We’re in a teaching series written by somebody closer to Jesus than arguably anybody who wrote any of the Bible. The author of James is Jesus’ little brother. He grew up and knew Jesus better than anyone else. So James probably had strong confidence in representing Christ and talking about him. He became a leader and helped make some of the early church’s biggest decisions. In this series, we call him “James, Jesus’ savage little brother” because James pulls no punches.
James 3:2-5 (NLT)
For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
We’ve got to talk about the power of our tongue and words. You might have a history of saying things you wish you could take back. So many times, we think, “I wish I hadn’t said that.” or “I really wish that hadn’t come out of my mouth.” If you are married, You might still suffer the consequences of something you said ten years ago. I’ve been married for 16 years, and there are still things that come up that I wish I could take back. When Maria was having our first baby, she did an amazing job! I tried to be supportive with breathing, but I needed to give her some space. After she had the baby, I looked at her and said the dumbest thing ever. I thought it was funny, but it turns out it was funnier in my head. I said, “Look at what you did it! That was incredible. That wasn’t that big of a deal.” I was messing around, but you know my wife has brought that up so many times. Anytime someone’s going to have a baby, she puts her hand on the shoulder of the man and gives them advice on what not to do. It’s because our words are powerful.
Our words are so powerful that they can change the world you live in and the direction you’re going—James shares three illustrations about the power of our tongue. The first one, he said, “Your words are like a bit in a horse’s mouth.” The bit for a horse is tiny and only weighs a few ounces, yet it has the power to whip a horse around. My friend’s horse weighs about 1200 pounds, but a small bit can change the direction of a large horse. Our tongues and words are like that and can change the very direction of our life. It can turn us backward, and it can mess us all up.
The second illustration James writes about is about a rudder of a ship. Two thousand years ago, ships worked the same way as they do today. Ships have propulsion and a rudder. Compared to the size of the ship, the rudder is remarkably small. No matter how windy or how strong the wind blows, it comes down to the rudder; that will determine the ship’s course. Our life could be in a storm getting blown this way and that way. During those times, it is never more critical for us to be careful what we say because it’s in the greatest storms where our words can change the direction of our life.
James 3:5-6 (NLT)
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
James’s third illustration is that our words are like a tiny sparks. If you used a knife and struck it against a fire starter, you would see several sparks flying. James is saying that our words are like sparks out of our mouths. Imagine, when thinking back to your own life, the things people have told you that they may not have thought were a big deal. But somehow, that landed on your life, and it affirmed some lie that you had already been telling yourself or maybe the enemy had told you. You could hear something like, “You’re always going to be an addict.” “You’re always going to struggle.” “You’re a failure.” Words like that can be a tiny spark that sets a blazing fire in your life.
The Lord spoke something to me. He said you think your words aren’t a big deal because you think that your words are small. But it is not the size of the spark that determines the size of the fire. We don’t know the lies that other people have been soaked in. Then our small spark can light them on fire, not because of how powerful our spark is but because of how soaked in lies, the enemy has made their life. James says the spark can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
Proverbs 18:21 (NLT)
The tongue can bring death or life;
those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
Here’s the thing: in both life and death, the power of that spark comes from you. The enemy can use your tongue to do his bidding and start his fires. You may be saying what he put in your head to start fires. Sometimes we think that just because we have a good heart and are joking around, it does not matter. What you don’t see is what’s going on in that person’s life and heart and what the enemy is doing in that person. My challenge is to take inventory of how we say things without thinking. If we can rein that in, that could change not just the direction of our own life but how it would create life and help give life to those who need to hear it.
1. Your words are powerful because you were made in the image of God.
We learned in the very first chapter of God’s word that He created us male and female in His image. What does that mean? It means that you were made in the image of God to be a reflection or an extension of God to the world. Just like God spoke all things into existence. You also speak things into existence. Now you say things on behalf of God. Or it could be that you don’t realize you’re speaking on behalf of the enemy. But when you speak on behalf of God, you can speak life into existence. “No, I don’t struggle with that anymore.” “No, I’m not that person anymore.” You can continue to face the direction God has called you. You can be a rudder on a giant ship. The bigger your ship is, the more people on it, the more responsibility you carry, and the more dangerous it is for that thing to turn even just one or two degrees. But man, when God can trust you with a big life of influence and responsibility, he’s also trusting you to speak like that. You’re a reflection of God.
2. Your words create worlds.
Just like God spoke a world into existence, you create a world when you speak. Your truth is creating a world inside of a world of lies. I’ll give you an example. I grew up with a lot of learning disabilities. My mom had me very late in life. The doctors recommended termination because she was much older and because I would have some health problems. I’m so grateful that my mom had the courage and chose to give me life. My mom then left her job to raise me. I have to say that I was a nightmare kid. As I got older, I developed more and more learning disabilities which included being dyslexic, having OCD, ADD, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I was a mess and struggling in school. I remember not wanting the teacher to call on me to read out loud because I didn’t know how. As a 10-year-old, I went in to take a 3-hour test to determine my education level. It turned out that the scores showed that as a 10-year-old, I was reading at a 1st-grade level due to my ADHD.
My parents believed that God was going to heal me. So they got their life group together and began to pray and fast. Three days later, I retook the same 3-hour test and came out one grade level above on all tests. From that point forward, I could read and focus, which was a miracle. Since I’ve experienced this, I know I have faith to pray for people and say, “Hey, if God did it for me, he can do it for you.” That’s what God wants to do with your story too. Sometimes he allows some bad things to happen in our life, but he doesn’t waste the pain because he turns around to use it for His glory and His purpose so that other people can be encouraged.
Years later, I went to college and was the first in my family ever to graduate. Now I am in a master’s program, which requires a lot of studying. Not only that, but as you know, my job is one where I need to research and teach every week. The studying part requires a lot of focus the learning. When I am preaching, it involves focus too. You might not know this, but people do nonsensical things while I preach. Even though I am fully healed of ADD, I sometimes see something bizarre that distracts me. People are eating snacks and scrunching up their snack wrappers. Others are filming me with the iPhone camera light on me. One time there was a man that had a parrot on his shoulder. Occasionally, I would play off the distractions like they were no big deal and say, “It’s because I have ADD, and that’s why I’m distracted.”
Then one time, I said it, and the Holy Spirit, clear as day, told me, “why are you saying you have ADD when you know that I healed?” The Holy Spirit convicted me. If God has done something in your life, talk about what He’s done. Don’t discount it. Your words are powerful. Choose today to speak life over yourself and others around you.