The Little Troublemaker

Bible Book: James  3 : 1-12
Subject: Tongue; Speech; Words
Series: James - Believing and Behaving - Minnix
[This sermon is one in a series of 10 messages from the Book of James entitled: Believing and Behaving.]

The Little Troublemaker

Dr. J. Mike Minnix

James 3:1-12 ...

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh."

The tongue is a great gift, for it gives us the ability to speak and share ideas with words and is something given specifically to human beings. But, we must remember that "to whom much is given, much is required." The tongue carries with it a great responsibility and we are told that we shall answer to God for every idle word we speak. Now that's a frightening prospect. Why would God judge every idle word? Words will be judged because the tongue wields great power. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that the tongue holds the power of life and death.

It is truly amazing how many words we speak in a lifetime. Someone said that we speak between 10 million and 11 million words a year. If you live to the age of 90, you will perhaps speak 1 billion words. Watch out! Don't turn and look at your spouse as if he or she is trying to break the world record for words spoken in a lifetime. I expect some of us do know people that we suspect exceed the 11 million words a year mark.

Calvin Coolidge, former president of the United States, was known for being a man of few words. A lady was seated next to him at a state dinner one evening and sought to win a bet she had made with a friend. She wagered that she could get President Coolidge to speak more than three words to her during the meal. She leaned over to President Coolidge and said, "I bet my friend that I could get you to speak more than three words to me this evening. What do you think of that?" Coolidge replied, "You lose," and never spoke to her again throughout the meal. Coolidge never got in trouble with the use of his tongue.

Its not just presidents that must be careful with their words. Everyone of us, no doubt, has discovered that the tongue has been our enemy at one time or another. The Bible warns us about the use of the tongue and just how dangerous our words can be. One might well call the tongue the biggest little troublemaker in all the world. Someone has remarked that a three inch tongue can easily kill a six foot man. The tongue can be used to slander, blaspheme, betray, gossip, curse, lie, criticize and profane; or, it can be used to bless, encourage, lead, give hope, express love, and offer forgiveness. The potential of the diabolical or the power of the divine lies just behind your teeth.

One man wisely said,

"I am careful of the words I say,

To keep them soft and sweet,

For I never know from day to day,

The ones I'll have to eat."

One day a lady went to the doctor and talked non-stop about her pains and problems. Finally the doctor told her to stick out her tongue, which she obediently did. The doctor never looked at her tongue, he just turned to his desk and starting writing a prescription. The woman finally said, "Doctor, why did you tell me to stick out my tongue but never looked at it?" The doctor replied, "I just wanted you to be quiet long enough to get this prescription written."

Good things come to those who know when to stop talking. Edison was once asked how it felt to be the man who created the talking machine. He replied, "I didn't create the talking machine, God did. I just made one you can turn you can turn off."

Let's consider what James say about this little troublemaker - the human tongue.

I. The Inclination of the Tongue

James tells how the human tongue is inclined - that is, he shows us images that we can use to understand the nature of the tongue.

A. The Internal Forces Affecting the Tongue - the Horse

The bit is placed “in” the mouth of the horse in order to turn from the creature from left to right, or to stop the horse. The tongue is controlled from an internal source. You speak because you think and you think with your heart. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he, the Bible tells us. If you would control your tongue, you must first be in control of your heart.

The inclination of the tongue is to be loose and uncontrolled. There must be a force within us that guides our words and that force must be God. He lives in the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit and yielding to Him can enable us to speak the words He intends. The Spirit of God, when we yield properly, can be the bit in our mouths that turns us in the way God wishes us to go. The Holy Spirit can silence or release our tongue at the proper time. As the horse is controlled by the rider through the bit in the horses mouth, we can have our tongue controlled by the Holy Spirit when we are yielded to Him.

B. The External Forces Affecting the Tongue - the Rudder

A ship of enormous size can be controlled by a small rudder. In both illustrations that James gave us, we see the overcoming of powerful forces by a small object. The horse is directed, and a ship is directed, by small devices. So, the tongue is very important because it gives direction. Though very small, the tongue is a mighty force. One's entire life can be blessed or cursed simply by the correct use or incorrect use of the tongue.

When our son was very small, we were told by doctors that his tongue was a bit too large for his mouth. It was not unusual in children, we were informed, but it was something that requires effort and tools to help him speak properly. He was forced to wear a device that was attached to the back of his upper teeth. Pointed spines were on the device secured in his mouth and they pointed back toward his tongue. When Chris spoke, he had to keep his tongue pulled backward in his mouth and away from the front of his mouth. If he failed to do this, the spines on the device would prick his tongue. It was a painful process for him and it was painful for us to observe. Sometimes his tongue would bleed from the difficulty he had in training his tongue to remain further back in his mouth, but the pain paid off. Eventually he became great at speech. In fact, by time he was sixteen years of age he was a radio announcer, and has for years was very successful in sales and business because of his excellent speaking ability. His voice and diction are superb. But, He only achieved that through painful training of his tongue.

It's sad that so few of us will do the same thing with our tongues on a spiritual level. We must train out tongue to obey God’s will. We must yield to Him and His will when we speak. Actually, it is certainly easier to train the physical tongue to obey than to train our spiritual tongue to speak only what God has ordained. The fact is, when we do not use our tongue as God ordained, it leads to pain, sorrow, and defeat. Sadly, even though hardship comes from the misuse of our tongues, too often we still refuse to allow God to train our tongues and thus control our speech.

II. The Destruction By The Tongue

Now James shares with us the destructive nature of the tongue that is not controlled by the Lord.

A. The Blaze Unleashed

The tongue is destructive, like a fire. There is a better chance of stopping a raging fire than stopping the destructive effect of a tongue misused. One rumor can start a fire that a thousand speeches cannot stop.

The tongue is often filled with deadly poison. Words can inject a noxious poison into relationships, destroying lives in the process. Like a poison in the body, the tongue can be deadly.

One man tells of a time when someone shared something negative about another preacher. He said that he got to know the man and found that the rumor about the preacher was untrue. Yet, every time he saw that preacher he recalled those things which were told about him. Even though he knew the rumor was untrue, he could not remove the memory of those words.

I expect every person in this service today and had something said about you that was not true. How did that make you feel? Were you aware that no matter how hard you tried, you could never run down and refute that statement to all who heard it? And it's not just rumors that create great damage. Bitterness, hatred, racialism, and negativity is like a fire set in a dry forest. Words are like sparks, they fly from our mouths and set blazes that are difficult and sometimes impossible to put out.

One evening two ladies were walking by a pastor’s home. They looked through the window and saw the pastor racing around with a broom and heard the preacher’s wife screaming. The ladies hurried home and starting calling all their friends. They shared with their friends that they had witnessed the pastor beating his wife with a broom. By the time the pastor heard the story, it had spread everywhere. The pastor’s wife came to church the next Sunday and stood to tell the church “the rest of the story.” In fact, a mouse had been discovered in the house and she had screamed for her husband to help her. She jumped up on the sofa, screaming the entire time, while her pastor-husband chased the mouse with a broom. But, the damage had been done. The story that the pastor was beating his wife had traveled so far and been told with such confidence that three months later the pastor decided to resign. Words had started a blaze of lies that even the truth was not able to extinguish.

B. The Beast Untamed

A second example James used to explain the danger of the tongue involved wild animals as an illustration. The tongue is a restless evil.

  • Wild animals can be tamed, but not the tongue
  • Killer whales can be tamed, but not the tongue
  • Lions can be tamed, but not the tongue

The most ferocious beast is not in the Atlanta Zoo but rather has its den in your mouth and mine. A lion let loose in this service would not be as dangerous as your tongue or my tongue speaking outside God's control.

III. The Contradiction From The Tongue

James now reveals that athe tongue is contrary to nature.

A. As a Spring Flows

A pure stream will remain pure and a bitter stream will remain bitter. A good fountain is not good one day and poisonous the next. But, our tongue can speak praise to God in one moment and spread profanity, rumors, hatred, or indifference in the next moment. This is contrary to nature and contrary to God’s will and design.

B. As a Tree Grows

You don't find figs on grape vines, or grapes on fig trees. The tongue, on the other hand, is different. We can use our tongue to bless God and then a few moments later use it to be critical, prejudiced, and judgmental of another believer. Just think what it would be like to have a fruit tree that produced good fruit and poison fruit. You can see just how deadly such a tree would be. No one would eat from such a tree for fear that the fruit in hand contained poison. Nature does not produce that kind of tree because God made the fruit trees to yield fruit according to their nature. Humans, however, have a corrupt nature. Even after we are saved and have a new nature, the old man rises up to produce poisonous fruit through our tongue. James is reminding us that this is not God's way and not God's will.

Do you recall that Simon Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God one minute, but then right after that Jesus called him Satan? Surely you remember the story. Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, but he turned around and told Jesus that under no circumstances would he and the disciples allow the Lord to die. Interestingly, Peter was filled with wisdom from on high one moment and filled with lies from hell the next. The contrary nature of this situation revealed itself in Peter’s words – in the way he used his tongue. Does that happen to you or to me? Sadly, it does. What a shame that is. Even a tree growing in the soil would never contradict its nature - the nature that God gave it, but the human tongue is often in rebellion against its Maker. And sadly, for us as Christians, we can speak in a manner contrary to our redeemed nature.


How can we overcome the problem of the misuse of our tongues?

Confess the Sin.

We must begin with a true confession of our sin in this matter. We need a commitment our speech to God. There is the story of a man who was known for repeating rumors and speaking in other inapproriate ways. One Sunday the pastor preached on this subject and the man came forward during the invitation to commitment his speech to the Lord. The man spoke to the pastor and said, "Pastor, I want to put my tongue on the altar for Christ." The preacher said, "We don't have an altar big enough for that, but put what you can on it." We may never get all our speech exactly God desires it to be, but we can certainly make a deeper commitment regarding this issue.

Confess the Source.

We must confess that the source is our own wicked heart. In Matthew 12 we are informed that the mouth only reveals the heart. The words only come out because they are first in our hearts. James tells us that the tongue is set on fire from hell. That is a frightening thought.

James also says that the tongue is filled with deadly poison. The poison is in their heart. James says in verse 15 that the wisdom of the world is demonic. When we allow demonic power of the world to influence our hearts it reveals itself through the tongue. Your tongue is a special target of Satanic activity. The first thing to do is to empty your heart of that poison.

We must confess the source of the problem is our own hearts.

Confess the Solution.

Let us renew a commitment to put our tongues under the control of Jesus. Confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Suppose you find yourself gossiping - stop immediately and confess it to God! You will soon find the Holy Spirit taking your tongue under His control. Psalm 140 states, "Deliver my soul from lying lips...".

How long has it been since you began a day by praying like this? "O Lord, I yield my tongue to you today. Keep my words pure by controlling my heart. I wish to speak only those words which reflect Your holy nature today."

Let me close with a story that deeply convicted me when I read it a number of years ago.

Dr. A.B. Simpson was founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance organization. When he was a pastor in New York, there was another pastor of a very large church that spent a lot of time publicly criticizing Dr. Simpson. Colleagues of Dr. Simpson asked him to speak out and defend himself, but he would not do it. He said on one occasion that he would rather play with forked lightening or take in his hand live wires rather than speak or repeat a reckless word against a servant of Christ or tell again the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.

Sometime later the minister who had so severely criticized Dr. Simpson was involved in immorality. The story made the headlines of the New York newspapers. One of Dr. Simpson’s co-workers came with a copy of the paper and put it in front of Dr. Simpson. Dr. Simpson read the story of how this man had been found in immorality. The colleague asked Dr. Simpson, "Well, what do you think of that?"

Dr. Simpson simply looked away with tears running down his face and said, "Just think of how he must have been tempted."  Simpson would not say one evil word against the man who had been so cruel to him. Oh, to be like that with our own tongues.

Are you willing to recommit your speech to God today? Of course, there is someone here today who needs to use your tongue to speak the most important words a person can ever speak. Paul wrote, "Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Have you called on the Lord? You can do that right now. There is death and life in words, and when you repent of your sins and confess Christ as Lord and Savior, you are speaking words of eternal life. Now is the time. Today is the day.