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Can't We All Just Get Along? [3-19-23]

March 19, 2023

“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

James 3:1-6


JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE.

That is a hugely important doctrine. It has been essential to the Reformed faith from Martin Luther and John Calvin down to us. It is true and important. That’s why James applies it to our lives. It came as no surprise to James, therefore it should come as no surprise to us, that some people have used it as an excuse for failing to live in obedience to Christ and his Word.


James is a warning against this error.


In his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Martin Luther forcefully captured the basic message of James:

O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible

for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask

whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.


How’s that for calling out virtue signaling from the 16th century? With that in mind, let’s now turn to James 3:1-6:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 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.


One caveat we should add to James warning about the tongue is it applies to social media, of all kinds, as well.


Here’s an example from an advice column letter:

DEAR ABBY: My mother puts pictures of me on Facebook, usually old ones, and invariably says, “Look how skinny you were!” I’m 60 now, and I don’t look skinny anymore…I can’t make her understand that you just don’t make comments on people’s weight, especially on social media. It is unkind.

My favorite part of the letter was when she said her daughters-in-law told their grandmother-in-law she was wrong for doing that. Those are amazing daughters-in-law.

*Postscript…the mother got angry when she was called out on her

unbridled tongue.

I’m telling you right now. Wherever you go, whatever you do, in whatever situation you find yourself, normal, decent people don’t react that way when called out for their boorish behavior. They apologize, repent, and work harder at doing better.


Most of us know, or have known, someone who sometimes is kind of embarrassing to be with out in public. If you can’t think of somebody, then perhaps you are…oh, never mind. Sometimes they’re even members of our own families. We say things like, “Oh, that’s just the way he is,” or, “You know her…she’s just direct and to the point.” These are the people who have no governor between the brain and the tongue. We make all kinds of excuses for toxic tongues. But should we?


Now, before we jump into hyper-guilt mode, James offers a moderating reality. Right away, in verse two, he says, “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.” In other words, we all make mistakes. He suggests that sometimes this is inadvertent…a minor misdeed. Other times, we lose sight of who we are and how we are called to speak and interact with others. This is not unusual. It would be one thing if the habit of a person’s life, more often than not, would be to have an acid tongue and argumentative spirit. While he doesn’t give us excuses, James does recognize that no one is perfect.


That’s why James says we need to see controlling our tongue as an essential part of our devotion to Jesus Christ. It’s not uncommon for people to have difficulty controlling the mouth. People utter false words. Their comments can be biting or caustic. Slander runs amok. People have been prone to keep their mouths open when they should stay closed. We all know the old adage, “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” You get the point. I love this pastor’s observation:

“In all my years of pastoring, I have learned this lesson: a

person’s spiritual maturity is not truly visible until they DON’T get

their way. Then you see the real person.”

Matt Smethurst


We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to control the tongue. John Calvin said the tongue is “a slender portion of flesh containing the whole world of iniquity.” Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 15:11, 18-20:

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

These are obvious, observable truths. Think of the relational harm done by careless tongues. Think about how difficult it is to be around mouthy people. We all have to work hard to be careful about what we say.

Remember, our faith is seen in our works. And our works can be heard in

our words.


But here’s a word of assurance and encouragement for anyone who falls under the toxic cloud of an uncontrolled tongue. As we confessed, we all stumble over our tongues at some time or another, in one way or another. Nothing is new under the sun. But, and here’s the assurance and encouragement, when you are in Christ…when you know your name has been written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life…when you know who you are and whose you are…you will not be easily or quickly offended by those who cannot control their tongue. Are you hearing that? Does it excuse people with a toxic tongue? Absolutely not. God will rightly and justly deal with them. There will be times of vulnerability when you might feel the sting of careless words. But they don’t have to infest or infect your sense of well-being and personhood in Jesus Christ. Remember, in Christ you are a new creation. As a new creation, don’t ever let someone else’s garbage stink up your life. Are you with me on that?


Never forget, mean-spirited or nasty or vile people are unhappy in their

own lives. That’s the basic psychological insight. Our hearts ache for lives

not grounded in Jesus Christ. Remember, faith apart from works is dead.

While we all struggle, at times, with controlling our tongues, as Christians, the trajectory of our lives is always moving us away from the fire of unrighteousness. So, when someone spews their toxicity in your direction,

lock in your mind these two simple words:

WHO CARES?

{Let’s say that together}

We do well to live out of these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:14-18:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.


So, when Bilious Brenda or Dastardly Donald are ablaze with

unrighteousness, you are still going to rejoice and be glad, because Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. He has redeemed you from your sin. And every time you falter or fall into such sin, you repent and are forgiven. And

together we can say “Amen” to that all day long.


As sometimes happens with Scripture, we can discern layers of meaning within the same passage. Jesus’ parables are a prime example of that. Here, with James 3, what we’ve talked about so far are essential guidelines for how we speak and relate to others. It’s very important for our lives to reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These character traits give evidence to our faith. James has made it very clear that the tongue wreaks so much havoc on the godly.


As he says, we should be striving to live at peace within our little corner of God’s world. This is where we have been planted, and this is where we have been called to demonstrate our faith through humility and good works.


The other point of chapter three – and I would not classify it as more or less essential than what we’ve already said – the other point is to call out false or careless teaching. In fact, chapter three starts with a warning:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

At the heart of this section is a simple affirmation:

WORDS ARE ALSO WORKS.

Therefore, teachers will be held to a higher standard.


In the early church, teaching was crucial for transmitting the doctrines and beliefs that glued the community together in common faith and practice. They were taught consistent Biblical truth in order to faithfully serve Jesus Christ is worship and work. In the absence of widespread literacy and printed materials, teachers were crucial to the life and vitality of the Christian community. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:1-2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

To set up where we’re going next week, it’s time for a true confession.


Sometimes, I say things from the pulpit or in church communications that

are not as articulately put as I’d like. Sometimes people disagree or get offended. For example, I’ve worked in both criticisms and compliments of presidents from the past 30 years. I’ve questioned Covid responses and protocols. While keeping those, and other areas to a minimum, since the public sphere touches our lives in so many ways, it seems appropriate to address such things at times.


That being said, I would be mortified {pun intended} if a blooper reel of all of my idiocies from the past 40 years started playing on these screens. There have been authors and pastors and other resources I once valued that needed to be put in my rearview mirror. But through all the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’m confident that I have never offered false or unbiblical teaching. And what I love about our church is, if I ever did, you would call me on it. You would give me a chance to repent and course correct before kicking me to the curb. And that’s always a good

thing.


In closing, here’s one last think you might want to write down. It applies to both aspects of chapter three that we’ve already touched on:

PEOPLE EITHER CONTROL THEIR TONGUES OR LET THEIR TONGUES CONTROL THEM.


Let’s Pray:

HEAVENLY FATHER, HELP US TO PUT OUR TONGUE UNDER THE CONTROL OF YOUR HOLY SPIRIT. MAY OUR SPEECH BE GRACIOUS, SEASONED WITH SALT, BUILDING ONE ANOTHER UP. FORGIVE US FOR VIOLATIONS OF YOUR STANDARDS FOR OUR SPEECH. WE REPENT OF ITS FREQUENCY AND NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE LIVES AROUND US. HELP US TO USE OUR MOUTHS AND OUR WHOLE BODIES TO YOUR GLORY. IN CHRIST’S NAME. AMEN.

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