(James 3:1-12)

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Self-Control and Speech

Learning how to say just enough, but not too much is standard for interviews ...

Throughout the ages, philosophers and moralists have offered advice on controlling one’s speech. They encourage us to be silent and speak briefly. Silence is safer. It avoids misspeaking.

According to James, controlling our speech is more than a matter of self-control. We are meant to be the result of God’s word implanted in us. His word of truth gives birth to a new creation. (1:18-21) So, when it comes to the way we use words, there is more at stake than our reputation.

James says that the tongue (by which he means the power of human speech) is set on fire by hell. He means that this incredible gift of speech is corrupted by the power of evil. If you want to find the frontline of the battle of good and evil it is often in our words ...

Our speech (and this is especially true of the teacher) hovers in the space between that tension. The way we speak and act is a part of what God is doing to change the world. So James raises the bar and calls us to “perfection.”

Perfection is Maturity

It is not too much to ask that we should keep our speech perfect from the sort of words and language that are borne out of immaturity, anxiety, and anger.

Boasting, slander, gossip, grumbling are types of speech that are not only rude, but they place us under God’s judgment.

Consistency and Character – Love God, Love One Another

When a righteous Israelite spoke God’s name, he or she would say “Yahweh, blessed be his name.” To speak the name of God is something very holy and heavy. How audacious that we should speak his name. When we speak it, we bless it.

If the source of imperfect, harmful speech is not foolish patter or pontificating, then it is typically anger ...

Anger seems to accomplish much. An angry employer drives his employees to greater productivity. An angry husband and father keeps his wife and children in submission and "runs a tight ship." An angry wife and mother gets her way as the rest of the family does not dare to risk her ire. An angry church leader can bully the congregation, so that no dissension appears within the flock, and a happy uniformity of belief and opinion prevails.

Anger is epidemic. It’s too easy to play the “I’m offended” card. An angry person can intimidate others so that everyone else is cautious of that person’s sensitivities.

Edwin Friedman -- "Beware the insensitivities of the sensitive!"
Anger does not work God’s righteousness ... A wrathful person stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. (Proverbs 29:22)

It’s not too much to ask that we show some judgment with the words we use. After all, if we don’t ... God will!

But if no one can tame the tongue, what’s the alternative? Are we just supposed to keep our mouths shut and smile and speak nice? Hardly.

No one can tame the tongue – but God can. We can ask for the wisdom that comes from above. We can receive the implanted word that saves us. And it saves our speech.

In the coming weeks we will see that James speaks of a way that Friends of God employ the power of speech in ways that do not harm and tear down, but instead can use words and deeds to bless others, to confess sin, to pray for others, and to sing encouragement.

A portion of the sermon above is taken from the article "Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, Slow to Anger: A Plea to the Commissioners to the 71st General Assembly" by James S. Gidley which was printed in New Horizons and can be found here: http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH04/06b.html

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 10 August 2008

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin