Faith In The Everyday World (6) – Biting The Tongue
The Barometer of Spirituality
If you could boil it all down to one thing, that thing that would be the indicator of spirituality and the reflector of what is going on inside of someone’s heart, what would that be?
What would you choose as that one thing that indicates that you are alive inside?
Would it be an act of piety, an act of generosity or even an act of sacrifice?
Would it be a personal characteristic that you could point to such as joy or gentleness?
Would it be exuberance in worship and faith that can move mountains?
What would be the sign of a vibrant spirituality?
It’s funny how for James it was none of these. It wasn’t about faith that can move mountains or giving your body to the flames or even speaking in the tongues of men and angels.
James, ever being the practical guy, and always wanting to make sure that faith connects with the every day world, talks instead about the barometer of spirituality being all about the use of the tongue.
When you strip it down to the tongue you would realize how much sense that makes not only because of its great potential but also because it’s an incredible window into the soul.
The Tongue’s Great Potential
Think about the great potential of the tongue and the power of words both to build up and to tear down.
The tongue has an amazing potential for magnificent words that build up, encourage and edify both God and humanity.
What great heights the tongue can rise to as teacher and encourager of others and worshipper of God.
How often have we felt the soothing words of comfort spoken and the thrill of hearing an encouraging word?
How our faith rises as we hear the sound of worship and intercession!
This is what the tongue can do; it can rise to amazing heights and inspire those who hear it in a way nothing else can.
This is the power of words.
According to James, “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father” (James 3:9) and according to Proverbs, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Prov. 16:24
This is the positive power of words; the influence of the tongue. I wish it would be only that. I wish that’s all there ever was. I wish that words would only be used to edify, inspire and worship.
But sadly James knows better than to be a dreamer. He knows the great potential of tongues not only to build up but also to tear down.
He was there on the Day of Pentecost when he heard people speak in the tongues of angels and he also had a front row seat during times of great disputes where words were hurled like stones that threatened to rip apart churches.
James knew that like a rudder that steers a ship to safety and a spark that provides the warmth and safety of a fire, so the tongue has the potential to do the same.
But he also knew that the tongue had the potential to drive ships straight into the rocks and light fires that burn down entire forests.
How did he say it? “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
So how can it be that from the same mouth flow two rivers and is that even possible? Praising God and cursing each other with the same breath?
The Law of The Jungle
Obviously word had gotten back to James that all was not well in the new world.
That while they kept their faith and were amazing at praising their Lord and Father, they were oh so quick to curse and pass judgment on others who had been made in the image of the same God they prayed to.
Maybe it was the law of the jungle that made them be this way.
Maybe civility flew out the window when it became a matter of survival. Maybe they forgot their manners in this ‘dog eat dog’ world they were now in.
Yet for James this was more than just the absence of social grace. You know, “watch your manners; eat with your mouth closed, use your fork and knife and speak graciously of each other.”
There was more at play here than the law of the jungle or the language of the ghetto.
Word had gotten back to James that all was not well in the new world and there were some serious interpersonal conflict issues happening.
There was bickering, squabbling and backbiting with angry words flung like stones.
If you read the letter through the lens of conflict management you will quickly realize that there was disparity between the rich and the poor, between those who had much and those who had nothing and that not all was well in the new world.
This rising anger that we talked about last week rose up into angry words that were flung like stones between giants.
And it came at such great cost; not only destroying others but destroying self as well.
Do you realize how nearly impossible it is to worship God when your tongue tears down. Prayers seem to bounce back and praise seems to go nowhere when we throw harsh words around.
James says, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be!”
In fact, if you read on into verse 11 and 12 you will actually realize that not only should this not be but that it actually cannot be!
Take a look at the verses. It would be like saying that “fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” or that “a fig tree bears olives or a grapevine bears figs” or that “a salt spring produces fresh water.”
It’s so impossible to do that; to praise God and curse others with the same mouth.
And what brought it to a head might have been poverty but this is not about poverty.
This was about the opportunity everyone faces to either bless or curse. Life is full of occasions to criticize, tear down and destroy but who says we have to go there?
A bitter tongue is a bitter tongue. This is not about poverty so don’t make it about that when this is about a bitter tongue.
You can have all the riches of the world and still have a razor sharp tongue that can cut up and tear down.
So don’t make this about issue of poverty and wealth. A bitter tongue is a bitter tongue.
A Thermometer into Your Soul!
The question this morning is where does a bitter tongue come from if not from a bitter heart?
This is not about circumstances, nor is this just a slip up. We can’t fluff this off as an unfortunate incident when the truth of the matter is that a bitter tongue comes from a bitter heart.
What rolls off our tongue comes out of hearts, friends. Salt water comes from a salt spring.
That’s what James says in James 3:6. A fiery, bitter tongue gives, points to, and comes out of the corruption of the whole body as it “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.”
There is absolutely a connection between the tongue and what goes on inside of us.
Not only is the tongue the indicator of the inner life, but also it’s the thermometer of what’s inside.
It’s like sticking a thermometer into your soul.
That’s exactly James’ point: “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” James 3:2
In other words, words of life gently spoken and for all the right reasons, point to this amazing life that reflects the beautiful life of Jesus.
The Good Tree Maker!
That brings me to my main point, which has to with how to come to this place where the beautiful life of Jesus shines through my words.
I want to bring forth the beautiful words of Jesus. How do I do that?
Is this something I do? Can I come to a place where I bite my tongue long enough that I have brought it into submission?
Is this about sheer will and self discipline?
The answer to that is absolutely not. We cannot tame the tongue. We can tame everything under the sun but not the tongue.
“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
No one can tame the tongue. Why? Because the tongue is attached to the heart and soul and no one can change who they are on the inside or their soul anymore than they can awaken their own spirit!
If this sounds hopeless to you, then please realize that is anything but hopeless.
There is one who can change the heart and that is Jesus. Does this sound hopeless to you? Listen to what Jesus said:
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. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good. Make a heart and soul good and its mouth will be good.
Who is it that makes our hearts and souls good and who is it that awakens our spirit if not Jesus?
If this sounds too simplistic for you then you have just stumbled over the simplicity of the good news of Jesus.
You don’t have to tie yourself up in knots to be this way nor do you have to exert some incredible energy to keep your mouth in check.
All you need to do is open your heart to Jesus and ask him to come into your life because notice what it says in Eph. 2:4-5:
“God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Dead in transgressions is like having a bitter heart and soul. Making us alive is like making our bitter heart sweet and our soul good.
God made our tree good and our spring sweet and from the abundance of that new heart and nature the mouth speaks.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him.”
For those of us who have this new nature we now have a choice! We can let sweet water flow or revert back to the bitter water of what we were.
We have that choice! This is what James points to when he says: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters this should not be.” James 3:10
He is talking to brothers and sisters, to those who now have this new nature; this good heart and sweet soul and James says to them that they have the choice of praise or curse.
He says to them to choose praise, choose positive and uplifting words, words that bring healing and life, and words that do not tear down.
Song: Praise is Rising
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