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I grew up with monsters. Now when I say I grew up with monsters, I am not talking about my little brothers, who sometimes acted like little monsters. However, I am talking about the fact that I grew up watching monster movies on television. My Parents used to love to watch all the old sci-fi flicks, so as they watched them, I did also: King Kong, Godzilla, Dracula, The Killer Tumble Weeds, The Werewolf, you name it I saw it. My little Brothers and I liked comparing and debating about the monsters, ‘Which was toughest, or scariest, or which might win in a fight?’ My favorite was always the Blob. It seemed nothing could stop that Big Blobby Thing! Now, you may be wondering why this preacher is talking to you about monsters?
Well, studying James chapter three brought me back to my days of comparing monsters. Considering the way James describes the sinful human tongue, it is easy to see “The Tongue” as a sort of monster. The tongue, James says, “is a fire"; “a world of inequity”; “set on fire by hell”; “restive evil”; and “full of deadly poison”! In your own experience, you may have seen some of the damage an unruly tongue is able to do, maybe even in your own life.
Let us consider this terrible monster “The Tongue!”
What is it that makes “The Tongue” such a terrible monster?
First, Its destructive power is underestimated!
James 3:5 tells us that the Tongue “is a little member”, but it is “a little member” that “boasts great things”! It is a little thing, which James compares to “bits in Horses mouths”:3 or the “very small rudder” on a ship: 4. It is a small thing that has power beyond its size. Now when we think of monsters, we usually think of big and terrible things, like King Kong or Godzilla. Things we would run from. Yet, in reality, the worst “monsters” are often small things. Many tiny microbes make a deadly plague. A small poisonous snake can be dangerous, because it crawls low, hidden in the grass. We might miss seeing it, until we step on its tail and it bites us.
Therefore, tongue sins also are dangerous, because we do not fear them or avoid them, as we should. We do not treat them as real sins; we do not see them as monsters or as monstrous. Murder is monstrous sin! Homosexuality is a monstrous sin. Rape is a monstrous sin. Yet, tongue sins: little white lies, slander, course jesting, filthy speech, we call little sins. In fact, profane language in our culture we count a mark of manhood, and gossip we treat as a fun game. Lying we see as an essential political skill.
However, James would not have us underestimate the power of the tongue. He shows us that its power is great to move and control. He compares it to a rudder on a ship, or a bit in a horse’s mouth to show us that a person with a skilled tongue can move and control people. Consider Hitler, how he led Germany down a dreadful path, or Jim Jones, and how he led a great number of people to kill themselves. And not only do infamous people like Hitler and Jim Jones do damage with their tongues, but we all to one degree or another have that power. James Dobson once told the story of a hurting young woman who traced a good deal of her pain to the last words she heard from her father when he left her mother. This thoughtless man said to his young daughter, “The reason I am leaving your mother is that I cannot stand to live with such an ugly child”. These were powerfully destructive words, from a truly monstrous tongue. The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. The tongue and false words have great power and are able to do great damage. Proverbs 18:21 speaks the truth when it says; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”.
The tongue too, has power to condemn! In Matthew 12:36 Jesus says "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. 37 "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." This is why James warns us in chapter 3, verse: 1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. Why would teachers receive a “stricter” judgment? Teachers receive a stricter judgment, because their words influence more people. Their seeming authority touches more. A preacher of the gospel therefore is in a fearful position. If he goes astray, and teaches amiss, yet teaches skillfully and persuasively, he ends up leading many astray.
The puritan Thomas Manton, translates James 3 verse one; “be not many masters”, rather than “be not many teachers”, he says it is speaking primarily against a haughty kind of pride which takes a sort of relish in speaking to others about their sins and failings. He says we should guard against such pride, even if we have a legitimate position of leadership over others. We should never become critics or experts concerning our brothers or sisters failings. We should be concerned first about the logs in our own eyes before we try to remove specks from other’s eyes.
In Luke 6:37 Jesus says, "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Even when we are right in confronting a person with sin, we can do it in a wrong way. We should watch out for the destructive power of a condemning tongue!
Second, the tongue is a terrible monster:
Because it’s destructive, power is highly combustible!
(In addition, the damage it does is usually irreversible)
James 3:5 tells us Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! The popular campfire song says, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”, referring to God’s love. Yet, we can apply the same words the same words to a false rumor. A false rumor can be like a match in a dry forest! It spreads, it leaps, it dances wildly, and it destroys!
The famous pastor Dr. Lloyd Olgilvie tells a story about a man who told a rumor that destroyed his friend. In the story, he ends up comparing a spreading rumor to feathers placed at every doorstep throughout a small town. The man who has spread the rumor is required to retrieve the feathers, but he cannot, because by the time he goes about to retrieve them the wind has blown them so far that they are impossible to retrieve. Such is the nature of a wicked rumor, the damage it does is usually impossible to reverse.
Yet, as vividly as Dr. Olgilvie’s story illustrates the power of a rumor, it does not show the fullness of all James is talking about when he says, “see how great a forest a little fire kindles!” :5. The power of a false rumor or a false teaching is not only that it blows around and is hard to catch, but it also burns and destroys. Feathers are harmless, Fire is not! Fire is especially dangerous when all in its path is flammable.
When a rumor, a hot juicy rumor, passes from one sinful tongue to another, it gains power, busts into flames, mutates, sometimes into scary monstrous dangerous things! Why does it do this? Our depravity gives it fuel, is its fuel! There is a reason why we would rather hear something bad said about someone than something good, there is a reason evil is more interesting, more fun, and that is our natural depravity. When an evil word, a false teaching or a rumor goes forth among men, it is not going like a fire to something that will not burn. It is going like a fire to dry, gasoline-doused trees!
It only takes a spark to get a fire blazing
The TONGUE’S destructive power
Please know that it is amazing!
It blows, it turns, it grows, and it burns!
It spins and flies - THE POWER OF LIES
How it destroys reputation!
How it misleads the mighty nation!
Oh, how the tongue like bad dog does bark!
Oh, how it spreads the power of dark!
Before going to the next point, I would like to elaborate a bit more on the concept of total depravity, especially how it relates to the tongue. Total Depravity, as a concept, we know as the first point of the five points of Calvinism. For some that is all that they know about it. It is in their thinking some esoteric theological concept that has very little to do with real life. Yet, I believe it is impossible to understand sinful human nature without it. The Apostle Paul teaches the concept of total depravity in Romans 3:10-18.
Romans 3:10 As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." 13 "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; 14 "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
We should understand Total Depravity in this way. We have a tendency toward sin, a tendency away from God, a tendency away from good. A part of us delights in evil. A part of us counts good “boring” or “plain”. That is why a rumor is often fashioned “delicious”, “spicy”, or “salty”, when in fact it is about someone’s falling or failing. We have a taste (because of our natural depravity) for things that are BAD!
In addition, our depravity is termed total, not because it is as bad as it can be, but because it affects every part of us. Our minds, our emotions, our wills, and even as the above verses demonstrate it affects our tongues. Romans 3:13 says, “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; Could Paul be more graphic? What kind of picture does an open tomb bring to mind? It brings to mind a picture of stench and death, and decay. An open tomb is not a pretty picture. “Poison of asps”, what does that say about the human mouth? That it is deadly! Is not this why we have to brush our teeth, gargle with mouthwash, use breathe mints, etc? Yet, our mouths and tongues are much worse spiritually than they are physically. We need the powerful spiritual breath mint of the Holy Spirit’s power, plus the Holy mouthwash of God’s word, if we are going to fight our spiritual halitosis.
This leads into our third point,
The tongue is a terrible monster:
Because it’s pedigree is from the pit of Hell!
James 3:6 says, 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.
Hell is the evil tongue’s place of birth, and Satan himself is its father - in John 8:44 Jesus says, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
Smooth and lying words were Satan’s first weapons of destruction - Genesis 3:1-6 shows us, now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field, which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 "but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' “4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Fourth, it is most untamable!
James 3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
The Romans had prided themselves on the fact that they had trained most every kind of animal (Yet No Man Can Tame the Tongue!)
Fifth, it is highly unpredictable!
James 3:9 with it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
The tongue is a sort of Jeckyl and Hyde, one-minute good the next minute terrible!
Sixth, it is grossly unnatural!
James 3:11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus, no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
How can we handle this wild monster the Tongue?
1. Handle it with humility!
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
We need to be humble with the use of our tongues. We should not quickly put ourselves in a position (like a teacher) where we could lead many astray.
We need to trust and cling to the Bible, not trusting our own ideas apart from Scripture.
2. Teach your tongue the language of Scripture
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
Psalm 119:11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!
The computer term is GIGO Garbage in, Garbage out.
A cup brimful of sweet water never spills a single drop of bitter water no matter how suddenly jolted. If we are clean at heart, we need not worry about our mouths.
3. Depend on Christ for strength to control your tongue!
James 3:8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Mark 4:39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
No man (no mere man) can tame the tongue, but Christ the Son of God can!
4. Realize God has a grand purpose for your converted tongue!
Psalm 40:3 He has put a new song in my mouth -- Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
“Put off oldness: ye know the new song. A new man, A New Testament, a new song. A new song belongs not to men that are old; none learn that but new men, renewed through grace from oldness, and belonging to the New Testament, which is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Augustine
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Psalm 51:14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.