Ben Fetterolf
Follower of Jesus | Husband | Father | Pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church of Greenville, SC
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The gospel is a comfort. But the gospel is also a call on our lives as believers. We need to hear both: the comfort AND call of the gospel.
Romans 8:1-9
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The Works of the Tongue
James 3:3-12
What do your words say about your heart?
Published April 29th, 2020
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Main point summary
Main point summary
The tongue is a small part of the body that has great capacity for either blessing or cursing.
James 3:3-12
If we put g bits into the mouths of horses
If we put a small piece of metal into a horses' mouth
so that they obey us,
in order to cause it to do what we want it to do,
we guide their whole bodies as well.
then we don't just control its mouth but its whole body as well.
Look at the ships also:
Moreover look at how ships work:
though they are so large
even though they are huge vessels
and are driven by strong winds,
and are pushed along by storms and harsh winds,
they are guided by a very small rudder
they nevertheless are turned by an extremely small part of the ship, the rudder,
wherever the will of the pilot directs.
in whichever direction the pilot chooses.
So also the tongue is a small member,
Just like these examples: even though the tongue is a small part of the body,
yet h it boasts of great things.
it nevertheless wields great power.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
Small things can have a huge impact, like a small fire that burns down a forest!
And i the tongue is a fire,
And the tongue is like a fire,
a world of unrighteousness.
having great capacity to do harm.
The tongue is set among our members,
The tongue is a part of the body,
j staining the whole body,
but nevertheless holds the power to affect the whole body negatively
setting on fire the entire course of life, 1
and even has the power to burn through life like a wildfire
and set on fire by hell. 2
because its fire is lit by hell itself.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed
For virtually every kind of animal can be brought into submission,
and has been tamed by mankind,
and this has proved to be true over time,
but no human being can tame the tongue.
but that being the case , no human being has the ability to bring the tongue into submission
It is a restless evil,
because it is active in its evil,
k full of deadly poison.
filled with the potential for great harm.
Bilateral Comparison
With it we bless our Lord and Father,
Think about it! On the one hand we use our tongues to bless our God and Father
and with it we curse people
and on the other hand we use the same tongue to curse other people
l who are made in the likeness of God.
who have been made in the image of God, people like us.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
In other words , the very same tongue both blesses and curses.
My brothers, 1 these things ought not to be so.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be true of us!
Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?
For a spring of water cannot produce both fresh and salt water from the same opening! It's one or the other.
Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives,
Nor can a fig tree produce olives
or a grapevine produce figs?
nor a grapevine produce figs.
Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
And neither can someone get fresh water from a salt water source.
Introduction : Have you seen the show Brain Games on Netflix? In one of their episodes, they illustrate well how our words can have a positive or negative affect on other people. They have a group of people gather around the three-point line on a bball court, and they choose a volunteer who plays a lot of bball and had just made 9 out of 10 free throws. They blindfold him and have him take two shots, the crowd reacts with laughs at him and acts with disgust as he misses both shots. Then they have him take off the blindfold, and they have him shoot 10 more free throws, and the crowd reacts with each shot as if he wasn’t any good at bball. How do you think he did? Poorly. He made his first shot but missed his next three. Remember, he had made 9 out of 10 before the crowd showed up. Then, they had another volunteer who doesn’t play bball step up and shoot 10 free throws. She misses them all. Then they blind-fold her . She shoots two shots while blind-folded, and the crowd goes nuts as if she made the shots. Then they take off the blind-fold and have her shoot 10 more free throws, cheering for her and encouraging her with each shot. This time, she makes 4 out of 10. Positive and negative words are incredibly powerful. The point of this illustration is very similar to the point of the passage we’ll look at today. Words are really powerful! Both the words we say and the words we write. James makes this point in 3:5. He says: “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” The tongue is an incredibly small part of our bodies, but it nevertheless wields incredible power to do good or to do harm. Now, we might think, “How could something so small be so powerful?” So, James gives us some illustrations of other small things that hold a lot of power. Example 1: Horses 3:3 “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.” Horses are strong. Really strong. Let me put this in perspective. From the brief research I did, horses account for 4x more deaths each year in the US than Sharks, Alligators, Bears, Elephants, Wolves, and Bulls COMBINED!!! And yet, we spend more time with horses than any other of those animals. Part of the reason for that is that you can teach a horse to be controlled by a bit. A normal bit that goes into a horse’s mouth is about 5 inches long and about the circumference of a pencil. They’re really small, yet really powerful. This small piece of metal can be used to control an incredibly powerful animal. So in a sense, that small bit ends up being more powerful than the horse. God says our tongues are like that bit. They are really small yet really powerful. Example 2: Rudders He uses another illustration: the rudder of a ship. The rudder of a ship is tiny compared to the ship (only about 2% of the part of the ship that’s underwater!), but the ship is going to go wherever that tiny little rudder turns. A rudder is small but really powerful, more powerful, in a sense, than the rest of the boat. God says our tongues are like a rudder. They are really small, but really powerful. And our tongues are going to turn our bodies in one way or another, in a positive way that helps other people or a negative way that hurts other people. Example 3: Fire In the third illustration that James uses, he begins to focus on the destruction that can happen as a result of the tongue. He compares the tongue to a fire. James 3:5-8 – “How great a forest 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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” God says our tongues are like a fire, a deadly fire. And all it takes for a terrible wildfire to get loose is for someone to start a tiny fire in the wrong place at the wrong time. Illustration : Maybe some of you heard about the fire that destroyed the 2500 homes in the city of Gatlinburg, TN in 2016 and took the lives of 14 people. My brother owned a house in Gatlinburg that burned to the ground. In fact, me and the other pastors at my church were up in Gatlinburg the weekend that it burned down. We went up on a Friday, went out to dinner on Friday night, and when we left dinner, we weren’t able to make it back up to the house because of smoke. We stayed in a hotel that night and came back the next day to find nothing. There was nothing left of the house. The wooden steps leading up to the house were still smoldering. This fire that killed 14 people and destroyed much of the city of Gatlinburg was said to have been started by the horseplay of two young teenage boys. A small fire that they started got out of hand, the wind blew it to other areas, and unimaginable devastation happened, which I got to see up close that night and the next day. God says our tongues are like a fire that gets lose, affecting ourselves negatively and burning through other’s lives like a wildfire that has been lit by hell itself. Application : Why does God use all of these illustrations? He’s trying to help us see something: our tongues are incredibly powerful, and therefore how we use our tongues is incredibly important. Have you ever made fun of someone else for the way they look, their grades, their athletic abilities/struggles, their personality, their friends, their clothes, their hair, their family, the things they have or don’t have? Have you ever spread rumors about someone else that you didn’t know were true? Ruined someone else’s reputation by what you said? Even things that we don’t know are true can be used to hurt someone else. Have you ever laughed at someone else’s expense and then told them that “you’re just joking” or “didn’t really mean it”? Usually, the reason we say what we say when we’re saying these kinds of things is because it makes us feel better about ourselves. When we put other people down, it makes us feel better. If I push someone lower than me, it makes me higher than them. If I can make someone else less popular, it naturally makes me more popular. But God’s Words say the exact opposite happens. The middle of v.6 says that our tongues stain the whole body. Our tongues used in this way do not lift us up but put us down. How have you been using your words? Example 4: Tamed Animals There is a kind of 4 th example James gives when talking about the tongue. In vv.7-8 he says that virtually every kind of animal has been tamed by mankind. Man has figured out how to take incredibly powerful animals and control them through various means. But here’s his point: no human being has figured out how to do that with the tongue. No human being can tame the tongue. And what’s the result? Well, the result is a really powerful part of our body that hurts and helps at different times: 9-10: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” The result of our untamed tongue is words that are thrown out at other people, sometimes to help other people and other times to tear them down. One minute we’re singing songs in praise to God and then next minute we’re tearing down our friends, classmates, or family members. And then James appeals to all who call themselves Christians: “My brothers, these things ought not to be so!” If you call yourself a Christian, then your words shouldn’t be blessing God one moment and then cursing your brother the next moment! If you call yourself a Christian, your words should look like a Christian’s words: Ephesians 4:29 – “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.” Conclusion : So, the end of this text leaves us with some questions to consider. James helps us to understand from these final questions that our words are not nebulous. Our words come from somewhere. They come from our hearts. 11-12: “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” A fresh water spring produces fresh water. A fig tree produces figs (not olives). You’ll only ever get salt water from a salt pond. If you pick grape, you know you picked it from a grapevine. So let me ask you this. What do your words say about your heart? What story do your words tell about you? Are your words like stain on your life? Or do your words tell a story of love and blessing? Application: God created our tongues and God created words. They were both his idea. So there is incredible potential for good in the way we use our words. What do your word say about you? Do your words betray your profession of faith? Search your heart. Maybe you’ve had some other motives for professing Christ other than repentance and faith. Do your words seem double-minded? Like a spring that produces both fresh and salt water? Repent of your sin and consider your motivations for why you say what you say. Maybe God wants to weed out some sin in your life. Think of the ways your words can bless others: o So if someone is struggling, come alongside him and help him. o If someone’s having a bad day, listen to her and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. o If someone’s having an awesome day, rejoice with him! o If someone doesn’t have many friends, become his/her friend. You can literally change someone’s day or week or life by your words. o If someone is using his words to hurt other people, talk with him about it. The tongue is incredibly powerful. How are you using yours?
Brent Karding
I would say that 9-12 is expanding upon 7-8, or perhaps just 8b-c.
Brent Karding
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed
I'm not sure that 7-8 is the Ground of all of 5-6. As I tried to summarize the Ground in relation to 5-6, it seemed to me that it's not grounding the main point of 5-6 (6a, as you have it), but rather 6c-f, its staining of the whole body and its deadly danger. This could be solved by making 6c-f have the emphasis of the Id-Exp relationship, instead of 5c-6b. Thoughts?
Ben Fetterolf
I had a hard time with that relationship. I was thinking of it as almost a ground for the comparison of a tongue to an untamed fire. But I get your point.
Brent Karding
So also the tongue is a small member,
I like your creation of a Bilateral Comparison; that's a good choice for 3-8.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.