Learning to master your tongue is the final in our masterclass series. We’ve talked about mastering the various aspects of your life, and I know this week you are going to wince a bit for sure. We have looked at mastering your past, your time, your mind and your money. Today we look at the age-old Achilles heel for mankind… mastering your tongue.
James 3:3-12 (ESV Strong's)
If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 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. 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! 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.
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. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 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.
STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE
Everyone, stick out your tongue and hold it. That’s what we are endeavouring to do this morning…
Proverbs 18:21 (ESV Strong's)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
With the tongue Caesar sent armies to war, Adolf Hitler incited mass genocide and cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons sprang up. With the tongue Wesley preached to thousands, Winston Churchill inspired a nation to stand firm and Billy Graham brought millions to faith.
The tongue can be an instrument of great peace, great inspiration or great destruction and devastation, on the world stage or in your life. That's why you must learn to master your tongue. How many times have you said things and regretted it? How many times have you spoken out and wished you could take the words back? So many people I know, have so many regrets about what they have said.
I have to confess that both Fiona and I at times have used our tongues against each other. I recognise that we should stick out our tongues and hold them more often. In a marriage, our tongues don’t just lash out, they have barbs and they stick into each other’s flesh, restricting us like barbed wire, cutting us down to size and holding us back!
Master your tongue or it will master your life, ruin your reputation, and destroy your relationships. If you want to look to master your tongue, we can read nothing better than the passage of James I shared before.
FOUR FUNCTIONS OF THE TONGUE
Why is the tongue so important? James lists four functions of the tongue:
1. THE TONGUE IS A BAROMETER
James 3:1-2 talks of the tongue as a barometer or spiritual meter. Teachers are judged by their tongues and what they say. The tongue is a gauge for our maturity because our faith and maturity will never register higher than our words! If you want to know how mature someone is, listen to their tongue and what they say!
2. THE TONGUE IS A BRIDLE
James 3:3-5 likens the tongue to a horse’s bit, a rudder on a ship and a spark in a forest. These are all small, yet the great power of a horse, or a mighty ship or a bush fire is controlled and guided by a small thing. If we can bridle or control our tongues, we can bridle the entire body.
If we can learn to control it, we can control our lives, and no matter which way the wind is blowing, we can steer our ship to safety.
I once owned a 17.5 hand high former racehorse named Monty. Big, strong, powerful and fast, a terrifying prospect to face. Yet when I placed this small bit into his mouth, I could steer him, slow him or make him thunder across the paddock. I nearly killed myself coming down with a ton of horse at a full gallop, but I loved him! All that power and energy controlled by a tiny piece of metal.
3. THE TONGUE IS A BONFIRE
James 3:6-8 talks about how powerful and potentially destructive the tongue is. The results of the tongue powerfully impact our lives like a massive bushfire. It can cause devastation or immense blessing. At the recent “Father of the Year” award, I realised how my words through the years have built my family up.
Many guys I talk to have discovered that the words their tongue has produced have destroyed their entire family. Truly death and life are in the tongue.
Four reporters, looking for a good story, were having a few beers in a Denver bar in 1899 they decided to concoct a false story, set it far away so no one could verify it, to meet their paper’s deadline. So they invented a tale that American engineers were about to consult on how to dismantle the Great Wall of China.
Unwittingly they provided the spark that ignited the Chinese and caused the infamous Boxer Rebellion, resulting in thousands of western and Chinese lives lost?
4. THE TONGUE IS A BROADCASTER
James 3:9-18 talks about how the tongue can reveal and broadcast what we actually have inside. Our tongue can be a guard protecting our integrity, or it can reveal the evil inside our hearts. So what about your tongue? Does it produce peace or reveal hypocrisy?
The type of person you are is reflected by your tongue. When we say hurtful things, when we lash out at those we love, we are revealing what’s really inside us. Your tongue gives you away! You can claim to be godly, claim to be righteous, but if you’re talking yourself up, at some point the truth of your life will give the game away.
Proverbs 17:28 (ESV Strong's)
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Or as Mark Twain paraphrased this verse, “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
SHOULD YOU BE TONGUE TIED?
If we are to become mature in Christ we need to manage our tongues. When it comes to causing havoc, the tongue punches way above its weight.
Proverbs 21:23 (ESV Strong's)
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
If you can master your tongue you can master your whole body. However, James points out that the tongue is basically untameable, and that it is itself set on fire by hell.
James 3:6-8 (NIV-WS)
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.
The Greek word for hell here is Gehenna, which is the valley of Hinnom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem, where the fires are never quenched, where they burned everything from garbage to criminal’s bodies. If you stop and listen to the things people say, even things you sometimes say, you will see the stamp of Hell fires upon it.
We tame animals, says James, but we cannot tame this tiny piece of our bodies!
And it’s a poison, a deadly poison! How many relationships have been destroyed by the poison of the tongue? So let’s have a look at some of the ways your tongue causes destruction if you do not master your tongue…
Right at the top of the list of the tongue's destructive power is gossip. Gossip is what sells magazines and keeps the internet clicking, and we as Christians are not immune.
Gossip is usually thinly veiled with acceptable phrases like, "Have you heard about...?" or "Did you know that?" or "Keep this to yourself, but I heard…? or "I don't believe it's true, but I heard that . . ." or even, "I wouldn't tell you, except that I know it will go no further."
Of course, among Christians the most infamous gossip prelude says, "I am telling you this so you can pray." This seems so pious, so religious, but I’m telling you now, the heart that feeds on bearing evil reports is a tool of Hell, and it leaves flaming fires in its wake.
A pastor in a small town had a notorious gossip in his church, and she turned her gossip on him. One day she felt convicted, so she came and asked the pastor for forgiveness. “Of course”, he said, but then he asked her to do something strange… “Please take a pillow, cut it open and go to the top of the hill overlooking our town and throw the feathers into the wind.
She thought this strange, but she did it, and the feathers floated across the whole town. Then the pastor said, “One more thing… could you go and pick them all up please.”
Gossip is so destructive, and you can’t take all those words back, and you cannot undo the damage.
Proverbs 16:28 (NIV-WS)
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
Fiona and I have been victims of gossip often. When I took on this Church as pastor, many were told horrible gossip, all untrue, about me. I could not fight it, I could not defend myself, I could only trust the Lord and let Him vindicate me… which I feel he has done.
A close cousin of gossip is innuendo. It is like gossip in that it spreads destruction, but it insinuates something and leaves the listener to draw their own conclusions… bring on Chinese whispers! “I saw the two of them together, and they did seem very close. Now I’m not saying there’s anything in it, but…”
Psalms 52:2-4 (ESV Strong's)
Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
Some gossipers use innuendo to feel better about their sin. It’s the word left unsaid, the awkward silence, the raised eyebrows, the quizzical look – you cannot master your tongue half-heartedly!
Gossip is saying behind a person's back what you would never say to their face; flattery is saying to a person's face what you would never say behind their back. The Scriptures warn us repeatedly against flatterers, for they are destructive people, who use their tongues to say something nice to get what they want.
Romans 16:18 (ESV Strong's)
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Beware the flattering tongue!
Now I know some of you think you have the spiritual gift of criticism, but I’m telling you now it’s the wrong spirit! Jesus said,
Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV Strong's)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Criticism is judgement, and opinions are like noses… everyone has one, and most of them smell. If you want to experience criticism, become a pastor! I’m blessed because most of you encourage rather than criticise me, but I’ve had a truck load of it in the past.
Sarcasm and sarcastic humour can also be destructive. Beware this one, especially guys. It’s nice to be funny, but not at someone else’s expense.
Ephesians 5:4 (ESV Strong's)
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Proverbs 14:14 (MSG)
A mean person gets paid back in meanness, a gracious person in grace.
Meanness is always taking a negative view of anything. It is unkindness, ungratefulness and unfairness, and some people use their tongue to create a cloud of misery over every circumstance and every person they meet. Some of us are Grumpy old men!
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV Strong's)
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Boasting is exactly what James claims the tongue does… that it is small but makes great boasts. I’ve achieved things, and so have you. But let us not boast in these achievements, let’s focus on serving selflessly. I ’ve ministered with some famous Christian musicians and singers, and their humility was something I noticed, despite their achievements! Let someone else blow your trumpet, not you!
STEPS TO MASTER YOUR TONGUE
Learning to master your tongue is an important step towards Christian maturity, in fact, and maturity.
1 Peter 3:10 (ESV Strong's)
Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
When you master your tongue it not only blesses those around you, but it protects you from harm, and it opens the doors to greater blessings for yourself and family. But as we have seen, the tongue is impossible to tame… that is without the power of the Holy Spirit. So where do you start?
1. RECOGNISE THE CREATIVE POWER OF WORDS
God spoke, and the world’s sprang into being. Words have power, immense creative power.
Hebrews 11:3 (ESV Strong's)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
If you speak negative all the time, if you lash out at others, if you gossip or start fires, your tongue becomes a weapon of mass destruction. (George W Bush Turkey) If you speak words of life, if you master your tongue, it becomes God's instrument.
2 Corinthians 4:13 (ESV Strong's)
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,
The words we speak with our tongues create life or death. They say “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but that is absolutely not true! Words can devastate your life long after broken bones are healed, as many of you well know!
2. UNDERSTAND YOU WILL BE JUDGED
People think they can say whatever they want, whenever they want without impunity, but this is simply not true. You must master your tongue. Jesus said,
Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV Strong's)
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
What you have said will be weighed, not by me, but by God. Imagine having to give account for some of the damage your tongue has carried out. Imagine others having to give account for what has been said to you. This is a terrifying prospect, isn’t it?
3. BE SLOW TO SPEAK
James 1:19-20 (ESV Strong's)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Much of the damage your tongue causes is when it is used in haste. When you get angry and lash out, your words can cut someone you love to ribbons! Husbands, wives, learning to master your tongue is an important issue for every marriage and every relationship.
Here’s a great idea… when you get angry, walk away for 15 minutes. After 15 Minutes to cool down, it is likely that what you say is going to be more kind and far less destructive.
4. REALISE THE PERMANENCE OF THE DAMAGE
Our words have power, and they last. You cannot just say things, blurt them out and then walk away as if nothing has happened. What we say can’t be retracted easily. That's why I’m suggest you should be slow to speak, thinking through what you are about to say instead of exploding in anger!
Take a toothpaste tube and you can easily squeeze the contents out onto a table. But what if I ask you to put the toothpaste back into the tube? You can’t do it can you, and you can’t replay your life and choose your words better. You cannot take words back!
Proverbs 15:4 (ESV Strong's)
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Your perverse tongue yields permanent results that are extremely hard to undo, as I’m sure many of us have found! This is why you need to master your tongue and…
5. WEIGH EVERY WORD
Proverbs 15:28 (NIV-WS)
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
The Hebrew word for “weighs” is haga, which means to weigh, to meditate and to think through the implications. Wise people weigh their words, they think before they speak and they hold them in a balance, thinking through the implications of the various scenarios.
So if you want to master your tongue, start by taking time out before you speak, weighing what you are about to say and making sure it will bring life, not death.
6. SPEAK ONLY WHAT IS ENCOURAGING
Paul recommends, and it is good practice, to only ever speak words that are encouraging…
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV-WS)
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.
This means dirty jokes, swearing, accusations, insults, etc. are not OK for your tongue to utter. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have an opinion, it means that you deliver even a rebuke in love.
So let’s try an experiment. Take a look back at the words your tongue has uttered over the last 24 hours. Have they always built your audience up? Brought life or death? Have they encouraged, or have they hurt others?
Questions to ask yourself before you speak… think about it… THINK…
T is it truthful?
H is it helpful?
I is it inspiring?
N is it necessary?
K is it kind?
BEWARE THE SECOND PHASE… GOSSIP
If someone hurts or offends you, you face a choice in how you will use your tongue. Will you lash out and try and hurt them back, or will you hold your tongue. Now if you hold your tongue, you’re not out of the woods yet, because here comes phase 2 of the tongue’s evil… when you start telling others.
Ok, sometimes we need to unload and get things off our chest. But even then, we often choose the wrong person, and then we give them a completely biased view in our favour, right? This is where the spark becomes the bushfire, where your feelings of injustice gain fresh ground…
Proverbs deals with the sin, let’s call it what it is, a sin of gossiping… you need to master your tongue...
Proverbs 18:8 (NIV-WS)
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
Let’s face it, we all like to know secrets, to be in the know! But you have no idea of the trouble it can cause!
Proverbs 26:20 (NIV-WS)
Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
You know it takes 3 people for gossip to happen… one victim, one listener and one carrier! You might think speaking ill of others is just a little sin, not a big one like murder or adultery, but listen , God is serious about this sin. It is not a minor misdemeanour it’s a major felony, something that blows families apart, friendships apart and yes, even churches apart! You must master your tongue.
Proverbs 19:5 (NIV-WS)
A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.
If your tongue is involved in gossip, and I know of none happening here at Ignite, but if it is this fans conflict into explosive flame and can separate friends, loved ones and churches…
Proverbs 16:28 (NIV-WS)
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
So the final advice from Proverbs is to not even entertain a gossip, but avoid them
Proverbs 20:19 (NIV-WS)
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.
As a pastor I sometimes have people say hurtful things to me about others, but I try not to repeat the words, and instead look deeper into the one with the complaint. It might be true, it might be a misunderstanding or misconception, but I have decided as your pastor to not to be the one who propagates gossip. Fiona is a counsellor, but I don’t even ask who she is counselling, let alone what was discussed!
IS YOUR FAITH WORTHLESS?
James 1:26 (ESV Strong's)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.
We want to be godly, we want to shine for Jesus… but listen, don’t ignore what the Lord is saying today. If you cannot master your tongue, James says your faith, not matter how good it looks, is worthless.
Some of us here are reaping the pain and destruction our tongues have created over years with friends and loved ones, and some are bearing the scars of someone else’s tongue, but nothing is beyond God’s healing hand. He can master your tongue.
If your tongue has been an offensive weapon in the past, I want you to pray a prayer to master your tongue once and for all. It’s not a once off prayer, it’s a continual, day by day prayer, but some here need forgiveness and restoration for the damage their tongue has done. God is calling you to master your tongue!
Also. If you have felt the pain of someone else’s tongue, and those words whether true or not have cut you to the core. I am praying today specifically for healing for you.