Philippians 4:8-13, James 3:6-18
September 16, 2012
Today I’m picking up on a few of my thoughts from last week. As we ordained and installed our leaders that day, we read from the book of James. And if you remember, James was talking about teachers. “Let not many of you become teachers.” he said. And he gave examples of small things that guide larger things. He used the example of the bit in the horses mouth, and the small rudder on a great ship. And he said how our leaders are small groups that guide the larger whole.
I tried to impress upon you that day how awesome a responsibility that is! And we who are called to leadership need always to remember the importance of both wisdom and example. Our decisions and the way we live our lives are the ways we lead others. We could stop right there and just think about that. And that would be enough!
But James goes on. And as he does, he leads us into a discussion about something that affects all of us – not just leaders. He gives us this example about the tongue. And like the bit in the horses mouth and the rudder of the ship, “The tongue,” he says, “is small, but it can affect the whole body.” Think about that. Your tongue is a small part of your bodies, but with it you have the power to form those amazing things that are unique to the human species. With it you can form words!
Maybe we don’t think about it very much, but words are what set us apart from the animal world. And I know what you’re going to tell me! Animals can talk in their own way! We all remember Lassie! Something would be wrong and Lassie would run up to the father and say, “Bark!” And the father would say, “What? Timmy fell into the well and he cant get out?” “Bark!” “What? The woods are on fire and its coming this way?!” Maybe some of you remember that! Lassie was one smart dog! (Even though Lassie was actually a boy. But we wont go there!) And I know what else you’re going to tell me. You’re going to tell me that certain birds can talk, and that dolphins and whales have their own language. And I’m not denying any of that.
But we humans have a spoken and a written language that is unique in this world. We have lots of them, actually! And we can do more than just put thoughts and actions into verbal form. We can create with our words. We can form new concepts. We can use reason and imagination and go beyond simple communication. I believe all of that is part what it means to be created in Gods image.
We can also create standards for language. As you probably know by now, I’m a grammar Nazi! Language is a fascination to me, and I like to hear it used to its fullest potential. I suppose it could be said that good grammar isn’t necessary to communicate our thoughts to another person. But language is more than that. There’s a beauty and a flow to it that seem to come out best when our words are used the best. You know that there are certain passages in the Bible that only sound right to us in certain versions, right? That flow and beauty are important to us. And as complicated (and frustrating) as it can be, I believe that the English language is one of the most beautiful languages on earth! So I like to see it used correct! (Actually, correctly. I just wanted to see if anybody would catch that!)
Besides all of that, words can also have a humor all their own. For example, isn’t it weird that we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? My daughter once asked, “Why do we call them Apartments when they’re all stuck together?” And “Why is the word abbreviation such a long word?” Here’s an interesting abbreviation for you. You computer people are familiar with the words World Wide Web. Well, we often abbreviate that. But did you know that if you say the abbreviation, double-u, double-u, double-u, it takes longer to say and uses more syllables than the words themselves! (Work that one through!) Language can be interesting, can’t it?
By the way, how many here are fluent in another language? I think that’s so cool! Someday I want to be fluent in another language! And I often ask people who are, what language they think in? Think about that. If you speak in another language, do you think what you’re saying in English and then translate as you go? Or do you actually think in two separate languages? That boggles my mind!
Well, I’m grateful for this passage today, because it gives me the opportunity to talk about the subject of words. And words are one of the many things that fascinate me! The tongue is a small member of the body, but with it we can form words, and words can be powerful things. Our words, and how we use them, can define our entire personality, cant they? Think about how many job descriptions have, as a requirement for the job, “Good language skills.”
James tells us about the importance of our words. And in this passage, he starts out kind of strong. “The tongue is a fire,” he tells us. “The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.” Those are pretty strong words, aren’t they? Well, I think James is using strong words to tell us that the tongue our words have great potential! They are indeed powerful! And it doesn’t matter how important we think we are.
That’s what I want us to think about today. Our words are powerful! And words can do many things. They can be inspirational. They can instruct. They can be uplifting. But they can also be destructive and degrading. James tells us that. He says, “No human can tame the tongue. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God.”
Sometimes we think our words are not all that important. We think they’re just sounds that pop out of our faces. But James would tell us thats wrong. No matter who we are, our words are important. What we say, or what we don’t say, defines our character, and it affects other peoples lives!
James says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth both fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree yield olives, or a grapevine figs?” He’s telling us that our words need to be consistent with who we are. And what makes the difference in that consistency? It has to do with where our words come from. He tells us that the difference is if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (Where?) in your hearts
Thats it, isn’t it? James is telling us that our words come from whats in our hearts. If you think about it, our words are glimpses into our hearts. If our heart is generous, gracious, and edifying, our words reflect that. If our hearts are self-centered, malicious, and cruel, our words will reflect that as well.
James is right on here, isn’t he? And actually he’s quoting the words of Jesus! In Luke 6, Jesus says, “For each tree is known by its fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor grapes from a bramble bush. For the good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure, produces evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks!” (Luke 6:44-45)
Thats it, isn’t it? Words do come from the heart! They do reflect whats deep inside us! When we used bad language as kids, our parents told us we’d better clean up our mouths. (Mine did, anyway!) But James (and Jesus) is telling us that the real trick is not so much cleaning up our mouths as it is cleaning up our hearts!
The psalmist told us that centuries before either Jesus or James. He wrote, “How can a man keep his way pure? By guiding it according to thy word. With my whole (what?) heart I seek thee. I have hidden thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:9-11) Our words matter. And the psalmist knew way back then, that words come from the state of our heart.
There was an old credit card commercial on TV that would ask, “What’s in your wallet?” Well, I think James would ask, “What’s in your Heart?” Let that be our catch phrase. “What’s in your heart?” Because it’s what’s in our heart that counts! Last week we sang “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you.” Let that be our prayer. And let us pray with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Let us strive to hear the voice of God in our hearts every day! And whatever we do or say, let it come from a heart that has been made new through the grace and love of Jesus Christ. And to him be the glory in the Church, now and forever, Amen.
Eternal God, help us to know that we are yours. Help us to feel your spirit working in our hearts. Teach us to guard our hearts so that what we do and what we say may give glory and honor to you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.