Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unfork Your Tongue

Scriptural Reading: James 3:1-12
Devotional Reading: Proverbs 18:2-13

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14 NKJV) A woman who holds the position of both deaconess and mother in a near-by church once offered to give me a ride home from a visiting church. As soon as I entered her car it was as if she had unleashed her tongue. Gossiping and cursing, gossiping and cursing was her consistently conversation. I was caught off guard as she had painted another picture of herself while in church. It caused me to wonder what she had to say about me that was negative. I knew then it would be necessary for me to distance myself in order that I not stumble. As confirmation it is recorded in the book of Wisdom by King Solomon at Prov 18:2, 6-8, 10 as follows: “A fool has no delight in understanding but in expressing his own heart. A fool’s lips enter into contention. And his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his destruction. And his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles. And they go down into the inmost body…The name of the LORD is a strong tower, The righteous run to it and are safe.” (NKJV)

This quarter of study is entitled “Jesus and the Just Reign of God”. We are in Unit III – “Live Justly in the Reign of God” of the three units of the quarter. This is the last lesson of a four-lesson study. Believers are challenged by James to control their speech.

Before I could move forward I was curious as to why the lesson was given a subject “Unfork Your Tongue”. What exactly is the definition for “unfork”? The Merriam Webster online free dictionary gives a definition, noting the definition is normally only offered in the premium unabridged version of the dictionary but was currently offered on a limited basis. The definition given was “to dismount from (a horse) unforked his horse and walked along with him.” Taking that definition as a comparison, we are dismounting our tongues within which lies the power of life and death through our speech.

James had just completed his teaching that faith in Christ Jesus is profitable with works (Jas 2:14-26). Some believers who set up their faith in the manner the former chapter condemns may find they are now condemned by this chapter as they did not recognize their tongues as sinful. James began his teaching by declaring at verses 1-2 of chapter 3, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” (NKJV) Teaching of the faith was a desired faith, but James wanted them to make sure their calling was sure. He was not attempting to discourage them from their calling, but to advise them they would be subject to a stricter judgment by God. The Christian teacher (and preacher) must be prepared to teach what is in the Word. Further, his lifestyle must reflect his teaching. There was but one perfect Man on earth, Jesus the Christ. We are all prone to stumble in many ways as humans, but if anyone can control his tongue he would be a perfect man. The tongue is responsible for many mistakes and imperfections. If we could concentrate more on our own mistakes rather than on the mistakes of others, we would be less likely to judge others. We must protect the faith message of the church to build each other up rather than fault finding and mudslinging.

James then proceeds to give five figures of speech or pictures of the tongue. The first two pictures are presented in verses 3-4 as he illustrates, “Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.” (Jas 3:3-5a NKJV) Bridles are the harnesses which go over horses’ heads and hold the bits in the horses’ mouths. Connected to the bit are the reins and a person is able to control the behavior of the horse simply by pulling the reins and controlling the bit. David was resolved to bridle his tongue and he wrote at Ps 39:1, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, Lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, While the wicked are before me.’”(NKJV) The more quick and lively the tongue, the more it needs to be controlled. The second picture is of a smaller rudder that is able to turn large ships however the pilot desires to maneuver it. Never misjudge the magnitude of the power by the size of a small device. We should know this because we live in the digital age and many devices are becoming smaller. Yet they are very powerful. We must understand the power of the tongue and the management of it as it is capable of doing a great deal of good and a great deal of hurt.

James also taught that the tongue is very hard, if not impossible, to control – by comparing it in verses 5b-8 to a raging fire, an untamable creature, restless evil, and poison. His third picture of the tongue is his illustration comparing it to a raging fire as recorded at Jas 3:5b-6, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” (NKJV) Consider that a fire is started with only one spark. If left to burn, it can burn out of control, causing massive destruction to property and life. In July 2013 nineteen firefighters lost their lives as they fought a wildfire that had spread over 8,400 acres of Arizona. Evil speaking spreads pretty much the same manner as that wildfire, devouring all who is in its way. Further, there is such an abundance of sin that the tongue will defile its whole body by corrupting the entire personality through the fire sins of slander, lies, blasphemy, and cursing. Solomon recognized the body is often drawn into sin, pollution, and guilt through the tongue and wrote at Eccl 5:6, “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” (NKJV) The tongue sets on fire the course (or wheel) of nature. An evil tongue pollutes not only a man’s personal life, but it contaminates all his activities. And it is all set on fire by hell. Hell has more to do with the promotion of fire in the tongue than man is aware. The devil is expressly called a liar, a murderer, an accuser of the brethren; and whenever men’s tongues are used in any of these ways, they are set on fire of hell. But man can also be used of God. In Acts 2 the Holy Ghost once descended in cloven tongues as of fire. When tongues are used and guided by a fire from heaven, only good thoughts can follow.

The fourth illustration to which James likened the tongue is a wild, untamable creature. He named all kinds of beasts, birds, serpents and marine life that had been tamed by man at verses 7-8a, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue.” (NKJV) Lions, tigers, and bears, elephants, horses, camels, and birds of prey, whales, crocodiles, dolphins, and the list goes on as to all the creatures that man has been able to tame and study. There is no reason to believe there is any creature which could not be tamed by man if given the time and persistence. And yet, man is unable to tame or control his tongue. We do not have dominion over this small piece of flesh. Only with the assistance of God is man able to control his tongue.

The fifth and final picture of how the tongue is viewed is in the latter part of verse 8b, “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (NKJV) Sometimes we do not believe our prayers have been heard or we fail to pray. So, we take matters in our own hands. Bad move. Don’t we believe in Prov 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart. And lean not to your own understanding.” (NKJV) In leaning to our misunderstanding we allow our tongue to lead us into temptation. The tongue will act as a serpent full of evil poisonous venom, ready to strike and assassinate the character of victims unaware. How do you prevent the hurt and harm of the mischief? Teaching and practicing the love ethic of Jesus Christ is necessary. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (James 2:8 NKJV) Pray them through the hurt.

James continued his teaching regarding ethical speech approved by God by arguing that believers praise Him with the same tongue they curse their brethren. How hypocritical! He declared at verses 9-10, “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing, My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (NKJV) James sternly taught the brethren they were skating on thin ice. They were praising God with the same tongue they cursed His most treasured creation who had been made in His image. That was not acceptable! How could they dare to lift their voices in prayer and praise to the Almighty only to turn around to slight those in His image with words of cursing, vulgarity, slander, and the like? How could they believe these sins are unseen and approved by God? The tongue that blesses God should bless men. All that we say should be subject to a test of (1) Is it true? (2) Is it kind? and (3) Is it necessary? Sometimes the less said is the best said.

James ends his teaching with analogies to illustrate why the tongue should not be allowed to be hypocritical in its functioning. The analogies are “impossible” things. Likewise, the tongue must be consistently uniform and good in its functioning, impossible to fluctuate. At Jas 3:11-12 he declares, “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” (NKJV) The facts given by James were general facts of nature. By observing nature we understand there has not been a spring that delivered both fresh and salt water at the same time. Unless there is a miracle from God, it is not expected. The salt water would taint the fresh water, causing it to be salty. This analogy deals with the tainting of a tongue that spoke good things along with bad things. As to the second analogy, it is a given that fig trees will not bear olives and grapevines will not bear figs. However, they will continue to yield fruit after its kind. (Gen 1:11-12) Therefore, the mouth should not bear both blessings and cursings, good and evil.

We have been on trial as far as our speech is concerned. Do I teach others things I do not obey myself? Do I criticize others behind their back? Does it take a lot to control your tongue? If the tongue is tainted, how can we cleanse it? Is my speech consistently clean, edifying, kind? In retelling a story, do I exaggerate in order to make people more impressed? (Remember that interview?) Do I habitually tell the truth, even if it means loss of face, friends, or finances?

Written by Deborah C Davis

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