November 10, 2019

James 3:1-12

Many years ago, I cut my ministerial teeth on being a youth pastor. Youth pastors have to do some unusual things to keep the attention of their youth.

When I studied this passage about the tongue, I asked, “What would make a teenager remember this passage?”

I remembered when I was a boy, the cows used to come to the fence in the summertime when we cut watermelons. We would hold the watermelon rinds over the fence and watch the cows stick out their long tongues to get them. A cow’s tongue is about eighteen inches long and I’ve read that some can grow up to three feet. That’s a lot of tongue.

So, before I did the Bible study, I went to the butcher and asked for a cow’s tongue. They sell them, you know – to eat.

That night in youth group, the title of my message was, “Keep it in your pocket.”

We talked about how often we use our tongues to wound people and say things that we should not say.  I might have reminded them that our parents and teachers sometimes tell us to hold our tongues when we want to say something that we should not say.

That’s when I pulled eighteen inches of cows tongue out of my pocket.   Of course, you can imagine, that got everyone’s attention.  Some wanted to touch it.  Others were running from it.

They didn’t forget my lesson.

Each time I made a point, I’d pull out eighteen inches of cow tongue from my pocket and shook it at them.

I think they got the message that night that we need to learn to hold our tongues.

James, the brother of Jesus, likened the tongue to the rudder of a great ship. Although small, the rudder can turn an entire ship.

Likewise, a small bridle in the mouth of a horse will turn the animal.

Our tongues are like that. It has to power to turn us in the right direction or wrong one.

The verbal sins we commit against one another are some of the greatest threats to our relationships.

Listen to these words from

Prov 6:16-19

6 These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. NKJV

He starts the list with a “proud look,” which has nothing to do with what is verbally said. However, we can sometimes say more with body language than with our mouths.

Pride says, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve not done anything wrong, said anything wrong, nor am I changing my position on anything.”

We all know what that look looks like. We’ve seen it from others, and we’ve never taken such a position ourselves, right?  Sure, all of us have.

When our heart is hard, we might be holding our tongue, but from the looks of our face and our body posture, we might as well be sitting on it.

A hard heart or pride keeps us from having a good relationship with others. God doesn’t like it.

In marriage relationships, there’s usually one person that wants to talk about problems and one that doesn’t.  The one that doesn’t might be holding his or her tongue, which could be good for a while if all that would be said were harmful things, but if that person never talks, all that does is make the person that wants to talk about the issue angry and the  issue never gets resolved.

So God hates a proud look.

The proverb says that God doesn’t like a lying tongue.

We hear so many lies today by important people that it seems that lying is O.K. if we can justify the reason we do it.

Lying destroys trust and kills relationships.

So, before you say it, it should be true. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it should always be said.

But if it needs to be said, how it’s said and in what spirit is important.

You can tell someone the truth and build them up or you can tell someone the truth and tear them down.  How truth is presented is important.

If it is true, a second question that should be asked is, “Is it kind?”

We can say something to someone true but say it in an unkind way and lose a friend. If we do that, what have we gained?

We can say something that is true and say it at the wrong time and in the wrong place and offend everyone.

Being armed with the truth doesn’t give a person the right to stand on a podium and announce it to the masses.

Prov 22:11 says, “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.” (NIV)

The intent of our hearts is critical when sharing the truth. Are we concerned with justice, or is vengeance our motive? Are we seeking to defend truth and charity, or is our agenda personal and judgmental?

The Psalmist wrote, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. Psalm 139:1-4 ( NIV)

God knows what we are going to say and the motives we have for saying it. Do we?

Many times we rattle on without giving any thought why we say the things we say or the affect our words have on others.

I had to think carefully about this question, “Is it kind?” because the truth about other people is not always flattering. If a person doesn’t give you nice material, it’s challenging to be nice.

For example, Jesus had some strong words for the Pharisees. He called them hypocrites and then backed up his word with concrete examples. He told them they tithed their spices but ignored matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faithfulness, which were more important. He told them they were “blind guides and that they strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel,” with their rules.  (Matt. 23:24)

He accused them of cleaning the outside of the cup and dish, but inside he told them they were full of greed and self-indulgence. (v. 25)

Do these words sound very kind to you?

How do you square them with Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you?” Eph 4:32 (NIV)

Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a person is to present them with the shocking reality of the truth. Not to speak the truth when it is damaging to others is in itself unkind.

Jesus knew that saying these things to the Pharisees wasn’t going to endear him to them, but these were people that were already Jesus’ enemies.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” two rogues sold the king clothing they said was so uncommonly beautiful that if any royal put them on they would become invisible to anyone unfit visible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent.

The king thought he could use a set of clothing like that to help him discern who among his cabinet was fit for office and who was not. The rouges pretended to weave these expensive invisible clothes for the king. As the king sent various members of his cabinet to inspect the clothing. Each one saw nothing, though none dared admit it.

Naturally, when the invisible clothing was brought to the king, he saw nothing but dared not admit it either. They put this invisible, non-existent clothing on the king and off he went into the parade with everyone playing along, pretending they could see the beautiful clothing, for who wanted to admit that they were among the stupid who could not see the beautiful clothing of the king.

But as the king passed by, a little child said, “ But he has nothing on! ”

“Just hear what that innocent says! ” said the father, and one whispered to another what the child had said. “ But he has nothing on! ” said the whole people at length. (

That touched the Emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought within himself, “I must go through with the procession. ” And so he held himself a little higher, and the chamberlains held on tighter than ever, and carried the train which did not exist at all. (Ibid)

The truth can be painful. It is not always pleasant. Therefore, people often avoid speaking the truth because it sounds unkind. Not to speak the truth in many cases fosters a sick environment where we tolerate all kinds of unhealthy behavior.

It may have sounded unkind to embarrass the king like that to some, but it was necessary because the entire town was in denial. It took the innocence of a little boy to help the king see their problem.

Many people will avoid conflict entirely, for this reason, so Jesus is our example. He didn’t mind overturning the money changers’ tables, which some might not see as unkind, but it was necessary to get their attention and to get his point across.

Jesus’ words may sound unkind to some but not to have confronted the Pharisees with their hypocrisy would have been equivalent to condoning it. We must speak the truth as kindly as we can in such instances because it is necessary.

Which brings us to the third question we must ask about our speech. Is it necessary?

The proverb says it is an abomination to God when we sow discord among the brethren. There are times when the things we say should not be said. They are not necessary. In fact, to say them is divisive, harmful, and does damage that God is not pleased with.

However, there are times when it is necessary to say things.

It was necessary for Jesus to break tradition and speak to a woman during the day at a well because he knew she had spiritual needs he could meet. It was necessary for Jesus to preach: “The Kingdom is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15b)

It was necessary for Jesus to confront the soldiers who came to arrest him: “Am I leading a rebellion…that you have to come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Mark 14:48-49 (NIV)

As he suffered on the cross, it was necessary for Jesus to cry out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 27:46 (NIV)

Though he had used one of his strongest rebukes for Peter as he tried to talk Jesus out of his journey toward the cross, “Get behind me, Satan,”(Matt 16:23) following the resurrection, it was necessary for Jesus to redeem him and show that he had confidence in him to carry out the mission and say to him: “Peter, feed, my Lambs.” “Peter, take care of my sheep.” “Peter, Feed, my Sheep.” (John 21)

Whenever Jesus spoke, it was necessary. Whenever Jesus spoke, he was kind. Even when his words were stern, behind them were a desire to move his subjects closer to the Kingdom of God. Whenever Jesus spoke, he spoke the truth.

Surely, something is convicting in this sermon for all of us this morning.

Every one of us can think of times when we should have held our tongue.

Every one of us can think of times when we have said things with our body language and by not saying anything at all, we have communicated our lack of love and care for someone else.

Do you need to seek forgiveness for lying?

Have you said things at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and with the wrong tone of voice?

Do you blame, accuse, dredge up things that happened long ago, belittle, raise your voice, label, calls people names, threaten, degrade, manipulate, criticize, or say condescending things?

James wrote: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26-27 (NIV)

To change what comes out of the mouth, we have to change what is in our hearts. And for that to happen, we have to ask Jesus to help us change our attitudes and our opinions of others. We have to ask Jesus to help us get rid of bitterness and anger and to be able to forgive those that have wounded us.

Your speech toward some people will not change before we do these things.

Don’t give God a proud look this morning. If you have any of these things in your heart, then you have some business to do with God.

If we work on our communication with God, then we have a much better chance of our communication with others improving. During this invitation, listen to God and commit to following what he asks you to do.

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