Horses, Ships, & Forest Fires

Did you know that 1/5 of the average person’s life is spent talking…within one single day you could write a 50-page book with all your words. Now some of you would probably only write a 3-page book…Your life is like sparknotes. Others of you would have a multiple book series by the end of the day.

We are constantly talking. We talk to ourselves. We talk to others. And now we even text, tweet, and direct message. We are always communicating and sharing what we think.

Let’s look at James 3:1-12 in our Bibles.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Here is the big picture from this portion of James: Words are powerful. We need to learn to use our words for good.

I have titled this talk “Horses, Ships, & Forest Fires” and that is because these are the examples James gives us as he talks about the tongue.

Now I have never been on a horse before, but I have always thought it would be fun. What is crazy to me, though, about horses is how strong they really are. They are a truly beautiful creation. It’s amazing however that, though they possess great strength and power, a horse can be completely controlled and led by simply putting a bit in it’s mouth. A bit is a very small metal type piece that rests in the horses mouth in order for the rider to better communicate with the horse.

Ships are massive vessels. Quite frankly I don’t understand how something so large, and made of metal, can even stay above the water. But it does and as it maneuvers across the sea, a small little flap on the back of the ship, called the rudder, guides the ship wherever the pilot wants it to go.

James gives us 2 examples here of a small thing controlling the entire big thing. And then he gives one other example. A forest fire always begins with a small spark. A small spark creates a wild, out-of-control fire that burns faster than it can be extinguished.

Our tongue, which is what guides our speech, is powerful. In fact, it is so powerful that James says no human can tame the tongue.

Solomon said this in Proverbs 18:21

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

And in Proverbs 12:18

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Our words bring blessing or curses, healing or hurting, life or death.

A big chunk of young people who take their own life today (commit suicide) is because they were the victim of someone else’s words. Being made fun of, being hated, not accepted…

Most of the reasons why we lash out and say things that hurt people are because of our own hurts that came from other’s words.

Words matter. They change how we view things. A person can quickly go from loving life to hating themselves because of someone’s words.

And it just so happens that our words and our faith are deeply connected. Right before this passage, James addresses the topic of faith. And the basic premise he wants us to understand is this: We need a faith that works…A faith that moves us to loving God and loving others more.

Faith that produces works, which is the kind of faith that saves us, is a willingness to trust and obey God for the purpose of growing in our ability to love God and others more. And now we come upon a topic of our words and how what we say matters.

Here is a truth I believe James wants us to understand: Our words will explain our faith.

When you start noticing what you are saying and how you are saying things, you have direct insight into your heart.

Let me put it a different way…when you realize what is coming out of your mouth, you will understand what is wrong in your life. Your words showcase your sin.

Jesus said this in Luke 6:45

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. Check this out: For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

When there is good that fills your heart, good comes out of your mouth. When there is evil in your heart, evil will come out. It’s simple. When you get bitter or angry and you snap at someone, it’s not because you didn’t get enough sleep…it’s because you have bitterness or anger in your heart.

Another truth we need to understand is this: What is in your heart is what creates your identity.

When you find yourself tearing down others and making degrading comments, you can be sure that you have misplaced your identity.

You no longer have your identity in Jesus…instead it is wrapped up in being the most athletic or most popular or the strongest or the best looking…

When you misplace your identity outside of Jesus, your words will either be hateful or boastful…or both.

But if we can learn to embrace what God has said about us: we belong to him, he is for us, he loves us, he will not harm us, our sins have been erased…then…if we believe these things and embrace these things…then, our words will begin to change because our faith is being strengthened.

If your identity is not found in Jesus Christ, you will be forced to tear other people down and make yourself look good because your identity is now at stake. But when you are found in Jesus, your identity is secure and you will not feel threatened.

Remember, the more you trust and obey God, the more your heart changes to loving God and others. And the more your heart changes, the more you will speak life and good.

So what does your mouth reveal about you? Are you angry? Bitter? Jealous? Greedy? Dishonest?

Listen to what you are saying to others. Does it build others up? Or are you tearing them down?

And remember…What comes out of your mouth will tell you what’s going on in your heart.


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