Tongue How It Works – Our tongue determines our maturity level. James, being somewhat facetious, said if we have gotten to the place where we never say the wrong thing, then we have arrived at total maturity. Not only does the person never say anything wrong. Neither does the person do anything wrong. This person is ‘able to keep his whole body in check.’ I do not know anyone like this and it is the point.
The Book of James – How Life Works
By Pastor Delbert Young
Tongue How It Works
Tongue How It Works
Scriptures: James 3:1, James 3:2, James 3:3, James 3:4, James 3:5, James 3:5, James 3:6, James 3:7, James 3:8, James 3:9, James 3:10, James 3:11, James 3:12, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 12:35, Matthew 12:36, Matthew 12:37
James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
. . . My brothers . . .
Again, James placed into his beginning statement the term “my brothers.” His desire is not to dictate or rule from his position of authority. Rather, James connects with his readers through relationship.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers . . .
He begins this lesson with an announcement about teachers. The announcement is those who teach in the church will receive a more severe judgment. The Greek word translated “more strictly” by NIV is meizon (Strong’s #3187) and means (1) greater, larger, elder, stronger. The thought of “elder” helps me understand what James is projecting. He means the teachers should have correct knowledge. They should know. Because of this, not many people should attempt to teach. James is not giving career counseling here. He is telling us how life works.
In the next few verses, James will talk about how small things direct very large objects. A small bit in the mouth of a horse will determine the direction of the whole animal (v. 3). A small rudder will steer a large ship driven by strong winds (v.4). A small spark will set on fire and entire forest (v.5). Likewise a teacher, though only one person, will determine the direction of an entire church.
There was obviously a extensive problem in the early church with people teaching who should not be teaching. This problem continues until today. I had never thought about it before, but the first century church had a dire need for teachers. There were very few scriptures to be read. People could not go to the Christian Book Store and purchase Bibles and teaching helps. There were no Christian seminaries to prepare people to teach. There was no Internet. The first century church had a great need for qualified teachers.
We will discuss this a little more later, but it is extremely important whom we allow to teach us and our families God’s word. They actually have the ability to direct our lives. If we think about this just a moment, we will realize a teacher at some point, spiritual or natural, tremendously directed your life.
James 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
James 3:3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
James 3:4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
James 3:5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts . . .
We all . . .
James moves from the teacher to “we all” as he began teaching about the tongue. He says we all “stumble in many ways,” but this is especially true when it comes to what we say. This is what a teacher does. They use their tongue.
James said if a person “is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man.” The Greek word translated “perfect” isteleios (Strong’s #5056) and means “full grown, adult, of full age, mature.” Our tongue determines our maturity level. James, being somewhat facetious, said if we have gotten to the place where we never say the wrong thing, then we have arrived at total maturity. If we never say anything wrong then we are absolutely perfect. Not only does the person never say anything wrong. Neither does the person do anything wrong. This person is “able to keep his whole body in check.” I do not know anyone like this and it is the point.
James said the simple fact is we all struggle with our tongues. This alone is proof none of us are perfect or even totally mature. None of us have arrived. “We all stumble in many ways.”
Nonetheless, the ability to control, or not control, what we say will determine the direction of our lives and eventually our eternity. The more a person can control his or her tongue, the more the person can control the rest of their life.
James used two examples to show this. He used the bit in the horse’s mouth and the small rudder on a large ship. Both have to do with steering. Both examples emphasize the size of the accomplishment. A small bit will direct the whole horse. A small rudder will direct a large ship. James emphasis is the magnitude of the accomplishment of the tongue.
If I truly desire a life that works then I need to work on my tongue. If I want a successful life, I need to start with my tongue. A person’s physical age does not matter. The tongue will cause us problems or bring us blessings. If I can control my tongue, I can direct my future. Just as a bit directs a horse and a rudder directs a great ship in strong winds, my tongue directs me. My tongue can safely take me through the great winds of life. There is great potential for tremendous good in my tongue.
Let’s not forget James began this section by talking about the teacher. There is the potential for the teacher to do great good.
James 3:5 . . . Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
James 3:6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Though the tongue can do great things, we usually use it to do great evil. James used the imagery of a forest fire to convey his thought. Arizona and Colorado experienced one of the largest fires in history. Do you know how it started? A fire fighter named Terry Barton, burned a letter from her estranged husband which caught the forest on fire. Later a part time fire fighter named Leonard Gregg, 29, purposefully set another fire combined with the first fire. The fire consumed more than 450,000 acres destroying 423 homes. James draws us this type of word picture. Destruction spreads over a tremendous area when the tongue ignites its fire. Homes are destroyed. Countless loss takes place.
Had the apostle Paul taught this he may have emphasized the effect on the body of Christ the tongue would have. The emphasis of James is the effect on the individual. James said, “It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” The entire person becomes corrupt. The person who will not control gossip, slander, and criticism is himself, or herself, corrupt.
Let’s work through what James said about the tongue.
“. . . a world of evil . . .” The Greek word translated “world” is kosmos (Strong’s #2889) and means the system. A person who will not control their gossip, slander, and criticism has an evil world. Their entire system of life is evil.
“. . . corrupts the whole person . . .” The character of the person is corrupt. The “whole person” is evil.
“. . . sets the whole course of his life on fire . . .” The corruption spreads throughout the entire time span of one’s life. Like the forest fire, the destruction during this lifetime is phenomenal. The uncontrolled tongue burned every person it touched. No one escaped its blaze.
“. . . is itself set on fire by hell.” The uncontrolled tongued person is fueled by hell itself. The Greek word translated “hell” is geenna (Strong’s #1067) meaning “hell, the place of the future punishment.” It is a reference to the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. Hinnom was where filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. Jesus used that place as an analogy of hell. The person with an uncontrolled tongue is fueled with the filth of geenna, which is the filth of death and rot and stench. Its mess spewed on everyone it contacted. This tongue is of hell itself.
James said the uncontrolled tongue is a system of evil corrupting the whole person. If not controlled, the whole course of the person’s life is a fire leaving behind destruction every place it goes. The stench and corruption is from hell itself.
James 3:7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,
James 3:8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Man has tamed all sorts of wild creatures, “but no man can tame the tongue.” The thought is it requires a constant restraint because the tongue “is a restless evil.”
“It is a restless evil . . .”
We cannot afford to miss the point about “a restless evil.” I do not talk about people because I decided to restrain my tongue. The reason people talk about people is because they decide not to restrain their tongues. It is up to me to decide. I have learned my tongue always wants to talk. “IT IS A RESTLESS EVIL.” I simply make a daily decision to restrain it. When you or I encounter a person who gossips, slanders, and criticizes others, we should realize they have made a decision to do so. They are dangerous. They are a fire fueled of hell.
“. . . full of deadly poison.”
The tongue is like a snake. It is “full of deadly poison.” One of the saddest parts of my job is watching as people are injected with deadly poison from uncontrolled tongues. I have watched it too many times to count. I am yet to learn how to warn a person they are being poisoned. We don’t think we will be bitten, but even the best snake handlers are bitten. I have yet to learn how to warn a person they are about to be destroyed. My warning only sounds like I myself have an uncontrolled tongue.
James said the uncontrolled tongue is “full of deadly poison.” There is nothing else in there but poison. It sounds impossible everything a person says is deadly poison, but it is true. It is full of deadly poison.
James 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.
James 3:10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
James 3:11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
James 3:12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Have you ever observed a person come to church, praise the Lord, and then go home and curse the people in the church? “This should not be.” James says something is wrong with this. In fact, it is impossible for fresh water and salt water to come out of the same spring. The spring is either fresh water or, the spring is salt water. It cannot be both. What is James saying? James is saying a person who is constantly slandering, gossiping, and criticizing is not where they say they are concerning the Lord. Let me ask you as James asked, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” The answer is, “No!” James asked another question. “Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?” Can it? The answer is, “No!”
James is exposing the hypocrisy of a person who will praise God in church, but then gossip, slander, and criticize people outside, or even inside the church. A person cannot do both. To James, the same mouth cannot praise God and curse people.
George M. Stulac says in his book James, “Do we today have this same, intense reaction – this sense that praising God and cursing people is utterly unthinkable… The implication is a true Christian will not make a practice of unchristian speech; and the practice of unchristian speech is evidence the speaker is not a Christian and is therefore in danger of hell.”
Here is what Jesus said.
Matthew 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
Matthew 12:35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
Matthew 12:37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
This sounds extremely close to what James said. My tongue connects to my heart. My tongue determines my destiny. I can do great things. I can help bring abundant life to my world. Or, I can be a fire fueled of hell leaving behind me great destruction poisoning everyone I encounter. Which am I? Which are you?
It is always difficult giving an altar call with a message like this. James said we all stumble in many ways. No man has totally tamed the tongue. We have all been guilty of an uncontrolled tongue, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a church where this did not happen. Talking about people should not happen, my brothers and sisters. I always wanted to be a part of a church where I knew people protected me and did not talk about me. I always wanted to be part of a church where people corrected one another when tongues became uncontrolled. Wouldn’t it be great if we matured to the place when someone began talking about another person, we said, “You need to talk to the person you are talking about. I do not want to hear it. I do not want to be poisoned. I don’t want to be burned.”
Let’s pray and ask God to help us!
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