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Showing posts with label Christian faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian faith. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2024

Controlling the Tongue - A Petecost Sermon on James 3:1-12 & Acts 2:1-4


Introduction
We have been working our way through the Epistle of James.  And I think the Lord has a sense of humor, because today is Pentecost Sunday and it is also the day I have scheduled to preach on James 3:1-12.  Tongues are an important feature both passages.  For in Acts, the Holy Spirit descends on the church and appears over the heads of Christians as “tongues of fire” and James tells us we need to control our tongues.  So let’s get right into it.  First let’s read what James says about our tongues.

James 3:1-12
1 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.

The Power of the Tongue
James compares the power of our words to the three things: 
1) A bit in a horse’s mouth,
2) a rudder on a ship, and
3) a spark that sets a fire.

The first two remind us about the power of our tongue to change the direction of our lives. 
A bit attached to reigns tells a horse where to go and a rudder tells a ship where to go.

I have never owned a horse, but I have been horseback riding several times.  You always get an orientation at the beginning of the excursion about how to get up on the horse and how to direct the animals.  You push the reigns o the right to go right or left to go left and pull back to make the animal stop.  They will often tell you, "You don't have to yank on the reigns."  It's not necessary to yank or pull hard.  The horse's tongue is very sensitive to the metal bit across its tongue (that's attached to the reigns).  Just a light pressure on the reigns and the bit is all it takes to steer a horse that weighs 1,000 pounds.

Cargo Ship
And James says a small rudder tells a ship where to go.  The OOCL Hong Kong is one of the largest container ships on earth.  It is as long as 13 football fields and as wide as 2 football fields.  It can carry 330,000 tons, which is about the same as 8,000 fully loaded tractor trailers!  That's huge, yet the ship is steered by a tiny rudder. 

That’s the potential power you have stored in the words that come out of your mouth!  Your words have tremendous power to direct your life and the life of people to whom you speak.  

What you tell yourself makes a huge difference.  We all have an internal voice.  When we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you might say, "Man, you look awfully tired today."  Or you may say, "You can do anything God wants you to do with His help."  Or you may be critical and say, "You're just a sorry excuse for a man.  You can't do anything."  Now what you tell yourself has a powerful effect on what you will be able to do.  We have to train ourselves to speak kindly and positively and truthfully and helpfully to ourselves, because it has a tremendous impact on the direction of our lives.

What you say to a child can change the course of their life.  I was at a band banquet for the Coahulla Creek High School Band last Thursday and the band director, Mr. Dodge, told the story of two adults that said things to him when he was in college that changed the direction of his life.  What they said to him when he was just a high school student made want to be a band director.  Now he is in his mid-twenties, about to have his first baby, and he is a band director and has a whole career in music ahead of him.  All this came from words people spoke to him in his youth.  

Your words have the power to change someone's life.  What you say to your spouse, your employees, your friends is powerful.

The Tongue is Also a Fire
James says, “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.”

You know, fire is one of the most useful and powerful tools human beings can wield.  Human beings are the only animals known to purposefully start and use fire.  It keeps us warm.  Cheers our spirits.  And can be used for many other important things.  If you drive a car, you are able to get from one destination to another because of the fire that burns in the internal combustion engine.  If you drive an electric car, it was probably charged on electricity that wsa created in a power plant that uses fire to generate electricity.

Fire is a central part of our worship service.  In the center of our sanctuary, there on our sacred altar, are two candles burning with fire.  They symbolize the dual natures of Jesus Christ: His divine nature and His human nature.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  Additionally, the lighting of these candles at the beginning of our service reminds us Christ is the Light of the World, bringing light into the darkness of sin.

Fire is good and useful—even holy—when it is properly used and controlled.  But when it is misused or used carelessly, it can destroy and even kill.  So it is with our words.  They can be the most powerful and useful parts of our being.  Jesus is known as The Word.  And it is with The Word that God created everything in creation.  It is with your words that you can praise God, witnesses to His goodness, and speak life to all.  But, because of sin which corrupts our words, our words can also be a deadly fire that destroys.

Some of the ways our words can be a deadly poison, or a destroying fire are:
When we gossip about people.  When we slander someone.  When we lie. 
When we are overly negative and critical.  When we are verbally abusive. 
When are always blaming others.  When we are prone to angry outbursts. 
When we are always sarcastic.  When we are verbally manipulative. 

These ways of speaking are poisonous and an uncontrolled fire that destroys.

One of the important doctrines (or teachings) of the Christian Church is the concept of total depravity.  Total depravity is the belief that sin has affected every part of human nature and all human faculties—intellect, will, emotions, and even our speech. This does not mean that people are as evil as they could be, but that sin has infected every aspect of a persons life.  In fact, sin has even rendered people incapable of turning to God on their own.  If it were not for the prevenient grace of God, we wouldn’t even realize how bad off we are and how we desperately need to turn to God to save us.

But the glorious Good News is, God pours out His grace on us—sometimes like a splash of cold water—that snaps us back to consciousness and we realize, “Oh my God!  I am a broken, sinful, busted human being!  Even my words can be a deadly fire I can’t control!”

James says in verse 7-8, “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.”  But Jesus words from Matthew 19:26 are the answer, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

God is the one with the power and the will to tame the human tongue.  If you will turn your life over to Him, if you will turn your tongue over to Him, He can and will transform your words.

We see this dramatically displayed in the story of Pentecost—the birth of the Christian Church
in Acts chapter 2 when God sent the Holy Spirit to inhabit His people, the Church.


Acts 2:1-4
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Tongues of Fire
The believers who followed Jesus were gathered together praying and worshiping God in an upper room.  And God did something amazing.  Before this moment, the Holy Spirit of God was primarily found in one place—the Holy of Holies inside the Temple in Jerusalem.  No one could enter the Holy of Holies, except one man—the high priest—one day a year, on the Day of Atonement.  A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple so no one would be tempted to enter or even look inside.  

But when Jesus was crucified, the curtain was torn from top to bottom.  It was torn from the top not the bottom, showing God was the one who tore it.  It was torn to show there no longer needed to be a curtain to separate God from man, because Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sin once and for all.

And then on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit of God descended on the first Christians.  No longer would His Holy Spirit live on the altar in the Holy of Holies.  Starting on that first Pentecost Sunday,
the Holy Spirit lives in God’s people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.  The two candles you see burning on our altar are a symbol of who you can be if you will put your faith in Jesus.  But it has to be a living faith that moves and obeys.  It is a living faith that hands your heart and your tongue over to God and every other part of you.

If you do this, then the Holy Spirit of God will begin to speak through you, just as He did through those first Christian in the upper room on Pentecost 2,000 years ago.  He enabled them to speak in foreign languages so the people gathered in Jerusalem could hear the Good News about Jesus death and ressurection in their own native tongue.  If God can enable humans to miraculously speak in other languages to accomplish His plans, then He can surely help you learn to control your own tongue.
The question is, do you trust Him?  Will you choose today to let Him be in charge of your life?

Closing
As we worship here this Pentecost Sunday, let us remember the transformative power of the Holy Spirit that touched the first believers and is still active and available to us today. 
The same Spirit that descended as tongues of fire,
enabling the disciples to speak in diverse tongues, invites us to surrender our own tongues—
and indeed, our whole selves—to God's sanctifying grace.

Today, I invite each of you to consider the 'fires' your words may have kindled,
the relationships they have shaped, and the paths they have set.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us anew, to tame our tongues, to transform our hearts,
and to use our voices for the glory of God.
As the candles on our altar symbolize the divine and human natures of Christ,
let our words reflect the nature of Christ within us—words of life, hope, and healing.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit,
Grant us the courage to speak as the Spirit leads, transforming every word into a testament of Your love and power. May our lives and our lips always glorify Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us and speaks through us. Amen."