The third chapter of James gives us a significant key for how to do life well. In this episode, we discover that key and further explore the connection between believing and doing. There are two power sources inside of us, constantly wrestling for our commitment and attention. One is God and the other is the forces of evil – including Satan, the world, and our own flesh. The tongue is the gear shift between these two, determining the direction and effectiveness of our existence.
We’re in James, and we’ve been talking about how to win at life by walking in faith in the wisdom of God. And in this episode we’re going to spend quite a bit of time talking about what the alternative is, which is walking in the wisdom of the world by sight.
James is really clear about this that you really can’t have a mixture. You’re going to either be doing one or the other. You can flip back and forth, but there’s not a half-way-between in this. We’re either walking in the wisdom of God, or we’re walking in the wisdom of the world. And, of course, what he’s exhorting us to do is choose the wisdom of God.
We’re going to be in chapter 3 today, but just reviewing chapters 1 and 2 gets us to chapter 3 where we’re going to talk about, particularly, the tongue, and speaking.
So we’ve talked about, in a previous episode, that one of the themes of James is believe, speak, do. And this is a biblical theme.
We saw it in Deuteronomy 30. Moses talking to the children of Israel: I’m setting before you today two different roads. The road of life; the road of death. Blessing; cursing. This is not that hard. You already know what you should do to choose the life road, to choose the blessing road. You already know.
So believe it, and then speak it, and then do it. You don’t have to have somebody come down from heaven and explain this. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to have somebody come from over the sea and explain it. You know. So just speak it and then do it.
That’s all the way back in Deuteronomy.
And then we looked at Revelation, which is at the other end of the Bible. In Revelation 1, you get a special blessing if you read, understand, and keep—believe, speak, do—the words of this prophecy. And of course the theme of Revelation, which is written to believers, churches, is to be a faithful witness. Don’t be afraid, no matter what kind of death is presented to you: Death of a relationship or criticism or rejection or even physical death. Just be of great courage. It’s worth it. You win when you have the courage to continue on in the wisdom of God.
The keys to life
So, you know, the Bible’s pretty repetitive about the keys to life. It just says it in a lot of different ways. We’re getting the same thing in James: Believe, speak, do.
Well, in chapter 2, interestingly enough, the emphasis was on the do part. Do do things that are in the best interests of others. Do not do things with partiality, James called it, where I look for, who can I try to suck up to that can do something for me? Don’t do that. Treat everybody the same and look for their best interests.
That’s the do part.
Do invest in widows and orphans. Do not invest in trying to get rich people to give you favors, or powerful people to give you favors.
That’s the do part. Because all this stuff’s connected.
And he also talked, in chapter 2, all you believers—remember brethren is in here 15 times. He says do not regard the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with partiality. So the people getting this letter, they had the Lord Jesus Christ. They’re brethren.
But he’s telling them, take this and do something with it. If you’re not doing anything with the faith that you have, then that faith is dead. It’s just laying there.
And the way you make a dead man rise is to have the Spirit come back into that dead man. The way you make dead faith rise is you have works come in there. You do something.
And when you do stuff, it makes your faith alive. And when you have faith, you want to do something.
The connection between believing and doing
But today what we’re going to focus on is the connector between those two. And that’s speaking, thinking, because speaking and thinking is connected with believing, is connected with doing.
And if you’re doing things of the world, it’s going to rot your faith. It’s going to deaden it.
If you’re thinking things of this world, you going to tend to do things of the world. And you’re going to be connecting to the wrong source.
Two power sources
And what we’re going to see in chapter 3 here is there seems to be two batteries inside of us, two power sources. And one of the power sources is connected to God; and the other power source is connected to Satan and the world. And there’s some little guy in there in the control room with two little cables going in and plugging into the batteries. “I’m going to plug into this one.” [zapping sound] “No, I don’t like that one. I’m going to plug into this one.” [zapping sound] And that’s our will. And we’re choosing between these two.
And amazingly, God gave us this choice, unlike any other creature. No other creature will be self-destructive like we will. Only we will destroy ourselves.
And no other creature can serve and be godlike, like we can. And it depends on which of these powers that we connect to.
The tongue is a gear shift
And guess what one of the key connectors is, like a gear shift? The tongue. What we say. What we think. It’s our gear shifter.
So we’re going to talk about gear shifting today.
Now, let’s just read chapter 3, all at once, and then we’ll go back and talk about it. It’s fairly self-explanatory, with a few exceptions. But with that context, let’s just think about speaking, doing, believing. It’s the gear connector.
My brethren—There it is again. One of 15 times—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.
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.
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.
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. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our God and Father—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.
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 saltwater and fresh.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Speaking and thinking
So this gear shift. And the gear shift is connected to two different powers. Instead of just a drive train in the same engine, it seems to have, like, two different engines, maybe like a hybrid or something. You’ve got the electrical and the gas part.
It’s interesting here how many different descriptions of the tongue’s connection. Let’s just look at a few.
Look at verse 3. —we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.
So what we say, what we think actually controls the actions of our entire body. And that’s observable, isn’t it?
Let’s just think about the trainers for Olympic athletes and stuff. Visualization and speaking to themselves. “This is what my great performance is going to look like.”
That’s a big part of their training. And the minute they step up and say, “Boy, I hope I don’t bust it this time,” what’s going to happen, and why? They’re going to bust it because they’re thinking about busting it, right?
If you ever stand over a golf ball and say, “Man, I hope I don’t duff it this time,” you might as well just kick the ball and put your club back in the bag because you’re going to duff it. You have to get that out of your mind and think, “Oh, what is this swing going to look like?” Because we’re thinking to ourselves about what we are doing. Because our thoughts and our speech direct our whole body.
Look at verse 5. —tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
So whatever is in our messed up part—our sin nature, let’s call it. We have a sin nature, and we have our resurrected nature, our new creation that chapter 1 told us God spoke into us. We have both of those things.
Well, if we’re connected to the sin nature, then we’re going to be boastful. And our tongue, when we start boasting about how wonderful we are—which comes naturally, right? When we start boasting, that’s a connector. That’s a way to put the gear into the sin nature.
Look at verse 6: The tongue is connected with a world of iniquity. Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? So when we go to the sin nature, it apparently is connected to way more than just what’s in us. What’s in us seems to be connected to the whole world.
So we’ve got an extension cord running around with us that we can’t see, but it actually connects our sin nature with this whole world of this grid of demonic power. That’s kind of sobering, isn’t it?
We don’t have a circumstance problem
Remember in chapter 1, it told us we do not have a circumstance problem. We do not have a circumstance problem. No circumstance is ever tempting us.
If you’ve got poor circumstances, say, “Awesome. That’s a great opportunity to trust God.”
If you have a rich circumstance, say, “Oooh! This is going to be a tough trial!” Am I going to trust my circumstances or trust God? Got to be careful because this is something that’s temporary. God’s permanent, right?
We don’t have a circumstance problem; we have sin problems.
And it used pregnancy as an example. Sin is conceived, and then it is birthed, and then it grows up. And then it produces death. And where did it come from? Within us.
And the solution is to take a new seed in, we have the seed of sin. We take in a new seed, and it’s the word of God. Receive with meekness the implanted word, the invitrio word that is now going to grow up and gestate and be born and bring life.
That was chapter 1.
Well, when we tie into boasting, we’re now self-seeking. We’re making it about me. And when we do that, we’re tying into a world of iniquity. Again, The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body—
So when we speak unhealthy things, we’re actually poisoning our whole body.
Do you like to drink poison? You know, a lot of what we do to ourselves reminds me of one of those Disney or Pixar cartoons where the fly goes to the bar, and he says, “Give me Black Flag!” And he turns to the guy next to him, and he says, “I only got 24 hours to live anyway. I’m going to make it count.” [Strangling sounds.] You know, he dies on the bar.
Well, that’s what we do to ourselves because we’re bringing in this entire iniquity, and we’re setting a fire inside of us. How do we do that? With our tongue, with our mouths, with our thoughts.
—and sets on fire the course of nature—
We have this whole course of nature. Have you noticed that nature tends to go to decay? Have you noticed that if you come and say, “I’m going to let my yard go to nature,” that doesn’t work out too good? Have you noticed that?
If we want to plug in to that course of nature, we just put it in gear, and we do that with our thoughts and our tongue.
and it is set on fire by hell. And we’re going to have to talk about that one a little bit. How do we connect with hell? What does that mean? That’s actually the word Gehenna. Give you a little preview.
8. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
So, not only do we have this power engine inside of us that’s connected to this worldly grid of evil power, we also have a little fluid reservoir in our body car, and it’s full of poison. And we can not only use a gear shift knob, we can actually turn on the windshield washer, and out comes poison, right into our body. It’s a deadly poison. And we can do that with our tongue.
We can bless or curse people
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.
We’ve got these two power sources, depending on which one we come up with depends on what kind of words we say to each other.
Now, the notion of cursing has almost been lost within my generation.
When I was a kid, cussing and cursing were still kind of the same thing. And if you’ll think about it, the words of, what we call now cussing, which is almost turned into, like, I don’t even know what it is. It’s like cool talk or something. Somehow these words are funny, and they’re rebellious, and they’re hip all at once. I don’t even know what’s happened with these cuss words, used to be curse words.
But if you’ll think about the curse words, where they came from. I want you to go to hell and be condemned by God and damned there forever. Well, there was a time when that was the worst thing you could wish on somebody, right?
And, of course, those words of “I want wrath on you!” those words kind of morphed into, in the oil field anyway, it’s just like punctuation now. You know, all those words. If you don’t know what to say, you say one of those words.
But originally the cursing was to wish ill on other people. So what’s the opposite of that? To wish blessing on other people, right?
I want to control you and hurt you if you don’t do what is good for me: Cursing.
I want to use the power God’s given me to bless you: Blessing.
That’s pretty opposite. And they both come right out of us.
What James, I think, is talking about here is we have two power sources, and we get to plug into which one it is, and it affects our attitude and actions toward other people. And that happens with the tongue and with the thoughts.
Man! This is big stuff.
We deceive ourselves
And, then, look what else we connect to. Verse 14: Bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts. And how do you engage that? With boasting and lying.
Do we have bitterness and self-seeking in our sin nature? Well, it’s there. How do we engage it? Just boast and lie. Now this one’s a tough one because lying is our natural bent, especially when it comes to what we tell ourselves.
I don’t have a problem. The fact that I have 20 relationships, and they’re all fractured; that has nothing to do with me. The common denominator in all those is not me. It’s them. They all have the same problem. Or, they all have different problems. I don’t need to change; they all need to change. That’s not good analysis, is it?
What we do is we deceive ourselves.
My friends who have gone through substance addiction: I can control that any time I want to. I’m just enjoying it. When I get a buzz, when I get a little drunk, or whatever it is, that’s just recreation. I’m just rewarding myself for good behavior. I don’t have a problem. When it gets out of control and things happen, then that’s just a mistake. I would have made that mistake anyway. It’s not my substance that’s causing this.
We tell ourselves that all the time, don’t we? It’s not my problem; it’s theirs. It’s my circumstances. I would be fine if it wasn’t for these circumstances. People don’t appreciate me. That’s my problem. I have this past, and the past now controls me.
Well, you know, the past influences us. We get to keep making choices. We don’t have to be controlled by our past or fear of the future, either one.
But it’s natural for us to be, as James called it, double minded.
Overcome deception with the Word
And the way you get that turned around is to replace it with the implanted word, the invitrio word, which gives us the wisdom of God.