Sermon: The Power of Words - James 3

Apart from the redeeming work of Christ we will only do harm with our words. We need wisdom from above to use our words wisely.

Sermon series: Pressure Points

  1. When You Suffer - James 1
  2. The Lure of Sin - James 1
  3. Performance or Mercy? - James 2
  4. The Power of Words - James 3
  5. Why We Fight - James 4
  6. Retaliation or Rescue? - James 5

To be used with: Session Four, The Pressure of Words
Alternate title: A Mighty Power Redeemed
Scriptures: James 3:1-18

Connection to unit theme

Our words are very powerful. Apart from the redeeming work of Christ we will only do harm with our words. We need wisdom from above to use our words wisely. Our words also reveal the state of our hearts.

Introduction

Time and again the Scriptures address the tongue. James devotes an entire chapter to controlling the tongue. When we consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34 we see why the tongue is given such extensive treatment. How we handle the tongue is a great indicator of our hearts before God. Aesop shares a helpful fable to illustrate this point:

Our words give us away. In James 3:1-18 we see that the tongue has power; that it is by nature hypocritical; and that it can only be transformed from above.

I. We must know the power of the tongue (3:1-8)

Most people want to be heard. What better way to be heard as a believer than to be a teacher of the gospel? Yet, James urges us to consider the power of the tongue. We must not be hasty in propelling ourselves into a position where the tongue is constantly used. It is powerful and as such will incur a "stricter judgment."

A. Control the tongue, control the man

James argues from greater to lesser in verse 2. If one can control their tongue then they will be able to control the rest of the body as well.

  • As illustrated by the horse (verse 3)
  • As illustrated by ships (verse 4)

B. Big things come from the tiny tongue

  • As illustrated by a wildfire (verse 5)
  • Words can build or destroy
  • Better than anything else the tongue displays the state of our hearts
  • Humanity alone cannot control the tongue

If James left us here this would be a miserable message: the tongue is a deadly poison that no man can stop. Thankfully, we aren't left to ourselves.

II. We must know the hypocrisy of the tongue

The powerful tongue can be used for great good or great evil. Apart from redemption it will only tear down and destroy. Perhaps better than anything else the tongue reveals the "already" but "not yet" of Christian sanctification.

A. The tongue can worship or curse (verse 9-10a)

B. This hypocrisy should not be the case (verse 10b-12)

  • James is not saying that they are unbelievers because of their hypocrisy. Note that he says "my brothers"
  • James is saying that such duplicity is inconsistent with a life redeemed by Christ
  • Believers ought to be growing more consistent in their speech

III. We must know the source of the tongue's redemption: Redeemed speech only comes from godly wisdom being imparted to us. Worldly wisdom will lead to a tongue infused with bitterness that will show itself through bragging and a denial of truth. Godly wisdom will lead to pure and peaceable speech.

A. Worldly wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic

  • Shows itself in bitter envy and selfish ambition that is accompanied by bragging and a denial of the truth (v14)
  • It leads to "disorder and every kind of evil"
  • This type of wisdom and speech is our default position

B. Godly wisdom comes from above

  • Characterized by all that is pure and peaceful
  • It leads to peace
  • This type of wisdom only comes from God's redeeming grace

The type of wisdom and speech that governs our life displays the work of God in our hearts. Where our speech and wisdom is worldly we see that the earthly, unspiritual, and demonic is the governing authority. Where our speech and wisdom is characterized by purity and peace we see that something "from above" has taken root and is spreading through our lives.

Conclusion

Aesop was correct, our speech and the type of wisdom that governs our lives displays the state of our heart. What does your tongue reveal about your heart? Are you increasingly maturing in your speech? Or do you find your tongue a "restless evil" that you cannot control? Aesop's solution was to control your tongue. James has taught us that apart from Christ, such an exhortation is impossible. Redeemed speech and wisdom only come from the work of the Redeemer. Let us cast ourselves on the mercy of our Redeemer and pray that He will continueHis work of overthrowing the demonic words that occasionally flow from our mouths.

Mike Leake is the husband of Nikki, father of Isaiah and Hannah, as well as the associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Jasper, Indiana. He frequently writes at SBC Voices and his personal blog, mikeleake.net. He is also slowly working toward completing his Master's of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.