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Living like my words matter
01/30/2005
Scripture: James 3:1-12
Track 5 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 35 minutes, 28 seconds.


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


Sermon for Sunday, January 30, 2005
5th sermon in an 11 part series
"Living like my words matter"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 3:1-12)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett


Speaking of "Hot Air", here it is. I want you to know that it's dangerous to confess anything to me because it's apt to end up in a sermon. I do want you to know, however, that I try to remember to seek permission before I give your secrets away.

But, not long ago, one of our good folks was telling me this story about having been in a conversation on a cell phone in a car with a good friend. Hanging up, she thought, and then proceeding to tell her husband all of her frustrations about this particular person with whom she'd been in this conversation, only to run into that same person the next day and have her say, "Oh by the way, ah, when you hung up your cell phone yesterday - you forgot to turn it off." You ever had those moments when you wish you could retract those words that you just got done saying? When the last thing on earth you wanted to have to do was to own up to something that had come out of your mouth on any particular occasion.

Words are tremendously powerful. The Bible knows about that. In fact, it's interesting just to read with that kind of perspective in mind. Think of these texts. Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . . . And God said, "Let there be light,". . . . .And he said, "Let there be. . . ." Just by the power of his word.

You get that same imagery in John 1:1 when you have that reflection on Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Or in Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is sharp. In fact, it's sharper than any two edged sword, being able to divide between bone and marrow, soul and spirit and reveal the secrets of a man's heart.

The book of Proverbs is full, literally full of verses about words.

Don Hunt has categorized the Proverbs in a variety of different ways. He suggests that there are 69 verses in Proverbs that have to do with bad speech. Another 44 that have to do with good speech.

I took the time this morning to count the words in Proverbs, to count the verses at least in Proverbs. There are just under 900 verses in the book. One out of every eight verses in that book has to do with speech. Has to do with the way we use our words or as James would talk about, the way we use our tongue.

We're going to look at James 3. But in order to set James 3 in its context, don't forget what he's already said to us in James 1. Remember back in James 1:19 Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Or James 1:26 A person who is invested in a pure religion is able to do what? Bridle their tongue.

James 3:1 starts out this way. Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Let me just walk down through this passage with you, James 3. It starts out in a way that is particularly, I think ah frightening to people who live in the world that I live in. Not many of you should presume to be teachers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Apparently that was an issue in James church situation. That there were teachers or people trying to be teachers, trying to put themselves off as these folk who had a word from God to say, who may not have had that word ready to speak or didn't have the character with which to speak. He says, don't presume to be a teacher. The teacher was a pretty highly regarded position in Israel. Remember the name that Jesus was often called was Rabbi, teacher. It was a gift.

According to Ephesians 4 God gave some to be apostles and prophets. Some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers. It was a position that was noted in the early church. If an elder is particularly gifted at the Word and labors hard in the Word (the implication being teachers) he is worthy of double honor.

The teacher was to be careful because we hold teachers in such high regard. We do, don't we?

Mrs. Bryce, she was to be the future Mrs. Sackett. Now as a second grader I didn't know that would never work. Did you ever fall in love with a teacher? A tremendous influence on you.

Kenny Beckman will live in my life for as long as I live. One of those early Bible college professors who had absolutely profound influence over me. Every once in awhile, in the middle of a sermon, I will hear something come out of my mouth and I will think, "Boy, that sounded a lot like him". Just that kind of ongoing influence. That's the way teachers are and James says we need to be careful because frankly, teachers are held in high regard. They have greater responsibility. They're held to a stricter judgment. I can't quite decide, looking at that text, if the stricter judgment is the judgment of men or the judgment of God. I know for sure that it's the judgment of men because I know that's exactly how it works. I have higher expectations of those who teach than I do those who don't. They set themselves up whether they like it or not.

In fact, one of the worst experiences of my life was four or five years after I graduated from college. I was asked to serve on the Board of Trustees for that particular college and the first order of business was to discipline my favorite teacher for the fact that he had some questionable behavior in his life. It's frightening. But I'm pretty sure it has to do with God as well because that's the nature of the way God treats us. Remember what he says. It would be better off for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be tossed in the sea than it is for you to cause a little one to stumble. The image being that of somebody who teaches others.

It's a frightening sort of a thing to be a teacher, James says. So be careful because unfortunately all teachers fail at some point. They don't live up to our expectation. They fall off of the pedestal that we put them on. So James says be careful.

He goes on in James 3:2 to say that we all stumble. It's not just teachers he says. We all stumble in many ways. Lots of different ways that we find ourselves in trouble. But if anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a complete, perfect, mature (that's the word), a mature man able to keep his whole body in check. We all stumble. We offend. That's the word. We fall, we fail, we err. The word is sometimes used to talk about sin. And yet, he localizes that sin in the tongue. I think both figuratively and literally.

Tina Garkie shared with me something off of the program that she had been watching - the Joyce Meyer's show. It was an interview with Pastor Cho who is the preacher in the largest church in the world at Seoul, Korea. He is having a conversation with a neurologist and the neurologist is suggesting to him that people have discovered that whatever the brain tells the tongue to say seems to control the way the body responds. In other words, if a patient says I'm feeling weak, it isn't very long before their body is actually very weak. If they say I'm getting sick, they tend to get sick. It's a self-taught kind of thing. To which Youngi (??) Cho replied, "We've known that for a long time."

James told us that. The speech, the tongue controls the body. It's a terrible thing to be thinking about how powerful this tongue is. Friday, in one of the classes at Lincoln Community High School, my daughter asked them to ponder this question over the weekend. What is the greatest, most destructive weapon in the world? And she will come back on Monday to ask them that same question. And the answer is: the tongue.

James 3:3 goes on to say, When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. It's small but it's extremely powerful.

This little thing that roams around in our mouth, he says, is like that rudder compared to a large ship or the bit inside of a large horse's mouth. It has the ability to control and to guide, to direct. Words are powerful.

One of the guys I went to school with, Charlie Arlint, went to Oregon to preach a year or two before I did. Had a woman in his congregation who was a grammar teacher. And Sunday after Sunday she would (and I think out of good motive) she would write down all of the grammatical mistakes that Charlie would make in the midst of his sermon, which would have been plenty. I promise you! And I'm not condoning Charlie's response. His response was not positive. He did not accept it as gracious criticism. He took it poorly. The last I heard Charlie was a meat cutter in Montana. Now there's nothing wrong with being a meat cutter unless you're called to preach. And he quit preaching because one woman kept reminding him of his speech. Powerful words that she spoke to him. And it altered the entire course of his life.

The tongue, he says, is small.

I've not read it and I don't have these numbers exact, but Adolph Hitler produced in 1920 something, Mein Kampf which became the guiding principle for his entire political career. It was printed in English in 1936 or 1939. The best I can estimate, there are about 185,000 words in the two volumes that he wrote. Somewhere in the vicinity of 200 people per word died in WWII. The power of words.

I did my own little calculation. I went out and found the Roe Vs. Wade decision. I didn't read the entire position paper by the Supreme Court but there are approximately 12,000 words in that position paper. If we understand the estimates to be correct, about how many abortions have occurred since January of 1973, each individual word in that position paper has been responsible for 4,666 deaths. It's the power of words.

The tongue, he says, is just a small little thing but it has the power to control, to guide, to direct life.

James goes on to say in the middle of James 3:5 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

It was October of 1871 when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the proverbial lantern in Chicago leaving 100,000 people homeless, burning 17,000 buildings, killing 300 people at a cost in 1871 dollars of $400 million.

When we used to go to Portland from the coast to go to the hospital to visit people, whatever, we would drive up the Wilson River Highway. The Wilson River Highway was a massive forest of virgin Douglas Fir when in 1933 a logging company decided to get out just one more tree, literally. They had been told to shut down because it was so dry that summer. They made a decision. They wanted literally one more tree to finish out a load before they left and 300,000 acres of virgin timber burned destroying enough wood to build 2 story homes, 2/3 of the way around the equator. Trees that would make a truckload per tree. That same forest burned again in 1939 and again in 1945 and again in 1951 and lies basically useless. A small spark, an enormous fire.

That's the language that James uses. I'm sorry that it's so harsh because it sounds like it's so critical that James is trying to say the tongue has the power to be incredibly destructive; potentially perverse.

Destroying whole forests after one simple little word. It is "set on fire by hell", itself he says. Gehenna, the garbage dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem, a place in the days of the kings where the false teachers would encourage people to sacrifice babies to Moloch. That's the power of the tongue, he says, to corrupt us. That's the same word that's used in James 1. Remember what he says about pure religion? Pure religion is that religion that is able to bridle the tongue and it keeps itself unstained from the world. Here's that same word, only in the negative; the tongue is corrupted, stained. You know how it works, right? How words worm their way into our lives even though unintentionally sometimes.

Back in the 1970's and 80's particularly, it's still happening, but back in those days there was a conference that made its way around the United States known as Basic Youth Conflicts. Its primary emphasis was upon parenting, child raising, relationships in homes. One of the key texts that they kept coming back to in Basic Youth Conflicts was Hebrews 12:15. Be careful that you do not let a root of bitterness spring up within you and thereby trouble or defile many. And Bill Gothard (??) used to talk about the fact that our words get implanted in peoples lives and they take root and those roots turn into bitterness and defile people. Such a simple little thing. You don't even mean it when you say it. It's just a passing kind of comment that somebody overhears or misunderstands and it takes root in somebody's life. You may not even know that you planted that seed but that seed gets in. Those words get planted and the next thing you know, they're growing up inside of somebody creating in them a spirit of bitterness towards other people. You didn't have that intention. It just happened because that's the power of words.

Today is parent dedication Sunday. We don't have any particular, any parents, that are in this service but we will have second and third service. And I can't help but think on today's service, how significant it is that the words of our parents are often those words that have gotten into our system and have taken root in us. Some of them are very positive. But some of them are not so positive. Some of them have produced in us great quality and great character. But other have produced in us that spirit of bitterness.

WORDS. . . . .James says in James 3:7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. It feels almost hopeless sometimes, doesn't it? To get your hands around this thing or your mind or your heart and actually be able to control what you say so that you say only the things that you want to say when you want to say them. James makes it sound almost impossible. It does remind me of those scenes on the evening news during forest fire season when fighters are trying to stop forests from taking over suburbs of Los Angeles and helicopters are flying over and dropping this sky jello (they call it) to try to retard these and nothing seems to stop it. It's almost like it has a mind of its own.

There was a little bear found in a forest fire a whole bunch of years ago. They ended up calling him "Smokey the Bear" and he has a famous line. "Only you. . . .can prevent forest fires." Did you ever apply that to this text? This tongue that has the ability to set on fire a whole forest of corruption. "Only you". . . .he says, can control that.

James uses a term here to talk about being "unrestrained" and I remember as a little kid, somewhere in my elementary years, visiting my cousin down in Nevada. We went out riding horses in the desert of Nevada and this particular horse had a mind of his own. He decided when it was lunch he was going back to barn. It did not seem to matter what I said or did. Bit in its mouth or not, I wasn't stopping it from going where it wanted to go. It was absolutely unrestrained! In fact, it made it back to the barn in time for lunch without its rider. The saddle and I were left in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes I feel like that with my tongue. I confess to you there are those times when its almost an "out of body" experience and I'm standing here watching myself say things wishing I wasn't but not knowing for sure how to stop. You ever have those moments when you know it's coming out and you just can't seem to get it turned off? Huh! James says it's hard.

He says in James 3:9. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The obvious answer to those questions are NO that's not possible. Fresh water and salt water don't come out of the same spring. Plants don't produce different kinds of plants. The imagery is a brackish water or salt water.

I have a friend, Arron Chambers who has written a book called "Get a Life". It'll be out like sometime in March or April. I would encourage you to get it. It's a devotional book. In it he tells a story of the USS Indianapolis. . . . . .end of tape

Side Two . . . . .had delivered parts of the "A" bomb and on its return trip was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Nine hundred of the 1200 sailors survived the torpedoing, only to find themselves in the Pacific Ocean floating in salt water for two weeks with nothing to drink. Now there's a paradox for you. Floating in the ocean unable to drink. The ships doctor spent two weeks swimming from sailor to sailor begging them not to drink the water. Dr. Lewis Haynes - telling them they couldn't drink the water. Salt water in the ocean is 7 times more salty than your body is able to handle. So any time you drink that kind of salt water, your body needs fresh water in order to flush the salt out of the system and literally in the middle of the ocean you die of dehydration. Three hundred seventeen men survived out of the twelve hundred that were originally on the ship.

Words have that kind of power to destroy. He says that we should be careful because the same mouth should never produce praise to God and cursing to men.

I'd like to take a little time here to talk to you about obscenity but we'll save that for another day 'cause that's not what this is talking about. This is not talking about vulgar speech. This is literally talking about cursing. It's talking about in precatory speech. It's when you damn people. You wish ill upon them. You say things that are demeaning to them. This is a word from which we would talk about blasphemy if it was with God.

It's a word . . . . .well, it looks like this. Sylvia was the quietest, shyest woman I have ever met in my entire life. It was probably six months after I started preaching that she finally said something to me as she went out the back door. Oh she was faithful every Sunday. Sunday school and church, but she would never speak. Finally she began to say some words as she would leave the building and we did eventually engage in conversation and over the four or five years of my relationship with her she grew into a delightful Christian woman. Most of her family were won to Jesus because of her life, not because of her speech, because she was unable to talk. About a year after we moved from that congregation Sylvia got brave enough to go to a women's Bible study which was a major step for her in her life. That women's Bible study some weeks later met at Judy's house. Judy was just the opposite of Sylvia. Judy was a talker and unfortunately sometimes she talked too much. And at this particular Bible study she turned to Sylvia and said, "The only problem you have with being shy is that you've allowed the devil to control your heart." And less than ten days later Sylvia committed suicide.

I don't know if there's a direct connection but I have always wondered if there wouldn't be a day when Judy would have to give account for her words that she spoke.

Out of the mouth, he said, should never come praise and curse. We have the delightful power in our mouth to do what we've already done today. To sing the doxology, to read Psalm 150, to praise God for who and what he is, to announce to Him our enormous adoration. And yet, if your like me, you've had the experience of walking out these doors into the hallway and before you can even get to the parking lot, your mouth that has been used to praise God has been used to demean people. Oh I'm not even sure that we've ever meant it intentionally. We just find ourselves opening our mouth and out it comes. And to quote James, "My brothers and sisters this should not be."

So what's the alternative? Can I make a couple of recommendations? Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth except a word that builds, that edifies.

(Ephesians 4:29) If what you say does not encourage, does not build someone up, then don't bother to say it. Keep it to yourself.

Or, may I make this observation? Speak to people, not about them. Practice Matthew 18. If you have something to say and it needs to be said, say it to the person that needs to hear it, not to somebody else. Say it to that person. Don't say it about them. Say it to them.

And use your tongue to be gracious. Paul says to the Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace. Say something good, something encouraging, something wholesome or don't say anything. Silence sometimes is golden.

Scripture teaches us that we have the capacity to honor God with our tongue. But unfortunately we also have the capacity to really hurt people.

And our call this morning is really simple. Let's take this thing that God has given us that has such enormous power and use it to do what it was intended to do, to uplift and to build and to praise. You see, words matter. God knows that. He knows that words matter and he wants us to take responsibility for our words and to handle them responsibly.

Father, that is our prayer, that this tongue in our mouth is so hard to handle that you will help us listen to James and to use our tongue to honor you and to praise you and never to destroy. We know that it has that power. We pray that you'll help us to do the impossible, to tame our tongue. We give it to you because we know we can't do it ourselves so control our tongue for us. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.