Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Single Spark

Week 5 in our 6 week study in the book of James

Words reflect the heart of a person and possess the potential to affect people in great ways. This lesson reminds us that spiritual fruit must come in even the smallest ways. The tongue is an incredibly small organ in the human body but has great power to tear down. The tongue reflects the heart of a person. Therefore, if we are taming our words, we reflect an internal change that has already taken place. Also, by taming our words, we begin to affect the way that we live out our changed lives.

James 3:2-12 (ESV)
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Supporting Passages:  1 Peter 4:10-12; Ephesians 4:29

What we say matters. James rightly said that the tongue is a small but powerful organ. It reflects who we are and our relationship with Christ. When not used in a Godly way, it has the power to destroy lives and our witnesses for God? Have you ever noticed that some of the most beautiful aspects of nature can also be the most destructive? Snow can be one of the most serene and breathtaking sights in the world. But too much of it can shut down states or cause avalanches that kill. The same water that makes beaches picturesque can also destroy lives and entire cities. The tongue has the ability to build up, but it also has the potential for destruction and evil.

1. Our words reflect our character (Jas. 3:2).

James said that every believer would stumble in his efforts to live in full obedience to God. Because the sin nature is not fully overcome until a Christian is completely restored in heaven, he or she will battle with sin in this life. James pointed out, though, the nature of the tongue, or speech, in a believer’s battle with sin. He stated that a person who does not sin with his speech is a perfect person. This person is perfect because the tongue reflects what is in a person’s heart. James told his readers that if a person can tame his tongue, he could tame the entire being. In 2005, the Georgia Aquarium opened as the largest aquarium in the world containing more than 100,000 sea creatures representing more than 500 species. The featured exhibit is a 6.3 million gallon tank. When you first enter the exhibit, you see into this tank through small windows. Then you venture into a glass tunnel revealing 180-degree views of the great tank. Finally, you end in a theater- style room featuring a huge wall of glass, which allows visitors to see even more of this same tank. In a similar way, our words act as windows to our soul, revealing more and more of our character within as we journey through life. Take an inventory of your words and how you use them. Speech filled with arrogance, hate, disrespect, cruel jokes, bullying, and other negative attitudes reveals a heart that is full of the same kind of attitudes. Followers of Christ are to reflect Him through their entire beings, including their speech. We can pretend to follow God in many ways, but our speech will ultimately reveal what is truly in our hearts.

2. Our words have the power to direct and destroy lives (Jas. 3:3–6).

James used the analogy of a bit in a horse’s mouth and a rudder on a large ship to explain that the tongue, although very small, can affect the entirety of a person. James warned of the destruction that the tongue is capable of causing. He used the metaphor of a fire growing in large increments to explain that the tongue has great potential for evil. The small fire, started by careless speech, grows in a great forest fire of destruction. James noted that the fire set by the tongue affects relationships and the course of one’s life. This destructive potential is so powerful because corrupt speech is from the destructive power of Satan. When someone uses a GPS for directions, they rely on whatever information that has been put into the GPS to get them to the right destination. Many times, the user will input bad information, and the GPS will lead him to an unintended place. Imagine the words that you say and the inflections with which you say them as the input for your GPS. Your speech will either lead you to a place of righteousness or a place of destruction. Careless jokes, hurtful conversations, rumors, and gossip can all be part of a small fire that causes a great blaze among many people and results in much pain to us and those around us. This kind of corrupt speech destroys and directs us toward suffering and evil. However, when we control the words we say and the way that we say them, we will live in obedience to God’s Word and be able to pursue His purpose for our lives.

3. Our words affect how the world views God (Jas. 3:7–12).

James pointed out the irony of humans being able to tame wild animals but not having the ability to tame what seems to be a small part of themselves—their speech. He then gave an example of how people do not tame their speech. In great hypocritical fashion, some of James’ audience would worship and praise God and then proceed to talk in a harsh, unGodly manner to others; they were praising God and then cursing people, who were made in the image of God. James emphasized that this kind of hypocritical speech should not be a characteristic of a believer because they were to produce fruit that reflected the righteousness of God. The following headlines are about individuals who were fired for what they posted on Facebook: “Waitress Fired For Complaining About Customers,” “Juror Dismissed After Facebook Slip,” and “Grocery Store Fires Employees Because Of 'Derogatory' Facebook Group.” These are just a few examples of organizations that dismissed employees because of their speech. Their very public comments reflected poorly on their employer and violated regulations. In a similar way, our words reflect the God whom we serve. Although He won’t fire us, we must be conscious that we are constantly telling others about Him by the way that we talk. In today’s world, our words are more than just the things that we say with our mouths. Our words involve everything that we tweet, text, blog, say, write, or sing. Every word that we communicate is a reflection on the God whom we serve. We must be careful to guard our words for the sake of others coming to know God.

So what's the big idea of the passage?

Words reflect and direct who we are and become. James clearly communicated that the tongue has great power to tear down. Followers of
Christ, however, must guard their words so that God is reflected accurately to the world. Use your words and the tone with which you say them to build up and not tear down others around you. When you do this, you will show God’s righteousness to the world.

James the half-brother of Jesus. is considered by most scholars to be the author of the book of James. Several factors point to this likelihood. First, as His brother, James was closely aware of the teachings and the person of Jesus. Second, James eventually rose to a position of great influence over the Church during its early years in Jerusalem, which is specifically noted from his authoritative role at the proceedings of the pivotal Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15:13-21). Third, James’ authority within the Church would have given him prominence in addressing the large audience of Jewish believers, to whom the letter was written.
The intended audience of Jewish believers and a glaring lack of mention of Gentiles within the book leads many scholars to believe that the book of James was one of the earliest of the canonical New Testament texts. It is often considered to be “The New Testament’s Book of Proverbs” because of all of the practical wisdom that it contains. The author wanted his audience to know how to wisely practice their faith in the world.

James noted that unrighteous speech stains the whole body because corrupt speech is from Satan himself. Therefore, unbridled speech disrupts the purpose of God’s Church with problems internally and also allows unbelievers to witness discord and unity within the Body of Christ. James also pointed out that God’s people have been created in His image. Worshiping God and then cursing someone created in His image is hypocrisy. Again, this creates relational issues within the Church and reflects an inaccurate picture of God to the world. Because the Church is God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel, taming the tongue is necessary in order for believers to give an accurate reflection of God to the world and to accomplish His purpose.

Words are powerful. As the Bible as a whole illustrates, words have the capability of transmitting wonderful news—redemptive news—throughout the world. Unfortunately, words also have the tragic capability of inflicting great damage and pain throughout the world. Whether we use the tongue to communicate kindly to others or harshly to others is ultimately a function of how high or low our view is of the image of God. If we take seriously what James says about humanity being made in the image of God, then our lives should be marked by a commitment to use our speech to honor God and not to curse others. Words have the capability of helping the spiritual formation of a teenager and hindering the same. Have you communicated a high and clear view of what a privilege it is to be made in the image of God? Do you live according to such a high and clear view? Are you demonstrating a tamed tongue in front of them? Are you pointing them to the Holy Spirit as the ultimate help for using the tongue in the right way?
Harsh usage of the tongue characterizes the way in which many teenagers communicate with each other. Unfortunately, the same can be true of many teenagers who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior. They need to see Godly speech modeled and encouraged from the authority figures in their lives. They need to be held accountable for their speech, including what is said in jest and jokes. How can you encourage your students to practice taming the tongue?

Small Group Questions

  • Why is it so hard to be careful with what we communicate to others?
  • How does technology make it easier for us to be hurtful with our words?
  • What lasting effects can what we post online or text have on us and on others?
  • How have words had a negative effect on your life? How have they had a positive effect?
  • How do we know when something is appropriate to say and when it’s not?

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