James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 6)

The wise control their tongue.

James 3:1-12
9 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.

James begins this portion of his letter by actually discouraging people from setting themselves up as teachers over others.  Remember James is writing to the scattered Jews, and those scattered often role modelled their gathering on the Jewish model of synagogues with a resident rabbi who taught them.  It was tempting therefore for one to position themselves over others not because of a genuine commitment to the growth of others but actually because of a selfish desire to want to be seen and have power.  This is the nature of humans.  And so Jame’s warning is that if you seek to take on this position just remember that it comes at a price and that price is that you will be more harshly judged.  The teacher of God’s people has the incredibly important and sobering role of interpreting and applying God’s word. This is no small thing and therefore the responsibility to teach and admonish in line with God’s word should always bring the teacher to their knees under the weight of such responsibility.  It should not be taken on lightly or glibly.

The tool of the teacher is their tongue. And this tool is not only used by the teacher but indeed by every christian.  And so James moves on to talk about this small little lump of flesh that carries with it so much power. The tongue is significant as it is a gauge of what progress you are making in the Christian life. The spiritual measure of your spiritual progress.  It points to what is really happening internally. This is because the tongue is actually incredibly hard to control and if it is the case that you can control it then it is likely that you are able to control other parts as well. James uses the analogy of the bit in a horses mouth that controls the entire horse.  Or the rudder of a ship which though it is small in comparison to the ship is the thing that directs the ship.   Or like a spark that can cause an entire forest to be destroyed.  That is the power of the tongue and it is the wise that recognize it’s power and ask for the Lord’s help to control it.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

Why do you think it can be so difficult to control what we say?

Take a moment as a group to read out loud James 3:1-12

  • With what measure do you think “teachers” will be judged?
  • How is it that James can say that whoever is faultless in their speech is perfect? What kind of speech do you think he referring to?
  • Reflect upon the examples James uses to describe the tongue, what do you notice about the examples he uses? 
  • In what ways does the tongue corrupt the whole body?
  • Is there anything else

For Personal Reflection:

  • What words spoken over you have held incredible power either negative or positive? What does God say about you?
Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen

Wisdom for each day:

Monday:  more words do not excuse sin.

Proverbs 10:19 “Sin is not ended by multiplying words,

but the prudent hold their tongues.”

I grew up with the saying “an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” It seems to me that this saying encapsulates what this proverb is teaching us. The truth is that sin is sin and there is no way of reasoning our way out of it no matter how many words we use. It serves us and our relationships better if instead of trying to justify our behavior through excuses we instead, own our sin, confess it and seek forgiveness. This is the way of the wise.

Tuesday: our words can either pierce or heal.

Proverbs 12:18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Our words are incredibly powerful. Perhaps we underestimate this reality but this proverb makes the observation that our words have the power to bring healing whilest at the same time our words can be loaded weapons set to destroy. Perhaps we are unthinking at times about the power of our words but maybe today you could be intentional to speak words of healing to someone who needs it.

Wednesday : The wise hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17:28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

There is a lot to be said for remaining silent. As the writer of proverbs describes that even a fool can have the appearance of being wise if he just refrains from speaking. But it is the discerning who have learnt that holding one’s tongue is more often than not the best course of action.  Holding one’s tongue may help us not to say things we don’t mean in the heat of emotion, it may prevent us from saying things before we have the full picture.

Thursday: Gracious words.
Proverbs 16:24
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones

The writer of proverbs makes the startling claim that words spoken that are full of grace not only bring sweetness to the inner life of an individual but they also impact the physical being of an individual. And it is Often our experience that when we find ourselves stressed or broken because of words spoken to us that it not only affects us internally, but the distress is also experience within our very physical being. We may experience sleeplessness, headaches, tension within our body. So let us think how we can bring gracious words to others, words that will uplift, words that will encourage, words that will liberate and champion others because our words deeply impact others.

Friday: A gentle answer.Proverbs 15:1
gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Paul writes in Phil 4:5 “let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” When we are gentle we are imitating our Great God who has been gentle and kind to us. He has every right to speak a harsh word to us when we rebel against Him but instead he gently beckons us home through Christ’s death and resurrection. In the same way when we encounter people whose hearts are raging within them because of pain and hurt our gentleness towards them will begin to minister to the inner pain. So may God teach us when we are in the midst of conflict to be gentle and to be kind for we have been the recipients of incredible gentleness.

Saturday: Gossip goes deep.

Proverbs 18:8
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.

Gossip is one way in which we use the tongue that has deep affects. Gossip includes anything we say that we don’t want another person to overhear. It might include passing on confidences  that are not ours to pass on or judgements that are not ours to have. Perhaps the nature of the gossip makes us feel better about ourselves or feel as though we are part of an in crowd. But gossip is not pleasing to the lord because it brings hurt, disunity, confusion and isolation. So if we find ourselves speaking in hushed tones, or avoiding conflict by speaking to others our frustration then we need to stop. Gossip is just sin and it hurts God’s heart because it hurts His creation.