- The Power of Words
- James 3:1-12
- Lyndol Loyd February 3, 2019
There was a time in America when the most feared power in the world was the nuclear bomb. People were shown pictures of the mushroom clouds over Japan in World War II and were told of all the horror and death associated with the bomb.
In more recent years, we are hearing news that chills the heart of even the bravest of people. Now we are told that a nuclear device can be reduced to the size of a suitcase. It can be transported almost anywhere. If detonated in a major city, the bomb could kill millions of people. This is a truly frightening thought. With a nuclear weapon, something relatively small can do breathtaking amounts of damage.
As we continue in our series of messages, “Tough Love,” based on the New Testament book of James, we find that as we work our way through James that he continues to be incredibly direct in his writing. Today we are going to examine what he has to say about our words. James’ conviction is that a tongue, while a relatively small part of our bodies, is capable of making an enormous impact.
As part of our series, we have been reciting a theme verse together each week, and I’d like to ask you to do the same with me now as turn our attention to the screen and read together.
James 1:22 – “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”
How many people still remember a time from their childhood when they were teased, made fun of or called names? For some people, it isn’t difficult at all to tap into that very moment even though it took place years and years ago.
How many people have memories of a time when you got in an argument with a friend or family member where words were exchanged? One or both of you said things you didn’t mean, but in the heat of the adrenaline-filled moment the words flew like sparks. Now they remain emblazoned in the memory bank of our soul despite the passage of time.
Because of moments like these and others where our words have created incredible impact in our lives and the lives of others, James writes,
“1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. 7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
Recent studies tend to disprove the saying many of us grew up with: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Adults polled said they had gotten over most of the physical pains of childhood. But many had never fully recovered from the hurtful words, names, and labels placed on them.
Physical wounds heal as is evidenced from scars we carry. But verbal wounds frequently refuse to close, oozing pain and keeping us tender and vulnerable.
As those who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ, we must be constantly aware that our words carry an impact. They affect our children, our students, our spouses, our friends, our neighbors, and our business associates. That’s why God holds us accountable for every careless world. Controlling the words that come out of our mouths is a huge challenge.
- We can put a small piece of metal, a bit, in the mouth of a horse and control the actions of a thousand-pound animal.
- A small rudder can steer the whole ship.
- Draws the analogy of how a small spark can start an entire forest on fire.
His point is clear. The tongue, in proportion to the rest of your body, is relatively small. But what a power it possesses.
No one is exempt when it comes to the topic of controlling the tongue. Every one of us has to work on this every day. We have all said things we deeply regret.
This past week I did a simple Google search and found myself flooded with stories, and examples of hurt, pain and regret that people had written about online and the lasting impact on their lives. One woman wrote, “My mother once told me that if I weren’t her daughter, then we wouldn’t even be friends. I can’t lie, that cut me really deep and stuck with me into adulthood. I still think about it sometimes and it breaks my heart.”
Chances are that if I asked, you would probably be able to add your own story or example of how the power of someone’s words impacted you in a negative way or how you have regret over the words that you have spoken to another person. I have a hunch that if we took the time to hear them all we would end up being here for a long time. The simple reality is that we all need to learn how to guard our mouths. Our words can get us in a lot of trouble when we are not careful.
There are three major areas where we can get into trouble with our words. I want to take a moment and name them so that we can bring them front and center for a moment. They are lying, slandering and devaluing people with our words.
Lying – The ninth commandment says, “Don’t lie.” God is telling us not to lie, ever, to anyone, about anything. What part of this commandment don’t we understand?
The Bible says lying breaks the heart of God because God, in His fundamental character, is a truth-teller. He is a covenant maker and a covenant keeper. Whenever we lie, we break the heart of a holy God.
Lying destroys trust in any relationship. When someone begins telling lies, the foundation of the relationship begins to erode. Lying corrodes the inner core of who we are. Every time we tell a lie there is an internal dismemberment of our character. Lying is a self-sabotaging exercise that usually winds up destroying our soul.
Slander – Slander is one of the darkest sins. Slander is a pure and undiluted attempt to destroy another human being’s name, character or reputation.
A slanderer takes everything from another person and gains absolutely nothing. Slander is for the sheer, perverse pleasure of tearing another person down. When we see it for what it really is, we realize how evil it is.
What should cause our blood to run cold is that all of us have slandered. The next time we hear ourselves saying, “You wouldn’t believe what so-and-so did,” we had better stop and be sure slander is not in our heart and waiting to come out of our mouths.
Devaluing people – Devaluing another person with our words flies in the face of God’s declaration that all people matter. We take people who are precious to God and infinitely valuable to Him and treat them like they are worth nothing.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a worthless person. Every single time we look into the eyes of another human being we are connecting with a person for whom Jesus Christ shed His blood. If this person is a follower of Christ, he or she is your brother or sister. If this person is not a believer, he or she is one prayer away from being your family member. We need to see others as God sees them and guard our mouth so that we never devalue another human being.
James continues on as he cautions us about our tongues James 3:9-12,
“9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the productive tongue is characterized as being wise, like choice silver, a banquet for many, the Lord’s delight, a tree of life, full of knowledge and a reflection of faithfulness. In fact, the proper use of our words is compared to “apples of gold in settings of silver.”
Contrast those images with the word pictures that James creates by drawing some powerful parallels from nature.
- He asks if a spring can produce both salty and fresh water at the same time. The answer is obvious. No. If there is salt in water, all of it gets tainted. There is no fresh water to be found.
- James asks if olives can grow on fig trees. Ridiculous. In nature, these things simply do not happen. The point James is trying to make is clear. It should be just as absurd to hear a follower of Christ praising God one moment and cursing and tearing down people in the next breath. This should never be. Yet it is.
Too often the same mouth that lifts songs, prayers, and praise to God is used to attack others, to lie, to slander, and to devalue people who are loved by God.
If we are going to mature as fully devoted followers of Christ, we need to learn how to praise God and uplift others with our words. We need to learn the wisdom of silence and the power of blessing.
Our words are powerful beyond description. True spiritual maturity is using this awesome force to build, encourage, and lift up others.
I think the vast majority of us get James’ point. It is indeed a pretty simple concept, but boy can it be a challenge for us to live out in our day to day lives.
James isn’t trying to make us feel bad. James wants to see us live as transformed people for whom the truths of God have impacted how we live. With that in mind, I want to suggest a couple of practices that I believe can help us use our words in alignment with God’s purposes if we will only try it.
- Wake up and speak God’s word
This is the idea of taking the first few moments of your day to simply bring God’s word to bear in your own life. This isn’t self-empowerment or self-reinforcement. That is not what this is. I’m not saying speak your own words. I’m saying speak God’s word over your life, your relationships, your family, your work, your attitude, your decision, etc.
Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “10 The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”
Whenever we plant the seed of God’s word, it is going to bear fruit. That is just the way it works. I encourage you to try it and see what happens in your life.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Have you heard the phrase, “You’re going to have to eat your words.”? It’s the same idea. Your words are seeds that get planted. Those seeds bear fruit, and that determines what you have to eat. If we plant seeds that are words of life, we reap life. If we plant seeds that are words of death, we reap poison.
Here’s a quick example of how to do this:
John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” So you simply speak God’s promise over your life. I live as a child of God, and the evil one cannot touch me. That isn’t wishful thinking. It’s truth.
Now, other words might try to sneak their way into your life throughout the day, old words, hurtful things you have bought into over the years, feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and fear, but understand this – the word of God trumps all other words.
That is just one example of a promise of God that exists in scripture for us amongst hundreds and hundreds. Begin your day by speaking one or more of these promises by speaking God’s word when you first wake up. You might need to say it out loud before you leave for school or the office. “I am a child of God. I am filled with the grace of God. The enemy cannot touch me.” It isn’t wishful thinking. It is you speaking God’s truth into the darkness.
- Do a word inventory before going to bed
This is a great way to end your day. The Bible teaches that we will have to give account for our words, so we want to take this seriously. What kind of words do we have going out and coming in?
Who did I encourage today? How did I use my words to speak life today? How did someone else speak life into me? Take a moment to evaluate your conversations at work, at school, on social media.
You might doubt if this could really make a difference in your life. But what if you just tried it? What if you did these two simple things for the next thirty days? I wonder what kind of fruit it might bear. Just try it.
We all come here to this place this morning with different needs.
- Some of us carry the scars of words that have wounded us and haunt us to this very day. If that’s you, then I want to encourage you to offer God your brokenness and ask Him to make your whole.
- Others come here, and after reading James, you are convinced of how sharp a tongue you have. You see the ways in which you have used your tongue to tell lies, slander, or devalue others. If that’s you, then I want to encourage you to ask God to give you His power to tame your tongue and control your mouth.
- While still others have never thought about the incredible power of their tongues at all. Maybe you haven’t been particularly harsh with your words, but at the same time perhaps you haven’t been particularly uplifting either. If this is you, then I want to encourage you to ask God to make clear to you this week the ways in which you can use your words as instruments of blessing.