If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James. This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs. The book of James is quite short: it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James. Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!
Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another. Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned). Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth? We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!
Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water. A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.
This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having. As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:
Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, … (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)
Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies? Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos? Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?
There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.
There is a whole science based on «Words that Change Minds», how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up. What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.
It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling? They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says. Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick? They never seem to get a lucky break? Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.
Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to «stick out your tongue?». He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts. James explains this in chapter 3: how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?
In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,
“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”
Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.
Phillipians 2: 14
Do all things without grumbling or complaining
Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond. Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship? Or will our words be a healing balm?
General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.
The person who asked the question seemed troubled. «But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.»
«Oh yes,» answered Lee. «I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.»
Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:
- We can stop listening to it, rather than participating. Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
- We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem. This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose. It’s so much easier to say «it’s not my problem», rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through. People had being confronted.
- Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.
For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym: THINK
- T–Is it true?
- H–Is it helpful?
- I–Is it inspiring?
- N–Is it necessary?
- K–Is it kind?
Then, we should look at healing. We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words. But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.
Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.
Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.
Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.
Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.
Abraham Lincoln counselled us:
«It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.»
Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.
This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get. As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.