and idols and some of their religious practices included calling down curses on people or casting a spell on them in order to harm them in some way. Some of these people got saved and started going to church and growing spiritually in Christ, but they brought some of their old religious practices with them like placing a curse on people. James is saying to these people stop doing that. That doesn’t honor God or the people He has made His image. God doesn’t want you cursing anyone or doing some kind of spell or Louisiana Voodoo on them. God’s Word says don’t do that.
- To curse someone can refer to an offensive word or phrase used to express anger or annoyance. The key here is the word offensive. You are wanting to mentally or emotionally hurt them with your offensive words. You can curse someone to their face or behind their back. This type of cursing can take many forms like slander (1 Peter 2:1), gossip (2 Cor. 12:20), lying (Eph. 4:25), deception (Rom. 3:13), bitterness (Rom. 3:13), harsh words (Prov. 15:1), maligning (Titus 3:2), and mocking. James is saying to us, stop doing that. Those sharp, unkind, ungracious, and thoughtless words you use to win your argument are really curses aimed to hurt them, shame them, and humiliate them in some way.
Then James gives us the reason why we should not speak these types of words toward or about other people. It’s because they are made “in the image of God.” Whether we like it or not every human being has been made “in the image of God.” This comes from Genesis 1:26 where God said at creation, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (NLT). Even after sin entered the human race humanity retained the “image of God” in small degrees. Generally, speaking people continue to be like “God” in many ways – intellectually, emotionally, morally, spiritually, and with the ability to reason, a self-consciousness, an awareness of God and with eternity built into their being. So when we curse people God takes it as if we are cursing Him. To curse people is to curse God himself. Every parent understands this to some degree, “what you do to my kid you do to me.”
Before we move on I want to address the difference between cursing someone and correcting someone. Cursing someone is for the purpose of hurting them, while correcting them is for the purpose of helping them. The Bible is real clear that there are times where we need to correct, rebuke, admonish and warn each other. There are going to be times when God will use you to speak a word of correction into someone’s life and there will be times when God will use others to speak a word of correction into your life. Correction always stings, it is never pleasant at the time. However it is necessary. Let me give you some examples of what the Bible says about this.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (NLT).
- Luke 17:3, “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive” (NLT).
- Titus 3:10-11, “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them” (NLT).
- 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (NLT).
We will “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, NLT) and gentle (Gal. 6:1). There are times we will need to correct each other, but we should never curse one another.
And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.
Then in verse 10 we are told, “Blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth” (NLT). When it comes to speech we are verbally schizophrenic and we have a bipolar mouth. We can bless one minute and curse the next. It’s like the Christian driving down the road listening to Christian music singing along and worshiping God then out of nowhere some guy pulls out in front of him and the Christian begins to curse the guy saying all kinds of bad and evil things toward him. Blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.
- You thank God for your life and then gripe and snip at your spouse.
- You praise God for a beautiful day and yell at your kids for leaving a mess.
- You tell God how great He is one moment and then lie to your parents.
When it comes to speech we are verbally schizophrenic and we have a bipolar mouth.
Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
So James goes on to say, “Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” We bless God and blast away at people. We praise God and verbally pulverize someone made in His image. We have to come to grips with the fact that our mouths reveal how inconsistent we really are.
What is being revealed by our words no Christian is to be happy with. Wherever this double-sided speaking is evident, there needs to be recognition that something is fundamentally wrong. “This is not right” and it should not be this way. We must never be satisfied with this in our life. Yet many believers do not even notice it in their own lives.
When God saved you and transformed you on the inside He gave you a new nature and that nature is working in you and through you and growing to produce changes in your life and one of the changes is with what you say and how you say it.
The phrase “my brothers and sisters” is James’ way of trying to speak loving and gently to them while correcting them. He knew believers “make many mistakes,” but they were not to tolerate a mixture of good and evil as a way of life. Even if they were under great stress, believers should resist the temptation to speak evil against others.
Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
Then in verses 11-12 we are given three illustrations from nature to depict how illogical and incompatible double-talk is in the believers life; all three are in the form of rhetorical questions that expect the answer “no.”
So the first rhetorical question in verse 11 is, “Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” The answer is no. The principle James is driving home here is… a product is always consistent with its source. When you find fresh water bubbling out somewhere you know that the source is fresh water. When you come across bitter or contaminated water coming out somewhere you know the source is bitter and contaminated. What is produced always matches the source. What you end up with shows what you started with.
It is the same with our mouths and words. What you say and how you say it indicates what kind of heart lies behind it. It shows us what is really going on under the surface. If you want to know what someone is really like, spend time listening to them talk.
Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No,
To hammer his point in further James asked another rhetorical question in verse 12, “Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No….” Whereas the illustration of the spring water emphasizes the source, the tree and grapevine emphasizes what is produced due to a thing’s nature. By nature a fig tree will produce figs. By nature a grapevine will produce grapes. By nature an apple tree will produce apples. By nature a believer will produce believer-talk.
James is telling us that what comes out of our mouth’s lets us know what nature we are living by. You are either living by the sinful nature or your new nature given to you by God. Listen carefully to Galatians 5:16, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (NLT). What you say and how you say it tells you and those around you whether you are living by the Spirit or your old sinful nature. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When your source is God your words will reflect that kind of fruit.
and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
Again, to drive that nail of truth even deeper into our lives James ends verse 12 by saying, “… and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring” (NLT). James is wanting us to take this seriously. He is trying to force us to ask ourselves: From where is this inconsistent speech coming? Or if we’re consistently negative, deceitful, or bitter, we have to consider what our words reveal about our hearts. Think about that. Don’t just shrug this off and move on. Let that sink in. Whatever comes up in the bucket is down in the well.
God’s Word is trying to tell you that your words display who you really are. Problems, stress, troubles, and trials will force what is really inside out. What do you say when you are stressed? What do you say to the people in your life when you are aggravated, annoyed, frustrated, and angry? What comes out of your mouth?
James is wanting us to listen to what we say in order to honestly evaluate who we are and who is really in control on the inside. So what do you do with this? What can we do to draw fresh water from God’s Spirit that He has planted inside of us? How can we produce fruit that is in alignment with our new nature? Let me give you some things to think about.
- Get a new heart. Jesus said something about this subject of what we say reflecting who we really are when He said, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (Matthew 12:33-37, NLT). Again, whatever is down in the well, will come up in the bucket.
Here we see the result of trying to change our words without allowing God to transform our hearts. Jesus said, “A bad tree cannot produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). So, an unloving heart cannot produce loving words. Sure, we can imitate nice words or repeat the right words, but whatever is really in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Our words reveal our hearts. They reveal who we really are. Our need is not simply a changed vocabulary. Our need is a changed heart. And there is only one who can change hearts… Jesus Christ.
- Guard your new heart. You may already have a new heart given to you by Jesus. You may already have a new nature. You are born again, but you need to grow. You need to begin learning how to live out this new life with this new heart. You need to protect and guard this new heart. This is why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). Guarding your heart involves praying, reading and thinking about God’s Word, and discussing with others what God’s Word has to say about you and your life. Guard your heart.
- Grow in wisdom. James has used a large section in his letter to address how our words direct where we go in life, destroy what we have in life, and display who we really are. Immediately after this he goes straight into talking about wisdom. For James and us, part of the solution to our bipolar mouth is filling our hearts and minds with God’s truth and wisdom. James says in verse 13, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom” (NLT). One of the reasons why your mouth says things that doesn’t honor God or those around you is because you are speaking out of earthly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. After Easter we are going to start taking a hard look at what real wisdom is and how it can influence our lives and the those around us.