Stewardship of Speech

Greg Wetterlin November 19, 2017 James 3:1–18
Outline

1) God owns everything, you own nothing

2) God entrusts you with everything you have

3) You may increase or decrease what God has given you, but God wants you to increase it

4) God can call you into account at anytime

3 principles that will help us control our speech better.

I. Recognize the Incredible Power of Your Words

A. Your words have the power to direct your life

James 3:2 - ...If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

James 3:3 - Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

James 3:4 - Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

James 3:5 - So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things...

Proverbs 13:3 - The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

B. Your words can cause catastrophic damage

James 3:5-6 - ...See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

II. Believe that Only Jesus Can Help You Control Your Speech

James 3:8 - …no one can tame the tongue...

A. You have a bad source

James 3:11-12 - Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Luke 6:45 - The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

B. Your heart is the source of all your words

James 1:26 - If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

Ezekiel 36:26 - Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

C. What’s the source of your heart?

James 3:14-17 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

Psalm 15:4 - ...He swears to his own hurt and does not change…

What's the Source of Your Heart and Speech?

Unregenerate Heart

Regenerated Heart

(v.15) "earthly, natural, demonic"

(v.17) "Wisdom from above"

Bitter - angry, hateful speech from unmet expectations       

Pure - speech that is morally upright

Jealousy - discontented speech that makes it clear you want things you don't have

Peaceable - speech that puts out fires, arguments, and fights and promotes unity

Selfish-ambition - speech that is aimed to elevate yourself no matter the cost to others

Gentle - words that are spoken in a manner that demonstrates concern for the other person's feelings

Reasonable - words that invite dialogue and discussion rather than shutting down conversation and communication

Mercy - words that communicate patience and forgiveness and love for your neighbor (cf. James 2:8–13)

Without hypocrisy - your 'yes' means 'yes' and your 'no' means 'no'

RESULTS: Disorder

RESULTS: Peace

James 1:26 - If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

III. Embrace Your Responsibility to Speak, Knowing that God Will Judge All of Your Words

James 3:1 - Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

A. You’re a teacher because you’re an image bearer of God

B. You’re a teacher because you’re a church member

Colossians 3:16 - Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Matthew 12:36-37 - But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

How many of you carry around coins with you?...

How many of you carry around quarters?...why mess around with anything less, right?

How many of you carry around dimes on a regular basis? Nickels? How about pennies?

And the reason for not carrying them around or even caring about them is simple: they are not worth very much.

A penny doesn’t get you very far.

But yet, we all remember the math problems in school that illustrated the power of interest and how saving a little bit each day with interest for 30–40 years is significantly more advantageous than starting with a much larger lump sum when you’re in your 50’s and saving for only 10 or so years.

The point is that all of the little coins...the pennies, the nickels the dimes...the money that we thought was so inconsequential over years and years turns out to be not so inconsequential.

In fact, I forget who I was talking with but he told me that he keeps all of the loose change that he accumulates over the entire year and that’s what he uses for Christmas presents at the end of the year.

  • All of the inconsequential “change” amounts to enough for Christmas gifts for his family when he adds up a year’s worth of change!
  • The principle is a small bit in the horse’s mouth, can control and direct the entire horse.
  • It can wreak havoc on our work places...a spark of grumbling or gossip can spread to destroy the unity and team atmosphere.
  • Or the simmering coals of a bitter heart can set friendships ablaze in just a moment.
  • That’s the point of the first question...can a fountain or a spring bring forth both fresh and bitter water?
    • NO! And the answer is, because the source is the same the water must be the same.
  • Same issue with the trees vines.
    • Figs trees do not grow grapes and grapevines do not grow figs!
    • Why? Because of the source.
  • A different fertilizer will not change figs into grapes...
  • A different insecticide schedule will not change figs to grapes...
  • Angry, harsh speech towards your children is easily blamed on their lack of obedience; they make too much noise; they never show me any respect....you see the SOURCE of the poisonous speech isn’t my heart it’s my kids...
  • Or the reason for my cursing is because of the pain when I stub my toe or hit my head on something...you see the SOURCE of those evil words isn’t from my heart it’s from the pain...
  • That’s exactly what we need. And that’s something that can only happen by trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
    • Trusting in his death, burial and resurrection.
    • Words of bitterness that demonstrate a heart poisoned by improperly processing unmet expectations...
    • Or words of jealousy that reveal a heart that is discontent with life, relationships, job, career, church...
    • Or words of selfish-ambition that reveal a heart that is obviously out for itself...a heart that is looking for every opportunity to elevate itself regardless of the cost to others
  • Or does your speech point to the fact that your heart is sourced by “wisdom from above” as James says in v.17.
    • Would your words be characterized as “pure”—
      • not mixed with salt and fresh water...not praising God one moment and cursing his image bearers the next
    • Are your words peaceable—
      • are the promoting unity and dissipating disagreements? Are they putting out fires or are they starting them?
    • Or how about gentle?
      • This can be challenging, can’t it? Are my words harsh and demanding? Does my speech communicate a rigid immovability? Or is there a concern and tenderness to my speech even in difficult conversations?
    • What about “reasonable”?
      • This is a very interesting word that different translations almost all translate differently.
      • The sense of the word I think is getting at “being open to being persuaded.”
      • The idea is, are you a person that invites conversation and dialogue even when there is disagreement, or are you the person that quickly shuts down dialogue and it’s my way or the highway.
    • Full of mercy—
      • Very similar to gentleness...words that communicate real love towards the other person
      • Words that communicate genuine concern for their well being
    • And finally, words that are “without hypocrisy”
      • This is the person who ‘yes’ really means ‘yes’ and whose ‘no’ really means ‘no.’
      • They don’t say what’s most advantageous to them in the moment, and then change their mind later.
  • Do they point to a heart that has been saved, redeemed and made new by Jesus Christ?
  • Or do they point to a hear that is still stone...a heart that is still earthly, natural and demonic?
  • The results of bitter, jealous and selfish speech with be disorder...there will be problems...if there seem to be fires and destruction all around you maybe it’s time to recognize that the common denominator is you?
    • And while it may be painful to admit that...it also could be one of the best choices of your life.
    • Because it may just be the first step toward leading you to a different kind of speech with totally different results.
  • The results of pure, gentle, peaceable, reasonable, merciful speech will be peace!
    • A harvest of peace!
    • This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have problems...but your words will be sowing peace and overtime you’ll be reaping peace.
    • Instead of sowing disorder you’ll be sowing to order.
  • God doesn’t want you to stop speaking.
  • So it might be tempting after hearing a sermon like this to say, “Well, that’s it! I’m never speaking again!”
  • That’s not a job or a position that you have to sign up for, it’s a job that you’re born into.
  • So the question is not, whether or not you ARE an image bearer...the question is ARE YOU AN ACCURATE image bearer? In other words, how is your teaching?
  • And the answer to that is goes back to the gospel...some of the most justifying words that you or I can ever speak, are words of confession and repentance.
  • Words that own up to my failure and my sin, and words that demonstrate my incredible need for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Here’s the point: It’s pretty easy for us to take things that are small and seemingly inconsequential and treat them that way.

And the topic that we’re addressing this morning, is no different...our words and are speech are easy to chalk up as small and inconsequential....but I’m not sure we’ll ever be good stewards of our speech if that’s the case.

So with that in mind please open up your Bibles to James 3...that’s page 178 of the back section of the chair in front of you if you need that.

While you’re turning there, I want to remind all of us of the 4 principles of stewardship.

1)      God owns everything, you own nothing

2)      God entrusts you with everything you have

3)      You may increase or decrease what God has given you, but God wants you to increase it

4)      God can call you into account at anytime

So as we think about the Christ-Centered stewardship of our speech let’s keep in mind that our speech has been entrusted to us by God to “increase”...and increase isn’t necessarily talking about the amount of words, but rather “increase” the amount of our speech that is glorifying God.

Follow along with me in James 3 beginning in verse 1:

[Read]

With the time we have remaining we’re going to consider 3 principles that will help us control our speech better.

I. Recognize the incredible power of your words

The first principle is to recognize the incredible power of your words.

The more common and familiar something is, the easier it is to take it lightly.

For example: the man that uses their chainsaw once a year...and on a side note I hope if you’re a man you do find opportunities to use a chainsaw J but back to the point, the man that uses it once a year is probably a whole lot more careful and slow because he doesn’t use it all the time.

But the person that uses a chainsaw every day, and hasn’t been injured by a chainsaw for weeks and months and years, can grow to forget the incredible danger of operating a chainsaw.

James is trying to help his readers and us, understand that our words can be very similar...they can become so common and normal that we lose respect for their incredible power.

One study by Dr. Mehl at the University of Arizona revealed, on average, that women speak 16,125 words per day and mean speak 15,669 words per day. I wonder how many of those words we are careful with vs. carefree with?

James is helping us handle them carefully because they have the power to direct your life. 

A.     Your words have the power to direct your life

Notice what v.2 says...

James 3:2 ...If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

Now, we all know that James is a good preacher and teacher and so maybe he’s exaggerating a little bit to drive his point home...would perfect speech really mean a perfect life??

Well, James somewhat anticipates this sort of objection and so he levies a couple illustrations to “reinforce his belief that a comparatively small ‘member,’ such as the tongue, has influence (far) out of proportion to its size.”[1]

The first illustration he gives is a horse with a bit in its mouth.

James 3:3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

The same is true with the 2nd illustration of a ship and rudder.

 James directs us to

James 3:4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

Again, the principle is the same and he then draws the direct connection back to our tongues in v.5

James 3:5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things...

Friends, speech is something we should really care about stewarding well, because of it’s incredible to power to direct our lives.

That’s why Proverbs 13:3 The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

The wise steward will recognize the power of his words to direct his life.

But even beyond our own life, we need to recognize that our words can cause catastrophic damage.

B.      Your words can cause catastrophic damage

I’m not originally from Indiana. I actually grew up in Denver, CO. If you know anything about Denver you know that it’s a very dry climate. Not much rain and hardly any humidity. The heat and the lack of moisture in the summers made the danger of forest fires and ever present reality.

Having burn bans was common place in Colorado summers. Even when camping, being extremely careful with fires was a necessity because a small spark could easily spread very fast. And in most of the summers I can remember, there were one or more forest fires consuming thousands of acres of forest.

James compares our tongues to a small flame or spark that would set an entire forest on fire!

James 3:5–6 ...See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

If you’ve ever lived in places where forest fires are more common, or you’ve ever been part of an effort to put out a forest fire, you know how much effort it takes just to contain the damage, let along completely extinguish the fire and restore what was consumed in the flames.

Our speech can do the same thing to our marriages and families that a fire does to a whole forest. It can turn it to ashes like that **snap.**

Our words can have a powerful effect on others. We’ve all said things that we wish we could take back because of the devastating effects of those words. Well God is reminding us that if we don’t steward our speech and try and bridle our tongue, there is no telling how much damage we might do...but I can promise, it won’t be good.

So the first principle to help us control our tongue is to recognize the power of our words.

The 2nd principle to help us control our speech is to believe that only Jesus can help you control your speech.

II. Believe that only Jesus can help you control your speech

The first principle is important, but it’s far from enough.

James 3:8 no one can tame the tongue...

The Greek text actually includes the word human, so if you’re looking a different like the ESV or NIV you’ll see that verse 8 says “no human being can tame the tongue...”

And James tells us why that in vv.11–12.

He tells us that are speech is bad because our source is bad.

A.     You have a bad source

James 3:11–12 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

 You see, James again with simple illustrations makes the point very clear. Our tongue taming problems are caused by a deeply root problem. In fact, the problem is so deep that it actually stems from the source of our words.

Growing figs is not a matter of technique primarily. Same with grapes. Technique and understanding is important for growing, but at the end of the day the most important part about growing figs is that you have the right tree!

It’s an issue of source! And as humans our source is “evil” and “poisonous” and that’s why James says, “No one came tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

Now, this not the only place that teaches that we have a serious problem at the source of our being. In the gospel’s Jesus makes the same exact point.

Luke 6:45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

 What Jesus also helps us see is our hearts are the source.

B.      Your heart is the source of all your words

The mouth’s source is the heart, and so it’s impossible to get your words from anywhere else.

This is a very important point, because often when the Bible uses the word, it’s not really talking about your blood pumping organ. It’s talking about the control center of a persons’ thoughts, motives, actions and words. It’s the immaterial part of person that controls and governs everything a person does.

And it’s important to recognize that your heart is INSIDE YOU. And your words come from INSIDE YOU...meaning, your words do not come from OUTSIDE of YOU.

But that is typically the first place that we blame for our words and speech.

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

There it is. Don’t be deceived! If we’re not controlling our tongue it’s because of our hearts. And that’s why if we’re ever going to change our speech, we must first have our hearts changed by Jesus!

 In the OT, the prophet Ezekiel was looking forward to the time of Christ and one of the primary blessings of the new covenant which was inaugurated with Christ’s blood.

Ezekiel 36:26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

And the moment that you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ, Scripture tells us

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

At that moment, your source has been changed and because of Christ it is now possible bring forth good fruit. It’s possible to store up good in your heart and bring forth good.

Now we must be careful not to push any of these metaphors further than it’s intended to go.

“One theologian helps us remember, “A man after all is not a tree.” His point is that the automatic natural process of a plant life cannot exactly be compared to the willing, deciding process of human life. BUT, whatever its limits, the imagery conveys an important warning: only a renewed heart can produce pure speech; and consistently (though not perfectly) pure speech is to be the product of a renewed heart.”[2]

 So let me ask you, if you honestly evaluate the speech, would it point to a heart of flesh or a heart of stone?

C.      What’s the Source of Your Heart?

James labels the 2 possible sources of our heart in vv.14–17.

James 3:14–17 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

 Would your words be characterized by “bitter jealously and selfish ambition” as v.14 in James 3 says?

If that’s the kind of speech that characterizes your life, James says the source of those words is your heart and the source of your heart is “earthly, natural, demonic.” The very opposite of a heart of flesh that has its source from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The last half of Psalm 15:4 describes the person with speech that has no hypocrisy as

Psalm 15:4 ...He swears to his own hurt and does not change;

 On your notes is a chart that you can go through to help you analyze, the source of your words.

What's the Source of Your Heart and Speech?

Unregenerate Heart

Regenerated Heart

(v.15) "earthly, natural, demonic"

(v.17) "Wisdom from above"

Bitter - angry, hateful speech from unmet expectations

Pure - speech that is morally upright

Jealousy - discontented speech that makes it clear you want things you don't have

Peaceable - speech that puts out fires, arguments and fights and promotes unity

Selfish-ambition - speech that is aimed to elevate yourself no matter the cost to others

Gentle - words that are spoken in a manner that demonstrates concern for the other person's feelings

 

Reasonable - words that invite dialogue and discussion rather than shutting down conversation and communication

 

Mercy - words that communicate patience and forgiveness and love for your neighbor (cf. James 2:8–13)

 

Without hypocrisy - your 'yes' means 'yes' and your 'no' means 'no'

RESULTS: Disorder

RESULTS: Peace

 

If going through those specific aspects of speech still isn’t helping you analyze your speech...your still not really sure the condition or source of your words...

James gives us the results that will be true if we speak in a certain way.

 And remember, James 1:26 is very clear:

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

 The good news is, Jesus Christ stands ready to help you change your speech...but it begins by admitting your need and trusting in him as your Lord and Savior.

And Christian friends...it still means depending on Christ and allowing his Word to penetrate our hearts so that we can put on more and more “pure” speech and less and less poisonous speech.

And that brings us to the last principle to help us control our tongues better.

After we recognize the incredible power of our words and in the importance of stewarding them well...and after we have believed and cried out to Jesus for help with our words...then it’s time to get after the task of speaking in a way that would please the Lord.

It’s time to embrace your responsibility to speak, knowing that God will judge all of your words.

III. Embrace your responsibility to speak, knowing that God will judge all of your words

This is really getting to the last principle of stewardship.

God may call you into account at any time.

God has given us the capability to speak so that we would use it!

But friends, not speaking doesn’t solve the problem. Not speaking would be like the wicked steward in Mathew 20 who buried the talent that the Lord gave him in the ground.

God doesn’t want you to bury your words, he wants you to grow in using your words to bring glory and honor to him.

James began this section with a warning to teachers.

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

And while James may be specifically addressing teachers—people that have a public ministry of the Word. This principle is still very important for all of God’s people.

Teaching is really central to what God has called all Christians to.

A.     You’re a teacher because you’re an image bearer of God

For one, everyone has been made in the image of God which means that when someone looks at you, and hears the way you speak and sees the way you act, they should be learning something about God.

You’re a teacher because you’re an image bearer of God.

By your very nature as an image bearer you are a teacher every time you open your mouth...that’s a high and privileged responsibility...that’s why God didn’t give your dog that job...that’s why God didn’t give your pet salamander that job...

He gave the job of accurately representing and teaching others about him to you!

But beyond just being an image bearer, we are called to teach one another by the way that we sing, by the way that we encourage one another, by the way that we would “speak the truth in love” and by the way that we would speak words of grace to others for the purpose of building up.

In other words, as a church member, you’re a teacher!

B.      You’re a teacher because you’re a church member

Here is just one verse that would highlight this:

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Everyone is called to teach through admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...Sunday mornings are obvious applications of that.

How are you teaching others through the way that you’re engaging in the worship of singing?

Parents you are teachers of your children!

All of us need to take our various responsibilities of teaching through the way that we use our words very seriously.

And our words will do 1 of 2 things for us:

Matthew 12:36–37 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 So there it is, right from the lips of Jesus...your words will either justify you, or they will condemn you.

Now, based on what we’ve just studied in James, maybe this question popped into your head, “Well, how in the world can my words every justify me?”

The task of stewarding our words and controlling our tongue can be a daunting task. But the burden of having to be perfect in my speech so I’ll be justified is completely removed by the sweet promise of 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 So friends, I’d encourage you to take the task of stewarding your speech seriously, while trusting in the Lord and his Holy Spirit to you do that. And when you fail, which we all stumble in many ways...when you do so turn back to the Lord in confession and he is indeed faithful to forgive us.

Let’s pray.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 152.

[2] Ibid., 167.

Greg Wetterlin

B.S. - Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University
M.Div - Faith Bible Seminary

Pastor Greg Wetterlin and his wife, Erika, joined the Faith staff in July of 2016. Greg’s responsibilities include oversight of Bethany Farm’s men’s ministry and as well as shepherding and teaching in Faith Church.