Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Terrible Nature of the Tongue

Pastor Bob opened his sermon today with an illustration of just how devastating wrong communication can be. He told the story of how the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1899 began. He got his information from a book, James:Faith that Works, by R. Kent Hughes.

Four reporters were having trouble coming up with a good story for the morning newspaper. They decided to fabricate a tale, and the next day's headlines screamed, "GREAT CHINESE WALL DOOMED!" The Chinese people were furious, and in a short time, the Boxer Rebellion began - resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 people, many of them missionaries.

In 2005, English Professor Henry Hart released a book, Lost in the Gobi Desert, to commemorate his great-grandfather's efforts to save the life of western missionaries and their Chinese followers from the hands of the Boxer rebels.

The murderous Boxer Rebellion came as a sudden thunderstorm; all foreigners were to be killed not in the sudden merciful death of a bullet but sliced to death by big, old rusty knives and swords.... I had an old Winchester rifle and plenty of ammunition ready for the journey....The Boxer uprising ultimately claimed the lives of more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and several hundred foreign missionaries (historian Nat Brandt called it “the greatest single tragedy in the history of Christian evangelicalism[9]

Thousands of people died because four men, in a drunken stupor, decided to make up a story and spread it around the world.

The text for the sermon today was James 3,

Taming the Tongue

3 c Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 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. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

The first introductory point was that we ought to take our teaching responsibility very seriously. Whether we're homeschooling parents, or lead a small group, or simply interact with others God brings into our lives, we ought to be very careful what we say, and what we teach. Life or death proceeds from our lips, and we will be held accountable.

Powerful Nature of the Tongue

The horse is a great and powerful animal, weighing nearly 1,000 lbs, yet it can be controlled by a very small bit. Look up descriptions of the power of the horse in Job 39:19 - 25, which begins, “Do you give the horse his might?Do you clothe his neck with a mane?". The horse laughs at fear, and is not dismayed...yet he allows himself to be directed by a tiny piece of metal.

In the same way, we need to control our tongues, realizing the power they have to kill and destroy, or to make alive and encourage.

The Bismarck was a powerful ship, the pride of the German navy. Yet one small torpedo took out its rudder, leaving the mighty battleship crippled.

Our lives can be ruined, too, by words - our own, or others'.

Destructive Nature of the Tongue

One small spark can set an entire forest ablaze. Flora and fauna are destroyed, all because of a tiny flash.

The whole body, the whole course of life, can be set on fire by the destructive nature of the tongue. A few cruel words can rip apart churches, families, or ministries. We must be careful not to open our mouths to criticize the personal, private affairs of others.

Do you use innuendo? Do you use comments that are of a disparaging, derogatory nature?

Illustration: The captain of a ship wrote in the log, "Ship's Mate drunk today." The Ship's Mate noticed, and let it go...but a few months later, he wrote, "Captain sober today." It was the truth, but what did it imply?

Do you use gossip? Flattery? You should be sincere and full of integrity!

Do you use discernment? Or do you criticize, find fault with someone; do you harass them when you don't agree with their choices? Do you nit-pick?

Illustration: A man who had gossipped about a close friend tried to make amends. His friend forgave him, but told him to go to the tower and take his feather pillow. When he got there, he was told to slice the pillow open with a sharp knife, releasing the feathers to the wind. He did so, then went back to his friend, who said, "Now, go and gather all the feathers!"

"Impossible!" insisted the gossip.

"In the same way, it is impossible to repair the damage caused by the gossip."

Words can destroy lives. People have gone through life crippled, because of unkind or vicious words.

Untamable Nature of the Tongue

It's a restless evil, full of deadly poison. This ought not to be so. It goes from bad to worse: the tongue is powerful, destructive, untamable... so what are we to do? WE cannot do anything of our own accord, for too often we use our tongue for evil rather than for good.

Diabolical Nature of the Tongue

With the same tongue we praise the Lord and curse people made in His image. This ought not to be so.

We must cast ourselves on Jesus, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us to enable us to use our tongues for good.

Good Uses of the Tongue

Speeches that changed the course of history have been a force for good. Winston Churchill's famous speech inspired his countrymen at a time when the forces of evil were spreading throughout the continent of Europe.

We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old. .

Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired the United States of America, and indeed the watching world, to fight for freedom and equality of opportunity for all races.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Tongue Control


Proverbs 15:1
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

The tongue can be used for good. The tongue of the wise is a tree of life, it builds up, it commends knowledge, it is aware that the Lord is watching.

Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Wise reproof is beautiful. The right word spoken at just the right time is a treasure - like gold in settings of silver.

Wisdom comes from above. James 3:17 - 18 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

How wise have you been in your reproof lately? Have you spoken carefully, with discernment? Have you been peaceable, gentle, open to reason? Have you been full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere?

Without the filling of the Holy Spirit and the trusting in His power, the tongue is a restless evil. Yet God can and does redeem it, and uses it for His glory.


Proverbs 12:17-18
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
but a false witness utters deceit.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

We all have a ministry, whether it is in our homes, or churches; whether it is public, on a message board, or private, with close friends or family. In your ministry, do you bring healing, or are your words like sword thrusts, cutting and carving up others for your own selfish reasons?


Psalm 35
Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.

This is the best use of the tongue! Shout for Joy! Say evermore, GREAT IS THE LORD! We'll be shouting the praise of God all the day long for all of eternity.

I can't wait!

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Remember that you will give an account for every word. Respond with wisdom and grace, please.