SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY
13TH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST
SEPTEMBER 6, 2020
Title: The Terror of the Tongue.
Text: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).
Scripture Reading: James 3:1-12.
James had a great deal to say about the tongue. In fact, he devoted an entire section of his letter to it. Even so, he was not introducing a new thought. He spoke about the tongue earlier when he warned that we must be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (1:19). In that same context, he exhorted us to “bridle” our tongues (1:26), suggesting that they often have the tendency to run ahead of our thoughts. Even though there are many references to the tongue throughout the Bible, James spoke more strongly about its danger than other Bible writers. Proverbs 13:3 admonishes us that “those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” This morning, let us learn together, the power of the tongue.
Let it be clear that James spoke of the power of the tongue, both from the standpoint of good and evil. In verses chapter 3 verses 2-5, James used three illustrations to prove the power of the tongue. In the first illustration, James drew a parallel between the horse and the human body. In verse 3, James points out that a horse unrestrained, seeks to satisfy its physical needs. It is an illogical being. If it is to accomplish anything useful, anything nor merely for the satisfaction of its own desires, it must be directed by a logical being, a thinking person. So it is with the human body. Human cannot direct themselves, for if they do, they will seek satisfaction of self instead of seeking the glory of God, which is the specific purpose for which they were created. What do we do to harness a horse? We make use of a bit and bridle. By controlling its tongue, we can control the whole body. The horse does not bridle itself, it must be bridled by someone else. Likewise, people cannot control themselves. They must defer to a greater power.
The second illustration James used has to do with greatest ships. We see that in verse 4. James did not know anything about the great ocean-going vessels of our day, but even in his day there were ships that could be described as ‘great.’ How were the movements of these great vessels controlled, even under the most adverse conditions? “By a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs” (RSV). The points of these first two illustrations are made in verse 5: “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.” That is, in relation to the other members of the body, the tongue is little. But it can achieve great results. This is not an empty boast. The tongue can sway people to violence or move them to the highest and noblest action,
The third illustration is found in the fire (verse 5). “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire.” James contrasted the smallness of a spark with the greatness of the fire that can result.
James spoke of the vicious nature of the tongue in chapter 3 verses 6-8. First James said that “the tongue is a fire.” We know that fire under control can be a great blessing. With controlled fire, people can overcome the cold, cook their food, and drive the engines of industry. But fire out of control leaves desolation and tragedy in its wake. So the tongue, like fire out of control, scorches and consumes!
James then said that the tongue is “a world of iniquity.” The word translated “world” here (cosmos) also means “ornament,” or decoration.” The good and sanctified tongue will condemn unrighteousness, but the evil tongue will complement and “decorate” it, making it appear as if it were righteous. James concluded this metaphor by saying that the tongue that does this “is set on fire of hell.” That is, the uncontrolled fire of the tongue is fed by the never-dying flames of hell.
James pointed out that the tongue is wild and untamable (verse 7-8). A person may control the tongue, but it must be ever kept under careful guard; the leash can never be removed from it.
In verses 9-12 of chapter three, James spoke about the inconsistency of the tongue. The tongue is notoriously inconsistent. With it we bless God and curse others who are made in God’s image. He was saying that it is abnormal and inappropriate to bless God in prayer and praise yet speak evil of members of God’s family.
In verse 11-12, James illustrated the inconsistency of the tongue with two figures drawn from nature. The first is the figure of a fountain of water. Is it possible for a “salt spring to produce fresh water’? The second figure concerns fruit. “Can a fig tree…yield olives or a grapevine figs?” That likeness produces likeness is a law of nature. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
An unbeliever hired a professing Christian to paint his house. He knew that this Christian could pray beautiful prayers and could quote a great deal of Scripture. But when it came to painting, he didn’t fill the nail holes with putty like he was supposed to, and he didn’t paint the tops of the doors, where none could see them. The non-Christian later said, “Now I know that his prayers and his piety don’t mean much. I prefer Christians who will fill up the nail holes and paint the tops of the doors!” What we say must be backed up with actions. You see church, with the tongue Caesar sent armies to war and Adolf Hitler incited mass genecide. These two men used their tongues and brought much evil upon humankind. But, with the tongue John Wesley preached to millions. Winston Churchill inspired a nation to stand firm and Billy Graham brought millions to faith in Christ. What are you using your tongue for? Master your tongue or it will master your life, ruin your reputation, and destroy your relationships. If you want to look to master your tongue, learn from James chapter three. Stay bless and God bless you all!