I would like us to discuss something which the Lord has created within us, that very thing that often causes us problems when it comes to controlling it.
That thing is our tongue, the tool which has been given us by which we can communicate with one another.
The apostle James devoted a good part of a chapter on the topic of the tongue and I would like us to consider the first twelve verses of James chapter three.
As we look at that passage we see that the tongue is the member of the human body which is made prominent. The human tongue is a great and wonderful gift of our Creator; a gift which no other creature is given in regards to its use as a communicating tool.
We know it is written elsewhere that “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
It therefore reveals the real condition of the heart in any believer and shows what type of person one may be.
However, the tongue is often a means by which God is so often dishonoured and our fellow believers injured. An unbridled tongue is at the bottom of much strife, both in the world and in the Church.
So as believers this morning, I want us to consider individually how our tongue is used. Is it used for God’s honour or dishonour, and is it used to help our brethren or hinder them?
You see Proverbs 10:31 and 32 says that “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.”
So let us decide this morning whether we have a mouth of righteousness or a mouth of wickedness.
James ch 3:1-12
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
There are five things we discover in this passage about the tongue.
What It Is
But what does the chapter say that the tongue is? We have four things.
1. A world of iniquity 3:6
Verse six tells us that the tongue is a world of iniquity.
There is such an abundance of sin in the tongue that it may be called a world of iniquity. And how many defilement’s are produced by it?
Sins of the tongue are especially prominent in the Church today. We have idle words spoken that are not according to truth, or words which reflect badly on the character of other believers.
The insinuation of evil, the magnification of another man’s faults, or words which belittle, words of envy and strife - all these things are prevalent among God’s people.
The tongue is a world of iniquity.
2. It is untameable 3:7,8
Secondly we see that the tongue is untameable. Verse 7 and 8 say “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”
Even lions and the most savage of beasts, as well as horses and other creatures of great size and strength have been tamed and subdued by man.
So the birds of the air with their wildness and freedom have been taken hold of.
Even serpents, notwithstanding all their venom and cunning, and the creatures of the sea have been made familiar and harmless by the hands of men.
Yet the tongue, though small a member as it is, is far more difficult to subdue than any other creature of this earth.
However, the taming of the tongue though difficult is not impossible. It will require great watchfulness, pains and prayer to keep it in order. A thing we simply cannot do in our own strength, being the carnal people that we are.
3. An unruly evil 3:8
“But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”
Jeremiah 9:8 says that “Their tongue is an arrow shot out; one speaks peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in his heart he lies in wait.” Also, “like their bow they have bent their tongue for lies.”
The tongue is an irresponsible rebel, an insubmissive and wicked malefactor; one who is capable of stirring men to every kind of iniquity.
The tongue is unruly, it is uncontrollable.
4. Full of deadly poison 3:8
Brut animals may be kept in control, even snakes may be used so as not to hurt others with their poison; but the tongue is set to break free from all bounds and rules, and to spit out its poison on the nearest occasion.
A poison which infects and spreads by the dirt of gossip, and blows into the face of the innocent, dragging their name and testimony to the ground.
So we see that the tongue is a world of iniquity, it is untameable, an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
In all honesty answer to yourself this question. Does that in any way describe your tongue?
What It Resembles
We have seen what the tongue is, now we see what it resembles, according to the passage.
1. A bridled horse 3:3
Also in chapter 1:26, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.”
Psalm 39 says, “I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me.”
The more quick and lively the tongue is, the more should we take care to govern it. Otherwise, as an unruly horse runs away with its rider, or throws him, so will an unruly tongue serve those who have no command over it.
The bit in the horses mouth is a small thing yet the whole body is turned by it.
And likewise the tongue.
So with watchfulness and resolution under the influence of God’s grace, let us bridle our tongues; and then the motions and the actions of our entire body will be easily guarded on the correct path.
2. A rudder 3:4
As the rudder is a very small part of the ship, so is the tongue a very small part of the body.
But as with the bridled horse, if the rudder is governed rightly it will steer and turn the ship as the governor pleases. Hence the correct management of the tongue is in a large measure the government of man.
These comparisons show how things of small proportions may be of vast use. Hence we should learn to make the due management of our tongues more our aim, because though they are little members, they are capable of doing a great deal of good or a great deal of hurt.
3. A fire 3:5,6
“See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire.......”
A tiny spark may start a fire that results in stupendous loss. An unkind or unwise word may be the beginning of trouble which will go on for years and be the means of endless strife and division.
This little member is likened to a fire which though small in the beginning, proves devastating as its results spread far and wide.
Proverbs 26:20-23 says, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body. Fervent lips with a wicked heart Are like earthenware covered with silver dross.”
So let us never be found to light the fire of destruction by the looseness of our tongue.
So our tongues resemble a bridled horse, a rudder and a fire.
What It Does
1. Boasts great things 3:5
“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.”
Too often we have something to boast about, something about ourselves that fills us with pride.
But remember that God resists the proud and giver grace to the humble.
We ought not to boast save on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. All that we have and all that we are is only from Him, and not ourselves.
Through our boasting we will destroy our own ministry and bring ourselves under the judgement of God.
Let us not boast about ourselves but about our Lord.
2. Defiles the whole body 3:6
“The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body.”
Remember Matthew 15:18 says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”
Defiling passions are kindled and cherished by this unruly member. And the whole body is often drawn into sin and guilt by the tongue.
Hence Solomon says in Ecclesiastes vs. 6 “Suffer not thy mouth to cause the flesh to sin.”
3. It sets on fire the course of nature 3:6
The affairs of mankind and of society, including the affairs of the Church, are thrown into confusion, and all burns up as a flame by the wicked tongues of men.
We see also that the tongue is “set on fire of hell.”
Hell has more to do with promoting a fiery tongue than we are aware of. It is often by some outside source by which our tongues are influenced. The devil is called a liar, murderer and the accuser of the brethren. Let us not make our tongue available for his use.
We recall that the Holy Spirit once descended in cloven tongues as of fire in Acts chapter 2. Where the tongue is likewise led and wrought from the fire of heaven, then it will kindle good thoughts and words that are profitable.
But when it is set on fire of hell there is a mischievous producing rage and hatred, those things which serve the purposes of the devil.
So as you would dread fire and flame, you should also dread contention, reviling, slander, lies and everything that would kindle the fire of wrath in your own spirit or in the spirit of others.
Indeed, Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Some use their tongue as a sharp sword to cut and wound people; but we should use words that would heal and help.
So the tongue boasts great things, it defiles the body and sets on fire the course of nature, being itself set on fire of hell.
What it is not to do
1. Not to bless an curse
The tongue is not to bless and curse at the same time.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
How wrong it is that those who use their tongues in prayer and praise should ever use them in cursing, slandering and the like. If we bless God our Father, it should teach us to speak well and kindly to all who bear His image.
The tongue that gives reverence to God cannot without immense inconsistency turn upon believers or others with a reviling word.
However, when this takes place we can see clearly what the heart of the man is, and that he has a lack of communion with God. And aren’t we all guilty of the double tongue?
How quick we are after our worship meeting to forget what we just remembered and instead begin our social gossip gathering.
You see, in nature we never have such an inconsistency. No fountain sends forth pure and salt water from the same hole. Trees bear according to their kind. Fig trees do not produce olives, nor do grape vines bear figs.
Neither should we praise God in one breath, and then slander men in the other.
Our mouth is to only confess that which is good, clear and acceptable.
As the psalmist says, “And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”
2. Not to speak evil
ch. 4:11¶ Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
Eph. 4:31, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”
I Peter 2:1, “Therefore, lying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and all evil speaking.”
Remember the Lord Jesus as spoken of in Isaiah 53. He was under the greatest stress which led to the death which He suffered; “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
We ought to follow carefully this example of our Lord Jesus, and keep our tongues from speaking evil of our brethren.
Yet there are those of us who follow their own desires and fit the description of Psalm 10;7, “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.”
Is your mouth full of cursing and deceit and oppression? Do you hide trouble and iniquity beneath your tongue?
3. Not to speak foolishly, or with vain words.
Eph. 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Col. 3:8 says, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.”
Also Eph. 5:4, “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
Clearly we are to keep our language and words in check. we are to avoid vain disputes and discussions which gender strife.
Let us as Proverbs 4:24 says, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you.”
So there are three points to remember; Do not bless God and curse others with the same tongue, do not speak evil of one another and refrain from foolish talking.
Seemingly simple requests yet so difficult for us to oblige.
How It Is To Be Used
1. We are not to stumble by it and it is to be used in restraint.
James 3:2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
James1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
We are to keep our tongue in restraint.
Only then will we be able to use our tongue for edification, for the building up and help of others.
We are to hold back from speaking those ill thoughts, and we are to restrain from using cutting words in a moment of wrath.
2. We are to have a word seasoned with salt.
Col. 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
When we speak, speak with grace, showing the acceptance of the person which will bear testimony to the character of Christ, and thus the hearers will benefit. The seasoning with salt speaks of wisdom shown in what is said. It speaks of spiritual health in contrast to the worlds corruption.
Like Eph. 4:29 we are to “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
What we say to others is to be for their spiritual growth and learning.
Even when it comes to rebuking a brother, the tongue is used for good.
Remember when the apostle Paul using sharp words challenged Peter for his hypocrisy.
Likewise, our tongues can be used to set brethren straight and put them back on the right path.
However, love is to be the motivating theme, used with grace and words seasoned with salt.
“He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue.” (Prov 28:23)
3. Bless and praise God.
And lastly, what better use is there for the tongue than to bless and praise our God. To give Him glory by our words.
Again as the Psalmist proclaims, (71:23,24), “My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, And my soul, which You have redeemed. My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all the day long.”
We are to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
The offering we bring each Sunday is to be a sweet smelling aroma that lifts from our tongues up to heaven.
The lord desires to hear the words of our tongues which speak of Him, which give Him glory and cause others to reflect upon His beauty.
Let this be what comes from our tongues, not just once a week but daily and endlessly.
Conclusion So James teaches that we are to govern our tongue so as to prove ourselves perfect and upright men, and such people who have control over themselves. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and also able to bridle the whole body.”
Brethren, we have a serious responsibility to keep our tongue in check; we are to keep it from ruling over us and running itself reckless to the detriment of ourselves and others.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
In the recent past I have seen someone who is close to me have his name dragged to the ground by the malicious words of a fellow believer. In what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to undermine that fellows integrity has now possibly done untold damage to his reputation.
This man is one of the best preachers of the Gospel I have ever heard, yet what will his next audience be thinking when he stands up to preach on his next occasion? Their opinions may be immediately biased against that man and anything he might say.
Such discord sown among brethren and such slander spoken to others can do untold damage to a mans ministry and testimony.
The Christian Church has been particularly bad in respect to rumour, gossip and backbiting and we really have to wake up to ourselves and we must not treat this subject lightly.
You see, Psalm 139:4 says, “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”
There is nothing that can be hid from God. No little secret we can tell another without Him hearing it and He will one day hold you accountable for your loose words.
And in the meantime your loose words may destroy peoples name and reputation, and may even destroy people themselves.
So let us take heed to His word and remember in future to take care of what we may say about others.
“Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbour, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;” (Ps. 15:1-3)