THE POWER OF THE TONGUE – James 3:1-12

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I’m going to describe a particular part of our bodies in the first person, as if I’m that part of our bodies.  Here goes:

I may be the strongest muscle in your body.  I am considered to be the strongest muscle for my size.  I have been known to lift over 80 times my weight, but don’t put me to the test!  I am busy during the day and all through the night, and I never get tired.  I may be kind of rough on the surface, but I’m smooth underneath.  I’m about 4 inches long and I am the only muscle in your body that is only connected to your body at one end.  I can heal myself faster than any other part of your body. Thanks to your nose and my buds,  I’m learning to develop a taste for things.   I used to come out of my den more often for people to see me,   but now I only come out when you need help eating an ice cream cone, or when the doctor says, “open your mouth, stick out your ‘tongue’ and say ahhhh”!  As you’ve  probably guessed, I’m the muscle that would be speaking this message aloud to you right now.

As strong as our tongues are physically, they boast of even greater power for good and for evil both emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  I think it’s significant that, right after the apostle James writes about evidences of genuine, saving faith, he talks about the tongue.

James has already explained two characteristics of the true, maturing Christian. First, in chapter 1, James says that the true Christian is patient in times of trouble. Secondly, in chapter two, James says that the true Christian practices the truth. Here in chapter 3, James says that the third characteristic of a true believer is that he has power over his tongue.

James now goes for the jugular vein of the Christian life – the problem of the tongue. No other section of the Bible speaks with greater authority and impact on this subject than does James.

The words of the Lord Jesus Christ put this problem of the tongue into perspective. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 15:11, 18-19: “Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. . . . the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man”. We need to realize that the heart and the tongue are directly associated with each other. Through its every word, the tongue broadcasts the condition of the heart.

In order to impress on us the importance of controlled speech, and the great consequences of our words, James gives us six pictures of the tongue: the bit, the rudder, fire, a dangerous animal, a fountain and a fig tree. You can put these six pictures into three categories that reveal the three powers of the tongue.

I. THE POWER TO DIRECT: THE BIT AND THE RUDDER (3:1-4)

James begins chapter 3 by saying, “Let not many of you become teachers.” The Greek word “didaskaloi” is used in the New Testament epistles to refer to teachers of God’s Word, rather than the alternate meaning of “masters” or “rulers” when referring to the Jewish rabbi’s. James is not discouraging Christians from using their gifts and abilities to benefit the local congregations. He is warning against the misuse of that privilege to gain power and prestige. Those motives and desires are not the marks of a true teacher of God’s Word. A teacher’s words are not to be used to exalt himself but to accurately explain the Word of God and exalt the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In verses 3-5 James uses the examples of the bit and rudder because each of them, like the tongue, is small yet powerful. The bit is a very small item that goes into the horse’s mouth in order to overcome the power and the wild nature of the horse. However, it is not the bit that controls the entire horse. It is the experienced rider, using the bit and bridle in the proper ways, that controls the horse. In the same way, the rudder on a ship is a very small item in comparison to the ship, and it has to overcome the forces of the wind and the waves and currents. However, it is not the rudder that controls the entire ship. It is the experienced pilot or helmsman, who operates the rudder in the correct ways, that controls the ship.

Unless the Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior and Lord of our lives, we are not going to be able to keep our tongues from evil, nor will we always be able to say the right thing at the right time. There are evil forces inside us and in the world around us that are fighting for control of our hearts and our speech. King David had a temper, as we all do, and he prays in Psalm 141, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to do any evil thing.”

II.  THE POWER TO DESTROY:  THE FIRE AND THE DANGEROUS ANIMAL  (3:5-8)

In verses 5-8, James compares the tongue to a fire and to a dangerous animal.  A fire spreads very quickly and is very destructive, causing damage that can’t be easily repaired, if it can be repaired at all.  In one town where I pastored, a neighbor came to the door yelling, “Help, my kitchen is on fire!”  I grabbed the portable fire extinguisher out of my car and ran to her house, where I saw smoke coming out of the back door.  As I entered, I had to duck down because of the smoke.  I could see the fire on the wall above the stove and sprayed it with fire-retardent powder until the extinguisher was empty.  When I went outside to get some fresh air I could hear the fire truck coming.  The firemen went inside, sprayed the wall area and checked the ceiling and attic.  Afterward, they asked us to come inside to see the damage.  The wooden spice rack above the stove had caught on fire and the fire chief pointed to a couple of places where the flames had burned through the drywall and had charred the wood.  He said that if I hadn’t been there and put the fire out when I did, it would have gone up the two-by-fours and into the attic and roof by the time they arrived just moments later.  It would have become a house fire rather than just a kitchen fire, and the house would probably have been damaged beyond repair.  That was a scary lesson about the swiftness and destructiveness of fire!

James tells us that the tongue can have a similar effect when we use it to gossip about or slander others.  Evangelist Billy Graham used the following illustration to point out the destructive and lasting effect that our words can have:  There is a story of a woman in England who came to her vicar with a troubled conscience.  The vicar knew her to be an habitual gossip – she had maligned nearly everyone in the village.  “How can I make amends?” she pleaded.  The vicar said “If you want to make peace with your conscience, take a bag of goose feathers and drop one on the porch of each one you have slandered.”  When she had done so, she came back to the vicar and said, “Is that all?”  “No,” said the wise old minister, “you must go now and gather up every feather and bring them all back to me.”  After a long time, the woman returned without a single feather.  “The wind has blown them all away,” she said.  “My good woman,” said the vicar, “so it is with gossip.  Unkind words are easily dropped, but we can never take them back again.”  (Day-By-Day with Billy Graham, Sept. 17)

Fire spreads, and the more fuel you add to that fire, the faster it will spread and the farther it will spread.   Time does not erase or correct the effects of the sins of the tongue.   God wants us to confess these sins and let Him take control of our speech, but the fires we have already kindled and fueled will continue to spread, just like the goose feathers being blown away by the wind.  Realize also that those fires we kindle will also burn us.  People who have been hurt by us will no longer trust us, and the word gets around, and our credibility is gone.  There are many lonely people today who are suffering the consequences of their false and malicious words, and yet refuse to change or admit their guilt.

A dangerous animal also has the power to destroy.  Some are dangerous because of their strong, swift and powerful bodies, many of them equipped with claws and sharp teeth or tusks.  If you’ve ever been to Lion Country or to a Wildlife Safari, you know what I am saying.  Yet  James states that man has been able to tame some of these animals from every species. But, he adds in verse 8:  “No one can tame the tongue”.  Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?     Don’t lose hope!  I believe that what the Lord Jesus said about riches and salvation in Matthew 19:26 is also true about the tongue:  “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Other animals are dangerous because they are poisonous.  My first overseas duty in the Air Force was at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in northern Thailand.  A group of us new arrivals were in an orientation briefing.  One of the warnings we were given was to beware of a particular snake called the krait snake.  The bite of a krait snake has little or no pain, and can cause a false reassurance to the victim.  It feels like the bite of an ant or a mosquito.  The person may not even realize that he’s been bitten.  There is very minimum evidence of local swelling.  Symptoms include a tightening of the facial muscles within one to two hours, inability of the person to see or talk, and death from respiratory failure (or suffocation) within 4-5 hours.  The krait was called the “two-step snake” because its venom was so powerful and acted so quickly.

Our tongues can also have a poisoning effect on others, and on ourselves as well.  Have you ever injected a malicious remark or comment into a conversation in the hope that it might spread to the person you wanted to hurt?  Have you ever yelled at someone in a moment of anger, or shouted profanity?   Maybe you were on the receiving end of those kinds of outbursts,  How did it make you feel?   A.T. Robinson, in his book, “Studies in the Epistle of James”, makes this observation about the defiling effect of our words:  “It is now known that angry words cause the glands of the body to discharge a dangerous poison that affects the stomach, the heart, the brain.”  King David, in Psalm 140:3, had these words to say about evil and wicked men:  “They sharpen their tongues as a serpent;  poison of a viper is under their lips.”

III.  THE POWER TO DELIGHT:  THE FOUNTAIN AND THE FIG TREE (James 3:9-12)

In verse 9 James recognizes that the tongue is good at times.  It is not altogether evil.  But it is inconsistent.  He uses the illustrations of the fountain, the fig tree, and salt water to get his point across.

Have you ever had your mouth washed out with soap?  It isn’t a pleasant experience!  An older kid in our neighborhood was accustomed to using filthy language, and whenever my younger brother and I were around him we tried to imitate him.  One day my mother overheard our conversation.  Since I was the older son, and should have been a good example to my brother, I received the cleansing treatment first.  I could hear my younger brother snickering as I was going through the ordeal.  Then it was his turn!  He didn’t think it was funny anymore!  The soap she used had a pleasant smell to it but it did not taste good!  As you probably aready know, it wasn’t my mouth and tongue that were the real source of the problem.  It was my heart.  But having my mouth washed out with soap gave me a change of heart!

My mother got the point across and the lesson was learned.  As I think of my mother, I cannot remember her ever cursing, swearing or using filthy language.  I’m thankful to God and to her that the use of such language has never become a habit for me.  However, there are other kinds of language that we all have been guilty of and struggle with.  Evangelist Billy Graham says,  “You can use your tongue to slander, to gripe, to scold, to nag, and to quarrel, or you can bring it under the control of God’s Spirit and make it an instrument of blessing and praise.”

In verses 10-12, James uses three illustrations:  the fountain, the fig and olive trees, and salt water,  to show the nature of things.  Water is not sweet and bitter at the same time from the same fountain, is it?  A fig tree cannot produce olives, can it?  Nor can an olive tree produce figs.  And salt water cannot, of itself, produce fresh water, can it?  Nature is consistent because God made it that way.

Man was also created to reflect the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  James says earlier in his letter:  “No one can tame the tongue”;   no one, that is, except God.  You may remember in Exodus 15:23-26 that the people of Israel came to Marah on their journey to the Promised Land.  The word “Marah” means “bitter”, and the waters there were bitter.  They couldn’t drink the waters, and they couldn’t change the condition of the waters, but God did.  When God told them to cast a particular tree into the water, the waters became sweet and drinkable.

If your speech is not reflecting the character of God, and other areas of your life are contrary to God’s will, you may want to make sure that your relationship to God is genuine, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of your life.  The theme of the book of James is:  “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  If there is any question in your mind, God wants to enter your life if you will turn from your sinful ways and let Him come in and take control of your mind, emotions and will.  Then your words will become words of praise and thanksgiving to God and to others; words that heal, comfort and encourage; words that are beautiful to hear; words that give glory to God.

CHRISTMAS – Why Is It Significant?

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INTRODUCTION:

After the first American astronaut landed on the moon, the President of the United States  praised this wonder of modern science.  He said, “The planting of human feet on the moon is the greatest moment in human history!”  Later, evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “With all due respect”, he said, “the greatest moment in human history was not when man set foot on the moon, but when the infinite and eternal God set foot on this earth in Jesus of Nazareth!”  Just how significant is the birth of Jesus Christ in our world today?

I.  THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S BIRTH

The year is 2018 A.D., isn’t it?  As you probably know, the letters A.D. are an abbreviation for two Latin words:  “anno Domini”, a phrase which means “in the year of the Lord”.  Events prior to Jesus’ birth are dated B.C., that is, “before Christ”.  Everything in history is dated from the time when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Every newspaper and magazine, every official document gives testimony to Christ’s birth.

II.  THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING HIS BIRTH (Luke 2:1-20)

Yet when we look at the circumstances surrounding His birth, we see poverty and humility.  But from these circumstances, and the symbolism in them, we can gain valuable insight into why the Lord Jesus was born.  Let’s take a closer look at this passage of Scripture:  Luke chapter 2, verses one to twenty.

In verses 1 to 6, we read that Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken of the whole Roman empire.  Joseph and Mary were forced to make an eighty mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem because they belonged to the descendants of David.  Caesar didn’t know it, but he was doing an errand for God, so that Micah’s prophecy in Micah 5:2 would be fulfilled.  The Savior of the world was to be born in the city of Bethlehem.

In verse 7, Mary brought forth her child alone.  There was no midwife;  there were no friends and no family, except her husband, Joseph.  Similarly, at the end of Jesus’ life, as He hung dying on a cross, there was only a handful of His family and friends close to him.  Verse 7 also says, “they wrapped Him in cloths.  The Greek word literally means “to swaddle” or to wrap in strips of cloth.  This was often the way dead bodies were wrapped in preparation for burial.

Verse 7 also says that they laid the newborn baby Jesus in a manger – a feeding trough for animals.  Jesus was born in a stable, a place for sheep and cattle.  There were probably many lambs under the same roof with the baby Jesus.  This is significant because, before Jesus began his public ministry, John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

From verses 8-20, we learn that the only other people to see the newborn baby Jesus were the shepherds.  And these were no ordinary shepherds.  The Jewish book of legal codes, called the “Mishnah”, prohibited the tending of flocks of sheep throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness areas, because sheep were unclean animals.  The only exception was the flocks used for the temple sacrifices.  These sheep were killed and offered up as sacrifices for the sins of the people.

III.  WHY WAS JESUS CHRIST BORN

Why was Jesus Christ born?  What is the true meaning of Christmas?  I found out the answer to that question in 1970.  Have you ever had a miserable Christmas?  Well, Christmas of 1970 had all the indications of being the worst Christmas I would ever experience.  It was Christmas eve, and I was in the Air Force, stationed at a remote base in northern Thailand.  I was away from my family and friends, and there was no “Christmas spirit” in me.  I was on a bus headed into town to attend a Bible study at the Christian Servicemen’s Center.  I had been going there for several weeks, hoping to find some answers to life.  The director of the center must have noticed my despondency because he asked  me if I would mind staying for a while after the Bible study.  He said he had something he wanted to talk to me about.  I had nothing else going on that evening so I agreed.

He began by asking me this question:  “If you died tonight, and you stood before God in judgment, and God said, ‘Tom, give me one reason why I should let you into My heaven’, what would you say?”  I don’t remember what the Bible study was about that night, nor who was there, but I do remember the joy and peace I experienced when I invited Jesus Christ to come into my life as my Savior and Lord.  I also remember smiling as I rode back to the base on the 10:00 p.m. bus.  I was probably the only serviceman who was smiling and who wasn’t drunk!  On Christmas Day I had no Christmas tree and no presents, but I had more joy than I had ever experienced.  I spent most of Christmas Day reading the New Testament Scriptures.  It was a new book to me because I was now a child of God.  If you want to know more about what I learned, and what happened to me that night, it’s all in the ABOUT PAGE of this blog.

The real joy of Christmas comes when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.  Why did Jesus Christ come to earth?  Let’s allow Jesus to answer that question for Himself.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus says, “For the Son of man also came, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that you may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”  In the midst of shopping for presents, sending cards, and putting up decorations, is there room in your heart for Jesus?

JESUS CHRIST EXALTED – Philippians 2:9-11

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INTRODUCTION: The word “therefore” in verse 9 of Philippians, chapter 2, tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t end with His birth, life, suffering and death, as described by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-8. There is much more to the story. And this story keeps getting better all the time!

When I first preached this message, my Scripture passage was Philippians 2:5-11. But verses 9-11 are so meaningful that I decided to devote a separate message to these three verses. As we study this passage of Scripture, we will be investigating the description of Jesus’ exaltation, the results of His exaltation, and the purpose of His exaltation.

THE DESCRIPTION OF JESUS’ EXALTATION (2:9)

Because of Jesus’ voluntary act of humility, when he laid aside His glory and the independent use of His attributes as God to become a man, so that He could sacrifice Himself to pay the price for our sins, God the Father exalted His Son to the highest possible degree. All that Jesus gave up or laid aside to become a man and pay the price for our sins was now given back by God the Father “with interest” so to speak. Jesus is now the God-man, and He will continue to have His earthly name and His sinless human nature for eternity.

In addition, God “bestowed”, or freely gave to Jesus the “name that is
above every name”. Notice that it doesn’t say, “the name Jesus”, but “the name of Jesus”. Jesus received His human name, “Jesus”, when an angel appeared to Mary in Matthew 1:2l, and in a dream to Joseph in Luke 1:31 and said, “you shall call His name Jesus”. But the exalted name given by the Father, to which every knee shall bow is the name “Lord”. The Greek word is “kurios”, which means “ruler”. It is equivalent to the Old Testament name for God: “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”.

So, when the Son of God humbled Himself, He was given the name “Jesus”. When He was exalted, He was given the name “Lord”. As you read through the Gospels you will notice that Jesus’ followers never called Him by His first name. They always called Him “Lord”. If you had the opportunity to speak to the President of these United States, you wouldn’t address him by his first name, would you? You would call him “Mr. President” out of respect for his office.

II. THE RESULTS OF HIS EXALTATION (vs. 10-11)

In verses 10 and 11 we are told the results of Jesus Christ’s exaltation. The apostle Paul says: “Every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. That includes all the angels and saints in heaven, all those on earth during His thousand year reign, and all those who have rejected Him. All authority in heaven, on earth, and under the earth belongs to Him.

Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Lord? Is He ruling in your life right now? Is it obvious to those around you that the Lord Jesus is reigning in your life? To bow before Him now and confess that He is Lord means salvation. To bow before Him at the Great White Throne judgment means condemnation. Don’t put it off. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Your response will determine where you will spend eternity. In one of his crusades, Billy Graham said that a person once asked him if there was a Bible verse that says what it means to be a Christian. Dr. Graham’s immediate answer was Luke 9:23. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

III. THE PURPOSE OF HIS EXALTATION (verse 11)

At the end of verse 11, the apostle Paul tells us that the purpose for Christ’s humiliation and his exaltation was the glory of God. As Jesus faced the cross, He prayed, in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee”. If we’ve accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord, He has given that glory to us. And one day we are going to share it with Him in heaven. Let that be a source of joy to us. In the meantime, Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”