Sermon – "The Power of the Tongue" – James 3:1-12 – 9/13/09

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Speech is a powerful thing. What you can do with your mouth is more powerful than what you do with your hands. If you want to hurt someone, the tongue is much more effective than the fist is. If you want to apologize to someone, all the flowers in the world won't accomplish what two little like, 'I'm sorry' can do.

How many parents try to tell their children that they love them with toys and every gizmo going? And how many children long to hear just three little words from their parents, "I love you."

Words are not just words. Words are powerful. And they can do powerful things, for better or for worse. Words can help and they can hurt. They can build up and they can tear down. By way of illustration, words are like the bit in a horses' mouth. They have the power to control others. The tongue is like a rudder on a ship. The words we speak can steer individuals, groups, even whole nations, congregations, even whole church bodies in one direction or another.

As people of the Word, that should not surprise us. In the beginning, the very first thing that happened was the spoken word. "And God said…" God created the world by speaking, and not apart from His spoken Word. And how does God create the new world, redeemed and renewed, the home of righteousness? By the Word, made flesh, crucified on the cross and raised from the dead, and not apart from the Word. How is a person saved? By the hearing of the Word which creates faith in the heart, and not apart from the Word.

So the Word of God is powerful. It the power of God is packed in every Word that comes from His mouth. His Word has the power to comfort the weary, to lift up the downtrodden, to give hope to those in despair, even to give life to the dead.

So, the fact that our words and our speech have such power is evidence of God's imprint on His creation – "Let us make man in our image." The power of our words is an image of the power of God's spoken word.

The huge difference between us and God however, and it makes all the difference in everything, is sin. God has no sin and so the Words that He speaks are true. They are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Your word is truth." (John 17:17). God never speaks a word that He doesn't intend to speak and every word that comes from God's mouth has got a holy purpose. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2Tim.3:16). Not just some words, but every word that comes from mouth of God is life giving and life sustaining for the man and the woman who will hear them.

Sadly, such is not the case for us. Even the serpent's word has great power. But every word from the devil's mouth is for an evil purpose. He is the father of lies. Adam and Eve listened to the word of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and it became the bit in their mouth and the rudder that they couldn't turn against. It turned them from saint to sinner. They kept their ability to speak all right. But now they used this precious gift of God for evil and not for good. They were no longer able to control their tongue. Suddenly, it was no longer God's Word that controlled their speech, it was their anger or their fear, or their jealousy and coveting caused them to speak cruel things, evil things for the purpose of hurting or harming or even killing.

With the fall of man into sin, man's whole body became an instrument of sin. And James says that the tongue is the most dangerous body part in the entire human anatomy because of its great power. "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell."

Please notice that James is not saying that our tongue is basically good, but every once in awhile it slips up and acts very bad. "It is a world of UNRIGHTEOUSNESS."

Nor is he saying that with a little self-control and self-discipline, we can control this thing from setting fires and staining the entire course of life. "For every kind of beast and bird, of retile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." The human tongue has been as totally corrupted and ruined by sin as the human heart has been. We lost our freedom to choose to use our tongue for the good, right and salutary purpose that God put a tongue in our mouth in the beginning.

The result of the fall on the human tongue is so dangerous because the power that God gave to our words and speech remains. But that power has come under the control of a terrorist. And what could be more dangerous than the tongue of a terrorist?

So what we see Jesus do for this boy whom his father brought to him ought to be very encouraging for us all. The boy had an evil spirit in him that made the boy mute. The spirit put on an impressive demonstration of his power over the boy in front of Jesus. "And when the spirit saw him immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth." What an evil power this spirit wielded over this child's mouth. Jesus said, "'you mute and deaf spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.' And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, 'He is dead.' But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.'"

It should be easy for all of us to find ourselves in the shoes of this boy. The power of the evil spirit over that boy's mouth is the power of sin and the devil over ours. Thank God that our heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit brought us to Jesus. Maybe when you were a little boy or a little girl, you said a bad word. And maybe your mother or father tried to wash that bad word off of your tongue with a cake of soap. I don't know how effective that approach was for you, and I'm not telling you how it worked for me. But mothers and fathers who really want to wash their child's tongue clean bring them to the waters of holy baptism.

In your baptism, you got what no soap can do for you. Like this boy, you died and your old tongue died. You died to sin and the sins power over you and sins power over your tongue. And in your death, Jesus took you by the hand and lifted you up and you rose from the dead, a new man, a new woman, with a whole new life, and a whole new tongue.

A new tongue that is tied to the Holy Spirit and not to the evil spirit; it is the Holy Spirit who has His bit in your mouth now.
A new tongue that longs to speak in unison with the Word of God;
a new tongue that desires to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and not to deny Him;
that deliberately and intentionally calls upon the name of Lord our God in prayer and praise and not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain.
A new tongue that speaks well of others and does not bear false witness against them.
A new tongue that is ready to receive the very body of Christ and the blood of Christ placed upon it for forgiveness and renewal and strengthening and for the power of Jesus Christ to rule over it.
Jesus Christ is now the rudder that steers and directs your life.

St. Paul tells us that the day will come when every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil.2:11). They will not have the power to not confess Jesus as Lord. For some, that will be pure joy, for others, pure hell. In the book of Revelation, we see that all of the saints in heaven sing together as with one voice, one tongue in pure joy, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exalt and give him the glory." (Rev.19:6-7).

For all of those who have died in faith, this joy is a present now. For you and me who still live in this world where sin still exerts its power over our mortal bodies and tongues, this joy is a present now but not yet. As long as we live on this side of heaven we are simultaneously saint and sinner. And the battle between the two within us is constant and daily. And the reality of our life of faith on this side of heaven is that the sinner within us wins out over the saint in us more than not.

St. Paul puts it like this, "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."(Romans 7:21-25)

Paul does not say, "you know, I used to have a problem controlling my tongue. But then I got baptized and now, I've got it all under control." No, it's a constant war and to fight the battle requires constant prayer and a daily return to our Baptism for forgiveness and a regular regimen of being in the Word of God to straighten our tongue out again, and again, and again.

James describes the struggle between the old sinful tongue and the new holy tongue like this, "Does a spring pour fourth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Can a salt pond produce fresh water? The obvious answer to all these questions is 'no.' But your mouth can pour forth words that of love and hate. Your tongue can produce both good and rotten fruit. James says, "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing." "But, my brothers and sisters, these things ought not be so."

We all need to ask ourselves, what bit have I taken into my mouth that is controlling me? What teaching and word am I letting steer the course of my life? Is it God's Word? Because that which is God's Word and in agreement with God's Word has the power to lead you and guide you in the way, and the truth and the life. And no other Word does.

If there's one part of the human anatomy that reminds us of our need for forgiveness and repentance and the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, it's our tongue. For the believer, the one who loves God, God works all things for good, even our tongue. Now, our tongue is like a built in alarm that repeatedly reminds us of our need to repent and cling to Christ and His forgiveness and mercy. Now, God uses our tongue to spread the gospel and share the victory over sin's power with others.

Maybe we should not be so surprised that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples. Not a destructive fire like our tongues ignite. But a purifying fire. And the apostles all spoke with holy, inspired tongues, a foreshadowing of the kind of speaking we will all one day with our tongue. They used their tongues for what God had created the tongue to be used for, to proclaim Jesus Christ and call upon people everywhere to let Jesus, The Word, be the bit in your mouth that you obey and the rudder that steers and directs your life.

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