Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

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28. Test 6: The Tongue Test – Part 1

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being 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 human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

As we return to the book of James, we come to the tongue test. It’s here that we are reminded that what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of what is hidden in our hearts. Harmful and hateful words don’t just hurt they reveal a heart problem. Your words reveal your walk, a walk that is either grounded in truth or trash. It’s here as James gives us several real life illustrations that reveal the characteristics of test-failing tongues. My pray as James takes us through the tongue test, is that these would be more than just words but a way of life. At 29:45 past 5 AM on July 16, 1945, something spectacular happened. In northern New Mexico, the still dark early morning sky became as bright as the noonday sun. In that one blinding flash, the Atomic Age had begun. The atomic fireball shot upwards at 360 feet per second destroying everything around it. Three weeks later an atomic bomb named “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan leading to the death of over 150,000 people that day alone. Watching from high above the co-pilot of the Enola Gay said, “What have we done?.” J Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who oversaw the building of the bomb, famously said this about his creation after the first test detonation: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” On December 20, 1951, something else spectacular happened. In Arco, Idaho, the still dark sky was also brightened with light. It was brightened by light bulbs powered by the first electricity produced from nuclear energy. The uranium used to produce that electricity, is the same uranium that is used in the atomic bomb. The exact same science is used in the reactor and the bomb, the same atoms and electrons, the same reactions and physics. So, what’s the difference? It’s in how they’re used. When used one-way, atomic energy powers homes and lights up the dark. But when used another way, it produces death and destruction. In our passage today, James talks about another extremely powerful object, take out the cow tongue. Like atomic energy, the tongue is capable of life and death, as Proverbs 18:21 says – “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” What about you, are your words like a power plant that lights up lives around you or a bomb that levels and destroys life? That’s why the tongue test it is such an accurate test of our faith, because an object as powerful as the tongue can only be controlled by the most powerful person in the universe, the Holy Spirit. When left to our control, the results are chaos and carnage. Jesus said that what is in a person’s heart inevitably comes out of his mouth. Just like water flowing from a well, the words that come out of the mouth reveal the purity of the source. If the source is the Holy Spirit the words will be pure, but if the source is a sinful heart they will be poison. The only way we can display genuine faith is by letting the Holy Spirit harnesses the power of our tongues to heal and not to hurt. To help us see is we are passing the tongue test, James shows us what words that are not controlled by God’s Word look like. It’s here in verses 1-2 that we see the first characteristics of a test-failing tongue, it is: 

  1. Condemning. (1-2)

People like to pull this verse out when they are looking for new Sunday School teachers. But while James is talking about teachers, is he really saying that we should shy away from being teachers? If you pull the verse out of its context, you could conclude that, but that’s the only way that interpretation would make sense. In its context, what James is saying is that by nature, our tongue condemns us, all of us. Now I want you to picture a teacher in your mind. What does that picture look like? My picture looks like Mr. Ashland, my 5th grade English teacher. He immediately comes to mind as the prototype of what a teacher is supposed to be. But who did I learn more from, Mr. Ashland or my parents? Mr. Ashland or my grandparents? Mr. Ashland or the kids I ran around with? Mr. Ashland or Pastor Marvin Reynolds who lead my whole family to the Lord? The point is, Mr. Ashland carried the title “teacher” and in the 5th grade, if you had asked me who my teacher was, I would’ve said, “Mr. Ashland.”  But there were a whole lot more teachers in my life than just him many of whom have been very influential. Only a very few teachers actually carry the title of teacher and whether you like it or not, you’re a teacher. Someone is paying attention to your life and listening to your lips. Your walk and your words are impacting their lives with influence. Like the little boy who handed the preacher a one dollar bill saying I hope this helps Pastor. Confused the Pastor asked why do I need help? Because my daddy says you’re the poorest preacher he’s ever heard.” Most of us would be surprised and some of us shocked at the lessons we teach with our tongues. Are the lessons your teaching building up or belittling? The tongue can express or repress; offend or befriend, affirm or alienate, build up or belittle, bless or bruise, comfort or criticize, cultivate or kill. James is saying that because we teach with our tongues, we’re responsible for those lessons. Jesus will judge our words and when the lessons lead to corruption we will receive greater condemnation. If by the words you use, people are not pointed to Christ, they will be pointed to condemnation. That’s the test, does your tongue lead people to Christ or to condemnation? There’s really no in between. A test-passing tongue leads people to life because it leads people to the Lord.