The Battle of the Tongue-James 3:1-12

We are back in the book of James today.  Many scholars believe James was written by the brother of Jesus who became a believer and leader in the church.  James is a very practical book with a variety of topics for how we are to live out our faith as Christians in our relationships.   • In chapter 2, James wrote about not showing favoritism to some while ignoring others.   • Chapter four, he’ll warn about the quarreling between believers that tear down rather than build up one another.  • It makes sense that in chapter three, he would return to the topic of how we communicate.   Last week we considered teaching from chapter one where he emphasized, we are to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Today in chapter three, we find the topic on the power of words and dangers of our tongue or talk. 
James 3:1-2 - The Sobering Reality
Let’s get started by reading verses 1-2.
“Not many of you should become teachers my brothers and sisters, (why?) for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  (So, yes those who lead and teach have a higher standard by which we will be judged.)
Then James goes onto say, “For all of us make many mistakes.  Anyone who makes no mistake in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.”  
The word “perfect” in the Bible often means – mature.  But the problem says James is “all of us make mistakes, despite maturity.  All of us
make mistakes despite our knowledge and life experience, including in how we communicate or fail to communicate with one another.  Take a look at this video piece that Andy Stanley shares about his communication meltdown.
Show Video Here
Yes, “all of us make many mistakes.”
So, it is understandable, James warned Christians about the challenge of the tongue after already addressing the need to be quick to listen and slow to speak.    The Never-Ending Battle
James 3:3-5 James said, vs. 3-5 “If we put bits into the mouth of horses to make them obey us, we guide their entire bodies.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  Yet the tongue is a small member but boast great exploits.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire”
The best defense against saying something that will be offensive is to know there is an ongoing battle to watch what we say and how we say it.  Therefore, James used some examples to highlight how our talk, our tongues can be a source of pain.  
He makes a contrast, so we get his point.  People put bits in the mouth of a horse so they can control the entire horse.  Just think, most horses that people ride are five six feet tall and weigh 800 maybe 1000 pounds?   Yet, even a child can control a horse largely due to use of a bridle. 
Or James says hey a large ship is guided by a rudder.  Winds can drive a ship; but it is a small rudder that the captain uses to steer the ship.
 But to make sure Christians know about the challenge with the tongue James said the tongue is like that small flame that can start a relational forest fire.  It can just be a few words and the way we say them, can spread a great deal of damage.  Keep in mind what we covered in week one, about the condition of the heart that is driving the tongue, our words.  We said motivating our words can be a heart with the desire to always be right, to win the argument, to protect our pride or avoid any responsibility or accountability.  
But consider the imagery of the words James uses.  He said the tongue is like a small flame that gets a forest fire started. Look at this video to be reminded of the proportional awareness that James is making.
Video Forest Fire
A small flame can begin an immense fire like that.  A forest fire is a big deal.  We have certainly seen our share of those in recent years.  Forest fires can consume thousands of acres, cost millions if not billions of dollars in recovery and restoration; not mention the cost of wildlife and human life that is sometimes taken.  James is telling us to take his words seriously because in relationships we have the ability to spread a lot of damage and pain.
The Damage  Verse 6, James goes on and says, “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and itself set on fire by hell.”
Let’s take the last part of this verse first.  He said our tongues are set on fire by hell.  He is pointing to the evil influences on our heart that then motivate the sarcasm, the zingers, the get back type of comments.  
James also said the tongue “stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature…”   
I wonder if along with the forest fire analogy, James is opening us up to a greater awareness.  Even when we realize what we said in anger through sarcasm, through perhaps dredging up the painful past is going to some damage.  The second point is this, just like a forest that has been devastated by fire is going to take time to recover, and so do our relationships from the painful words we speak.
Words matter. Words carry weight and influence. We’re lifted up by words of encouragement and we can be drained by words of discouragement. Relations can be devastated by words. Marriages – maybe its words of comparison, distrust, accusations. Parents – again maybe it’s comparing our kids to their siblings, friends. Jealousy and competition in friendships.
Then even when there is admission and apology, the wounds and damage will not heal immediately.
Saying I am sorry doesn’t mean there is an immediate reset from the painful words, any more than a forest immediately recovers from a fire.
James is a really practical book and he wanted people who call themselves as Christians to avoid damaging one another with words.
It Cannot be Conquered: vs. 7-8
James continues, listen to verses 7-8.  James goes onto make the point there is not a creature in the world that humankind is endangered by except humankind itself and the poison from our tongues.
He said every specie can be tamed by people; but the littlest part of our bodies cannot.  Since it cannot be tamed, we are to forever stay on guard about the battle we have with our mouths.  
The Tongue Betrays
Then just to make sure we know how unnatural all of this is look how James concludes what he mentions about the battle of our tongues, our words.
Read - Vs.9-12 Blessing and Cursing.
James uses all of these comparisons to say how unnatural we are when we can praise God; yet demean, discount, discourage others with our words.  
I think there is a point here even though James doesn’t tell us what to do next.
He ends on a sobering note to make it clear to stay alert, the battle never ends, the watching over our words never stops.
Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.”     (Crucial Conversations.)
The biblical word that leads to change is the word repentance.  If we keep open minds and tender hearts, we’ll be willing to change as often as needed.
Next Sunday we’ll wrap-up this series with some help from a man in the New Testament, named Paul who did a lot of talking on how we can use our words wisely.

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