We continue our journey through James and come to perhaps the best-known part of James letter: the part where he talks about the tongue. If there is one thing about James and his theology that we should have learned by now, it is surely this: salvation faith must be matched by actions.
Think of a coin: there is no coin that only has one side. James says that that is what it is like with faith; it has another side which is actions. And in that context he talks about the tongue.
The tongue has huge potential to be an agent of conveying our faith, but it can also be an agent of destroying faith.
There is a rhyme which goes something like this: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me”…… what absolute rubbish! What a lie! Words have the potential to break us just as much a sticks and stones can.
James goes into a kind of poetic overdrive in talking about the tongue. In the space of 10 verses he talks about a horse, a ship, a forest, a fire, a spark, all wild creatures, deadly poison, springs of water, sweet or bitter, fruit trees bearing fruit.
In 21st century language there is no doubt that for James, the tongue is potentially a weapon of mass destruction! Listen again to verse six:
The tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself.
This is what the inspired word of God says about the tongue!
So perhaps the first thing to lift from reading today is that this (point to the tongue) is a particularly dangerous thing, especially when it is uncontrolled.
But who made the tongue? The same One who made Homo naledi!
Back at creation, before the fall into sin, God made the tongue. He made it when he made Adam and Eve, it was part of what God saw at the end of creation week which caused him to say (Genesis 1:31) ' God saw everything he had made and saw that it was good and he was very pleased. ' It is not a big jump to say that God was very pleased that he had made the tongue…… but is He pleased that He made yours and mine?
James is aware that the tongue can be good….. in our reading he uses the metaphors of good fruit and fresh water and he says it can praise and it can give thanks. In other words, while potentially dangerous, it can be redeemed. Depending on how you and I have used our tongues this week, I have prayed that we would know at this very moment by the conviction of the holy spirit whether our tongue needs redeeming today or not. It can in the words of Paul in Romans 12 be offered as part of the living sacrifice that we are called to be, it can be offered to God in service to be used to his glory. Our tongues are part of what we offered to God last week in our covenant service when we offered all we have to Him.
Jesus, in our reading from Mark's Gospel, gives a good example of what I would like to call redemptive use of the tongue. In this context redemption means setting free from bondage or slavery in order to be useful in the service of the Lord.
Perhaps we should first look at what an un-redeemed tongue sounds like. James tells us what damage it can cause, but let's look at what it sounds like. In a Bible study I might have said let's brainstorm…… but here's a list of things that comes to my mind: an unredeemed tongue, or what James calls an uncontrolled tongue might swear, it might tell lies, it might deceive, breakdown and humiliate, gossip, it might speak when it should be quiet ... the unredeemed tongue.
The tongue not under control of the Holy Spirit …….. that is the dangerous tongue, that is the tongue which James is really talking about when he uses all that descriptive language.
What does a redeemed tongue look like? To answer this kind of question we need never look further than Jesus, so let's have a look at Mark 8:27-33 and pick up three points about the redeemed tongue, a tongue that God is pleased with, that might be useful today:
Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Tell me, who do people say I am?" "Some say that you are John the Baptist," they answered; "others say that you are Elijah, while others say that you are one of the prophets." "What about you?" he asked them. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."
In conversation, the redeemed tongue speaks less than those around it. The other people in this conversation say more than Jesus says. Jesus could have chosen to tell them who he was, to make sure they knew who he was, to hog the conversation in this regard, but he doesn't. The redeemed tongue remembers that there are more ears on the body than tongues, so its steps back and listens more than it waggles and talks.
Secondly, verse 31
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples
The previous words have been conversation, now Jesus began to teach, says Scripture.
The redeemed tongue teaches….. please notice I do not to say it preaches …..but rather that it teaches. I want to suggest that our tongues are teaching all the time…… in what ever it might be saying, the tongue teaches something of the way and the truth and the life that is controlling it. And I don't mean here that every now and again it says “praise God” or “alleluia Jesus” or “amen”!
I would suggest that even if the tongue is teaching mathematics the listener will have a sense of the Way that this person walks in, you will sense Truth or deceit, you will get a measure of the kind of Life that the teacher is living.
The redeemed tongue always reveals something of the way, the truth, the life, that is in Jesus whether it is teaching mathematics, greeting people at the entrance to the church, addressing a teller at the bank, and so on and so on.
The unredeemed tongue, with its lies, deceit, blasphemy, swearing, abuse or gossip,….. the unredeemed tongue, says James, and this is the scary part for those of us who have sworn or gossiped etc this week, the unredeemed tongue says James, gets its energy from the fires of hell itself! The energy that you and I need to swear or to gossip doesn't come from heaven, we have to connect to hell for these things.
So the redeemed tongue teaches in everything it says, perhaps even in dictating a recipe, the redeemed tongue reflects the Way the Truth and the Life that is connected to Jesus.
The last point about the redeemed tongue for this morning is in verse 33
But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. "Get away from me, Satan," he said. "Your thoughts don't come from God but from human nature!"
The redeemed tongue rebukes…. in other words it scolds or reprimands when necessary. The unredeemed tongue also rebukes, as we see in verse 32 when Peter rebukes Jesus, but the redeemed tongue rebukes in love and in accordance with God's will. This is what James Dobson sometimes calls tough love, because sometimes what has to be said in love is harsh.
Jesus looks at Peter and rebukes Peter because what Peter had just said were words that had been energised from the very fires of hell itself….. remember that is where the unredeemed tongue gets its energy from.
Jesus rebukes Peter, saying to him get away from me Satan….. and, still looking at Peter says to him that his thoughts do not come from God, but from human nature. This comment of Jesus, fits in with our previous point……. Peter's words teach Jesus something about The Way that Peter is walking in, The Truth that Peter believes, and The Life that Peter thinks Jesus should live. Can you see how our tongues, in other words our words, teach all the time? Peter's words teach us what Peter, at that stage, believes about the Messiah, namely that a Messiah wouldn't need to suffer and die. Jesus rebukes Peter because of what Jesus observes about Peter from the way he uses his tongue…… his tongue does not reflect the way and the truth and the life that is in Jesus.
The redeemed tongue will rebuke when rebuke is necessary!
The redeemed tongue will rebuke as soon as possible, before anger and bitterness and resentment set in. John Wesley says we should do this rebuking before these things eat at us like a cancer!
The redeemed tongue will rebuke in a way that ultimately builds up even if it doesn't look like it at the time. ' Get behind me Satan ' is a terrible rebuke for Peter, but one which he was thankful for the rest of his life because it ultimately built him up.
That's the tongue………….. dangerous weapon of mass destruction, or wonderful instrument of redemptive power, speaking only when necessary, teaching when it speaks, and rebuking when necessary for the glory of God.
Your tongue....redeemed or........unredeemed?
Who is the boss of your tongue?
The Good News is....You are the boss of your tongue….. you and I choose what this thing says.
It does not have a mind of its own.
You and I choose who controls of tongue……………. and it is either Jesus or Satan.
As in all things......choose Jesus as your tongue controller.
Let me close with some wisdom from Proverbs and prayer from the Psalms:
Proverbs 10:19 The more you talk, the more likely you are to sin. If you are wise, you will keep quiet.
Psalm 141:3 LORD, place a guard at my mouth, a sentry at the door of my lips.