The Power of Words

The following is a message given at Vertical Student Ministries on February 18th, 2016.

Tonight we are going talk about the power of words. And before we start I want you to write down at lease two things, if nothing else write down these tow things: 1. Words are powerful, and 2. Words are proof. Now we’ll get to those things in our text but first let’s give a little background and context to James

James was and apostle and he was the half-brother of Jesus. Now while Jesus was in His ministry doing His Jesus thing, James was not a believer, or at least he wasn’t a strong believer. I don’t blame him though. It must have been crazy to have your half-brother say, “Oh yeah by the way, just a little side note, I’m pretty much God and I’m here to wipe your sins away.” Like would anyone here be like, “…yeah, makes sense, you can be Lord of my life.” Now, I don’t have any brothers but I know for sure I would never let my little sister or older sister be Lord over my life!

So anyways James wasn’t a firm believer in Jesus. After Jesus’ life, death and resurrection James believed, and was martyred for his belief. I find his martyrdom a bit gory, and kind of cool. He was being stoned for his faith and ends up getting stoned off of a cliff, the fall doesn’t kill him so he just lays there praying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then his persecutors come down and one of them stops and shouts that he is praying on their behalf, then a guy comes outta nowhere and bashes his head in with a staff. Pretty crazy. I’m sorry if some of you are queasy after that.

Let’s talk for a minute about how we get here to chapter three. Theres a lot of different ways to look at the break down of the book but I look at it like this. In the first chapter in verses 1-18 we are told spiritual maturity comes when we go through many trials. When we come out of the other end of those trials (assuming we went through the entire thing) we are more spiritually mature. Next James tells us we become more spiritually mature as we apply  the word of God. “Be doers of the Word and not hears only…” right? He says don’t just read the Bible and say, “oh that’s nice…” and walk away. No, instead we must read the Word and apply it to our life! This is spiritual maturity. And now we get to chapter three where we find that spiritual maturity is evidenced by our words. The words we say and the way we say them are evidence of our spiritual maturity, or lack thereof. If our words define our spiritual condition, then they are powerful, and they are proof. And we will see, as we walk through these verses, the power of our words. Lets read our text. James chapter three starting with verse one.

“(1) Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (2) For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (3) If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. (4) Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. (5) So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (7) For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, (8) but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (9) With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (10) From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (11) Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? (12) Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Words Are Powerful

Our words are powerful. But its funny how our words are manifested through one of the smallest parts of our body, our tongue. Like who would have thought that our little tongues would bring so much to life. James uses great examples. In the example of the horse, the horse’s own self-will is determined by a little peace of metal. The horse is no longer the one deciding where it goes because that little piece of metal in its mouth is what’s guiding it. And in the case of the ship, not matter how rocky the waters get, or how hard the wind blows, that ship is still set on course by its rudder. So our tongue though a small part of our body, sets our course of life.

Every horse has one rider. Every ship has one captain, but the tongue seems to have a power struggle. The mind and the heart are constantly battling over control of the tongue. And in this power struggle we start to notice one thing, one central theme which is this: Ungoverned, or even governed by the wrong thing, the tongue sets our life on a course of destruction. Verse five and six speak of the destruction it brings. “(5b) How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” The tongue has the power to set an entire forest ablaze. Because it is full of iniquity it has the power to just ruin our entire lives and the lives of those around us. Which is why it must be tamed. As believers we cannot and must not walk about with an untamed tongue, which is where we run into a problem.

James says the tongue cannot be tamed. James says, “(7) For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, (8) but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” We can break the will of any animal but we cannot watch our mouths. We are able to tame that which is out of our immediate and conscious control but not that which is in our conscious control. I’ll use the example of my dog Charlie. Now, I know we aren’t gonna take this as serious as we should, but I can make my dog poop whenever I want. It may take a couple of minutes but by the power of my words he’ll squeeze it out. You see, the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air will submit after a while, at a certain point they just give up and do whatever you ask of them but this is not so with the tongue because “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” 

Zoo animals will submit, they’ll just give up, but the tongue never stops wrestling against the rules and boundaries we place on it. Thus we must let go and let God. We must let God take control of our tongues. Matthew Henry’s bible commentary says, “No man can tame the tongue without supernatural grace and assistance.” Because the tongue is so restless only the grace of God can over come it.

It amazes me how deadly, poisonous and restless the tongue is. The Tuesday I was studying for this message I got into a pretty aggressive argument with my dad. I remember I studied, posted a status on Facebook that said “The tongue is very powerful, and words hold much weight. Will your words build up the kingdom today? Or will they tear it down?” Then I grabbed something to eat and started talking with my mom and dad. In our conversation I noticed we all needed a little correction, so I gave it. Now, in my head I was like, “Ok this will be encouraging, this will be a moment for us to realize our wrong, and apply scripture and better our lives” and so I gave the correction which led our peaceful little conversation to a hostile one.

The tongue, our words, are always restless. I imagine our words like lions pacing back and forth in a cage waiting for someone to come just close enough to get smacked with a paw, ‘cause that’s what happened with my dad and I. While I was trying to be encouraging my words found a way to wound my dad. My words found a way to corrupt the listener. My words found a way to induce death when I was trying to induce life.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” With our words we build up and encourage, and with our words we tear down and discourage. With our words we give life and bring death. Matt Chandler in his series on the book of James makes a great point. He attributes the “…highest of highs and the lowest most depraved moments [to]… rhetoric.” By the power of our words events such as the holocaust took place. Think of it, because one man was a great public speaker he got an entire nation to follow him as he slaughtered millions of innocent people. Chandler also speaks of Jim Crow laws and racism in America. Blacks were not segregated and oppressed because they were black, or because they were a different species or because they were slaves or because they were less human. No they were segregated and oppressed because we as a nation said so.

And here’s one that scares me. Listen to me because this directly applies to us who are in school. Suicide. I looked up some statistics on suicide and here they are: “Suicide is the second leading cause of death ages 10-24.” “More teens die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, aids, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lounge disease combined.” “There is an average of 5,400 attempts of suicide by young people every day.” Now I’m no statistician, and I didn’t conduct these statistics but I would place all my money on the fact that a majority of these suicides and suicide attempts are due to bullying. I would wager that a majority of suicide attempts and deaths are due to our words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

Students, we must watch our mouth, especially as followers of Christ. It is crucial in our public school systems and in our lives. Every major event in life that impacts us as a human race is started, generated and ended by our words, by the power of the tongue. Even the universe itself was spoken into motion.

Psalm 33:9 tells us, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! (9) For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” As much as our tongue brings death, it also wields the power to bring even more life. Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one who’s rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”

Even though words bring a whole lot of destruction, if used by God they can bring even more healing. The power to give life and to heal is in our words. Romans 5:20, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” About ten minutes after my dad an I “thrusts swords” into each other by the power of our words, we healed each other by the power of our words and where sin increased grace abounded all the more. When you’re in school, whenever you are speaking to your friends speak life and healing.  Ephesians 4:29 says it is our job as followers of Christ. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We are commanded to speak only what is good and up-lifting. Give grace to your hearers. Build up your hearers. You have the power of life in every single word you speak, so don’t hold that life back. Don’t hold healing back when healing “fits the occasion.” Our ability or inability to do that gives us the evidence of our spiritual maturity. They way we use words is the proof of our spiritual maturity.

Words Are Proof

Now in seeing how our words are proof I’m gonna jump between verse 9-12 and verse 2. Lets read verse 9.

“(9) With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (10) From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (11) Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? (12) Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

Look, we stumble. We sin. We mess up in life, that’s no surprise. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”  We also discussed this in our Imago Dei series. We said that everyone is born sinful, and our words are evidence of that. But our words are also evidence of any spiritual maturity in us and that’s what James addresses. He says “Look, if you can watch your mouth, if you’re able to maintain control over your words then you’re perfect. You’ve got everything under control.” How do we know our spiritual condition? How do we know how spiritually mature we are? Words. By our words. Words. Words. Words.

Scripture says in Matthew 15:18 “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” Our words are an overflow of the heart. Our words reveal our true heart and manifest what’s really inside of us. We see this in our salvation. Romans 10:9-10 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Our words play a key role in our salvation. If God is in our heart we will proclaim him and we will be saved.

While I was studying this I realized the great tragedy verse 9 and 10 speaks of. With our words we bless God and curse man who is made in His image. Man, if that does not convict you then your name is probably Jesus. And here’s why it’s so convicting, if I am blessing my Father in heaven and simultaneously cursing my brother on earth then that means I have not fully allowed God into my heart, because “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” and nothing  breaks my heart more than the realization that I have not fully allowed God in my heart. The realization that He is not seated on the throne of my heart, that crushes me.

Our words are proof. I ask my self the question “Do people know, by my words, that I am a follower of Christ?” because if they don’t then we have a huge problem. If someone told one of your coworkers or classmates that you were a Christian and their response is “I didn’t know that.” or “I don’t believe it.” then you have a huge problem on your hands. If we are believers there should be no question about it. Ever. Period. When people we come across are told that we are believers in the risen King, their immediate response should be “Yeah, no duh.” Now if their responses are not “Yeah, no duh,” then we have a problem with both our words and our hearts but more so our hearts.

So my application for you goes back to verses 3 and 4. Who is the rider of your horse? Who is the captain of your ship? Who is Lord of your life?

If Jesus is not the rider, if Jesus is not the captain, if Jesus is not Lord of your life then you are headed on a path of unrighteous destruction. You are a small fire setting a forest ablaze by the power of your words. But if Jesus is the rider, if Jesus is the captain, if Jesus is Lord of your life then you are headed on a path of righteousness. You are spreading life to all around you by the power of your words.

Words are powerful. Words are proof.

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