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James 3:1-12 Disciplines of Discipleship - The Power of Words Sermon preached March 3, 2013 Opening You know the

book series, ...for Dummies? Car repair for dummies. Portuguese for Dummies. Investing for Dummies. Really successful. Thousands of titles now. Everything from Crocheting for Dummies to Calculus for Dummies to Anger Management to Raising Chickens to Ukelele for Dummies And yes, there is a Christianity for Dummies book. But if I were going to write my own version, maybe Basic Christian Disciplines for Dummies, one of the very first chapters would be our topic today. Intro to James Now - the book of James is a highly practical book, where hes trying to get us to see the difference between just saying Im a Christian, and actually living like a Christian. For James, faith is not only something you believe, its something you do. And in chapter 3, James turns to how our faith is to guide and direct the words that come out of our mouths. Now you read what James has to say here, and it seems at first like the man is going over the top. The tongue...is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell...no man can tame the tongue, it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. You read that and you almost want to say, take a breath, man, calm down. I mean, theyre just words. And we live in a time where there are so many words being spoken and written and shouted that they are worth less and less, mean less and less - like Ted Koppel said a while back - Consider this paradox: Almost everything that is publicly said these days is recorded. Almost nothing of what is said is worth remembering. And consider this - the Lords Prayer contains 66 words. The Gettysburg Address has 286 words. The Federal Governments regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words. Were drowning in words - so what is James getting so upset about? Theological consideration of the power of words Well, James is teaching that words have enormous power to do good, or to do harm. Now thats kind of remarkable. Words come out of our mouths with so little thought and effort - but James says, and you and I certainly know when we give it some thought, that words have enormous power. 1

And theres a theological reason why. If you look back at the passage, at vs. 9, we get our first clue - James says With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. The power of human language comes from how God made us in his own image. The power of our words derives from the power of Gods words. Think back to Genesis, to the story of creation - God speaks - Let there be light... and light blazes forth. Let the land produce living creatures... and they came into being. The word of God creates new realities. And in the New Testament - Paul says that faith comes from hearing - hearing the words of the Gospel - the words describing what Jesus Christ has done for us also create new realities in our lives - healing and saving us and setting us a new course in life. And like Gods words, our words also have the power to create new realities. Not to the same degree - you can stand in your living room and say Let there be light and the lamps wont come on - but our words have power in another way - to create realities in our lives, and in the lives of others. To do good, or to do harm. Negative power of words Now in the passage James focuses on the destructive power of words. And he uses the analogy of how words are like a spark that can start a fire that will ravage a forest, so words can ravage a human life. Maybe some of you have read John Eldridges book Wild at Heart. One chapter is titled The Wound. The writers point is that many men (and women, too) suffer a wound in their souls that is inflicted by words said by their fathers. He tells of one man named Charles who grew up in a family with a father and brothers who were athletic. But Charles wasnt, and his love was music, playing the piano. One day his father and brothers came in from playing basketball at the gym and saw Charles at the keyboard and with his voice dripping with scorn and disgust, said to him, Youre such a faggot. It was like a shotgun blast to the chest that has stayed with Charles into adulthood.i Words like that are curses, says James. In pre-Enlightenment cultures, the idea of a curse is not just saying something mean about someone - a curse is like a wish for harm and pain to afflict another person - and in those cultures, a curse carries power - when you said to someone in a formally cursing way that may your eyes shrivel in their sockets, may your teeth rot and fall from your gums, may your crops wither and your cattle die, it was thought those words had power to make that stuff happen. 2

And theres something to that - words do have power to curse by shaping a persons future. Some of us are still bearing wounds inflicted by words said a long time ago. And there are some of us who know that weve said things like that to a child, a spouse, a friend and have left a wound that still aches in that persons heart, even after years. And once said, the damage cant be undone by simply saying Im sorry. To illustrate the destructive power of words, the teachers and authors Thom and Joani Schultz, have a group exercise where they hand a member of the group a paper cutout of a person with these instructions: Say something insulting to the person and then tear off one portion of the cutout's body. Passing the cutout around the circle, each person tears off a different part of the person. Now the group is instructed to say something nice to the now torn-up cutout. As the cutout is passed around again, the group attempts to tape the torn body parts back on. The group experiences how much easier it is to tear someone apart than put them back together.ii Most all of us have a problem here Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, does lectures on the powerful, and often negative, impact of words. He often asks audiences if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, another person. Invariably, only a small number of listeners raise their hands, signifying "yes." Others laugh, and quite a large number call out, "no!" Telushkin responds: "Those who can't answer 'yes' must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. Similarly, if you cannot go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue."iii Let me push it a little more. If you use words to tear down another person - either directly, or by gossip - you are doing Satans work for him. One meaning of the name devil is the slanderer, the accuser. And if you are verbally lacerating others, if you are passing on gossip, you have enlisted in Satans army. You are tearing down someone Christ loves and dies for. You are spreading filth. And you will face the judgment of God for it. As Jesus said, we will give account for every careless word we utter. How do we find healing? So what do we do? James says that no one can tame the tongue. And maybe youve found that out - youve got a quick tongue and you hurt people and you resolve to do better, 3

but you keep on doing it. Well, James says right here that we cant do it on our own, that if we rely only on our own discipline, well fail. What you have to do is get to the source of the problem. In. vss. 11-12, James asks rhetorically, can both fresh water and brackish water come out of the same spring? Can a fig tree bear olives or a grapevine figs? What hes getting at is that if you put a bucket down into a spring with brackish water, you shouldnt expect to get fresh water, nor should you expect a heart that is darkened by sin and shame to produce words that are always pure and good and blessing. The tongue is connected to the heart. Like Jesus said, its out of the heart come things like envy and adultery and slander. Our words reveal whats in here. Maybe if you are over 45 like me you remember Watergate, when the tapes of Richard Nixon in the Oval Office started being released - the transcripts. What was so shocking was not that there was salty language; what was shocking was that the words the man said revealed the meanness and pettiness in his heart that was a complete contradiction of the public face he tried to put on. Words reveal the heart. And if your heart is full of pride, youll say snide and condescending things to others; if your heart is full of insecurity and envy, youll end up gossiping about others; if your heart is full of shame, youll end up saying negative things about yourself and reinforce it. And whats the cure for this? Its praise. Look back at vs. 9-10. Ill read it again. With it (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. James is saying that the opposite of cursing, is not blessing, its praise. The idea here is that you get at the heart issue, the source of the problem by coming to know God in such a way that your heart is filled with praise and gratitude - that Christ calls you his friend, that he died for you and wants to heal us of our shame and brokenness, that your worth and security are rooted in being a child of God. We need to hear the word from outside that contradicts the hurtful words that have wounded us. Your heart has to be changed by the love and beauty of God before you can really get at this issue of the tongue. And once youve got the Holy Spirit at work changing your heart, then you can successfully discipline the tongue. First discipline - speak words of blessing And the first discipline is learning to speak words of blessing. Like praising a child when 4

they put forth effort. Complimenting someone for their work. I have a friend, Steve Ramp, hes a master at this. When we were at seminary he would go around and tell good stuff about people - hed introduce you and then say something like, Have you met Scott? He gave this amazing presentation on Romans last week in class... Words like that do create the future, they make you believe that you are worthwhile and capable, they give you something to live up to. And you learn to do this by noticing what is good and beautiful about people and what they do and letting them know about it, telling others about it. I mean, compliments, praise - they are wonderful heres a great one when the playwright Richard Sheridan said to his wife: "Won't you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you. And the more you look for what is good and true and beautiful in others, the more you will see it. Its easy to be cynical and negative and critical. To me, thats a form of laziness. But to see what is good and beautiful - it takes work - but once you get the hang of it, it will transform what comes out of your mouth, and you will bless others. And then well be using our words like God does - to create good. And second, learn when not to speak. To hold your tongue. I read about a woman who had a very serious throat condition. The doctor told her that her vocal cords needed total rest _ she was forbidden to talk for 6 months! With a husband and 6 kids, this seemed impossible, but she did what she was told. When she needed the kids she blew a whistle. Whenever she needed to communicate she wrote things on pads of paper. After six months, her voice came back. When asked what it was like to communicate only in writing, she said this: Youd be surprised how many notes I crumpled up and threw into the trash before I gave them to anyone. Seeing my words before anyone heard them had an effect that I dont think I can ever forget. You know, slowing down and thinking about what is about to come out of ones mouth is a really good discipline - especially if you are angry. When you are about to speak, ask yourself, Is this true? Is it helpful? Will it be a blessing? If not...dont say it. And in terms of gossip - A.W. Tozer had these powerful words of advice about the sin of gossip: Never pass anything on about anybody else that will hurt him. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The talebearer has no place in Gods favor. If you know something that would hinder or hurt the reputation of one of Gods children, bury it forever. Find a little garden out back a little spot somewhere and when somebody comes around with an evil story, take it out and bury it and say, Here lies in peace the story about my brother. God will take care of it. With what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.iv 5

And third, confront harmful speech I want to apply this directly to our church. Because we hold ourselves to a higher standard as a community of Christ-followers. If were in conversation with someone and they begin to say harmful things about someone else, we have a responsibility to interrupt that and ask them to speak directly to the other person. Or if you get an email with gossip about someone, we have a responsibility to ignore what it says and again ask the person to speak directly to the other person. If we participate - we sin by entertaining accusations that may very well be slanderous, we may be bearing false witness - or it may be dredging up something from that persons past that the Lord has already forgiven and using it to damage that persons reputation, or wound them again with the reminder about their past sin. We need to lovingly confront the one spreading the hurtful words - and then go a step further - go to the person being talked about and tell them whats going on and ask them to confirm or correct whats being said. Closing To close, I have an exercise for you. Theres a blank piece of paper in your bulletins. Id like you to think of someone in your life who could use a word of blessing. Could be a word of encouragement. Could be an affirmation of love. Could be a word of support for someone going through a tough time. Write down your words of blessing, tuck the paper into your pocket or purse and say those words of blessing, soon. Amen Endnotes

i. John Eldridge, Wild at Heart. pp. 69-70. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001. ii. Tom & Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church And How to Fix It (Loveland, Colo: Group Publishing, 1993. iii. Rick Ezell, One Minute Uplift (7-21-06) iv. A.W. Tozer, Five Vows for Spiritual Power.