7-31-16 Sermon: “God’s Voice Lessons”
“God’s Voice Lessons” James 3:1-12
Voice Lessons are helpful. They train you to reach the notes you are able to reach only on occasion, and even improve your voice range. James has some voice lessons for us today. They are not about annunciation, breathing, exercises. They are not about how to talk as about the substance of what to say. Words matter. The words of scripture matter. If you say encouraging words instead of criticizing words that matters. I will look at this passage by looking at the power of the voice, the sin of the voice, and the help of the voice.
I. THE POWER OF THE VOICE- James is basically saying that the voice we have is very very powerful. We may say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” Everyone knows this is simply not true. Words hurt tremendously. Some of you have had a parent or someone tell you things 50 years ago that are still hurting and controlling you today. But there are others who have had a coach or a Sunday School teach tell you something that is still encouraging you and motivating you today. Words penetrate to the soul and can poison us. It is by God’s grace that we let God’s Word have power over mean words. James uses different images to convey the power of language. But James is saying, “if you can master your words, you can master your whole life” (Tim Keller).
A. BITS IN HORSES MOUTHS (3)- James points out that a bit in the mouth of the horse can control the whole horse (and a small rudder can control a large ship), so also our tongues can control who we are, and what direction we take in life. In George Orwell’s novel “1984”, something called “doublespeak” was created to help govern, control, and manipulate the people. Words were manipulated to turn people however the powers that be wanted them to turn. We see a little bit of that today. For example, we do not say someone is committing “adultery” but instead we say “they are having an affair.” Sounds a bit softer. We do not say an unmarried person is promiscuous or is involved in “fornication” anymore. We just say they are “sexually active.” A person is not a drug addict as much as “chemically dependent” or a “substance abuser.” Theologians do similar things. Missions used to be what we do overseas- Then for the least, last, and lost wherever; now it is whatever we do.
B. LIKE A MATCH (5) James said the tongue is like a match/spark- able to start uncontrollable damage. Proverbs 16:27 says, “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.” Some of you know one unkind word, then the argument begins like a fire it escalates and then explodes and suddenly the home and relationship is in danger. Near where my daughter and son-in-law were visiting in northern CA a small fire started- they caught it at 2 acres; Now it is bigger than the city of San Francisco-over 31k acres and burned up 68 structures. The tongue likewise can destroy many a home when it is out of control.
But tongue can also do a lot of positive things. A fire may start quickly, but it is also true that encouragement and blessing can spread too. So your words are powerful and blow up fast. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but let us encourage [exhort KJV] one another.” This verse equivocates worship and encouragement. Did you come here today to encourage others? It is as an essential part of our worship just as singing.
C. UNTAMABLE- (7,8)- Wild animals have been tamed by humans, but humans have yet to tame their own tongue. One congressman was complaining not only about budget waste, but the waste of words in congress. One study presented by the government took 2,500 words to tell how we should reduce the price of cabbage seed, while the declaration of independence took only 1,821 words. I have a homiletics professor who told me to always remember the words “KISS” when I preached- “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The tongue is hard to control, but we must strive to manage it.
In the book, “The Third Reich” Hitler’s rise to power was seen as not primarily because of the political and economic conditions of Germany, but because of his oratorical ability and skill. Hitler’s career began when he interrupted another speaker in a small lecture hall when the other person spoke approvingly of Jews. After that, Hitler was wanted everywhere.
II. THE SIN OF THE VOICE (9-12) It is hard to put toothpaste back in the tube and it is hard to put words back in your mouth after you’ve said them. The voice leads to all kinds of sin: slander, gossip, cursing, lying, taking the name of God in vain. James specifically says you shouldn’t curse and you shouldn’t boast. You don’t have to defend yourself or prosecute others. You are not in the courtroom. You are forgiven- you are loved. Take criticism and show love instead.
Communication is the number one problem in every marriage. It is also the number one problem in any kind of relationship. We need to talk to each other not simply about what we have done, but how we feel. Communication is a multi-billion dollar industry. Think of all the communication enhancing devices that have become popular: the computer, the fax, the cellular phone, social media, but our communication problems will never be solved by simply having the right equipment. We also need to write, text, email, and speak lovingly- and also listen more than you talk. If business invests so much in communication so we should invest and focus on communication.
John Bunyan in “Pilgrim’s Progress” had a character named “Talkative.” Bunyan described this man as “a saint abroad and a devil at home.” How many will not dare to speak sinfully in public, but we blurt out bad things at home. Many a person is kind at the religious meeting, but a gossiper after the meeting is over. If Christ is your Lord, let Him be Lord of your tongue.
I had a friend in college who was an inspiration to me in his biblical knowledge. In his first year in college he memorized 62 verses along with all of 1, 2, and 3 John. Later he memorized the whole New Testament. But he had a non-believing roommate. In his own room this great memorizer of scripture would swear up a storm. His roommate called him to task by quoting to him James 1:26 “If anyone considers himself to be religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” This deeply affected my memorizing friend. It can affect you too.
When Nixon’s Watergate tapes came out [Keller says]- what hurt him was not the substance of what he said, but that he said unguarded words. There was a meanness, cursing, destructiveness.
III. THE HELP OF THE VOICE – James says the voice or tongue is not used simply for evil, but also for good. It is the good use of the voice I want to end up with.
A. PRAISE GOD- (9)- With our tongues we praise God. All that we say should be pleasing and glorifying to God. Not just 50% or just the time we are in church on Sundays. Jesus is Lord of all- including our talk, and wants to be Lord of our words too. Jesus is a great example of this. 1 Peter 2:22 says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit [GUILE kjv] WAS IN HIS MOUTH.” Jesus was pure in speech and love for God. It is possible to control your tongue and let the words you use praise God.
B. ENCOURAGE THE SAINTS- (9,10) James says we should not with the same mouth praise God and curse men (9,10). Instead of cursing human beings made in the likeness of God, we should encourage them. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome words come out of your mouth, but only what is profitable for building each other up for their benefit.” Words matter. I encourage you to ask yourself are you encouraging those around you or are you tearing them down? Are you life affirming or life destroying in your words?
Robert Webber in the book, “What My Parents Did Right” speaks of going through a tough time. He left college because it was very tough. His father let him come home- and Robert expected his father to criticize his decision, or yell about losing his investment. But for three days his father spent time with him- listening and asking, “Now what can I do for you?” They spent three days looking at local colleges that just didn’t seem to fit Robert, and he often stayed in his room depressed. His father knocked on the door one night and said, “I have been thinking and I had something to share with you if you will listen.” Robert was willing to listen because his father had encouraged and comforted him. The father said, “I think you have run away from a difficult situation. If you always run away from difficult times, you will never stop running, and you will be a quitter. I think you should go back. “ Robert went back knowing that was his spot. He did well. He went on to get graduate degrees and became a professor and wrote books.
We need words. Many theologians say this is part of being made in the image of God- that we need words- both to hear them and speak them. Solitary confinement is a punishment. Words are food that nourishes us or poison that makes us feel yucky. A stranger curses at you in traffic and it ruins your day. Someone thanks you and compliments you and you feel good. James is saying your voice can be used for both- and God encourages us to speak words that build up and do not tear down. Your voice- and the decision on how you use it- will change who you are and define who you are. You do not know who you are simply by thinking- you get to know your identity by speaking and listening and by relationships.
Just give yourself to Him- and give your words to Him. Listen to His Voice Lessons for us.