Sunday 13 September 2015

This morning I ask you to turn with me to the 3rd Chapter of James’ Epistle. It is a very practical letter, and this passage is all about the use/misuse of the tongue.

We all know how destructive the tongue can be and I am sure we all have regrets over things we have said whether cruel or just embarrassing. Most human sin is facilitated by speech of one sort or another, anger, seduction; the tongue is the wind that whips up the embers into a fierce blaze. So, James wants to guide us to let the influence of Christ be uppermost in our minds.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying ‘I would rather be thought a fool for not speaking than to speak and prove it.’

James begins by referring to teachers (or preachers) who held a prestigious position within the Church and were directly responsible for instructing new converts. This enabled them to use the tongue to promote their own ideas and opinions and give false teaching. This is still a concern today, when those privileged to lead services find the Bible does not match up with their belief that we should adapt to the culture of 21st century society’s ways.

When people gather together for worship, they should hear what God has said and wants to be, not what any man or woman thinks should appertain. Some of the men (only in those days) were not truly qualified either by learning or faith to be teachers, and there is at the present time a tendency in all denominations to be too ready to appoint preachers just to be able to have someone available. This can do more damage and irreparable harm to the Christian faith as agitators for a particular cause have free rein.

The problem is exacerbated when the position in society of clergy is considered. In the Church of England, perhaps more so than in the Free Churches, a Vicar carries considerable respect so his words can materially influence a person’s mind.

In verse 2 James points out how easy it is to offend with the tongue as well as doing good. Two examples are Hitler who could mesmerise a nation with his oratory and spread evil, and on the other hand Winston Churchill who could inspire and motivate his country to goodness.

We can all slip up, a term |James infers, quite easily and unintentionally. Words more than anything else form impressions that stick, especially are they damaging when bitterly criticising. James wants us to grasp this so that we may control ourselves and uses two examples to demonstrate how powerful the tongue is. Once words are used they can never be fully retracted, even with apologies the words remain in the memory of the one used against. However much we are warned, we never completely avoid hurt.

When a bit is put into a horse’s mouth we can control the whole body and make it do what we wish. When the tongue is controlled the whole body feels the blessings.

Secondly, a ship is large and heavy and can be driven by strong winds, yet a very small rudder can divert whichever way a pilot wants to go. So when applied to the tongue, it may help the whole person control the pressures which threaten to drive us off course, and a gentle word may turn off anger.

Nothing warms our hearts more than sincere expressions of love and esteem, and nothing hurts as much as hard words of bitter criticism or reproach. Christians must learn and accept that there can be difference of opinion and belief between us, which must be respected and discussed in a civilised and above all Christian way.

In verse 5, playing with fire is a menacing figure of speech. A great forest fire as we now often see in the United States is set off by a small spark, sometimes deliberately used; words too can spread like wildfire and cause much harm. In to-day’s world with computer, mobile phones, texts and emails, rumour and gossip can be sent around the world, as numerous people have found to their embarrassment, not knowing if what was sent was true or not. Reputations are destroyed over coffee or more so with alcohol in the equation. Tongues rattle away and slanderous remarks fly freely.

Verse 6 refers to the tongue set on fire by hell. In ancient time there was a place called Gehenna on the outskirts of Jerusalem, seen as hell on earth. This was where children were sacrificed in burning furnaces to the god Moloch. Later in Jesus time it was the city rubbish dump where all refuse was taken. It was dark, smelly hellish place and seen as a picture of hell. Sometimes lips are unclean and the fuel for the tongue is said to come from hell in those cases.

Humanists think because God allowed us to have dominion over all other creatures, and to a great extent mankind has been successful in taming most animals, he is invincible. But what we ought to recognise is that the ability to tame animals was not made possible by our powers alone, it was a gift from God. Our achievements are ultimately received from God so there should be no boasting in our way of self sufficiency or ingenuity.

So the reality of our untameable tongue and the problem of human wickedness should leave us in no doubt that there is need of a Saviour, because we are helpless inI our own strength.

People generally are not all bad, we have lapses, but most people are relatively restrained. James defends his criticism by the inconsistency of our speaking. It is in those times of stress and anger that the viciousness of the tongue is revealed. It is not only in bad language or unguarded remarks spoken in the heat of the moment, it is the fact that good and pious words come from the same lips. We sing prise to the Lord and then go out into the worlds to curse our fellowmen and spread poisonous words.

The Christian who speaks to God in exalted tones but speaks ridicule to everyone who upsets them is a contradiction in terms. This was true of Peter when he cursed and swore and denied the Lord on the night Jesus was arrested.

In verse 10 James states ‘my brothers this should not be’. He is highlighting the abnormality of double speak. We have politicians anxious at time to state their Christian credentials, and then create legislation which penalises Christians who try to exercise their beliefs. Those who love the Lord cannot afford to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

James closes this section with two illustrations. He speaks of a spring which cannot produce both clear and salt water, nor can a tree provide two kinds of fruit.

He takes his readers to the words of our Lord and to the very heart of the gospel of saving grace, which is able to transform the whole person. Jesus said ‘if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink; whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within’. Christ is the living water who gives to all who come to Him in faith, that water which will become within a spring of water rising up to heaven and eternal life.

It is one of life’s hardest duties yet also the plainest to ensure our tongues only ever speak such words as we would wish God to hear.

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