Scripture Text: James 3:1-12
We all know people who brighten a room when they walk in. Those are the kind of people that we all want to be around. Just talking with them for a few minutes can make you feel better
And there are other people who do the exact opposite. You see them coming and you want to hide or at least walk the other way because you know that the negative and critical things that they are going to say will just suck the joy out of your soul.
Proverbs 18:21 says
The tongue has the power of life and death
Just a word or two can give us the encouragement to soar or send us crashing into doubt. We can choose to build up or to destroy just with the words that we choose to use. Today’s challenge is to recognize that and to choose to speak life as often as we can.
Read James 3:1-12
Our Words Are a Big Deal – verse 1
I think it’s natural to see someone on stage or in front of the class and want to do what they’re doing. Especially if they do a good job. You see them confidently opening God’s word, making the meaning clear, and presenting a simple yet powerful application. It’s an amazing thing.
I think it even gets taken up a notch when you have been directly impacted by that person. When they have invested in you, both on and off stage, and you see first-hand the power of God’s word working in your life because of their investment it’s natural to want to be able to do that in someone else’s life. But James has a caution.
Words are powerful, and even more so when you take a position of authority like when you open God’s word to teach. Those who teach wield the power of life and death with much greater influence because they stand in front of a larger audience. So, not many should seek this position because for those who have the great privilege of teaching there will be greater judgment.
Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Teaching is a huge responsibility because of the impact it has on God’s people and so those who teach will answer directly to God for what they did with this great opportunity.
Therefore: not many should teach, those who do should work hard and pray harder, and we should lift up those who open God’s word and teach us.
Time to grow up – verse 2
Even if you don’t have kids most of you can probably pretty accurately guess the age of a kid just by hearing them speak. Babies babble, toddlers begin to put words together and make small sentences. Almost all kids go through a phase where they say things like spaghetti (basketti), cinnamon (cinnamom), and napkin (natkin).
As we continue to grow our language becomes more refined as we figure out how to do this extremely complicated thing called communication. Because of this we tend to unconsciously make judgments about a person’s intellect and/or education level based on how they speak including the words they choose to use, whether they follow basic grammar rules, and the kind of accent they have.
Where am I going with this? Well, apparently God sees our use of words as an indication of our spiritual maturity. James wrote that someone who is perfect, meaning mature, is able to control what they say.
So, what we say under pressure, our response to a verbal attack, and the words we choose when we stub our toe all point to how mature we are. The choice we make to either bless or curse, to encourage or to tear down, to gossip or praise is directly connected to how close to Christ we are.
It’s time that we grow up and choose to speak life.
Our Words Are Dynamite – verses 3-5
I hate you. I want a divorce. You’re stupid. You’re fired.
It takes just a few words whether, carelessly spoken or intentional, to turn someone’s life upside down. Many of us have experienced this. Many of us have heard those very words and have felt our world crumble under the weight of less than five words.
But we have also seen the opposite. I love you. You can do it. I believe in you. I’m here for you. I forgive you.
As surely as a few words can destroy they can also build. Just a small sentence, even a phrase can empower or annihilate. It all depends on which words we use.
The point is, though, that like dynamite, our words may be small, but they have a huge impact.
Read verses 3-5
We tend to underestimate the power that our words wield. We tend to speak negatively and harshly without thinking. In doing so we spew venom onto those we care the most about and as we do we damage relationships with those who are closest to us because we don’t consider the weight or impact of what we say.
Like a bit in a horse’s mouth, or a rudder on a ship, though, we can use the power of our tongues to steer conversations toward building up rather than destroying. We can use this tiny part of our bodies to bring light and life into every situation in which we find ourselves.
The issue is that we have to take control.
Only you can prevent forest fires – verses 5-8
In order to take control we have to choose to do the right thing. That has been Smokey the Bear’s message. Since the 40’s he has been trying to get us to make the right choices so that we can keep small sparks from becoming huge fires. It’s not just an issue for the forest, though.
It’s believed that a small spark in a barn started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire burned from Sunday until Tuesday and killed 300 people, destroyed approximately 3.3 square miles, and left more than 100,000 people homeless. All because of a fire that started small, but then quickly became a force that devastated a city.
Our words have that same power. Like a fire their consequences can quickly grow beyond our control. A word spoken in anger can end a friendship or further damage a marriage, or a careless bit of gossip can spread relentlessly through a church or a company wielding the same destructive power as did the fire in Chicago.
James goes on to write that the tongue is a restless evil that no one can tame. You see it goes beyond just controlling what the tongue does. We have to get to the heart of the matter in order to have any hope of doing more good than harm with our words.
The heart of the matter – verses 9-12
I stood speechless as I looked into the eyes of the man who was supposed to be my pastor and saw nothing but anger. He had cost me my job which meant that I had to uproot my family and come back to Florida with nothing except each other and the hope that God would do something.
We had had some differences, but until this point I thought that we were still both trying to honor God as best we could. I wanted to give him that benefit of the doubt and hoped that he would do the same, but now that he thought I had let out what he had really done to me and my family he stood there red faced and fuming. And the man who not that long ago had told me that he loved me now breathed out threats and accusations.
How does that happen? How do we swing from blessing to cure so easily? As James put it, how do we praise God and then with the same lips unleash condemnation on those created in His image?
It has to do with our hearts. Notice that James points to the fact that the same spring cannot pour out two different kinds of water and the same tree cannot produce two different kinds of fruit. Each is bound by its source to either do one thing or the other. The issue, then is the source, or in our case the heart. Jesus put it this way.
Matthew 12:34 (NIV)
“… For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Whatever we fill our hearts with will flow out of our mouths. It’s like a spring that begins in our inner most being and wells up within us until it flows out through our words. The things that we choose to say betray who we are on the inside, and are a direct result of what we have chosen to hide in our hearts.
So, if we want to change the impact of our words from death to life and from destruction to building up we have to address our hearts.
The good news is that Jesus came to do exactly that. He came to bring us from death to life. As a result we are made new in Him, and our minds and hearts are molded more in His image with each step that we take closer to Him.
At the end of the day our options are to build up or destroy, to be used by God or by the devil.
Hide His word in your heart – Ps 119:11
Think before you speak – we don’t have to say everything that pops into our minds.
Is what you’re about to say going to encourage, or discourage? Will it bless or hurt? Are you being used by God or the enemy?
Be intentional about using words that build up:
I forgive you
I love you
I believe in you
I’m praying for you.