Wisdom That Controls

Sun, Oct 10, 2021
Teacher: Mark Hull
Passage: James 3:2-17
Duration:25 mins 57 secs

Message text

James 3

We are continuing our sermon series through the Book of James and we have come to one of the most fundamental warnings for anyone who wants to preach or teach the word of God. But before we get into our text today let me share with you a story I heard about a little boy who told a preacher, 'When I grow up, I'm going to give you some money.' 'Well, thank you,' the preacher replied, 'but why?' 'Because my daddy says you're one of the poorest preachers we've ever had.'

Now I’m sure we’ve all heard some pretty poor preaching over the years and maybe some of you even put some of my sermons on that list. A sermon needs to be clear; it needs to have an explanation of the Bible text, it needs to have an application. As someone once said, ‘a sermon which no-one can understand and without application is about as much use as a deep well without the rope and bucket to draw the water out’.
Paul teaches us in Romans 12:4-8 “We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God's message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.”

All preachers and teachers can lead people to truth or they can lead them to error. And we know from Hebrews 13:17 that church leaders are going to be held accountable to God, so too are all those who teach if they mislead others.

Now James says not only are teachers going to be judged with greater strictness than others but he also says that all of us often make mistakes. I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been a Christian; everyone in this room has faults. But there is one major fault which most people have which James has in mind here and that’s the fault of using our tongue for the wrong reasons.

James says it takes spiritual maturity not to stumble with our words. That’s what he means when he says in James 3:2, “But if a person never makes a mistake in what he says, he is perfect and is also able to control his whole being.” Are you a Christian who is able to control your tongue? If so, then according to James, that’s great news, that’s a sign that you are a mature Christian. But his point is this, if you believe that preaching and teaching is your gift from God, then go for it, but go for it using humility and cautiousness.

Now it’s quite clear that James is referring to using our tongue in this verse and that’s the theme for the rest of our sermon today. Because how we use our tongue doesn’t just apply to preachers and teachers, it applies to every single Christian in the Lord’s church. And so to help us understand the dangers of our tongues he uses illustrations and the first two illustrations he uses is that of a horse and a ship.

James 3:3&4 “We put a bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us, and we are able to make it go where we want. Or think of a ship: big as it is and driven by such strong winds, it can be steered by a very small rudder, and it goes wherever the pilot wants it to go”.
Now I know that anyone who has ridden a horse will know exactly what James is talking about here. James says the bit controls a horse and the rudder controls the ship. Now a bit is a piece of metal that is placed in the mouth of a horse that allows a rider to control the animal.
It rests on the bars of the mouth in an area where there are no teeth. It is held on a horse's head by means of a bridle and has reins attached for use by a rider. It’s a very small piece of the riding equipment but you can never ride and control the horse without it.

Now a rudder is another device used to steer a ship, and when you look at the size of a ship, it’s actually very small in comparison and without the rudder it’s impossible to steer and guide the ship. In other words just like the bit for a horse and just like the rudder of a ship; it is the tongue which controls the entire body.
And James goes on and shares another illustration for us, this time he uses the illustration of a little fire. James 3:5&6 “So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself.”

I don’t know if you are aware of this, but scientists discovered that poison from the skin of a tiny South American tree frog is far more toxic than any other known venom. Rain forest Indians use the venom from the skin of the kokoi frog to poison their blowgun arrows. It is said that Very small quantities of its poison can be fatal if they enter the bloodstream. A single frog may contain enough poison to kill more than 20,000 mice, or more than 10 people. Toxin equivalent to two grains of salt is enough to kill one person. But did you know that there is a poison even more deadly? It is the poison which comes from an evil tongue.

On the night of September 2, 1666, a small fire broke out in the premises of a baker's shop in Pudding Lane, London, perhaps started by the carelessness of a maid. If it was carelessness, it was carelessness that had enormous and disastrous consequences, for the fire spread and soon the whole building was alight.  In the close-packed streets of London, where buildings crowded each other for space, the blaze soon became an inferno. Fanned by an east wind, the fire spread with terrifying speed, feeding on the tar and pitch commonly used to seal houses. That event in history has come now to be known as the Great Fire of London.

I am sure that we all can relate to some experience of how quick and devastating a single flame can be. I can relate to a time when I was planning on burning a large number of sticks in my back yard using a burn barrel that my next-door neighbor had designed. He created a small door at the bottom of the barrel to create a more efficient way of lighting and burning. While my wife started out on a walk around the neighborhood with my 4 year old twin grandsons ... I completely loaded the barrel with sticks and then added a small dose of gas as I usually did before lighting. Without thinking about how this NEW DESIGN might impact my USUAL way of burning sticks I bent over and placed a lit match in the door at the bottom of the barrel. KABOOM!!!!!
Lighting the sticks from the BOTTOM of the barrel INSTEAD of the TOP created a cannon like affect. Flaming sticks went flying high into the air. The grandkids were still a distance from the house but looked at my wife and proclaimed, “PAPA!”

You see loved ones, some people with their tongues have used them for deceit, and their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. In other words their tongues are like a small fire, and they can easily cause great destruction. How many congregations have split because of someone causing a small flame with their words? How many relationships have been broken because of words which should have never came from our lips?
You see a loose tongue can ruin someone’s reputation; it can destroy churches, families and friendships. We also need help from God. And James is going to explain that to us in more detail in James 3:7&8 “We humans are able to tame and have tamed all other creatures---wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish. But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison.”
James says that despite being able to tame wild animals, man is unable to tame the tongue. He describes the tongue as an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Now it is true that we by ourselves can’t tame the tongue, but with God's help we can tame it.

Psalm 141:3 “Lord, place a guard at my mouth, a sentry at the door of my lips”. Not only can we tame the tongue with God’s help according to Paul... we must tame it.
Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:29 “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”
He more or less commands the same thing over in Colossians 4:6 “Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.” So as Christians we must tame our tongues but we know that’s not always easy.

And so to further illustrate just how difficult it can be to tame out tongues, he uses a very common problem even for Christians today. James 3:9&10 “We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse other people, who are created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My friends, this should not happen!”

James says we use our tongues to give thanks to God and at the same time to curse other people. Now we do this most days of the week but this is something which I have heard Christians do especially on Sundays. We all come together for worship and just thank God for everything He has done for us but then we jump in our cars and start cursing anyone who pulls out in front of us. James says Christian’s shouldn’t be doing that.
And then to further get the point across, he goes on and uses the illustrations of a fig spring, a fig tree and grapevine. James 3:11&12 “No spring of water pours out sweet water and bitter water from the same opening. A fig tree, my friends, cannot bear olives; a grapevine cannot bear figs, nor can a salty spring produce sweet water”. You see loved ones, James knew exactly what he was writing about here, he knew that what comes out of our mouths is a real reflection of what is in the inside of our hearts.

In fact Jesus Himself said in Mark 7:20-23 "It is what comes out of you that makes you unclean. For from the inside, from your heart, come the evil ideas which lead you to do immoral things, to rob, kill, commit adultery, be greedy, and do all sorts of evil things; deceit, indecency, jealousy, slander, pride, and folly--- all these evil things come from inside you and make you unclean."

It’s what comes out of their mouth that counts. No wonder David prayed in Psalms 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
You see loved ones these are wise words from a wise man, and you know they are wise words because they make sense. And if we want to help each other grow up spiritually together then we continually need to seek wisdom from the right place. In the next few verse James is going to inform us that there are two types of wisdom that we need to be aware of.

In James 3:13-18, he going to inform us there is heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom. And so to help us understand the two types of wisdom he is going to make several contrasts between the two. First of all he says they are different because of their origins.
James 3:15 “Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world, it is un-spiritual and demonic”. He says that earthly wisdom doesn’t come from heaven, it’s worldly. In other words, this wisdom works according to the standard of the world.
Now although it may seem like the world has got a lot of wisdom to offer we need to remember the words of Paul in  1 Corinthians 1:20. “So then, where does that leave the wise? Or the scholars? Or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness!” Paul says the world’s wisdom is foolish but why is it foolish?

Well James says in James 3:15, it’s foolish because “it is un-spiritual and demonic”. In other words, worldly wisdom appeals to our senses, to our emotions and our passions. Its wisdom according to what feels right and we need to remember that because something feels right doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right.
Now look what James says about heavenly wisdom. James 3:17 “But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.”

James says that heavenly wisdom is from above, in other words it comes from God. And if you remember when we looked at James 1:5-8 we saw very clearly that heavenly wisdom comes through prayer.
Now let’s look at the contrast in their nature. James 3:14-16 “But if in your heart you are jealous, bitter, and selfish, don't sin against the truth by boasting of your wisdom. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world, it is unspiritual and demonic. Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil”.

James says earthly wisdom has some characteristics about it. He says earthly wisdom is full of bitter, envy, and self-seeking in the heart. And he says that, that kind of wisdom promotes power, position, privilege, prestige. We need to remember that it was this kind of wisdom that prompted the devil to rebel against God in the first place. It was this kind of wisdom that prompted the disciples to argue over who would be the greatest in the kingdom.
Now let’s contrast that with heavenly wisdom. James 3:17 “But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.” James says heavenly wisdom is pure, it’s above all else, it is true to God's Will.
Heavenly wisdom is displayed in people lives and actions. Heavenly wisdom treats everyone fairly and on the same basis. So not only is it pure, peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, produces good fruits and without partiality it’s also without hypocrisy.

Now why would James say that heavenly wisdom is without hypocrisy? Because, heavenly wisdom is not an act, it’s not a show. It comes from a heart desiring to please God, not man.
So, the question is... what kind of wisdom do we desire?

If you seek heavenly wisdom you won’t boast about it, according to James 3:13, you will show it in your life with humility. I pray you desire the only wisdom that makes sense, the wisdom which comes from God above. And for those of us who preach and teach, I pray we preach and teach wisely using cautiousness and humility.


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