Tamed Tongues James 3:1-12

thePsalmist on January 21st, 2010

The subtitle I’ve given to my series on James is “Inside Out and Upside Down” and this is perhaps never more fitting than in this passage from James 3.

The question for all of us as christians is how well our ‘private and personal’ faith exhibits itself in the practical outworkings of our lives.  The things we choose to do with our time in set pieces at set times with set boundaries are one thing – like going to church for 2 hours on a sunday, volunteering at the homeless shelter,  or serving overseas with a mission team for a week or two. These sorts of things are actually pretty easy money for living out our inward faith. Being ‘Inside Out’ Christians is pretty easy when sign up to an event or activity with Christian merit to participate in.

Where becoming Inside Out gets tricky is when it affects EVERY part of who we are ALL the time! What if Christians were supposed to somehow breathe differently to non-Christians? That would be a pain wouldn’t it? Imagine if we had to somehow walk differently, or sleep in a different fashion to the rest of humanity. What if Christians could only eat carrots or if we had to wear pink every day … golly, becoming a Christian would be pretty hard work and jolly unattractive to most people, except the weirdos of course.

Here though in James chapter 3 though he calls us to speak differently…ALL the time! And that’s tricky because what we do with our tongues is as all intrusive into our lives as how we walk, what we wear, how we breathe, what we eat.  Our speech patterns, our vocabulary, our tone, out attitude, our thoughts … all intrinsically US. I convey to the world around me most clearly who I am when I speak. It is true that perhaps my actions define me, but I believe it is my words which truly describe me. Words express every part of who we are. They express our emotions, our ideas, our beliefs … and most importantly our values.

There is a saying “You do what you value, and you value what you do!”. Perhaps James would say “You say what you value, and you value what you say!”

The values within our hearts express what is in our hearts says James. What is inside us comes pouring out of that flappy hole in the front of our faces.

James says this of our tongues: James 3:2

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

Oooh … never at fault in what we say? Come off it? Surely he doesn’t expect that does he? …No of course not, we can be expected to die for our faith as many thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world find out every year still to this day, but expecting us to guard every word which comes out of our mouths is of course just taking things too far! Of course Jesus can transform people’s lives completely – the alcoholic can be set free, the prisoner restored, the victim renewed, the ill healed … and of course even the dead raised … but we shouldn’t truly expect the words we use day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute actually transformed into something godly should we?

Yes, of course we should. If we truly let Jesus into our hearts then the values by which we live should be changed to be in line with His, and the words which come from our hearts and minds and given utterance by our tongues should equally reflect His glory.

The thing is, says James, it isn’t just about us controlling the tongue. The key, he says, is that in controlling the tongue we in turn manage to control every other part of our lives. The tongue is like a rudder of a ship, or a bit & bridle in the mouth of a horse. With that small device you can turn the whole thing. With a tamed tongue our whole lives can come into check.

It’s about living inside out! Our inward faith being allowed to change our outward living. Our inner values for Jesus and love for Him transforming the one part of us which travels furthest from our bodies … the sounds which emmanate from our mouths – the words which we speak and which can travel hundreds of meters from us through the air, or to the other side of the world via the wonders of modern technology. Speech not only describes who we are and what we believe and value to the world around us, but it also has a profound impact on who we are.

James tells us too that this influence might not always be a good one. A small spark can set a whole forest ablaze! In a church setting isn’t it so often true that the biggest problems we encounter are not ones about what people have done, but mostly about what people have said … usually out of turn and out of place! Our advice earlier in James 1:19 was to be slow to speak and quick to listen…that’s upside down thinking, that’s the values of God at work there. How often to we set alight great blazes which are difficult to control because we’ve spoken too quickly about something, expressing anger, hurt, dismay,…all because we didn’t take time to listen properly to what was being said and why…and then even if we had listened we speak with the wrong words fashioned with th values of the world, not the values of God.

Yes, James expects us to tame our tongues in a way which reflects God’s glory, and to do so not just in worship on a Sunday morning, but down the pub with our friends, on the phone with our gossipy sister, in the car when someone cuts us up, on the internet chatting to a friend, in bed, on the streets, in church and in the supermarket … in all these places we need our tongues to be dripping with the love and grace of Jesus.

Tamed tongues? … It might be easier to make we wear pink and skip down the street while I tuck into my veggie burger! Another toughey for us to enjoy as James turns our lives inside out and upsdie down!

Cross references for this passage:Ro 3:13 | “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
Ge 1:26 | Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
1 Ki 8:46 | “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near;
Ps 12:3 | May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue
Ps 32:9 | Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
Ge 1:26, 27, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Ki 8:46; Ps 12:3, 4, 32:9, 34:13, 39:1, 73:8, 9, 120:2, 3, 4, 140:3; Pr 10:19, 12:18, 15:2, 16:27, 20:9; Ec 7:20, 10:11; Mt 5:22, 7:1, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 12:34, 35, 36, 37, 15:11, 18, 19, 23:8; Lk 6:37; Ro 2:20, 21, 3:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20; 1 Co 11:7; Eph 4:11; 1 Ti 1:7; Jas 1:26, 2:10; 1 Pe 3:10; 1 Jn 1:8

One Response to “Tamed Tongues James 3:1-12”

  1. Hi Evan

    An interesting read on “taming the tongue”. I’ve always found this passage very interesting as in nearly all the references to this text the emphasis is laid on the actual tongue and any message usually relates to communication within the beleiving community. Yet the context, although having some reference to the human tongue and its abilities, is clearly directed at the ability of the “Teacher” within the church being able to steer and direct a congregation in whatever manner he chooses to direct. Be it either the way of “The Cross” or the way of selfish gain. This text is so relevant in todays church. One man is so very often able to direct a whole movement or body of Christians in sometimes strange and very often dangerous directions!

    Stumbled across your blog after a quick name search. Nice meeting you today. Mark

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