Everything I want us to think about today can’t be untangled from James 3:2—“For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” I have three key, and very simple, points:
1. We All Stumble (James 3:2)
2. No one can tame the tongue (James 3:8)
3. Come near to God (James 4:7-8)
1. We All Stumble (3:2)
Sitting in Starbucks with Amy Lamont, just as our one to one was coming to an end, she shared her prayer request and what she wanted me to keep her accountable for. Then she asked me “What about you?” I didn’t even have to think before answering: “Speaking without thought”. You all know what’s coming next right—literally 15 minutes later in the Mission café, I’d misheard a conversation and spoke without thought.
Obviously, I apologised straight away for my misunderstanding but, not before one of the interns got her hackles up. Instead of reigning myself, weighing my words before speaking, I spoke sharply to her. Even as the words came out my mouth, I regretted them immediately. I remember sitting down straight afterwards and forcing myself to wait a few minutes before going to speak to her. I needed to repent and pray before I went to apologise. I didn’t want to make it worse—I needed to get the next bit right. I did sort it, we hugged it out and she forgave me. As I sat down afterwards, I texted Tasha asking her to check in with said intern (so she’d have a safe person to whinge about me to). I’d been out of order and forgotten how much weight my words carried.
The temptation to gloss over what I did crossed my mind for a milli-second. It wasn’t really that bad. I could have come up with lots of feasible excuses for my behaviour—I was very tired and wasn’t sleeping well, I’d had a terrible day, I was out of practice because of Covid, I was peri-menopausal or completely overwhelmed with how much work needed to be done before the end of October—all true but, in that moment, none of the above was what fuelled my words, and I knew it. It was simple: My lack of self-control had wounded someone else, and it was fuelled by sinful heart. James 3:2 is clear “we all stumble in many ways…”
ALL stumble, ALL fall short, NONE are perfect… Can’t get much clearer than that—we all sin. Daniel Doriani says this: “Scripture has long used sins of the tongue to describe human fallenness”. A few examples of this would be:
- Psalm 34:12–13 (keeping tongues from evil and lips from telling lies)
- Romans 3:10–14 (Throats open graves, tongues practice deceit, mouths full of cursing and bitterness)
- 2 Corinthians 12:20 (slanderers, gossips, fits of rage…)
All too often, we speak without thinking. Then we make excuses and minimise. We don’t think through the weight, the cost, and the harm of our uncontrolled words. We bizarrely believe the adage “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Even the smallest of words used in the wrong way can set an inferno of pain that can cause utter destruction. James describes this destruction in verse 5 as a tiny spark of flame in a forest which causes unprecedented devastation. We’ve all seen this in recent months as pictures and images of people fleeing the fires in Greece were plastered over the news feeds. This is the imagery, the picture of destruction, that James uses to describe the uncontrolled tonged. During World War II, there was a poster campaign with the slogan “loose lips sink ships” warning everyone to beware that unguarded talk has consequences. Words matter, words have weight, words can build up and destroy. Uncontrolled words bare a cost.
Have you ever asked yourself:Who am I serving with my words?
James describes the tongue as a restless evil in verse 8. It blesses and curses—sometimes in the same breath.
Sinclair Ferguson says:
“The unregenerate tongue roams the wilds, quick to defend itself, swift to attack others, anxious to subdue them, always marked by evil. It mimics Satan in this respect, who, having rebelled against the God of peace, can never settle. He goes to and fro throughout the earth (as in Job 1:7; 2:2), like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The tongue that is under his lordship always shares that tendency. It has an inbuilt need to guard its own territory, to destroy rivals to itself, to be the king of the beasts.”
So let’s ask it again: Who are we serving with our words?
2. No one Can Tame the tongue (3:7-8)
“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.”
James always gets to the point quickly. We don’t have to try and work out what he’s trying to say, because he’s always crystal clear. James 3: 8 is no different—“no human being can tame the tongue.” Human beings can tame all sorts of animals, making them do weird and wonderful things, but we can’t tame our own tongues.
When you look up the word tame the obvious words come up like domesticate and train, but there’s also words like subdue. I love the word subdue—it means to “bring under control”. Taming the tongue isn’t simply refraining from saying anything. Rather, to tame means to subdue—bringing our tongues under control.
Daniel Doriani puts it like this: “The tongue daily demonstrates both our sinfulness and our inability to reform ourselves.” This one little muscle in our bodies reveals not only the state of our hearts but our inability to control it in our own strength.