Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TONGUE-TAMING (James Chapter 3)

James 3:7, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.”

Having three inch long claws and jaws that can crush a bull’s spine, a full grown lion is a cat best avoided.  But lions have been tamed.  Isaac Van Amburgh was the first American lion tamer.  In 1833 he stepped into a ring with a lion, tiger, and a leopard.  He trained his cats by beating them into submission, sometimes using a crowbar.  He defended his tactics by quoting Genesis 1:26 which speaks of man having dominion over the creatures of the earth.  Humans can tame all kinds of beasts and even lions, but no human being can tame the tongue.

Tongues have need of taming.  Tongues should praise God and bless others, but instead the tongue wields an evil and destructive influence.  Sin is the cause of the problem: “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their throat is full of curses and bitterness” (Romans 3:13-14).  The tongue is compared to a small fire that sets an entire forest ablaze.  Our words can inflict much harm on others.  The saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is undeniably not true.  You can likely still remember some harsh or injurious words directed towards you from even long ago.  They caused you pain.  On the other hand, you can likely still recall some encouraging words that someone once said.  The destructive influence of the tongue is likened to a small fire that sets a great forest ablaze (Cf. James 3:5).

We sometimes try to tame our tongues.  There is a humorous scene in the movie “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie’s mother washes his mouth out with soap because he had uttered a word that he shouldn’t have said.  But threats and human devices have no power over the tongue.  Mom’s advice, “if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all,” is not enough to restrain the tongue.  The tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison…set on fire by hell” (James 3:8, 6).  Evil and poisonous speech is ultimately sourced in hell itself.

The heart of man is at the heart of the problem.  “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  In order for the tongue to speak that which is good the heart must be somehow transformed to be good.  Rebel sinners possess rebellious and untamable tongues.  Jesus alone can rectify the problem.  “No one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12), but in salvation Jesus can miraculously transform a heart so that it is “full of goodness” that tongues can do that for which they were first created—praise God and bless others (Cf. Romans 15:14).  “No human being can tame the tongue” but Jesus can (Cf. James 3:8).

Under the influence of the Spirit of God once-rebel tongues are taught and empowered to worship and bless others.  Ephesians 5:18-20, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Cf. Colossians 3:16-17).

Jesus’ possessed a perfect tongue having no need of taming.  The officers of the Pharisees had it right: “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46).  Even under the most trying of circumstances he never uttered a sinful word.  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 1:2-23).  He would have us to speak as He: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Peter 3:9).  That’s possible only “by the Spirit” (Cf. Galatians 5:16-25).  The tongue is like a ferocious and untamable beast, but the Spirit of God can tame it and retrain it that it might speak in the language of the Savior.  “May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day, by His love and pow’r controlling all I do and say” (“May the Mind of Christ, My Savior,” Kate B. Wilkinson).

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