Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Power of the Tongue

I am currently preaching through James on Sunday mornings, and last week's passage has gripped me and grieved me. It has encouraged me some, but mostly it has horrified me. It is my earnest desire and sincere prayer that the terror of this passage might grip the church which I serve. Unless I misunderstand James, then I have to believe that the most deadly force for evil on earth is in my own mouth; it is my tongue.

Read carefully these words from James 3:6 (New American Standard)

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

That's your speech he's speaking of, and it is mine. Your mouth is a world of iniquity. Your speech defiles you. Your words have determined the course of your life, and your speech is flavored with the foulness of hell. Your speech, not someone else's speech. Yours. James drives this point home in verse eight of the same chapter:

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

No one can tame it. Not me and not you. It is too evil for our control. And the most grievous thing of it is this: The reason you cannot control it is because it reflects who you are.

I am not trying to unduly burden you. Truly, it would not behoove the body of Christ to add to it burdens that are not hers, or to heap guilt upon a beloved brother or sister that is undeserved. I confess to you that my own tongue and speech is my undoing. When James says that the tongue "boasts of great things," he has called me out (vs. 6). When he says that it is a world of iniquity, I am ashamed. And when he confronts me with the fact that I use it to praise God and to curse men, I admit my guilt. Men, he says, that are made in the image of God (vs. 9).

This has been James' concern all along. He taught us that failure to love men is a reflection of a faithless relationship to the God who made them. John puts it bluntly by saying, "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now" (1 John 2:9). You cannot love God, whom you cannot see if you do not love your brother whom you do see. In that brother, especially a Christian brother or sister, you are looking at a reflection of the majesty who made him.

Interestingly, James has made the case up to this point that a faith that is not accompanied by faithful works is no faith at all (vs. 2:17). It is a worthless faith that cannot save. To claim to have faith and to not really have saving faith is a lie. It is not neutral. It is damaging to those who speak it and to those who hear it.

So my challenge for myself today and every day is to watch my speech. It is a deadly thing, but it can be a wonderful thing. I cannot tame my tongue, but God can by the power of His Holy Spirit. James told us that man has tamed every beast of the field, but he cannot tame the tongue. But there is nothing under heaven which God cannot tame. He can stop the mouth of the blasphemer and sinner, and He can season my tongue with grace. A tongue used for cursing is a blight on the world; a tongue ready with the sweetness of the gospel is a treasure.

So please, for the sake of your soul and those who listen to you, watch your mouth. Remember, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Every word, brother and sister, every word.

I want to end on an encouraging note. We know that our tongue is a deadly thing, but I have also said that it can be life-giving. Consider these words today as you endeavor to bless both God and man with your speech, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). You can impart grace to the hearer through your speech today. May God bless us with tamed tongues and gracious speech.

1 comment:

MColvin said...

Great blog and so pertinent at so many levels.