Bridle the Tongue (James 3:1-12)

October 16, 2022

Series: James

Book: James

Scripture: James 3:1-12

All right, please turn with me to James chapter three. We will continue our study of the book of James today. James, chapter three. My wife Amy, she’s with me today in terms of she will assist me with the lesson. All right. She’ll have some insights to share as well on James chapter three. To get us started, I do want to ask. We’re going to have an activity here to get us rolling into our lesson. I’m asking Mia to come on up. Mia of Valentin fame and just come on up here. She’s the victim. I mean, volunteer. All right, great. Thank you, Mia. And I hope you feel encouraged already. By the way. Okay, so we have some toothpaste up here and you’ll see where this is going in a few minutes. But I do want to ask, do you have a favorite toothpaste? What is it? Brand and flavor. Colgate. Good. We’re off to a good start. So you can hold it up. See, we have Colgate there. Okay. Growing up, I was an aqua fresh man because I just like the streams of different colors. But today we get whatever’s on sale.

And Colgate was on sale and it was cheap, but it is approved by the American Dental Association. So we are good to go. All right, here we go. Mia is going to help us out here. Here’s what I need you to do. Step one, it’s a brand new box. Open the box. It really is toothpaste. And you can show it to our audience here. Okay, so we have have brand new toothpaste here. And what I’m going to ask you to do when I say go, you’ll open the toothpaste. And what I want you to do is to squeeze out a six inch strand of that toothpaste on the plate, all right? And then you’ll show it to everyone. You think you can do that? There you go. All right. So you’re going to squeeze it out. Go ahead. Six inches. All right. That looks good. That’s good. All right, now show it to everyone. All right. This is nice, right? Come on, encourage her. Great. We’ve really done well so far. Thank you, Mia. We’re doing great up here. All right, so next, when I say go, you’re going to put your face no, I’m just kidding.

Next, when I say go, all right, I want that toothpaste. I want to take it home just like I brought it. And I want all of it back. So what I want you to do is when I say go, I want you to put all of the toothpaste back in the tube, through the hole it came out of. And I don’t want any messes, I don’t want a broken tube. I want you to put all the toothpaste back, good as new, just like we found it. You think you can do that? Alright, once you give it a try.

Okay. All right, I think we’ve proved our point. Now. Give her a round applause. She tried. Right, show the plate. All right, we did not get all the toothpaste back in the tube, but I set her up to not succeed. I’m really sorry about that, but thanks for putting it back. Give her a round applause. Great job. She made the illustration for us. You see what happened there? What’s wrong there? You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube. I asked Mia to do the impossible and she was a good sport about it.

But once the toothpaste is out of the tube, there’s no going back, all right? Once that toothpaste is out, you cannot put it back. There’s nothing you can do. That’s it. Once it’s out, it’s out. Right? So I want you to remember this illustration today, right? We did our best, but it’s done, right? It’s never going to be the same. And I would say, for the purposes of our lesson today, remember this because in the same way, once words come out of our mouths, we simply cannot put them back. And that’s the warning that James gives us here in chapter three. And I’ll tell you up front, there’s really not much fluff or even positivity in this section of his letter. In fact, it’s a stern admonishment to get you and me ready for Judgment Day. And it starts and it ends with our mouths. All right?

So let’s look at the scripture here. And keep in mind, James is a jumper. So if you were here last week for when Eddie preached and taught us from the end of James chapter two, it’s like, Whoa, where’s James going now? All right, he jumps around quite a bit. And what he does here is he’s jumping back in James chapter three to something he hit on already in James chapter one, verse 26. So we’re going to rewind, we’re going to read James chapter one, verse 26, and then we’re going right into chapter three. Are you with me? All right, here we go. James, chapter one, verse 26. And then we’ll move into chapter three as well. James writes, if anyone thinks he’s religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. And we could stop right there, just drop the microphone. But there’s more. He picks up on this theme again in chapter three, verse one. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, my sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness, for we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he’s the perfect man, able to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

All right, so, verse one. We’re going to camp here for just a few minutes right away James cautions us. Only a small percentage of us should position ourselves as teachers. And he’s not talking about teaching one another God’s word on an intimate, personal level. That’s not what this is about here. Rather, very few of us should seek an audience and present ourselves as an authority on any number of ethical or biblical topics. And the reason here is very clear. If you influence larger groups of people with your words, you expose yourself to greater danger of judgment from the Almighty God. Make no mistake, God will hold you directly accountable for your words.

And on a personal level, as a preacher and what I do and the responsibility that I personally have, this frightens me. It’s scary to think how much I face judgment from God for the words I say. And, of course, judgment from others. I think it’s primarily talking about the judgment from God here. But naturally, anyone that’s been in a position of authority, you understand what it’s like, right? What that feeling is. But it comes with a territory, and many times it’s a God-given responsibility. It’s not something you want to take. It’s something that’s given. I do want to say I’m very grateful when church members want to speak at a public gathering or want to sing when we come together in a setting like this upfront. I’m thankful we’re a church that embraces all ages and men and women utilizing their gifts specifically on Sunday mornings to build up the church. But at the same time, be sober minded. Be careful what you ask for. When you’re upfront the burden of judgment from the Lord and from the church is no joke. I feel it. I think I’m supposed to feel it. I think that’s healthy. Eddie Francis feels it. Our song leaders feel it. Reggie, Malik, they’ve been doing this for decades, and trust me, they feel it. Not many of you should presume to be teachers is what James says. And I think 20 years ago, if I were to teach or preach this lesson and this specific scripture here in James three, one, maybe 20 years ago, probably would only spend one or two minutes on it. But times have changed, and here’s what I’m talking about. In today’s age of social media, everyone is an influencer. I hope you know that. Everyone has an audience. You could get out your phone right now and you will have a pulpit to preach from. Be sober minded. Everyone has that access these days. I’m asked my wife Amy to share a bit here.

Good morning. I’m grateful to share this morning. I’m grateful to share what I’ve learned. I’m grateful for those influencers. I’m grateful for women who have taught me the word of God. I’m grateful for the books that I can read, the podcasts. We can learn a lot from them. And I think that there are women who, when they use their gifts to build up the kingdom of God and not just the world. It is it’s a balm. It’s healing from my soul. And I’m sure other women feel that as well. And so I’m grateful to share, but I’m also really grateful for my husband, for the eldership, and the role that other men in the church take in terms of teaching and preaching because of the burden of judgment that accompanies that. And so I’m really, really grateful for that as I share this morning and even as I speak to my sisters who perhaps desire to be in a seat of teacher, and maybe you have been gifted in that way, and you do have a message on your heart, we must remember to take it with great responsibility and with sobriety.

I want to go back again to social media. I know I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a hundred times, but I won’t hesitate to say whatever needs to be said as many times as it needs to be said to secure your salvation. I think some of these things are so important, and we see that here in James, chapter three. So when it comes to social media, be very cautious about what you post. Do not lead others astray, because, as Jesus said, in so doing, you may tie a millstone around your neck. God is serious about that. When you hit send, God’s judgment of you as a teacher begins. Be very, very careful. In verse two, we move into the remainder of this passage, and James now broadens his scope. Not only must teachers watch their mouths, but in fact, everyone right must watch what they say. All right. This is important because we live in a culture that thinks, you know, what, I’ll say what I want, I’ll say what I feel, and if I need to, then I’ll apologize later.

And I think that this is even harder for us as Americans. You see the slide behind me? Free speech. That is our First Amendment. It’s not our third, it’s not our 10th. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, and we love it. I’m grateful for it. I love that we have the freedom to speak today. It is a value that we cherish as Americans. But I would ask, what has this value done to our thinking? I think it’s very challenging for us to believe that it’s truly a good thing to bridle our tongues while we are proudly fighting for the right to say anything and everything to anyone at any time. I think it’s very hard to desire a bridled tongue and be celebrating free speech. So when we read this scripture from James, we have to consider whether we are willing to submit our words to an authority, to the authority of God, to the authority of his will, or is our freedom to say anything, anyone, any where, any how is that of a greater value to us than doing what God would want? And I can actually speak a little bit from personal experience the idea of completely bridling my tongue, not because the government told me to stop talking, but in 2016 I damaged my vocal cords and I couldn’t sing anymore and I really could hardly talk anymore. So the doctor said, Amy, you need to stop talking for a month. And so it wasn’t whisper, it wasn’t lower the volume, it was nothing. And so I literally had to be bridled. I had to be quick to listen and slow to speak, a lot of listening. And I was limited in every situation to what I could write down quickly and try to comment. Or I had an app where I could try to type really, really fast. And predicting speech is helpful, but still, if you’re in a group of five, six, seven people and they’re conversing, it’s very likely that by the time I would finish typing and share what I had to say, they’ve moved on to like four topics. And so that experience being quickly passed by in conversations, it was a spiritual experience as well. I learned a lot about the fact that I am more bossy and more controlling and more arrogant than maybe I realized.

I think that I have the answers more often than I realized because I couldn’t talk. I also learned just that other people will have sometimes learned things even if I don’t say it, they’ll figure it out. Or that if I don’t say it and it needs to be said, eventually somebody else might come around and say that thing. Someone else might have a chance to have an idea. And so it was a spiritual experience as much as it was a physical experience. And in a similar way to prayer and fasting, it is a discipline for us to bridle our tongues. And I learned a lot about trusting God from that time.

Amen. So we saw it in chapter one, and we see it again here in chapter three from James. He uses this illustration of horse and bridle. And what happens is you have this bit of the bridle, it’s shoved inside the horse’s mouth and you can now control a 1500 pound animal with pure muscle. It’s amazing. I don’t know who here has taken a ride on a horse or galloped on a horse before and what that experience is like, it’s exhilarating. It’s kind of scary as well. But if you think about it, you’re able to control this ginormous beast, right? You can control the beast just with one small bit in the horse’s mouth. That’s all it takes. So I would say, in the same way here’s, what James is trying to teach us is to control your own life, you must first bridle your tongue. And if not, he told us right away in chapter one at the beginning of this letter. If not, you and I are wasting our time with Christianity. If you can’t bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless. Yeah, and don’t miss the irony here. And James goes through and he points out different illustrations of this, the irony of how something so small can set the course for something else that’s a fraction of its size. That’s the power of the tongue, and that’s the point he keeps making.

Let’s read some more here in verse four. James, three, verse four, he says, also, not just the bridle and the horse, but look at the ships also. Though they are so large, these ships, and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a force 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 whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. Amen. Yeah. Wow. So here it is again in verse four. In order to retain power of the ship, the pilot must control the rudder. If not, you wreck your ship and you destroy everything in your path. So in the same way, if your tiny tongue and it’s small, right, if your tiny tongue is not harnessed, your entire life gets out of control and you become a danger to the people around you.

You’re dangerous. He goes on in verse five, gives the example, hey, a careless camper, and I could be that guy, leaves one ember burning, one spark, and the next thing you know, you have a wildfire that burns hundreds of thousands of acres to the ground just from a little spark. And it hurts to say because I’ve sinned in this way, I’ve been sinned against in this way. I think all of you guys can relate of how the mouth gets us in trouble and how we’re hurt by it. And once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. It’s just doing damage control from that point forward. So it’s painful, it hurts. And James is warning us here that the tongue has this effect of a spark that can cause a forest fire. Just one careless statement could hurt the people around you. Just one sarcastic or angry remark could hurt and divide your family. Just one outburst on social media could damage someone’s faith. Just one. That’s all it takes.

And if you’re still not convinced that we must bridle our tongues, check out verse six. We’ll read this again and keep on reading the rest of this section. Verse six. The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird of reptile and sea creature can be tamed, has been tamed by mankind. But no human being can tame the tongue. The tongue is a restless evil full of deadly poison. Oh, my goodness. There’s so many things I’ve said that I regret, but it’s done. The poison is out there. It’s saying here James is making he continues to hammer home this point man. As a society, we’ve tamed all kinds of animals. We’ve built this civilization. But hey, you know what? No human being can tame the tongue. We haven’t accomplished that, and we can’t. Only the lordship of Jesus can bridle your tongue. Only Jesus. And I don’t know how else James can get our attention this morning. I know sometimes many of us have read James many times, but if you just look at this section and go, oh, my, it floors me. It floors you. It’s shocking. It’s scary. It’s frightening. He’s getting our attention.

He says the tongue is a universal force of evil. The tongue is full of deadly poison. Our mouths get us in so much trouble. Our mouths will set our lives on fire and totally mess us up. It hurts other people. Our mouths could be what causes you or me to burn in hell. That’s what this is saying. Are you with me? It’s the word of God. Not my words, the words of the Holy Spirit speaking to us today. Are you listening?

So before we get practical, let’s read these last handful of verses. James here explains why the tongue can be so evil. James Three verse nine says, with the tongue, we bless our Lord and Father, and with the tongue, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. Same tongue, same person, same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening, both fresh and saltwater? Of course not. Can a fig tree, my brothers bear olives or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Bottom line, the tongue is evil because it reveals our duplicity.

Now, it’s one thing to confess duplicity and get it out there purposely and to want to repent and not repeat that. But this, what’s happening here with the tongue is it reveals something. It’s when the sin of our hearts suddenly comes out of the shadows and we just say something. We’re like, oh, my goodness. Didn’t know that’s where you were at. Or I didn’t know that’s how you felt about me or how you felt about this situation. But it’s out there, and it gets out there quick if you put it on social media. But it could be a conversation. It could be anything. And what Jesus teaches us and Jesus was very much concerned about the heart as a ministry of the heart. He says, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. So somehow, some way, we can praise God, but at the same time hate, disparage or speak horribly about our fellow human beings. And many times it’s the people we love the most. We hurt the people who are in close range. God have mercy on us. God forgive us. I need forgiveness. I need to give forgiveness the way I want to be forgiven.

God have mercy on us. And the point James is making, and he’s not pulling any punches, bridle your tongue and what you and I, and there are many scriptures, we’re not going to hit on those today. Right? I do want you to read and let the Holy Spirit fill you up about what the things you should be saying are. All right? Because the words we say do have this extraordinary power to build other people up. But our words also have the horrific capacity to destroy both others and ourselves. There are consequences to the careless words we speak. So let’s get practical here. I want to look at some examples of this and I do think it’s important we don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only about angry speech. So my wife Amy is going to share here.

Yeah, I mean, you can see the list. It’s more than just rude, angry or using profanity. It isn’t just the loud people that need to work on bridling their tongues. It can be the quiet people, it can be the introverts. All of us can be guilty at times. And when we look at this list of all the different kinds of things that we might need to bridle and we see things on there like gossip and manipulation, sarcasm, oversharing, babbling, flattery. I think a good way to consider am I unbridled? Have I started talking and my tongue has become unbridled? We can think about Ephesians 429. It says, do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. So a good way to think about it, cause maybe we go to inspire, we want to inspire our children or our friends, but it becomes manipulative at some point. Or we go to seek input or another set of eyes and we find ourselves moving into a category of gossip or we want to encourage people.

That’s a good thing, right? But then it becomes flattery. I think that Ephesians four helps us to know when we’re doing that because it’s becoming more about ourselves rather than about building up those who are listening. When we’re babbling to our children or to our husbands, it’s really about ourselves rather than the request that we’re making. When we are trying to be funny and we definitely love the funny people in the room, we want you to share your jokes with us and be funny. But when it becomes at the expense of that person and it’s really more about the other people and yourself. And maybe it’s sarcasm at that point, or vulnerability is a great, powerful tool for bonding people. But what about oversharing? Oversharing is not really considering the person that you’re sharing it with. It’s about yourself. Again, so righteousness in this area takes a lot of discipline. It takes discipline to bridle our tongue. And as Ephesians also shares, do not grieve the Holy Spirit. The closer we are to God and to his Holy Spirit and walking with the Spirit is the way that we will be able to speak to one another without having so often an unbridled tongue that veers off into some of these categories.

Yes, we have a lot to share because we’re sharing from our weakness. We’re still growing in this area. We have a long way to go. And I think there’s so much wisdom that we can gain from the Bible in this area. You could really spend a lot of time in Proverbs, and I think that’s what James draws from when he writes this letter in so many different areas, but specifically in our speech. This one sums it up. When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. And I’d ask you to remember this toothpaste. This messy Toothpaste. This is the best we could do. God bless you, Mia. You did great. But I asked her to do the impossible. You can’t. It is messy. And that’s my sermon illustration. Once it’s out of the tube, it’s a mess that we’re having to deal with, right? You can’t put it back in.

And another way I like to think about it, I recently discovered, thanks to Amy, as I’ve decided to do some cleaning around the house occasionally. And there’s this thing called a magic eraser. Who’s heard of this? Oh, yeah. I don’t see any men raising their hands. What’s going on, man? You better get your game on. All right, get your game on. But the magic eraser is this amazing household cleaner, and it cleans just about anything. And what’s really cool about it is it erases itself as you’re going. But anyway, enough of that. Advertisement. But I would say, in the same way, there are no magic erasers when we choose not to bridle our tongues. And speaking from personal experience, here are some things that I’ve said, and I’ve heard people say that we tend to think our magic erasers and give us a right to say anything we want if we start with these words. And if you’re with someone that leads with hey, not to sound mean, but or they say to you, no offense, but you better just dive for cover under the table. You’re about to get insulted. Something unbridled is about to happen. And if you’re in the habit of using these words, watch out. It’s a bad habit. It does not erase what you’re about to say. That could cause some damage. Right? It’s a trap. These words do not allow you to say whatever you want to say.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but, uh oh. I’m about to say something I know deep down that they’re going to take the wrong way, but this is going to get me off the hook. No, it’s not. No, it’s not. Here’s a few more. You can come up with your own. Not to gossip, but I’m about to gossip. Sorry. Not sorry. That’s a new one. No need to thank me. Okay, well, then why’d you even say that? That makes it awkward between us. Thanks in advance. That’s one that’s used in the business world. I use that for a long, long time. It sounds really cool, and I’m sure it could be okay, but are we using that to passive-aggressively tell someone, you better do this. Thank you for doing this, and you haven’t done it yet. You know what I’m saying? We have these words that they may not mean much initially, but after a while, they start to be used in certain ways. Right? There’s really no get out of jail free cards and phrases you can say. So you can just say whatever you want to say. You with me? I’m just saying, right?

Nothing personal, that these have been some tough scriptures. Nothing personal, but that would even be wrong. This is personal, right? Come on. It’s all personal. That’s why we’re here. Just saying. But stay away from these. Do unto others as you would have done to you, especially with your speech. Here’s a handful of basic steps. Living water challenges. I think James would be saddened if we just let this fall to the ground and we didn’t do stuff. He wants us to do stuff with what we’re learning. He wants us to obey. We just learned that last week. He’s like, hey, man, you say you have faith. Show me some deeds. And don’t you want to be a better person tomorrow than you are today? Don’t you want to be a better Christian, more like Jesus tomorrow than you are today? That’s what this is all about. So we have to take bold steps. Number one, you got to think about who knows you best. I have family members in the audience here, people I work with, and I think I’m going to be held accountable to this message. You know what I’m saying? Like, I’m going to need to go to them and say, hey, you know me. You know what I’m like unfiltered. You know what I’m like when I’m in a bad mood or things don’t go my way, okay? What ways do I need to bridle my tongue? How can I get better at this? How can I become more like Jesus? And then it’s time to get humble, apologize, and get excited about repenting. Be different. Don’t be the same you. Be like Jesus. That’s exciting. And I think Amy said, keep in mind, silence is a spiritual discipline. All right? I think with so many things with Jesus and he is the standard. The reason Jesus was able to be so righteous in the moment is because he did it outside the moment. He was disciplined, right? And so, yes, of course, we want to bridle our tongue as things come up, and we want to get to that level, and that’s the goal. But silence is a spiritual discipline. It’s something you do outside the moment. It’s getting away for hours. It’s taking days of silence. I think there is something to that whole vow of silence thing. We need to take weeks off of social media. Be still and know that I am God, is what the psalm says.

Be still. Everything’s coming at us, every notification, everything we need to respond to, everything we feel like we need to take a stand on, or we get passionate about. Back off and listen to God and be quiet. It’s a discipline. And I’d say, last but not least, never, ever forget the name that you wear. For many of you here today, you’ve been baptized into Christ. You’ve made that decision to follow Jesus. If you’re a Christian, speak like one. If you claim to live in God’s kingdom, speak the kingdom language. Speak as your king speaks. Let your king grab that bridle and tame your tongue. He’s the only one that can do it. Read John, chapter one. When Jesus came to this world as a human, he came full of grace and truth. And I’m sure that was the case in his speech. The next time you post on social media, ask yourself, could I in good conscience complete this post and take this stand or throw out this passion and say at the end of it, in Jesus name, amen. Can you sign Jesus name to what you put out there? And remember, if you’ve been baptized into Christ, the greatest three words you’ve ever spoken are this Jesus is Lord.

Remember, we serve a Lord who bridled his tongue when he was arrested. We serve a Lord who bridled his tongue on the cross. And remember, we serve a Lord who bridles the accusing tongue of Satan on our behalf. No human being can bridle the tongue. It’s a restless evil, but with Jesus as your Lord, you can bridle your tongue and you will be transformed into the incredible person that God has designed you to be. Our best days as Christians are right in front of us.

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