Taming the Tonuge

Bible Book: James  3 : -14
Subject: Tongue; Speach; Words

There was a woman who enjoyed being the first with the worst. She was always winding herself up to run someone down. One day she met the new pastor in town and said, "I like you but for one thing." "What's that?" he asked." One side of your bow tie is too long," she answered. "May I take my scissors and correct it?" "Yes, ma'am," he answered, and she cut off a piece of his tie. "Now," he asked, "may I use your scissors?" "Of course," she replied. Taking hold of them he said, "There's something else that's too long. Stick out your tongue."

How many times we have felt like cutting off our own tongue, and we start the process by biting it.

The tongue is small, but it's the world's largest troublemaker. It gets stronger with use, but not smarter. It gets longer, but not lovelier. It's not sharp, but it cuts. It's not hot, but it burns. It's not big, but it bullies.

The old country doctor I met when I first came to Metter, Georgia, over fifty years ago always began his examination by saying, "Let me see your tongue." That's a good way to start this sermon on Taming the Tongue as we study James 3:1-14.

I. Power to Bid: The Bit and the Rudder

That is, to direct or to guide. You see this in verses 3-4, "Indeed, we put bits on horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn the 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."

The young horse, smart and strong, chomping and chafing at the bit, restive and restless - longs to go, not knowing which is the best and right way to go. The "bit" will take care of that. It will direct his strength and speed into wise and worthwhile paths. What a picture of our young people of today. And just a little "bit" of a word can set the direction of the life for God and glory!

When I was a song leader and soloist for the Moody Bible Institute, I was directing the music in a Bible Conference in Miami with Dr. Houghton, president of the Institute, as the speaker. God mightily blessed his sermon at the morning service and I came to the afternoon Youth Meeting anxiously waiting to hear him speak again.

Fifteen minutes before the service Dr. Houghton said to me, "Michael, you're going to preach this afternoon." "Oh, no, I'm not!" I replied. "Yes, you are," he insisted. "Go to the study, get down on your knees and let God give you your sermon." "Yes, sir," I consented.

The Lord gave me a message, and He mercifully and mightily blessed it. Sinners were saved and Christians were consecrated. It was a God-honoring meeting. And Dr. Houghton said, "Michael, from now on you will be a preacher, not a song leader." "Yes, sir," I said with joy. Just a word, just a "bit" and it set me in the direction the Lord wanted me to take.

Just a little "bit" of a word can set the direction of a whole life for evil. He was a bad boy, but he wanted to change. So he went to Sunday school. The teacher welcomed him, but the parents said, "If you allow that boy to continue in your class, we'll stop our children from attending." Wishing to win their favor, she told the boy not to return. His life, instead of ending with a Bible in his hand, ended with a bullet in his heart. His name? John Dillinger. Just a word, just a "bit" and it set him on the road to hell.

In addition to the bit, our Lord likened the tongue to a rudder. The rudder is a small piece of metal that steers a 1,000-foot ship that carries more than 3,000 people across the ocean.

II. Power to Blight: the Fire and Animal

It's written in James 3:5-8, "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, has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison."

Think of it - a tiny spark, and a tremendous scourge; a scant flicker, and a stupendous fiasco; a meager thing, and a mighty tragedy! That's the blighting power of the tiny tongue.

It was just a spark from a lighted lantern, kicked by Mrs. Patrick O'Leary's cow, in a barn one October evening that caused the great Chicago fire.

Fanned by strong winds, the flames raced north and east through the city. They jumped across the river and forced thousands of panic-stricken people to fell before the roaring flames. Hundreds of other families jumped into the cold waters of the lake. The fire raged for over 24 hours, wiping out Chicago's downtown area and most north side homes. It killed at least 300 people; 17,500 buildings were destroyed; over 100,000 men, women and children were left homeless. It cost the city over $400,000,000.

Your speech, like that spark, can start fires. It's written in Proverbs 26:20-21, "Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife."

It starts so simply, like the man who said, "I promised never to tell anything I hear about anyone unless it's good. And boy is this good!" Or like the woman who said, "Listen carefully while I tell this story. I can tell it only once. I promised I'd never repeat it." Or like the girl who asked her friend, "Have you heard the latest about Jayne?" "Heard it?" she replied, "I started it!"

Statistics say you speak about 10,000 words a day. If all your words were put into print you would fill a 50-page book a day, or 132 books of 200 pages each year!

Some of the words you speak will cut like a knife, kill like a gun, pierce like a sword, crush like a club, and burn like a fire, turning your lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.

Many years ago there used to be a sign near the Hackensack River in New Jersey, on the New York & Erie Railroad, that read, "Shut our Ash-pan!" It brought many a laugh to strangers of railroads, but it was a serious thing to the engineers. Burning coals used to drop from the locomotive through the open ash-pan onto the wooden bridges. They were in danger of being set on fire by the burning coals. That would have cause a loss of lives and equipment. It was very important that the engineers heed the sign and shut the ash-pan.

There is no message so important for us to heed today as that sign. No, not because of wooden bridges, but because of our family and friends. You and I, with our tongues, are in danger of turning lives into a blazing fire of disaster. That's why the Psalmist prayed, "Help me, Lord, to keep my mouth shut and my lips sealed."

Not only is the tongue like a fire, but it's also like a beast. It's written in James 3:7, "For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, has been tamed by mankind."

We were given a beautiful German Shepherd and it was suggested that we have him security trained. We took him to an animal trainer who was a genius. He showed us his Golden Retrievers whom he taught to play baseball. At his command they took their places. One pitched, another caught, and a third tossed the ball. The batter hit it and dogs at first and second ran for the ball. It was exciting!

Afterwards he said to his dogs, "Let us pray." They bowed their heads and clasped their paws as children clasp their hands when they pray. They appeared more serious than a lot of people I know.

I love animals and I enjoy watching prancing horses, chimps that communicate in sign language, and porpoises that "shoot baskets" much better than I can. While some animals and reptiles play, others poison. There's a snake in South America that's called the "two-step" snake. If it bites you, you take two steps and die. Words are like that. They have the potential to poison the relationship between the husband and the wife, parents and the children, the pastor and his people. They deaden the love, debilitate the mind, and destroy the faith.

What a beast the tongue can be - in more ways than one. And the Bible says, "Every kind of beast...has been tamed by mankind." But it adds, "No man can tame the tongue." But I know Someone Who can! The Lord Jesus.

Several years ago it was my privilege to lead the singing for a Bible Conference in the Southeast.  One morning a number of churchmen got into a heated argument. Their hot words were beginning to cool their friendships. Finally one turned to Dr. Harry Ironside and angrily asked, "What do you hold to?" He kindly answered, "My tongue."

III. Power to Bless: the Fountain and Tree

It's written in James 3:9-12, "With it (the tongue) we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring can yield both salt water and fresh."

Look at the fountain. The Bible likens the tongue to water. Why? Water is life-giving. It's written in Proverbs 13:14, "The law of the wise is a fountain of life." Paul and Silas cast a demon out of a fortune teller, and since her master's hopes of wealth were shattered, they had them imprisoned after whipping them. Around midnight they were praying and singing hymns to the Lord. Suddenly there was a great earthquake. The prison was shaken, the doors were opened and the chains of the prisoners fell off. The jailor was about to kill himself, but the preachers stopped him. Trembling with fear, he asked, "What must I do to be saved?" It was just a sentence of 15 words the preachers spoke, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." What life- giving words! They were saved.

Water launders. Being born and bred in an Italian home, we had wine for lunch and dinner. And it was the desire of my father that I learn to drink wine and smoke an Italian cigar by the time I was five. He was so thrilled that I fulfilled his desire that he had a picture made of me with a glass of wine in one hand and an Italian cigar in the other. But the Lord Jesus saved me. Then I wondered, "Shall I keep on drinking and smoking?" One day I came to 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Looking at the margin of my Bible I saw another verse listed: Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." I asked, "Can I smoke and drink to the glory of God? Can I smoke and drink in the name of the Lord Jesus?" I found myself saying, "No, I can't." So I quit, and it was the Bible that cleansed my life.

Look at the tree. The Bible likens the tongue to a tree? Why? It gives sustenance. It's written in Proverbs 10:21, "The lips of the righteous feed many." And did not our Lord say in Matthew 4:4, "Man shall not live by bread alone"? It's the business of every one of us not only to believe the Bible, but to broadcast it' not only to love it, but to live it; not only to pray on it, but to pass it on. Are you doing this, believer?

The tree gives shelter, it shades and it refreshes' and so does the tongue. It's written in Isaiah 50:4, "The Lord has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary." Right after I was converted I was asked to sing a solo in a little country church. I asked my father, "Do you mind if I go?" He said, "Tonight you must decide between your father and your faith." I loved my father very much, but I loved the Lord Jesus more, and I sang. Riding home with some Christians I started to softly sob. I didn't know where I could spend the night. Suddenly the Christians sang, "Be not dismayed what'er betide, God will take care of you." Oh, how that refreshed me. Why not let the Lord use you to refresh others?

But the apostle James warned that a fountain can't give fresh water and bitter water at the same time; and a tree can't bear two different kinds of fruit at the same time. Nature reproduces after its kind. If your tongue is inconsistent, it shows there's something wrong with your heart. When Peter became worldly, he uttered some oaths. On seeing his sin of inconsistency, he wept bitterly, confessed his sins sincerely, and was wonderfully forgiven. When his heart was right, his tongue was right. It's like the old country doctor said to me, "Let me see your tongue."

It may be that you are saying, "I'm ashamed to. There's so much inconsistency and iniquity. How can I experience a clean and Christ-honoring tongue?"

A. First, there must be the consecration.

Romans 12:1 declares, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Don't let any part of your bodies become tools for sinning. Give yourself completely to God, every part of you, to be used for His good purposes. Yes, give up everything for God, but don't give Him up for anything.

B. Second, there must be the captivity.

It's written in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Third, there must be the conversation. It's written in Malachi 3:16, "Then those who feared the Lord spoke one to another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name."

You and I can't tame our tongue, but the Lord Jesus can. Let's turn our tongues over to Him right now!

An elderly Chinese lady went to a doctor at a missionary hospital and said, "The mayor of our town has been a patient here. He used to be a very bad man. He was cruel to his children. He wasted his money gambling. He didn't provide for his family. He had a foul mouth, and all the water in the world couldn't have made him clean. But since he has been with you, the tiger has been changed into a lamb. His wife is full of joy. He no longer speaks unkind words to her. Give me some of the same medicine that cured our mayor."

How happy the doctor was to tell her that it wasn't a pill, but a Person who brought about the life- changing, tongue-controlling, character-sweetening experience.

Won't you let the Lord Jesus change you?