A young man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, "Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that's how we sell them!"
"You mean," she persisted, "that after all the years I've shopped here, you won't sell me half-a-head of lettuce?"
"Look," he said, "If you like I'll ask the manager."
She indicated that would be appreciated, so the young man marched to the front of the store. "You won't believe this, but there's a lame-braided idiot of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce."
He noticed the manager gesturing, and turned around to see the lady standing behind him, obviously having followed him to the front of the store. "And this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half" he concluded.
Later in the day the manager cornered the young man and said, "That was the finest example of thinking on your feet I've ever seen! Where did you learn that?" "I grew up in Grand Rapids, and if you know anything about Grand Rapids, you know that it's known for its great hockey teams and its ugly women."
The manager's face flushed, and he interrupted, "My wife is from Grand Rapids!" "And which hockey team did she play for?"
How often are we like that young man who talked behind that woman’s back without realizing that he was getting into trouble? We let our tongues speak any and everything that comes to our mind without using discretion. Certain people think they have the gift of the gab to walk away from any situation simply through their shrewd talk. But do we realize that our words can either deeply hurt people or bring healing and hope to people.
The Bible talks a lot about the tongue; there is power of life and death in the tongue. The apostle James explains the power of the tongue and its use and abuse in James chapter three.
THE CONTEXT OF THE BOOK OF JAMES:
Most scholars believe that the oldest half brother of Jesus wrote this epistle. It was written around A.D 45. Though it was primarily written to Jewish Christians who were scattered around the world, the principles are applicable to all Christians. During its time of writing the early church was mixing up Jewish traditions with Christ’s and the apostles teachings. James was addressing a number of problems in the body of Christ, for example: the sin of partiality, works vs faith, false teachers, quarrels and conflicts, misuse of riches, the power of prayer, conflicting wisdoms and so on. James chapter three, deals with the misuse of the tongue by so called false teachers. The first five verses of chapter three talk about the destructive power of the tongue.
I. THE POWER OF THE TONGUE: (James 3:1-5)
James opens up this chapter with a warning and explains the awesome responsibility of those who are leaders and teachers of God’s word in the Church. In the ancient Churches these men and women were held in high esteem because they were teaching God’s word. But unfortunately there were certain false teachers and abusive leaders who were teaching false doctrines and were misleading people. James was up against such people. He used three powerful yet familiar analogies to convey how a small part in our body called the tongue could have devastating effects not only on an individual but particularly on the body of Christ.
Let me explain these three analogies, “A rudder, a bit, and a spark of fire” A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything or destroy it. It only takes a spark; remember to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. (The message Bible)
What was James saying here? Is he saying that our bodies are controlled by our tongue? Not necessarily, as we know our bodies are controlled by our mind, however the words we speak to ourselves (specially the negative words) and to others can have a deep impact more than we realize. Especially in the body of Christ the Church “if the teachers or leaders who use their tongue to influence others are kept in firm check, the spiritual health of the congregation would be much better.
Jim Jones, the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which is best known for the November 18, 1978 death of more than 900 Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana. He is a classical example of a spiritual leader who never had control over his tongue, neither had any one who kept him in check; the result was the loss of innocent lives. The uncontrolled tongue is destructive. So James warns us not to be in a rush to become a teacher of God’s word because teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. If we pray like David prayed we keep our selves from a lot of trouble, “I said, "I will guard my ways, That I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.” (Psalm 39:1)
II. THE EVIL POWER OF THE TONGUE
In the bible we can find various tongues mentioned, both the evil and good ones. Today let’s talk about the evil power of the tongue. I would like to highlight three types of evil tongues.
A. THE LYING TONGUE
Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day American Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses. Not only in America but lying is universal. What do we lie about? It’s not often the major things we lie about but, they can be small things. Did you know there is no such thing as a white lie or a black lie any lie is a lie. How about the cute little lies that parents seem to habitually tell their children? What do those false messages teach our children about truth?
The Bible is very clear about how God views lies: One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not lie.”
Psalm 38: 3-4 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth. They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear.”
Pro 6:15 “There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.”
It is for our good that God warns us against lies. Psalm 34:11-13 “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” Rev 20:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” How serious do we take God’s hatred of lying lips?
B. THE HARSH (Crude/curt/blunt/sharp) TONGUE
A friend of mine uses an expression whenever he wants to be honest with someone, he would say, “to be blunt with you” For some it will be no problem to be harsh and rude with their words without realizing how harmful and damaging those words can be. Yet others carry a harsh exterior and often make rude comments to keep people at arms lengths in order to protect their own insecurity.
Can harsh words have harmful and devastating effects when they are directed towards children and our loved ones? Many counselors tend to agree that most emotional wounds are caused by insensitive and hurtful words. The Hindu scriptures Sama Veda notes, “Just as an arrow once released from the bow can not return, in the same manner painful and harsh words can not be taken back.” There is quite a bit of truth in this statement, so let’s watch our words. It’s often not so much what you say that hurts a person most but it is how you say it.
The Bible denounces harshness and promotes gentleness. Pro15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Eph 5:4, “And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” How about those who are not as loud, rude and obnoxious? Is there a place for them in this world? The world often despises gentle and meek people thinking that they are weak. In fact meekness is not a weakness it is a sign of great strength.
Jesus showed us an example of what a gentle leadership style would look like, Matt 11: 9 "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” Mat 21:5"Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold your King is coming to you, Gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
Paul walked in the foot steps of Jesus in modeling gentleness 2 Corinthians 10:1 “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-- I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!”
It was not the aggressive propaganda, neither was it the military campaign that brought the mighty British empire to its knees in India, it was the determination of Mahatma Gandhi a meek, gentle, and unassuming man who practiced nonviolence. Gandhi was impressed by the Sermon on the Mount where it said, Matt 5:5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Much can be talked about gentleness but this is sufficient for now.
C. THE GOSSIPING TONGUE
Some of the greatest role models in my life have been people who exemplified integrity not so much in what they said but in what they did not say. Those are people who simply refuse to speak negative about others in their absence even if they have been hurt or misunderstood. They talk to someone but not about someone if it isn’t edifying.
How comfortable are we talking behind peoples back with an intention of damaging that persons reputation, we say things like, “It’s between you and me,” “I didn’t tell this to any body” “it is a top secret” we even spiritualize it and say “let’s pray for Mary she is going through such a hard time.”
If you are given to gossip, watch out it doesn’t please God. The Bible warns us to avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and also those who indulges in malicious gossips. (2 Tim 2:16, 2 Tim 3:5), Pro 20: 19 “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” There is a warning for both older men and the women in the body of Christ regarding gossip
I Tim 3: 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
Titus 2:1 “Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
One pastor gave this formula to his church members who are struggling with gossip. It is called “THINK” before you speak.
T--Is it true?
H--Is it helpful?
I--Is it inspiring?
N--Is it necessary?
K--Is it kind?
If what we are about to say does not pass those tests, we will keep our mouth shut! I believe if we practice this simple but powerful formula our churches can be a gossip free Church. What more should I say about other destructive tongues? such as the deceitful tongue(Psalm 35:20) slanderous tongue,(Psalm 15:3) boastful tongue(Gal 5:26), arrogant tongue( I Sam 2:3) Judging tongue(Matt 7)backbiting tongue(Pro 25:23),cursing tongue(Psalm 109) accusing tongue(Mar15:3),agitated tongue(Acts 17:13),angry tongue (Pro 14:29).
It is enough for now to learn about the destructive power of our tongues. After reading this message about all the evils that can come from our mouths, you may have regrets for the ways in which you have used your tongue to hurt others, in the process you have hurt yourself by loosing relationships. You don’t have to remain like a person from whom people keep a distance; instead you can be a person whose words bring hope and encouragement. I believe an invitation for personal change and growth is found in the words of Psalm 34:11 “Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Would you like in your own heart to respond to that invitation and ask God to teach you His ways?
Loving life and seeing many good days has a lot to do with how we speak.
More about this next week!!