Sticks and Stones
After a six-weeks absence, for Christmas and COVID, we are back to the Kindergarten of Christianity; the book of James.
Previously, in the Kindergarten… Little Johnny showed his rock at Show and Tell. But Little Johnny had missed the Tell part of Show and Tell. He simply showed his rock without any commentary. Now, Little Johnny sat down… satisfied. He had showed his rock to the classroom. He was proud.
Little Johnny sat back down in his desk after Show and Tell and once again waited. But now, he was waiting for his favorite class of the day, recess. He was still excited after showing his rock. He knew all the other kids in his class would really be anxious to see his special rock. He had decided that he would let them look at it. He may let some even touch it. But only the very privileged would be allowed to hold it. Little Johnny was looking forward to recess.
Finally, the bell rang and Johnny was the first one out the door. With his little brown paper bag containing his rock in his hand. He turned to greet the other kids in his class. He was anxious for their attention. He had never really received any attention from his classmates. Today, would be different. And it was.
The first few kindergartners to come by just snickered at him as they walked on by. But, then, came the class bully. Well, bullies are not allowed in school anymore… so, he was the class… sympathy-challenged individual.
--"Where did you get that rock, from your head?"
--"No, he's not that smart."
--"Yeah, the rock is smarter than he is."
--"And a whole lot better looking."
--"Did you ever see anything as stupid as him and his rock?"
Soon, the whole class was standing around Johnny making fun of him and his rock. In frustration, as the tears began to squeak out of his eyes, Johnny quoted the first poem that he had ever learned. I suspect this may be the first poem many of us ever learned. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. ...but words will never hurt me. ...but words will never hurt me. ...but words will never hurt me." He spoke the words, but he lied them.
For, in fact, words are several orders of magnitude more powerful than any stick or any stone.
--Words can give hope to the hopeless, while other words send some into despair.
--Words have given some reasons to live; words have driven others to quit.
--Words have opened doors of opportunity; words have ruined repudiations.
--Words can speak life… or death.
--Some words will ring for eternity: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."
This poem is not true… "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." And so, in the Kindergarten of Christianity, James takes the first twelve verses of chapter three to disprove, forever, this poem. Last time, James boldly taught us that if our faith did not change the way we lived… it was a worthless faith. Today, James is going to teach us that one way a living faith changes us is… in our words. We no longer speak the same. James warns us about our tongues.
The first warning about our tongue is in James 3:1-4.
Warning One: The Tongue Can Be Hard to Tame
NLT James 3:1-5 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness. 2 We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do.
The last time I was on a horse, it was not a pleasant experience. We had gone riding with some friends who owned several horses, bear in mind this was a long time ago. This was before Tanya and I were married. I was still trying to impress her… with my equestrian skills. You didn't want your girlfriend to think that you didn't like horses, that's unamerican. So, I had actually done pretty well all day long. We were on our way back to the barn. I am thinking, "I'm just a stud on a stud." Until a little wart kid on a scooter shot out of from around the corner and came flying by my horse. I don't know who the bike scared the worse, me or the horse, but the horse reared up and I hung on. We both ended up in a heap.
Being the Bible scholar that I am, I knew this verse in James. I knew I was supposed control the horse. But it didn’t work.
Our words, our tongue, is like that horse's bit. That little tool, that only weights a few ounces, often times takes control of our entire being. Often, it is like our tongue suddenly just says things that you don't intend to say. Words just pour out or our mouths, words that cut others to the heart. Words that slash to the bone. Words that have the potential of being so positive, of speaking life, instead dish out death. “sticks and stones”…
Sailboats I can relate to better than I do horses. I own a sailboat. When the winds get up and the waves begin to crash and the sail fills, a good boat comes alive. With your hand on the tiller, you have control of the ship. No matter how big or heavy the vessel is, no matter how hard the wind blows, no matter how big the waves get… you have control, because the rudder will make the ship go wherever you want it to go.
Such is the power of the tongue. The words you speak control your course. The words you speak develop or destroy relationships. The words you speak can bring the life of God’s joy. Or turn the others away. The tongue has the power to direct your life.
Verse one is odd. Not many should be teachers. A teacher, whether of adults or kids, whether in a public school or Sunday School, whether at home or anywhere, is entrusted with the hearts of their students. A teacher that is in control or his/her tongue, that uses their words to build the confidence and shows the student how to learn and excites them about their own abilities to do good, has achieved the highest of accomplishments. The Christian who is gifted by God to be a teacher and who uses their tongues to encourage students to glorify Him is at the top of my list of importance.
But the teacher who breaks that sacred trust… who abuses a student by making them feel stupid in my book is the lowest of… I can’t say scum… sympathy-challenged individual. The person who would destroy discourage a learner, especially when it comes to learning God's Holy Word, does the worst of damage. And James says they will be judged more strictly. If you cannot control your tongue, you should not teach. That is the warning that James is issuing.
The first warning is: Who is in charge, you or your tongue?
Warning Two: The Tongue Can Be Destructive
A careless cigarette is thrown out the window of a car onto a pile of dry leaves.
A careless word of gossip is thrown out of the mouth onto a dry pile of anxious listeners.
A gentle breeze blows the cigarette just right to catch that first leaf on fire.
The word of spite is casually caught in the heart of a single person, until it has to be shared with just one other person.
Soon, the pile of dry leaves is burning in a blaze the size of a campfire.
Soon, the hurt-word has traveled to a handful of itching ears.
The wind gusts and a small tree is lit.
The gossip spreads… a whole circle of acquaintances is alive with buzzing.
The tree seems to explode. The fire is beginning to get really serious. A passing motorist sees the blaze and calls the fire department.
The gossip has now encircled all those who know the victim. It skips to the community; the story continues to grow in into a blaze.
The fire department responses but it is soon evident that the dry conditions are going to make this a major forest fire. The National Forestry Department is called in and fire fighters from all over the country come to try and stop the fire.
The victim, finally, hears the gossip. He tries to tell everyone that it is not true. It was just a misunderstanding that has blown all out of proportion until it now no longer resembles the truth.
Ultimately, thousands of acres are burned to the ground. Animals and plants and everyone else that depended on that forest are left destitute.
The victim's life is burnt to the ground. All those who depended on that person and all the good that person was doing or might ever do is left destitute.
NLT James 3:5-6 So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
Never underestimate the fire that comes from hell… spread by our tongues.
Warning Two: The Tongue Can Be Destructive
Warning Three: The Tongue Can Be Untamable
NLT James 3:7-8 People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison.
In the old days, at circuses there were… Lion Tamers. These animal trainers cause the lions to jump through hoops of fire, put their heads in their mouths and do all kinds of things that are against the lion’s natural instincts. A friend of mine tells the story of living in Turkey and seeing the dancing bears. He asked one of them one time how they trained the bears to dance? They take the bear cubs and make them stand on hot coals while they play their flutes. Soon the bear "dances" every time the music is played. At the Albuquerque Zoo they have a bird that sings. We are aware of chickens that play piano. None of Tanya’s. But on AGT. Frogs that compete in jumping contests, performing elephants, rodeo roping horses that seem smarter than the guys who ride them… cats… I have never seen them do anything, except what they want to. But man has tamed all kinds of animals and have control over them. But James says, "No one can tame the tongue."
It is like a restless snake that is just on the verge of striking. We need to fear our own tongues. We need to constantly be on guard not to allow our tongue to strike out. We need continual vigilance to make sure we are not betrayed by our own words. James gives us the warning: Never believe you have mastered your tongue? Wow. That’s discouraging.
Warning Four: The Tongue Can Be Inconsistent
NLT James 3:9-12 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Can you pick olives from a fig tree or figs from a grapevine? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty pool.
It is inconsistent to praise God with the same tongue that we curse man. You cannot praise God and curse man who is made in the image of God.
--You cannot curse a painting and praise the painter.
--You cannot denounce the song and commend the singer.
--You cannot despise a book and adore the author.
--You cannot abhor a meal and encourage the cook.
I could go on for a while longer. But I think you see the point. Praising God requires praising his creation. Don't think that you can abuse people and with the same mouth come to church to sing his praises. He will not accept the inconsistent tongue.
So, the warning is clear: You can't praise God without praising His people.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
We have a choice about how to use the power of our tongues. We can use its power to build each other up in grace. We have within each of us the capacity to encourage. We have within each of us the force to form each other. We each have a tool we can use for the good in building others up. A tool to bring words of life to our world. As we enter the New Year of 2022, let’s commit to use our words for life… Speak Life!
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Don't believe it. Heed the warnings, control your tongue.
January 16, 2022
Los Alamos Church of Christ
Copyright © 2022 Los Alamos Church of Christ - All Rights Reserved.