“A man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, “Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that’s how we sell them!”
“You mean,” she persisted, “after all the years I’ve shopped here, you won’t sell me half-ahead of lettuce?”
“Look,” he said, “If you like I’ll ask the manager.” She said that would be good, so the young man marched to the front of the store. “You won’t believe this, but there’s a lame-braided idiot of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce.” He noticed the manager gesturing, and turned around to see the lady standing behind him, not realizing she’d followed him. Without missing a beat he continued, “And this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half.”
Our words reflect our character. Words are important. Words mirror the heart… Roseburg, OR: the gunman asked “Are you a Christian?” If they said yes they were shot in the head, if No, shot in the leg…. The gunman wanted to know what was in his victim’s heart.
There’s an abundance of wonderful quotations on words we use because we relate:
- Never miss a good chance to shut up. –Will Rogers
- There are two types who say very little: the quiet type and the gabby type. –Unknown
- Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speech by something outside himself-like, for instance, he can't find any clean socks. --Jean Kerr
- But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. –Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:36-38)
- If you wouldn't write it and sign it, don't say it. --Earl Wilson
- Don't speak unless you can improve on the silence. --Spanish Proverb
James is a pastor that wants the people he serves to grow in their faith. The amazing larger than life tongue, the tongue that is small but powerful, small but dangerous, small but revealing.
Begin with James 3:1. READ. Does this mean we ought to let most of you off the hook and instead talk about Bill Kamphouse, the adult S.S. teacher, or Jim Glass, a Bible Study leader. It applies to them. And me. I think there is a much broader application: “Not many of you should become teachers.” ~ Tell me ~~~ who isn’t a teacher? The only way to NOT be a teacher would be to become a hermit in a cave and live in isolation!
This statement is a challenge for all to come to a point when you understand you impact people all the time, your example, your words, your life. Parents are teachers. / Neighbors teach neighbors with the way they handle themselves. Waiters are teachers. Customers are teachers. This is a hard saying because it says many should not become teachers, yet we are all teachers whenever we interact with other people. In other words, your role as a teacher is profound… This elevates the importance of our words. The words we use and the message we give. Not many should become teachers, but you all are!
James 3:2. READ. The problem is universal: “We all stumble in many ways.” Nobody is perfect. The problem: Too many folks are content with stopping right here and have no interest in changing who they are! “I just lose my head sometimes and speak what’s on my mind, that’s who I am…” If you stop with the first part of James 3:2 then you have a constant built in excuse for stumbling, for speaking unkindly, for messing up. Don’t be content with stopping at the first half of James 3:2. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness that permission. It’s easier to just keep messing up and saying oh well, that’s who I am.
Think of James 3:2 as two ends of a continuum of spiritual maturity. On the one end we all stumble, on the other end of the scale, READ James 3:2b. There is the goal we will never perfectly achieve on this side of eternity, yet that ought not to stop us from humbly submitting our heart, our words, to him, asking for the Lord’s help to teach us, to mature in our faith…the one end of the scale is constantly pulling us back, but the other end is motivating us to mature…The Christian life is lived in the tension of James 3:2. James says the tongue is the mirror of our heart. This is good news because it means we have an easy way of diagnosing our heart. This is bad news because it means we have an easy way of diagnosing our heart.
The scripture continues speaking of the amazing larger than life tongue:.
small but powerful ~ READ James 3:3-5. a bit in a horse’s mouth, a rudder on a ship, a small spark setting the whole forest on fire. Amazing power out of proportion to the size…the tongue is larger than life. The first three examples are positive examples: the words we use can change people’s lives. I found a measure of success in high school in running, not a naturally confident person I can point to the words of 3-4 people who said they could see something in me: Joe Holtrop in grade school, Chris Vilanni a great runner from Mt. Baker that was a senior when I was a freshman who sat me down after one meet in which I managed not to get lapped by him… and he told me what he saw in me, a great track coach Burger Solberg. The tongue is larger than life, go out of your way to affirm others whenever you can because you are a teacher!
the tongue can also have negative power, like a spark causing a forest fire. “Look” the tongue struts and brags. “I can ruin a reputation. I can rupture a friendship. I can spoil the most tender of moments. I can embarrass, humiliate and shame. I can cut and I can curse and I can destroy.” In a church, it takes the whole to get along, but one person with a loose tongue can disrupt.
small but dangerous ~ READ James 3:6-8. Yikes. I don’t like these verses. I want to say it is overstating the case about the tongue corrupting the whole body. But wisdom is meant to make us think, meant to change us. Words can be like poison…. Here’s a simple British nursery rhyme that is a tiny example of what happens with our words:
“I lost a little word only the other day.
It was a very naughty word I had not meant to say.
But, then, it was not really lost, when from my lips it flew,
My little brother picked it up, and now he says it too.”
Never underestimate the power of the tongue to do harm. Ask God to help you guard what you say. David prayed in Ps. 141:3, "Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth: keep watch over the door of my lips." The Lord will give you the power to control your tongue. You are a teacher, your middle name is self-discipline.
small but revealing ~ READ James 3:9-12. James not only tells us we sin by what we say, but what we say measures how sinful we are. The tongue reveals what is in the heart. A car may look terrific on the outside, but a mechanic assessing the true condition will look under the hood, around the body, any dents that may have been caused by an accident, oil leaks, and unusually worn parts. The small details. The tongue is small, but it reveals the true measure of a man.
I am interested in a detail in James 3:9. READ. I would think James would say something like the tongue can bless or it can curse other people. But the contrast is cursing and praising God. Blessing other people is important though. You’ve all heard the helpful acrostic before you speak to T-H-I-N-K. Before you speak THINK: is it TRUE, HELPFUL, INSPIRING, NECESSARY, KIND. If your words pass the THINK test then you will bless others.
But James contrasts Cursing not with blessing, but Praising God. Praising God is a larger category than blessing others. Do my words Bless God. Besides, that is only one thing to remember rather than the T-H-I-N-K. As I seek to mature in faith, the idea of living, speaking, acting to Praise God is life changing. WJBP ~ would Jesus be pleased. Adopt the Praise of God as the reason for living, in all I do, feel, and speak, is Jesus Christ Praised. As I seek to praise the Lord, the people I interact with on a daily basis will be blessed, my motivations will come closer to living for Christ, doing His will, not what I want, but what he wants. The idea of living to Praise God is transformational. You will never be the same!
Not many should become teachers, but YOU are…do it well be praising God and the heart of praise will be expressed by that very small tongue and the words you say. Praise God in your heart and you never again have to worry about the words on your lips!
The last few verses of the scripture are about consistency, it goes back to James 3:2 and contrast of “we all stumble” with the other end of the scale, “Anyone who is never at fault is perfect.” READ James 3:11. The answer is obvious, it does not need an answer. Living to Praise God will cause me to mature me in my faith. To find more consistent living in the name of Jesus Christ.
Your tongue can be controlled because the Lord Jesus Christ can change your heart. This passage of scripture is not about the tongue, it is about the heart and maturing in your faith. If you have a problem with being too negative, speaking your mind and getting in trouble, tearing other people down, it’s not your words you need to worry about, it is your heart, it is learning to Praise God in all you do, it is dedicating your life to him. Your tongue is a mirror of your heart.
May the words of your mouth reflect the glory of Christ Jesus that resides in your heart as you seek to praise God with your life. Amen.