James 3:1-12 – Taming the Tongue

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. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (New International Version)

Words and speech are the most powerful tools we have in the Christian life. And the tongue is the means of forming the words and using the speech God gives us.

The problem is, we may too often underestimate the importance and the great power of the tongue to effect both good and evil. We might not believe that our particular words carry much weight.

Yet, in reality, our words are very powerful.  In fact, what we say with our tongues is either the vehicle of praise to God, or the ruin of another person. We must measure our words because the tongue is a beast to control and tame. 

The tongue is so powerful that it determines the direction of a person’s life.

The horse is a strong animal, and the strength of a horse must be respected at all times. Yet, a small woman, even a young girl who knows what she is doing with a bridle and a bit, can make a horse do whatever she wants. Ships can be massive and carry thousands of people and huge amounts of cargo. Yet, it is controlled and directed by the rudder – a very small piece of the ship.  In our own day, we know the devastating power of a very small handgun trigger which can literally snuff out a life in an instant.

Likewise, the tongue is quite small among the parts of the body. Yet, it sets the course of a person’s life and has the power to determine its destiny.  A rider who does not know how to handle a horse is in trouble.  An undisciplined pilot of a ship is in danger of shipwreck.  A gun owner loose with gun safety is a danger to others. And the loose, unbridled, untrained and undisciplined tongue is on a one way course to destruction.

The tongue is so powerful that it can destroy another person.

Like fire, the tongue has an awesome potential for harm. The great Chicago fire of 1871, one of the costliest disasters of the nineteenth-century, killed three hundred people and destroyed seventeen-thousand buildings.  All the destruction was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern in a barn. 

The Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988 burned for several months and completely destroyed nearly 800,000 acres of the park.  At the peak of the fire there were 9,000 firefighters battling the blaze. All the devastation was caused by one quick flash of lightning.

The largest fire in American history occurred in 1871 and began in northern Wisconsin. The fire created its own wind system and turned into a tornado, moving into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. By the time it was over, 3.7 million acres were scorched with 2,500 people left dead. All the destruction was likely caused by a small meteorite.

Whenever we underestimate the power of our speech and allow a stray word to fly off the tongue, the spark has the potential to start a huge conflagration of evil. A firestorm of destruction can be set off with just a few uncontrolled words. 

Through gossip (saying something behind somebody’s back that you would not say to their face), flattery (saying something to someone’s face that you would not say behind their back), negative criticism, sarcastic humor, boasting, and a host of evil words, the tongue has the immense power to destroy life.  It is speech fueled and spread by Hell itself.

The tongue is so powerful that it cannot be tamed.

Animals can be tamed, even crocodiles.  I once took my oldest daughter to the circus, when she was a small girl, and watched as a guy had a trained crocodile open its mouth and stuck his head inside the crazy reptile! 

Yet, no one can tame the tongue. It is like a tarantula, biting its victim with paralyzing venom so that the arachnid can eat its prey alive. The untamed and uncontrolled tongue is like a poisonous spider which spreads its verbal venom, paralyzing other people and sucking the life out of them.

The Apostle James paints a hopeless picture because he wants to drive us to the grace of God for help. We cannot tame the tongue – but God can. When we begin to see the true nature of our speech, it reveals something of ourselves.

The tongue is so powerful that it exposes the duplicity of the heart.

Whatever comes out of our mouths reveals what is on the inside of our lives. If we can grasp the truth of this, I believe it could transform the way people talk to one another. Even more metaphors to communicate the point….

Salt water and fresh water cannot both come from the same spring. A fig tree cannot bear olives, and a grapevine is not going to produce figs. And whatever comes out of the mouth reveals the source. Evil words come from an evil source; good words come from a good source. 

A pattern of negative condescending speech is drawing from a well, pumping up words from the depths of Hell. Conversely, a continuous stream of helpful words that encourage and build up others, draws its nourishment from God’s Word.

Conclusion

The following are four ways to help bring the tongue under control:

  • Train your tongue for good. Speech is a skill to be developed. When starting an exercise regimen, we are deliberately training our bodies for health. When dieting, we are saying “yes” to certain foods, and “no” to others. The tongue needs to be trained to express gratitude, good news, and grace. And one of the best ways to do it is through speaking Scripture out loud in a daily regular regimen. Consider going on a fast from talking and seek only to be silent and listen for a specified amount of time.

Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT)

Solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14, NRSV)

  • Read a chapter of Proverbs each day for a month. There are thirty one chapters in Proverbs, one for each day of the month. Pay attention to the power of words. Notice the difference between the speech of a wise person and the words of a fool – and take to heart the consequences of both approaches. 

You will say the wrong thing
    if you talk too much—
    so be sensible and watch
    what you say. (Proverbs 10:19, CEV)

Careless words stab like a sword,
    but wise words bring healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NCV)

  • Build friendships with people who are positive and encouraging. If a negative person keeps being negative, even after you have warned them more than once about it, you likely need a new relationship. 

Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness, he cuts himself off.  (Titus 3:10-11, MSG)

  • Listen and learn before speaking. A judgmental spirit often comes from misinterpreting another person’s words and/or actions. We can too often jump to conclusions about something or someone with only partial information and without the whole story.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, MSG)

Right and Just God, teach us to speak wisely. Let us avoid useless thoughts and useless conversations. Help us to speak often of you. Grant that our words may never hurt others but always bring comfort to those in sorrow, and guidance to those in need. Take our tongues and make them yours. Take our minds and make them instruments of your goodness and a channel of truth. May you help us to use both words and silence in redemptive ways, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Psalm 125 – Mountain Theology

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Everyone who trusts the Lord
    is like Mount Zion
    that cannot be shaken
    and will stand forever.
Just as Jerusalem is protected
    by mountains on every side,
the Lord protects his people
    by holding them in his arms
    now and forever.
He won’t let the wicked
rule his people
    or lead them to do wrong.
Let’s ask the Lord to be kind
to everyone
    who is good
    and completely obeys him.

When the Lord punishes
    the wicked,
he will punish everyone else
who lives a crooked life.
    Pray for peace in Israel! (Contemporary English Version)

Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of short songs of ascent meant to guide Jewish pilgrims on their communal trek up to the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately to the temple mount. 

Ascending to the Light by Alex Levin

The rhythm of the pious ancient Israelites centered round particular festivals, seasons, and Sabbath. Taking the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City was an especially anticipated time of year. This yearly cycle brought both increased faith and needed spiritual stability to the people. It reminded them that, like the mountains themselves, God cannot be moved. God will always be there.

Robust understandings of God are good solid mountain theology. Mountains make up about one-fifth of the world’s landscape and 12% of the world’s population live on them. They are more than imposing and impressive statues of rock. About 80% of our planet’s fresh water originates in the mountains.

So, when the psalmist likens God to a mountain, it is a reference not only to protection and strength; it is also pointing us to the source of life. With God, every need is met and satisfied.

On a mountain, Noah settled, Moses was given the law, Jesus preached and died – and the beans from my morning coffee were grown. I have everything I need in the mountainous God of all.

The most fundamental truths about God is consistency and constancy in the divine nature. God is forever present with people. 

If God seems or feels aloof or unconcerned, it is not that the Lord is avoiding us or is distracted with other important matters of running the universe. It simply means God chooses to reveal divine character and the divine will whenever the appropriate time ensue, for our benefit.

A mountain looks like it never moves. Yet the slow but steady rains, the creeping of tectonic plates, and undiscernible changes within the earth shift mountain ranges over time. The Lord is most certainly responding to us, our movements and changes, in a way we cannot perceive with the naked eye.

Our responsibility in the entire affair is to engage in consistent rhythms of spirituality which place us in a position to receive grace when God decides to give it. If we are still, we can feel the movements of grace enveloping us with life.

Perhaps we need to become adept at being spiritual mountain goats, using our wide cloven hooves of faith to negotiate the immense crags and rocks of God. After all, we will spend an eternity getting to know God and never exhaust the exploration.

Therefore, we must not despair but anticipate meeting with God, just as the Israelites of old looked forward and upward to their annual worship at the top of the mountain. The truth is that God surrounds people, even when we do not always perceive it to be so. 

The sturdiness of God is able to handle and bear the weight of our heaviest burdens.

Throw all your anxiety onto him because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7, CEB)

If we will but look up, there is abiding help for the most vexing of problems.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
    Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
    Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. (Psalm 121:1-3, CEB)

There is peace and settled rest when we call upon the God who surrounds us.

I call out to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again because the Lord sustains me. (Psalm 3:4-5, NIV)

It is through trust that we become mountains ourselves – strong in faith and giving life to those around us.

Ever-present God, there is no place where I can go where you are not.  Help me to so intuit your presence that it bolsters my faith and resilience for daily life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

1 Timothy 4:6-16 – Build Your Faith Muscle

If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (New International Version)

There are several metaphors throughout the New Testament illustrating the nature of the Christian life and Christian community.

God’s people are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the house where the Lord dwells; the Body of Christ, a group working together and strengthening one another in faith; the army of the Lord, advancing with the shared purpose of proclaiming good news and extending God’s benevolent rule – just to name a few.

All the metaphors are embedded with the need for training, for spiritual disciplines and practices which strengthen faith and promote spiritual health.

Just as an army of recruits needs intense basic training and ongoing discipline; and just as the body needs hourly movement and daily exercise of its muscles; so, Christian communities require spiritual development with a variety of forms and functions to elicit and establish a solid godly life.

The curriculum in the school of faith, the liturgy within the spiritual temple, the boot camp for the Lord’s soldier, and the sets and repetitions for Christ’s Body are reading and listening to Scripture with a life rhythm of personal and corporate integrity, confident faith, steadfast love, encouraging words, and virtuous behavior.

If we dedicate ourselves to these things, there will be no room for entertaining wacky stories which have no basis in truth. Instead, there will be lush spiritual growth, teachable spirits, humble service, supportive beliefs, compassionate ministry, and open fellowship.

The high values of our faith need to be both used and guarded. Our treasured possessions, whatever they may be, are handled appropriately and carefully – being kept in a secure place when not used – and being used with care when out.

Our faith, our life and doctrine, is both a precious possession, as well as a necessary muscle to do the will of God. Like our own physical muscles, faith needs to be stretched, exercised, rested, and supplied with plenty of protein and necessary nutrients. Overtaxed muscles will fatigue and can be damaged through too much exertion. And underused muscles will wither and atrophy, unable to handle even the smallest of strain when we need them.

So, it is best to have proper spiritual hygiene and exercise through a regimen of tried and true practices designed to improve and maintain healthy faith. If you want to build your faith, consider the following 10 ways:

  1. Increase your amount of reading. There is no substitute for daily repetitions of reading the Bible. Supporting a growing faith will require more voluminous reading.
  2. Focus on listening to the biblical text. Reading is only as good as our listening skills. For the Christian, paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s gentle whispers is a must.
  3. Decrease your media time. For all the good stuff out there, a lot of media information is based in myth, half-truths, and opinions masked as facts – not to mention all the hack and huckster preachers.
  4. Pray more. In fact, pray continually.
  5. Practice gratitude – not complaining. Need I say more?
  6. Snack on good spiritual reading. Consuming a good book before bed keeps the faith muscle fed longer.
  7. Rest! When God created and instituted seven days, the first day was a day of rest; the workdays came after. Don’t flip-flop the divine order.
  8. Supplement with good spiritual conversation. Half-baked theological ideas come from remaining in one’s own cave-like head. Consultation, collaboration, and fellowship help create a rich and full faith.
  9. Don’t overtrain. Good idea: Read the Bible in a year. Bad idea: Read the Bible in a month. Good idea: Digest the contents of ecumenical Creeds and church Confessions. Bad idea: Stuff a bunch of knowledge down your gullet without any love to wash it down. Savor the meal. Don’t be a pig.
  10. Don’t lift too heavy for your faith muscle. The ancient desert fathers spent years developing their faith and could do incredible feats of spiritual strength. Christianity isn’t a competition of keeping up with the Francis of Assisi’s and Martin Luther’s of history. Use the measure of faith given to you and focus on those small daily decisions of trust.

Christianity is a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint. We persevere to the end, not flame out after taxing ourselves with expectations and responsibilities God never gave us.

Be safe. Be strong. Be smart. Be spiritual. We are all in this together.

Gracious God, fill your Church with truth, the truth with peace, and the peace with love. Where our faith is weak, make it strong; where it is misguided and in error, correct and direct it; where it is amiss, reform it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.

Hosea 3:1-5 – Reconcile the Past

Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”

So, I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. Then I said to her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me.”

This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. (New Living Translation)

Sometimes you have to get your behind in the past before you can put your past behind you.

The ancient nation of Israel was in a spiritual pickle. Gradually, over hundreds of years, they made small decisions of compromised religion which added up to a severe breach of faith with their historic God.

The relationship between God and God’s people, throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is many times likened to a marriage of two spouses – God, the faithful spouse, and Israel, the unfaithful spouse who adulterated themselves by seeking the love of other gods.

This situation evoked feelings of sadness and anger within God. To help restore the broken marriage, the Lord used the prophet Hosea as an earthly illustration of the divine/human dilemma.

Just as Hosea graciously took a wife of dubious repute, so God mercifully took Israel. Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, slept with other men, so Israel went to bed with other gods. And just as Hosea remained faithful and actively sought to reconcile the past with his wife, so God tenaciously and dramatically honored the covenant relationship with Israel by showing steadfast love, despite her sordid past.

Israel needed to do her part by reconciling the past – returning to the Lord through acknowledging the truth of the situation and owning their responsibility to make things right.

Holy Scripture exhorts the believer to live according to truth. Whenever we fail to do so, we suffer spiritual loss. We are told to confess and reject unfaithful patterns of past behavior and not allow them to influence us today (Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 1:14, 18). 

Neglecting our responsibility inevitably causes emotional, mental and physical repercussions, as well as spiritual. In the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul said he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he could say that because he had come to terms with and reconciled his own terrible unfaithful past with God. (Philippians 3:4-13)

It is both helpful and necessary to go back into one’s life and deal with the past on the basis of truth. In doing so, we honor our relationship with God. We must ask the Lord to turn the searchlight of truth on us and our past. 

Trust God to help you remember all the times in which you need to reconcile what has happened (or failed to happen). Make the choice before God to be as honest as you possibly can. 

The following are some suggestions from a former professor and mentor, the late Dr. Victor Matthews, (put in my own words) to carefully follow:

  1. Write out every time you were unfaithful or were hurt by another’s unfaithfulness (reject the temptation to just think and/or talk about it). Be complete, name the people involved, state what happened, do not try and protect yourself or other people and do not fantasize and let your thoughts run amok.
  2. Evaluate each past event on the basis of truth. If you were unfaithful, then confess it to God truthfully and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). If you were hurt by someone, and it was their fault, then state out loud that “_______ should not have done that to me.” When you have finished writing out the event(s) deliberately stop and completely forgive the person(s) (Mark 11:25-26).  If you were at fault in some way, then confess that to God, as well.
  3. Resist the temptation to hurry with this process! Do not generalize by putting many events into one. Be specific and take the time necessary to get in touch with what God is trying to help you connect with.  This practice of reconciling the past is not introspection, so do not indulge in self-pity, self-criticism, or develop a martyr syndrome.
  4. Affirm that your inner critic, others, and any dark force may no longer use your past against you. “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I take this event away from Satan and declare that he may not use it against me anymore!” (Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 6:14).
  5. Receive the healing provided for those who believe and live according to God’s words and ways (Isaiah 53:5). “Now that I have made this right with you, O Lord, I receive the healing you have provided for me through the cross of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

When you have finished your work, then count it finished. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” he meant what he said. (John 19:30)

Reconciling the past means leaning into the finished work of Jesus for our complete healing. If and when we think of our unfaithful past, then firmly state: “I have dealt with that truthfully. It is settled, once and for all.” 

Whenever unfaithful, from this point forward, confess it, receive forgiveness, and make the affirmations of truth. In doing so, we are living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.