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A Tongue Twister

James Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  35:46
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The Outline Bible Section Outline Three (James 3)

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE TONGUE (3:3–5)

A. How it can control (3:3–4)

1. It is as a bridle to a horse (3:3).

2. It is as a rudder to a ship (3:4).

B. How it can consume (3:5): It is like a spark, which, though small, can destroy a great forest.

III. INIQUITY OF THE TONGUE (3:6): It can be set on fire by hell itself, utterly corrupting and destroying its owner.

IV. INCORRIGIBILITY OF THE TONGUE (3:7–8)

A. People have been able to train the brute creatures (3:7).

B. No person has been able to train the tongue (3:8).

V. INCONSISTENCY OF THE TONGUE (3:9–12)

A. The contradiction (3:9–10): It tries to do two things simultaneously.

1. It tries to praise God (3:9a, 10a).

2. It tries to curse people (3:9b, 10b).

B. The conclusion (3:11–12): It cannot do these two things simultaneously.

1. Fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same spring (3:11, 12c).

2. A fig tree cannot bear olives (3:12a).

3. A grapevine cannot produce figs (3:12b).

Intro:
Listen here to a political speech given several years ago concerning land rights:
The conditions of a nation's life can in the last resort be bettered only through the political will to expansion. Therein lies the essential characteristic of a sound reform.
And land, we must insist, cannot be made an object for speculation. Private property can be only that which a man has gained for himself, has won through his work. A natural product is not private property, that is national property. Land is thus no object for bargaining.
Further, there must be a reform in our law. Our present law regards only the rights of the individual. It does not regard the protection of the race, the protection of the community of the people. It permits the befouling of the nation's honor and of the greatness of the nation. A law which is so far removed from the conception of the community of the people is in need of reform.
Further, changes are needed in our system of education. We suffer today from an excess of culture, Only knowledge is valued. But wiseacres are the enemies of action. What we need is instinct and will. Most people have lost both through their 'culture.' We have, it is true, a highly intellectual class, but it is lacking in energy.
Wise, balanced words! Right? Let’s hear more from this fountain of wisdom!
If, through our overvaluation of mechanical knowledge, we had not so far removed ourselves from popular sentiment, the Jew would never have found his way to our people so easily as he has done. What we need is the possibility of a continuous succession of intellectual leaders drawn from the people itself.
Clear away the Jews! Our own people has genius enough - we need no Hebrews. If we were to put in their place intelligences drawn from the great body of our people, then we should have recovered the bridge which leads to the community of the people.
—Adolf Hitler, MUNICH SPEECH of APRIL 27, 1923
SPEECH OF APRIL 27, 1923
I give you these words as a powerful illustration to the magnitude of the tongue. The tongue, a mere two ounces of membrane, can bring incalculable ruin and wreckage. Adolf Hitler used his two ounces of membrane to ensnare a whole nation into an emotional frenzy that led to millions of deaths in World War II.
The Apostle James didn't know of Hitler, yet he knew of this kind of power from the tongue. And that is why he said in our passage this morning:
James 3:3–12 ESV
3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
And here we have him continuing with a warning about the use of speech. It is as if with the first two verses he’s focused on the proliferation of false teachers, but then he seems to drift off in these verses with the concern of the tongue with any believer regardless the position or prominence.
We can easily assume that James wrote about this because his readers had been speaking irreverently. Perhaps they had been complaining about their current circumstances. Or maybe they had been complaining about each other and criticizing each other out of the stress caused by persecution. The fact that a Christian is undergoing persecution does not mean that he or she is perfect. It doesn’t mean that they are “super-saints” — that there is no struggle with the same things with which non-persecuted Christians struggle with even today.
The truth is that our difficulties can make us more focused on the hardship and less careful about sin. And certainly, Grace Baptist Church is not immune to this fact! The fact that we are currently going through certain hardships can make us think that we ‘deserve a break’ and that we are entitled to take a few liberties—especially the liberty of being “frank.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with sharing your emotions as a matter of fact or being bluntly truthful, but when that extends into gossip, or slander, or even destructive criticism, there is a problem—a sin problem! and again for clarification, constructive criticism is helpful; destructive criticism is just plain hurtful.
James wanted his readers to know that the persecution they were enduring did not give them the right to throw off all restraint, and he has already addressed this in the previous two chapters whether through speech or deeds. It did not give them the right to talk as if they were not Christians. This current persecution gave them the opportunity to show the difference that their Christianity had made in their lives, but they could not do this if they were talking as their unsaved peers—and neither can we.
But James was also aware of the weakness of the human flesh, with its bad habits, and the almost impossibility of controlling the tongue, and that is what he emphasizes in these verses because of its extreme importance to the spread of the true Gospel.

I. The Hype of the Tongue (3:3–5)

James 3:3–5 ESV
3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
J
He first points out that the tongue, although it is very small, is extremely powerful. He drives this point home by calling attention to three large things that are affected or controlled by very small things.
How it can control (3:3–4) Yes, James is saying your tongue can control you! How many times have you said something you didn’t mean to say?
It is as a bit to a horse (3:3). The horse is a very large and powerful animal, but it is easily controlled by a very small thing—the tiny bit in its mouth! Just ask uncle Ted!
It is as a rudder to a ship (3:4).
How it can consume (3:5): It is like a spark which starts a fire. This illustration now adds the element of the destruction of unholy words. What I love most about this illustration is how it vividly portrays the spread of destructive words just as rumors spread so easily. Let me ask you now, how many of you have heard a rumor recently? maybe in the past week or two? Then I want you to think, who did you hear that rumor from? and how many more people knew about that rumor? and last, did you spread that rumor yourself to more people? Your uncontrolled words are just as destructive and quick as a forest fire.
Do you know anyone who seems like they are always getting themselves in trouble? Proverbs has a lot to say, but specifically in chapter 21 it says:
II. INIQUITY OF THE TONGUE (3:6): It can be set on fire by hell itself, utterly corrupting and destroying its owner.
II. INIQUITY OF THE TONGUE (3:6): It can be set on fire by hell itself, utterly corrupting and destroying its owner.
Proverbs 21:23 ESV
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
We see it evidenced in church splits and in the ruining of the leadership’s reputation. And we also see how verbal abuse in the home can destroy the very personhood and character of the spouses and the children.
Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle words are damaging because they quickly spread destruction. We ought not be careless with our words, thinking that we can fix it later by apologizing later, because even when we do, the damage remains for weeks to years after. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build. Bad words are then truly like fire; they can neither control nor reverse the damage they do.

II. The Hardening of the Tongue (3:6–8)

James 3:6–8 ESV
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
It can be set on fire by hell itself, utterly corrupting and destroying its owner (v.6)
The mention of the little fire that leads to the forest being destroyed leads James to say, ‘And the tongue is a fire’ (v. 6). I’ve already mentioned Hitler’s forest fire as way of introduction, But we cannot just apply James’s words only to extreme political demons! Everybody who has a tongue has the power to create destruction unto death.
People who would never think about setting fire to their neighbor's house can and do commit spiritual arson—even within the walls of a church! How many churches have been ruined and split by gossip and slander!
Lately, even our own church has been plagued by gossip and rumors! Are you going to be part of the sin or part of the solution to purify Grace? The Bible says…YHWH says that this kind of talk is not okay, it is sin and therefore should be dealt with in the same manner as any other grievous sin.
Where does the tongue get its fire? Where does it get its power to destroy and burn? James leaves no doubt at all about this. He says the tongue is ‘set on fire by hell’ (v. 6). Kent Hughes says, ‘The uncontrolled tongue has a direct pipeline to Hell!’ He also suggests that the flow in that pipeline goes both ways. Irresponsible talk comes from hell, and it helps fill hell!
It can be set on fire by hell itself, utterly corrupting and destroying its owner (v.6)!!!“set on fire by hell” This, in the Greek, is literally “being inflamed by Gehenna,” which refers to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. This is the metaphor Jesus used to describe the punishment and place for those who reject faith in God. It was turned into the garbage dump for Jerusalem because this valley was the site in the OT where the fire god Molech was worshiped by child sacrifice (cf. ; ; ; ; ; ; ). This is the only use of “Gehenna” outside of the words of Jesus (cf. , , ; ; ; , ; , ; ). This metaphor refers then to the activity of satan in our daily lives.
And what is hellacious talk? We must most certainly include that which I have already mentioned—gossip and slander. But we must also include blasphemy, profanity, complaining, criticizing, manipulative talk, and even subtle innuendos.
And what is hellacious talk? We must include that which I have already mentioned—gossip and slander. But we must also include blasphemy, profanity, complaining, criticizing, manipulative talk, and even subtle innuendos.
People have been able to train the brute creatures (3:7). Having emphasized the destructive power of the little tongue, James proceeds to assert that it is virtually untameable (vv. 7–8). He finds himself thinking of man’s success in taming the various animals. Elephants, crocodiles, sea creatures, birds—all can be tamed or controlled with comparative ease. A man can stand in front of the massive lion, crack a whip, bark a command, and the lion obeys! But that same man can stand in front of a mirror, stick out his tongue, crack his whip, and the tongue goes right on talking and destroying!
No person has been able to train the tongue (3:8). According to James, while sticks & stones still can break bones, words do hurt—even to the point of death.
James says the tongue is ‘an unruly evil, full of deadly poison’ (v. 8).
And James is not yet done. He also wants his readers to see …

III. The Blasphemy of the Tongue (3:9–12)

James 3:9–12 ESV
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Hypocrisy starts with the tongue!
The contradiction is in verses 9–10: The tongue struggles to do two things simultaneously.
It tries to praise God and falls short
It tries to curse people and knows the right words to do so all too well.
okay I see the hypocrisy but you said “heresy”
The conclusion (3:11–12): It cannot do these two things simultaneously.
Fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same spring (3:11, 12c).
A fig tree cannot bear olives (3:12a).
A grapevine cannot produce figs (3:12b).
“Okay, Pastor Josh, I see the hypocrisy, but you said ‘blasphemy’.” The blasphemy is from believing that you can walk around claiming the name of Christianity, all the while dragging Christ’s name through the gross mud of your sinful mouth. James is really saying you cannot be truly praising God while at the same time cursing people. That kind of hypocrisy extends to the point of blasphemy. Sinful speech really is the brightest mark of a practical atheist--the person who claims to believe in YHWH, yet lives as if there is no god. Some people think that the only restraint against bad talk, calling people names, and bad language is the social disapproval that comes with it. But God’s Word directly condemns it! The reason we should not curse people is because first it is a command from the Great I AM and second, these people that we curse are the same people that have been made in His’s image—His likeness.
A
One commentary I read said it like this:
“We should not use any word or name that reduces them to anything less than their full stature as God’s created beings.”
The blasphemy is from believing that you can walk around claiming the name of Christianity, all the while dragging Christ’s name through the gross mud of your sinful mouth.

IV. So What?

Proverbs 21:23 ESV
23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
Roger Ellsworth summarized it well when he said:
III.
The Lord has given us his Word to guide us and his Spirit to indwell us. And what do the guiding Word and indwelling Spirit tell us to do about our tongues?
Left to ourselves, we cannot tame the tongue, but, thank God, we who know the Lord are not left to ourselves. The Lord has given us his Word to guide us and his Spirit to indwell us. And what do the guiding Word and indwelling Spirit tell us to do about our tongues?
Repent
H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), .
First, they tell us to repent of all our wrong talking. We all have much of which to repent, for, as James says, ‘we all stumble in many things’ (v. 2).
But let us know that, while sinful talking is serious, repentance brings God’s forgiveness and removes our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
Count the cost
We must also make it a daily habit to think long and hard on the terrible cost attached to sinful talking and determine that we shall set a seal on our lips so that nothing that is unholy will pass through. ()
Psalm 39:1 ESV
I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
And we must sincerely beg YHWH to help us keep that commitment, knowing that we will certainly never be able to keep it very long apart from His help.
Speak good
We must also make it purposeful to fill our thoughts and mouths with good, edifying things. The more our mouths are filled with praise to God and good, kind and encouraging words regarding others, the less space there will be for the hell fiery, poisonous talk.
Look to the Lord
Finally, we must continually look to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our example in all things. We know how very hard it is to control our tongues. What a miracle it is that our Lord, Jesus perfectly controlled his tongue, never speaking a wrong word ever! Because of his perfect obedience to the Lord God, we who have no righteousness of our own can be clothed in his perfectness. How very thankful we should be for this!
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.
Conclusion:
Take time now to do a tongue inventory. How frequently do you complain, criticize, gossip, lie, etc.?
Could you really go one full day without even one complaint? Perhaps you should devote tomorrow to not having one single complaint come from your lips.
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