Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 6
How to Manage Your Mouth
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 10, 2008


Main Passage: James 3:1-12

I was on the Internet this week and I came across a list of supposedly true quotes taken from tombstones…

"Here lies my wife, Here let her lie
Now she has peace And so do I!"

"Here lies JOHN D. CUDD, DMD  (Dentist)
Filling his last cavity!"

Tombstone in Round Rock,Texas
"I told you I was sick!"

Found on a headstone in an old cemetery
"The children of Israel wanted bread And the Lord gave them manna
Parson Perry wanted a wife And the Devil gave him Anna!"

In a cemetery in Hartscombe, England
"On the 22nd of June
Jonathan Fiddle Went out of tune."

In a London, England Cemetery
"Here lies Ann Mann Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.
Dec. 8, 1767"

Playing with names in a Ruidoso, N.M. Cemetery
"Here lies Johnny Yeast
Pardon me for not rising."

A widow wrote this epitaph in a Vermont Cemetery
"Sacred to the memory of my Husband John Barnes
Who died January 3, 1803
His comely young widow, aged 23,
Has many qualifications of a good wife,
And yearns to be comforted."
[Some people take out personals in the newspaper…]

A marker in Enosburg Falls, Vermont
"Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go!"

Someone in Winslow, Maine didn't like Mr Wood
"In Memory of Beza Wood
Departed this life
November 2, 1837 - Aged 45 Years
Here lies one Wood enclosed in Wood.
One Wood within another.
The outer wood is very good ...
We cannot praise the other."

In a Thurmont, Maryland Cemetery
"Here lies an Atheist
All dressed up And no place to go!"

Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania Cemetery
"Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake
He stepped on the gas instead of the brake."

On a grave in East Dalhousie Cemetery,
Nova Scotia
"Here lies Ezekial Aikle
Age 102
The Good Die Young."

"Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York
Born 1903 - Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car
Was on the way down.  It was."

In a Silver City, Nevada Cemetery
"Here lays Butch. We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger, But slow on the draw."

A lawyer's epitaph in England
"Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is strange!"

On a headstone at Chapel Cemetery
"I was Carolina Born And Carolina bred
And here I lay Carolina dead!"

"Here Lies Joyce
She'd rather not But has no choice."

A grave in Girard, Pennsylvania
"Who was fatally burned March 21, 1870
By the explosion of a lamp
Filled with "R.E. Danforth's
Non-Explosive Burning Fluid!"

An epitaph in a Wimborne, England Cemetery
"Reader if cash thou art In want of any
Dig 4-feet deep And thou wilt find a Penny."

Lester Moore was a Wells Fargo Co. station agent for Naco, Arizona in the cowboy days of the 1880's. He's buried in the Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona.
"Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No More."

The original story of this is that someone found this on a tombstone buried deep in the grass. Upon pushing the grass aside, he read:
"Pause, stranger, when you pass me by,
For as you are, so once was I.
As I am now, so will you be.
Then prepare unto death, and follow me."
Pushing the grass aside a bit more, he found the following scratched
on the stone, done with a crude instrument:
"To follow you I'm not content
Until I know which way you went!"

From a cemetery in Hatfield, Massachusetts
"Here lies as silent clay
Miss Arabella Young.
Who on the 21st of May,
Began to hold her tongue."


“She began to hold her tongue.” How are you at holding your tongue? Are you able to do it now or will it take the grave to finally stop it from wagging? Does your tongue get you into trouble? Why does it do that? And why does it really matter?

Over the past several weeks we’ve been talking about developing a faith that gets it’s hands dirty… the kind of faith that’s not afraid to get involved in the messiness of life. And as we’ve progressed through this message series, we’ve been working our way through the New Testament book of James, which is a very practical book about hands-on Christianity.

Last week we looked at a passage in James chapter two that told us that if our faith does not impact our behaviour, then it’s useless. It’s pointless. It’s dead. It’s not a real faith. Because when your faith is real, then you can’t help but express it through your actions. So last week, it was about the impact your faith has on your actions.

This week, we’re going to be talking about the impact your faith has on your words. On your mouth. On your tongue. How does your faith, if it’s a real faith, influence the things you say?

Because both of us know, we love to talk. There are talk shows everywhere. Everybody seems to have something to say. The average person has 30 conversations a day and you'll spend 1/5 of your life talking. In the span of one year your conversations will fill 66 books, 800 pages per book. If you're a man you speak an average of 20,000 words a day. If you're a woman you speak 30,000 words a day. (Like the guy who was asked, "Do you resent that your wife has the last word?" He replied, "No, I'm just glad when she finally gets to it!" Or the wife who broke her jaw. When they took an X-ray it turned out to be a motion picture.)
Some of us are born with a foot-in-mouth disease. We have this natural ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Nothing is opened more wrongly at the wrong time than our mouths.

I read a story this week about a stock boy at the grocery store. A lady asked him, "Can I buy half a head of lettuce?" He walked back to the manager to ask, not realizing she was walking right behind him. He said, "You're not going to believe this, there's an old bag out there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce." He turned around and saw her standing there and quickly added, "And this fine lady would like to buy the other half."
Our mouths get us into a lot of trouble. At least mine does. And it’s pretty good at it… it’s had decades of experience.

Well, we are working our way through the Book of James, and James talks more about the tongue than anybody else in the New Testament. Every chapter in the book of James says something about managing your mouth.

James 3:2 (NLT)
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

James says, if you can control your mouth, you're perfect. Now, that word “perfect” does not mean that you are sinless. It’s talking about being mature or healthy. That’s what the Greek word for "perfection" means. So James is saying that a spiritually mature, healthy person is able to control their tongue.

When you go to the doctor and say, “I'm not feeling well,” what’s the first thing he says? He says, "Stick out your tongue." Why? Because your tongue reveals what's going on inside of you, not just physically but spiritually. James says that you've got to learn to manage your mouth. You've got to learn to tame your tongue. You've got to get your tongue under control.

Don’t let your tongue lick you.

But you might ask, “Why does it matter? Who cares what I say? They’re only words. I’m only kidding? Why do I have to watch what I say?” And James answers, “Words are significant”. And he tells us why. Here’s the first thing he tells me about why I need to watch what I say…

Why Must I Watch What I Say?

1.    My Tongue Directs Where I Go

It has tremendous influence and control over my life. Where are you headed in life? Where are you going to be ten years from now? Look at your conversation. What do you like to talk about? What do you talk about the most? We shape our words and then our words shape us. James says…

James 3:3 (NLT)
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.

So James says, “Yeah, the tongue is small, it's tiny”. And because it's tiny we think it's insignificant. But it has tremendous power. It can direct where you go.

He says, “Consider a bit in a horse's mouth. You've got a huge stallion, 2,000-3,000 pounds, and then you’ve got a 95 pound jockey on his back. How does the jockey control the horse? With a tiny piece of metal. The jockey can control the tremendous mighty horse by a little piece of metal stuck strategically over his tongue. James says it’s the same way with your tongue. Your tongue controls the direction of your life.

And then James adds…

James 3:4-5 (NLT)
And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

Here’s a picture of the Queen Mary 2. The Queen Mary 2 contains 15 restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and a planetarium. The anchor would be equal to the weight of ten cars. Yet a relatively small rudder directs this huge ocean liner out in the middle of the waves and winds and seas. A little rudder keeps it on course. James says that our tongue is like that. Our tongue is like a rudder that steers us. Your tongue is the steering wheel of your life. It is the guidance system. If you don't like the way you're headed right now, change the way you talk.

2.    My Tongue can Destroy What I Have
In verse 5 James gives another illustration….

James 3:5-6a (NLT)
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Imagine a beautiful forest – tall beautiful trees everywhere. Now imagine it all going up in smoke, completely destroyed by a little tiny match. In 1983 in Australia, one fire overnight destroyed 1000 kilometres of land, villages, livestock. All from a single match. James says your tongue is like that tiny match… just a tiny spark. But it can destroy everything!

A careless camper can destroy an entire forest overnight. A careless word can destroy a life overnight. Gossip is like fire. It spreads quickly and it wrecks havoc. I wonder how many people because of a careless word have destroyed their marriage, or their career, or their reputation, or the reputation of another, or their church, or a friendship. The tongue not only has the power to direct where you go but also to destroy what you have… if you don't learn to control it. It's like a fire.
Have you ever met a verbal arsonist? Their words are always inflammatory. They say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." But that’s a lie, isn’t it? Words do hurt. You and I both know that. They can hurt and they can destroy. Look, when under control and used wisely, fire and words can give tremendous warmth and light, but out of control they can be devastating.

Proverbs 18:20 (Good News)
"You have to live with the consequences of everything you say."

James 3:6b (NLT)
It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Your “whole life”. It’s like a chain reaction. Your words set start a fire and then it spreads. You can say something that you didn't mean to have any harm, but it can have devastating effects that are beyond your control. Like what happened about 70 years ago… just a few inflammatory statements set off a chain of events that we now look back on and call World War II.

Or think about it like this… say husband comes home from work… it’s been a long day and he’s tired and grumpy and cranky. So the husband walks in and yells at the wife. What happens? The wife yells at the oldest kid. The oldest kid yells at the baby sister. The baby sister goes out and kicks the dog. The dog goes and bites the cat. The cat comes in and scratches the toddler. The toddler bites the head off the Barbie doll. Wouldn't it have been a whole lot simpler if the husband just bit the head off the Barbie doll himself?

Your words can set off a chain reaction.

James says you've got to learn to manage your mouth, not only because it can direct where you go but it can destroy what you have. You can loose your family, your kids, your career simply by what you say. It's like a fire. And not only can it destroy you, it can destroy those around you, too.

One word can cause a lot of trouble… for you, and for others. That’s why the instructions of this proverb are so significant…

Proverbs 21:23 (NLT)
Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.
So James says the tongue is like a spark of fire. And then James reinforces this with another illustration. He talks about a zoo. He says…

James 3:7-8 (NLT)
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.

Have you ever said something and then wondered, “Why did I say that?” You immediately regret saying whatever it was you said, but you just couldn’t help yourself.

James says, “Of all the animals we've tamed, no one can tame the tongue.” At least, not without God’s help.

James says it's like poison. Literally, he says it’s like "snake venom". Just a few drops can kill. You can assassinate somebody with your words. Assassinate their character. The tongue is a deadly weapon. It have the ability to destroy.

3.    My Tongue Displays Who I Am
It reveals my real character. It tells what's really inside of me. First, James points out how inconsistent we are in our speech. Still talking about our tongue, he says…

James 3:9-10 (NLT)
Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!

We say these things out of the same mouth. We come to church on Sunday. The highest use of your mouth is to use it praising God. We sing praises to the Lord. Then we walk out, get into the car and on the way home we argue about where we're going to eat lunch. Isn't it amazing how quickly your attitude can change? In one minute you're saying, "Praise the Lord", the next you're saying, "Shut up!"

It's amazing how quickly it can change, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute we're praising God and the next we're cursing other people. And by the way, “cursing” here doesn't necessarily mean profanity. It means any kind of put down. ["You good for nothing... You'll never amount to nothing ... You're just like ..."] Those kinds of things. Any kind of put down is a curse. And James says, “Why do you curse other people? Aren’t they made in God's image.”
How is it possible that we can be loving to the people we love -- our kids, wives, husbands -- and the next moment be harsh, cold, and cruel to them? How is that possible? Do you struggle with an inconsistent tongue? James says we all have it. We speak lovingly in one breath and then lash out in the next. What gives? What's the problem? Why do we do that?

Well, James gives the answer in v. 11-12. He says consider the source.

James 3:11-12 (NLT)
Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

Whatever is in the well comes out in the water. Whatever is in the tree, comes out in the fruit. What is the likelihood of an apple tree producing cherries? Zip! It’s the source that determines what comes out of it.

So you see, my problem is not really my tongue. My problem is my heart. What's inside my heart is what comes out of my mouth. My mouth eventually betrays what is really on the inside of me.
Have you heard this excuse? Someone says something really mean or hurtful and they say, "I don't know what got into me. It's not like me to say that. I don't know why I said that. It's totally out of character. I didn't really mean it. It’s just not like me." James would say, “Oh, yes it is. It's just like you. You meant it. Quit kidding yourself. What’s on the inside is what’s going to come out.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:34…

Matthew 12:34 (NLT)
For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.

That’ what we call a Freudian slip, isn’t it? When you say something you didn’t mean to say but it’s what you really think? Jesus explained the Freudian slip years before Freud even existed. He said what's inside of you is what's going to come out. My tongue just displays what I am. It directs where I go. It can destroy what I have. But most of all, it simply displays what I am. It reveals my character.
If you've got a problem with your tongue, it's much more serious that you think. Because you don’t just have a tongue problem; you have a heart problem. A person with a harsh tongue has an angry heart. A person with a negative tongue has a fearful heart. A person with an overactive tongue has an unsettled heart. A person with a boasting tongue has an insecure heart. A person with a filthy tongue has an impure heart. A person who is critical all the time has a bitter heart.
On the other hand, a person who is always encouraging has a happy heart. A person who speaks gently has a loving heart. A person who speaks truthfully has an honest heart.

What do the words you say reveal about the condition of your heart?

Okay, so our words are important. They matter. For good or for bad, positively or negatively, the words we choose to say and how we say them impact our lives. So, what if you have a problem? What if your tongue is out of control? What is the solution?

What Is the Solution?

A.    Get a new heart
You've got to get a new heart, because as we just discovered, that's the problem.

Ezekiel 18:31 (NLT)
Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.

That’s pretty good advice, isn’t it? Get a new heart.

Painting the outside of a water pump doesn't make any difference if there is poison in the well. It changes the outward appearance perhaps, but it doesn’t change the essence. I mean, I can change the outside, I can turn over a new leaf, but what I really need is a new life. What I need is a fresh start. I need to let go of all the past and be born again and start over. I need to get a new heart.
So how do I do that? How do I get a new heart?

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

New person, new life… that means a new heart, a new spirit. When you come to Jesus Christ, He wipes out everything you've done in the past. He says, “you're starting over. I’m giving you a new heart.”

Or how about what David wrote in Psalm 51…

Psalm 51:10 (NLT)
Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Is that the prayer you need to pray? Because what's in your heart is going to come out your my mouth.

B.    Ask God for help every day
Because the truth is, you need supernatural power to control your tongue. You can't do it on your own. Your life is a living proof of that. How long have you already tried that on your own? You know we cannot control it on our own. We need supernatural power, so we ask God to help us.

Psalm 141:3 (NLT)
Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.

Isn’t that a great prayer? "God, put a muzzle on my mouth. Guard my lips. Don't let me be critical today. Don't let me be judgmental. Don't let me say things off the cuff that I then regret." You need to ask God for help daily because you need His power in your life.
"The proof that God's Spirit is in your life is not that you speak in an unknown tongue but you control the tongue you do know."
~ Sidlow Baxter
And you know, one way of asking God for help is getting into His Word, the Bible. As you ask Him to help you control your tongue, you need to read His word. As the old computer slogan goes: garbage in, garbage out. What goes into your mind, goes into your heart, and what goes into your heart, comes out of your mouth. Fill your mind with the word of God -- with the things of God – think on these types of things, at that’s what will come out your mouth.

C.    Think before you speak
Engage your mind before you put your mouth in gear. Going back to a verse we looked at a few weeks ago…

James 1:19 (NLT)
You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

I think James put them in that order for a reason. Because they go in that order. First, be quick to listen. Instead of giving in to the immediate urge to speak, listen. And that will automatically make you slow to speak. And if you're slow to speak, you won’t be as likely to get yourself all worked up to the point of being angry. So if you have a problem with anger in your life, then what you need to do is work on being quick to listen and slow to speak. And the natural result will be that you'll be slow to anger.

What does your tongue say about you? What does it reveal about you? If we were to play back a tape of every conversation you've had in this past week, what would we learn about you? God hears it all, you know. Our tongues display who we are.

And our tongues direct where we go. What direction is your tongue leading you? Our tongues control the direction of our lives like a rudder, like a bit.

You know, here’s the thing about a bit and a rudder… they need to be must be under the hand of a strong, capable arm. So James is saying that the only way to get your tongue under control is to let Jesus Christ have control of your heart.

And maybe that means you start by asking forgiveness. Depending on how you’ve used your tongue before, maybe you need to go to your kids to say, “I'm sorry I’ve been so harsh and unloving with you. I really do love you. Please forgive me.” Or maybe you need to apologize to your spouse for snapping at them or belittling them or taking them for granted. Maybe you need to apologize to a coworker for humiliating them and gossiping about them. But you definitely need to as God to forgive you, and ask Him to perform a transplant and give you a new heart.

Pray like this…
"God, I need that heart transplant. I need a new heart and a new spirit. Come into my life. Maybe for the first time or as a recommitment you say, "Take control of my life." What direction is your tongue leading you? Where are you headed in life? Where will you be ten years from now? What do you talk about the most? That tells me where you're headed. My tongue can destroy what I have. I could lose it all in a minute by a few careless words, just like a cigarette dropped can destroy an entire park. Maybe some of you need to say, "God, I've been a verbal arsonist. I say things that hurt. That hurt my husband, my wife, my kids. I say things at work that are unkind. I'm harshest with those I love." The Bible says that displays what is inside. That's where the change needs to take place. "God would You give me help every day? Would You put a guard on my mouth? Would You help me to think before I speak? Lord, forgive me for the things I've said that were out of place. Help me with a new start this morning. I can't do it on my own; I need Your help. Help me to read Your Bible and fill my mind with good things." If you have an overactive tongue, say "God would You put peace in my heart so I don't have to talk so much? I've been negative. Help me not to be fearful. I tend to brag a lot. Help me to not feel insecure. God, melt the hard heart. Give me a caring, loving heart. Jesus Christ, take control of the rudder of my life and guide me in the direction that You wish."
 If you prayed that prayer, God heard you. Father, we all need this message. I pray that we all learn to manage our mouth. Help us, we can't do it on our own. But by Your spirit in our lives we can have victory. Lord, we realize that our tongue can damage but it also can delight. What a great potential we have. Help us to use our mouths, our tongues to bless people. God, help me to use my tongue to bless my wife, to bless my children, to bless the people I work with. God, there is tremendous potential in it. Help my tongue to give light and warmth rather than destruction. In Jesus' name. Amen.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



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