Talking the Walk (James 3:1-12)

Intro: The Psalmist David had a heart after God’s heart, and no doubt, was often perplexed and dismayed at the world he lived in – especially during the time when he was doing what was right and others were trying to kill him.

  • Ps 12:1-4Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. 2 Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. 3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue 4 that says, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips — who is our master?” (NIV)

Some think that this Psalm was written from the context of 1 Sam. 22 when David was betrayed by Doeg, the Edomite. The unloosed lips of Doeg caused the death of 85 priests. David anguished over the consequences of Doeg’s words, and his betrayal.

David calls for God’s help because there is no integrity among men in their words. All David sees are lies and deception. He asks God to cut off all lies and arrogant talking among men. What would the world be like if God did that?

The problem that David sees is not just the speech itself, but the attitude that motivates it. They say three things

  1. We will triumph with our tongues – What we say is what is powerful and authoritative. Men have always believed that what they say is more important than what God says. Consider the power of polls and public opinion today.
  2. We own our lips – Everyone is entitled to say what they want. We live in a free country with free speech.
  3. “Who is our master” – No one has the right to tell me what to do. I can say what I want. Our speech is a symbol of our sovereignty and freedom. Does God really care?

Do you talk the walk? By that I mean does your speech match your life in Christ Jesus (or your walk, as the Bible often describes our life.) Many times our words do not correspond to our convictions, and may even prove to be detrimental to our spiritual work or calling.

I. “For by your words”God holds us responsible for our speech. Matt. 12:36-37 “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (not only that, words are a fair way to judge other people. I know what is in your heart by what you say)

A. Consider James 3 – James says that there is a greater responsibility for those who choose to speak as a teacher. “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” The teacher is judged more critically because of the power of speech. He can and does influence others.

1. He isn’t saying that we should avoid teaching – In Heb. 5 some were condemned because they had been Christians so long, but not yet teachers. They should have matured (been perfected) and used their speech to benefit others.

II. The Measure of a Perfect Man… James 3:2-4 – 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

A. Although we all make mistakes and stumble in our Christian walk, true perfection or completeness is displayed in those who control what they say. Verse 2 can be read both ways: If you control your tongue, you are perfect (mature) or it also says that if you are mature you can control your tongue. One is evidence of the other. If you want to see if a man has self-control in his life, listen to him talk. If he can control what he says, he is in control. If he is failing in his speech, it means he has failed to protect his heart (movies, books, friends) Consider the amount of talking that takes place on social media. Are we exposing our spiritual immaturity and lack of self-control by posting comments on every topic imaginable?

1. The bridle turns the whole horse; the rudder turns the whole ship. When we lose control of our tongue, there is no way to control the rest of our lives. (ex. marriages where there are no rules or control over what is said. It is irretrievable – Church problems where there is gossip or false accusations) We wish we could take it back.

2. Self – control is not always prohibitive (refusing to do something). – Ex. of an anorexic – bulimic person; they are not in control.) If I need to speak, it takes self-control to make myself do it.

 III. The Tongue Can Cause a World of Trouble. James 3:5-65 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

A. You cannot know what damage you can do with your words. One match can destroy thousands of acres.

B. You cannot know the good you can do with your words. Prov. 25:11 “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

1. Being open & honest with your mate doesn’t mean you can say anything you want whenever you want. Just blurt out whatever emotion comes to the surface. If you hurt someone apologize and repent; don’t defend yourself.

C. “The tongue cannot be tamed”James 3:7-87 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

1. This seems to contradict what James says about our responsibility to control our speech, but really just reinforces it. Notice his illustration: some animals have been tamed or domesticated (cats, dogs, etc.) But the tongue is a wild beast that cannot be domesticated. They might be captured & controlled, but not made into “house pets”.

a. A few years back a famous tiger trainer (Roy of “Siegfried and Roy”) was attacked by one of the tigers. I remember what was said several times by those who commented on the event – These are wild animals – they cannot be trusted. They can turn on you at any time. You will always need to watch your tongue and exert effort to control it.

IV. Our Talk must Reflect the Walk – James 3:9-10 – With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. It is possible to sabotage all our spiritual endeavors with just a few words. If our talk does not match the walk. Cursings & blessings.

Luke 9:51-5651 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. Jesus must have been disappointed in the words of James and John. I wonder if God is disappointed in us when we spout off condemnatory words about others, and call for our enemies to be destroyed – kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”.

A. How is it that we can curse & bless out of the same mouth? It shouldn’t be that way.

1. Men who can pray edifying prayers, but browbeat their children with their words.

2. Women who can teach young children the Bible, but cannot withhold a tidbit of gossip that will destroy a life.

3. The use of a derogatory term may come from the tongue of one we least expect to be prejudiced or racist.

4. If a good person says bad things, it means he is divided – in his heart. It doesn’t mean his whole heart is defiled and he is worthless. But when we see this occasional slip, we should not take it lightly. It may be a warning. (of jealousy, envy, animosity, pride, selfishness, materialism, lack of compassion, etc… all sins of the heart.)

5. As in much of James teaching, the bottom line is accountability. We are responsible for what we say. And it will not do us any good to say afterwards, “I was only joking”, I didn’t know it would go this far, or hurt you this bad.”Jesus is our example. He knew when to speak and when to be silent. And everything was done through love. We have a Lord who is over us and cares how we communicate with each other.

B. Colossians 4:5-6 – 5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

1. Paul says our speech should be “with grace, seasoned with salt.”

a. With grace not harsh, but giving grace to the hearer. Merciful speech. Consider what was said about Jesus’ manner of talking. Luke 4:21-22 – So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

b. Seasoned with saltsalt as a flavoring that makes food palatable, or salt as preservative, that overcomes the corrupt influence around it, so should be our speech. These qualities will help us in our conversations with those without – how to answer any man. Consider again Jesus’ speech. Luke 2:46-4746 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

Conclusion: God will judge me for my words whether I am publicly proclaiming his word or watching a football game at home. This should make us afraid. Ps 12:6 – 6 And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. This is how David ends his Psalm. Despite how bad the world gets, and the corrupt communication that evidences it, God’s word is always true and flawless.