Brad Libolt speaking on James 3:1-12. He spoke about the power and importance of our words. Encouraging us to think about how we are speaking about other people and the power that they have to point them towards or detour them from Christ. Ultimately knowing that we will not do this perfectly but Christ did it perfectly for us.
- When I was growing up there was a massive forest fire near the town I lived in. I remember there were roads shut down, fire fighters made base camp at my school, and so the entire football field was covered with tents and fire trucks. The fire became known as the Toolbox fire, and it combined with another fire in a town near us called the Winter fire. Together, these fires burned nearly 100,000 acres, caused numerous people to evacuate their homes, and sent many firefighters to the hospital. This fire was huge. I remember going with my family and driving towards it on a road that was closed. We got close to where the road was closed and stopped to see the fire. It was night time, so off in the distance we could see the orange glow of the fire. I was too far away and too young to appreciate the intensity or the power of the fire. There was an article about the fire describing it’s sheer force. Listen to a quote from the article.
- “Flames raced across Dutchman’s Flat and plunged down into the Punch Bowl, a rugged area near the center of Oregon’s Summer Lake Valley. It was clogged with an accumulation of fuel from decades of neglect and the firestorm exploded into a maelstrom of such raw power that even seasoned firefighters were awed. Self-generated winds fanned the frenzy, culminating in a fire tornado that raged crazily up and down forests of pine, juniper and mountain mahogany, demolishing everything in its path. Starved for oxygen, the tornado reared up like a giant slinky from hell, igniting pyroclastic air masses, then plunged back to the ground, incinerating everything within reach. Ravenous for more oxygen, it whirled back up, plucking full-grown trees from the rocky soil and tossing them 300 feet or more into the air like massive burning torches. The 10-mile path is clearly visible today from Highway 31 as blackened, sand-blasted trees surrounded by acres of brown, scorched forestland.”
- James equates the power of our words to the power of a forest fire. He talks about how our tongue cannot be controlled or contained, and how it can set our entire lives on fire. We’ve talked about our words before, but today I really want us to see that our words have incredible power, and it is an incredible power that is difficult to harness.
- James starts off by talking about teachers. Teachers rely on their words. They are using their tongue to teach and encourage and admonish people, but the very tool they are using to do this is the most dangerous tool in the body. Teaching is a difficult task then, because when they teach, what the teacher is trying to control is a forest fire, they are trying to use their tongue for the glory of God when the tongue is naturally used for evil and destruction.
- The tongue has great power, and teachers try to harness that power for good. It makes me think of a quote from Spiderman. Spiderman’s uncle tells him that with great power comes great responsibility. Teachers who rely on the words out of their mouth have great power, but with that power comes great responsibility and the need to use it wisely. He says we all stumble in many ways, and none of us are completely perfect, but the place we all stumble is with our mouth. In fact if there was anyone who never stumbled with his words, he would be perfect. That is how difficult it is to control our mouths, and that is why James doesn’t want a lot of people to become teachers. It is a difficult task, and we can never be perfect at it.
- This doesn’t only apply to teachers and pastors. It applies to everyone. This should not discourage you, but encourage you to think about the words you say, because words are powerful. Words have power. We need to realize that, and remember that with this great power comes great responsibility. We need to be careful with our words.
- I also want us to notice that James says we all stumble. So far James has given us a lot of practical applications we should be doing in our every day life. The last couple weeks we talked about how faith without works is dead, and I challenged you guys to take stock of your faith and determine if it is true or not. It can seem that James doesn’t leave much room for failing every once and a while, but right here he says we all stumble. Even himself! No one is perfect, and there is great freedom that comes along with this realization. We aren’t expected to be perfect, but we are expected to be sanctified, and work at becoming more like Christ. We will never be perfect, and we get to rest in the fact that we don’t have to be, because Jesus was perfect for us.
- James goes on in his explanation of the power of words by pointing out how small the tongue is. He wants us to see that something so small and seemingly insignificant also has incredible power. He talks about horses, and how we can control them by putting a bit in their mouth. Horses are big creatures, but we can control them by such a small thing. Look at ships also, ships are massive! But ships are also controlled by a small little rudder. Ships are out on the open ocean, begin pushed and pulled by massive waves and high winds, yet the captain of the ship can maintain a steady course using this small little rudder. Our tongue is the same way.
- Just like the bit and the rudder our tongue is a small member but it controls something much larger. And now we see that James gets into his fire illustration. The fire I told you about that was close to my home town, it was started by a lightning strike. One lightning strike occurred and in the blink of an eye, set a bush on fire. That bush then set another one on fire and so on and eventually the fire grew into an uncontainable massive wildfire. But it began with something seemingly small and insignificant. The tongue is the same way. It is a small body part, but it sets on fire the entire course of life. The words we say can cause our life to go up in flames and end in fiery ruin.
- James says, we can tame beasts and birds and reptiles and fish, but we cannot tame the tongue. He says it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. This is intense. Our tongue is a restless evil, and it is full of deadly poison. What kind of evil is it? What kind of poison is our tongue full of? How is it that our words be so incredibly dangerous? James answers this in the next verses.
- It’s because with our words we bless our Lord and Father, and with them we also curse people who are made in the likeness of God. It’s evil because our words go two ways. We bless and curse out of the same mouth. And this isn’t natural. This shouldn’t be so. A spring can’t produce salt and fresh water, and a fig tree doesn’t bear olives. In the same way it isn’t natural for our mouth to produce blessings and curses.
- So what exactly is James talking about when he says blessings and curses? We bless God with our mouth. We can do that in a ton of different ways. We pray, we confess Christ and tell people we are Christians, we worship him in Church and on Thursday nights. We affirm He is God by worshipping him and blessing him with our words.
- I hope we are all blessing God with our mouth. I hope we all are going to Him in prayer, lifting him up in worship, and telling others about how awesome he is. That is blessing God. But then out of the same mouth we curse people, and not just people as we usually see them, but people made in the likeness of God. People who are made in God’s image. That is the key to this whole passage, we have to see people as God’s creation. We have to remember that we are all made in God’s image, just how he wants us to be made. So with that in mind, what James is saying, is that if you curse people who are made in God’s image, you are cursing God. When you curse others, you curse God. That’s what James is talking about. We have to see people in God’s image. We have to see that people have been made in the likeness of God.
- But we curse people all the time, don’t we? We gossip and lie to each other. We insult each other’s physical appearance, intelligence, social capabilities. We make fun of people to their face and behind their back. We use our powerful, dangerous words to bring others down. And when we do that, when we curse others, we are cursing God. When you gossip about someone you are gossiping about God. When you lie to someone you are lying to God. When you insult the way someone looks or talks or acts you are insulting God. Do you see the seriousness of this?
- That is why James says it is unnatural, it ought not to be this way. We were created to bless God, to worship and glorify him. And we think we do this well because we pray and sing worship songs and tell people we are Christians. But then we treat other people horribly, and think that that is somehow removed from our worship of God, when in fact it is directly connected. Our relationship with God directly influences the way we treat people. You can tell a lot about what someone worships from what they say. If we want to truly worship and bless God like we are created to do, then we must be mindful of the way we talk to or about other people. We must be mindful of the words we say, how we say them, and who we say them to.
- So you need to ask yourselves right now, how are you using your words? Are you using them to build others up and encourage them and point them to Christ? Or are you using them to bring others down, make them feel bad about themselves, and point them away from Christ? We have to understand that our mouths have the ability to do exactly what God created us for, but also the ability to turn around and do the exact opposite of what we were created for, and instead curse God. Let’s strive together to build one another up, speak responsibly, and worship God with our words.
- We can never do this perfectly. James is giving us a difficult task to do, but he himself admits that no one is perfect at it. We all stumble in many ways, but we all especially stumble with our tongue. So if we can’t do this on our own, we need someone who can, someone who is perfect, and the one we need is Jesus. Jesus’ used his words perfectly, and never cursed God by cursing others. He lived a perfect life in our place because we couldn’t, and he died our death on the cross so we wouldn’t have to. Now that we are in Christ, we strive to follow him more and more every day, worship and glorify him with our lives every day, and respond to being led by the Holy Spirit every day.