Can you imagine what it would do for you spiritually, emotionally, and relationally if God would allow you some sort of tool to do a spiritual x-ray and instead of seeing through your skin and looking at a bone, you could see into your heart and know your motives, know your values, know your beliefs, know your attitudes, know what is really going on in your soul and in your heart?
And then instead of constantly trying to change, by treating symptoms of an outburst of anger and impatience here and an addiction there and a troubled relationship here and an inability to get your finances under control here – symptoms above the waterline – what would happen if you could see the root? The cause? And the thesis I want to make this morning is that our tongue is the window of our soul.
Your tongue can act like an x-ray, an MRI, a sonogram. It has the ability to let you know what is going on under the surface. If you want to know what is in your heart: your true motives, how you really feel, where the anger issues are. According to Jesus in Luke 6:45, you can know what they are if you listen to your tongue.
Follow along as I read Luke 6:45. It says, “The good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth what is good. And the evil man, out of the evil treasure, brings forth what is evil.” So whatever is inside comes out. Now, notice the last phrase, “For his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
Week number one we said integrity is the prerequisite to life change. You look deeply, we are going to go on a journey. Week two we said we are going to look at our motives. And we said that fear is a good motivator and hope is a good motivator.
Now, what I want you to know, as an average American, you have thirty conversations a day. If you’re a man, you speak about twenty thousand words a day. If you’re a woman, about thirty thousand words. I don’t know why the difference there but it’s just research.
About one-fifth or twenty percent of your entire life will be spent talking. In any given year, you’re going to fill sixty-six books of eight hundred pages by just your words.
All those words are a reflection of what’s inside. Now, here is what I want to do today. I want to go on a journey and look at the power of the tongue. I want you to see that it’s a powerful tool, and then I want you to learn how to use your tongue, what is coming off of your tongue, so that you can look inside and allow God to do a work from the inside out that will bring lasting change.
So turn the page with me if you will and let’s look at James chapter 3, verses 2 to 12. The first principle that flows out of verse 2 is that if you can control your tongue, you can control your life, according to James.
If you can control your tongue, if you ever get to the point that you can control what comes out of your mouth, only the things that you want to come out of your mouth that are honoring to God and edifying to people, he says, when you ever get to that point, you are an ultra-mature Christian.
Follow along in verse 2. It says, “We all stumble in many ways.” Notice James throws himself in there. It’s in the present tense. We all stumble, habitually stumble, we all struggle with this. And the word stumble here means for moral or spiritual failure.
We all habitually blow it. That would be a good, loose vernacular. “If anyone is never at fault in what he says,” in other words, if what comes out of your mouth is never wrong, never impure, never ungodly, “he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check,” or under control in obedience.
The word perfect here is that exact word, it showed up in verse 1 of chapter 4. It showed up multiple times. It’s that idea of integrity. Perfect means complete, reaching your full potential. It’s translated in other places in the Scripture as mature. You know you are a mature, godly believer, not when all your friends think that, not even when you think that. He says the acid test is when you can control what comes out of your mouth. It honors God and it builds up people.
So that’s pretty exciting! The ultimate mark of maturity and godliness is the restraint and the positive use of your tongue. Why? Put simply: because it takes such submission to the Spirit of God that if your tongue is controlled, it’s evidence that your lust, passions, disciplines, and character issues have already been controlled by the Spirit.
Because, see, what comes out of your mouth is what is really going on down deep. And the Spirit of God has to have done a major work in your heart for what comes out of your mouth to be pure.
Notice the second point James is going to make, that there is some proof here. You might say to yourself, That’s a pretty strong statement. You’re trying to tell me this two ounce piece of muscle, mucus, membrane, and some nerves really has that kind of power? He is going to say, “Yeah, let me give you three illustrations.”
Notice the next section here. He says, “When we put bits in the mouth of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.” One tiny, little piece – a bit or a bridle – in this huge animal with a ninety-five pound jockey, and all he does is pull back and he makes the whole animal go one direction.
Illustration number two, “Or take ships as an example. Although they are large and they are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.” He says, “You want me to prove how powerful the tongue is? You have one little thing in the mouth of a horse, it takes this huge animal and makes it go wherever you want it. Or you’ve got this huge ship and there are waves this way and wind that way in the sails. The pilot can gear the whole thing by one little thing under the water called a rudder.”
Horse, ship, then notice he makes his final point. “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” And the boast here is not a bad word. He says it makes boasts, big boasts. It makes big impact. Wherever your tongue goes, so goes the person.
If you want to change the direction of your life, you must change the direction of your tongue. Because ultimately, you’re going to see this merging. What James is going to do is he is going to merge it more and more.
He is going to say the tongue is really a reflection of the heart. And he is going to use this idea of the tongue as the outward thing that you can see that is connected to those deep seated values and beliefs and attitudes and where you’re at in your relationship with God.
And so he says, “Three quick proofs, how powerful the tongue is. The horse, the ship, and then the actual tongue.” In fact, I bet I could give you a couple of examples and you’d say, Ah, I got it.
I remember being in seventh grade and for those of you that came up in the seventies era – actually, the sixties – do you remember, this is funny. Do you remember when you had to go, it was seventh or sixth grade in my school, boys P.E. and you had to do the community corporate showers deal? None of you guys? I grew up in Ohio. Where are you guys from? They didn’t do that in California? That was the terrible thing. You took a towel and you’re going to take P.E. and you have to change and points are off if you don’t do all that stuff.
And so you had towel fights and all kinds of bad things happen in the locker room. Just forget this. I’m just going to move on. It’s part of my personal little story that you all are not a part of. But I have this picture and our P.E. teacher was a guy named Neil Lance. And Neil became later a mentor and a coach.
But he changed my life and I still remember some words he said to me. My mom and dad, I didn’t realize it at the time, they were going through some tough times. My dad was moving from being a casual drinker to an alcoholic, and I was at that critical time, about thirteen, when I was really looking for some models.
And I was very insecure, like everyone else in the world, and I decided I would display my insecurities by being very loud and boisterous and cocky, because down deep I was very afraid.
And I thought if I could be loud and boisterous and cocky and fool people, then even though I knew I wasn’t tough, maybe they would think I was. And so I had a mouth that was really a big problem. Some of you may think it still is a big problem but it was really bad then!
And so I am really mouthing off to some guys and I’ll never forget, he was a big guy. “Ingram!” He brought me in his office, shut the door, he looked around and it was one of those coaches things where they have a little window. He turned the blinds. They do this in school anymore. He grabbed me by the chest on the shirt, lifts me up, jams me against the wall, and then I sink into the chair and he is looking at me with his eyes on me, and I am scared to death. My little heart is going like this.
And then he says, “You need to learn to keep your big mouth shut!” And I’m going like this and then he said, “I really like you and you’re going to keep mouthing off like that and someone out there is going to figure there is nothing behind it and they are going to kick your little rear end, number one. Number two,” and then I’ll never forget this. Here I am, thirty-five years later, “You don’t know how good you could be. You don’t know how good you could be. But your mouth will get you in trouble and you’ll never find out.”
The power of words. At a time when I was looking for a role model, at a time when I needed someone to speak into my life, those words sent me on the most obsessive-compulsive journey toward proving myself in basketball that you have ever seen! And kept me out of a lot of negative things.
Our tongue is a small but powerful instrument to institute major changes in our lives.
Let me give you another picture. Everyone, when your kids are born, God has a blueprint, from the womb. And some kids, they are born, and I had one that we would take him out in public, he would wave a strangers, laugh, giggle, the life of the party. I had one that she came out crying and was crying for the first several years ever since. You know?
But it was just her personality. The glass is always half empty. She was just negative. And as she got older, then it began to come out of her mouth. And no matter what, whatever you were eating, “I don’t like that.” Whatever it was this. It was just negative, negative, negative, complain, complain, complain.
And pretty soon, Theresa and I are getting concerned, and more than just childhood. And so we thought, We have to help her. And so we came up with a little plan. And it was also one of those times where I have an unusual family where all my kids are about six or six and a half years apart. And there is a little window when one is about thirteen and the other is about seven. They, like, hate each other’s guts. I’ve seen it happen three times.
And so you’re at the dinner table and one person says one thing and they don’t even get it out of their mouth and the other person goes, “[unintelligible yelling].” And they go, “[unintelligible yelling].” You know? It was terrible.
And so Theresa and I came up with this plan. I got a jar and I decided that only good things were going to come out of our mouths. And I said, “Annie, I know your brother is picking on you some, but you know what? What you say all the time. When you say something that is unkind, whining, or complaining,” I started out with a nickel. Her allowance was only, like, a buck back then or something.
And then I moved to a dime. Then it was a quarter. I remember at one point, like, the seventh time in one meal, “Annie, go to your room, get fifty cents, put it in the jar.” And then we took verses and she began to memorize verses about the use of her tongue.
And about beginning to renew her mind and thinking about how she would choose to view things. And so negative reinforcements over here and then if she ever said anything positive, Theresa and I would high-five each other. “Oh, Annie! Way to go, honey! We’re so proud of you.”
And we went for about a year and a half where, I mean, our missions giving really went up. We’d just take that jar and we would pour it in, give it away.
When her tongue changed, her life changed. Because, see, what her tongue was revealing was that when she saw anything, it was always half empty. When she evaluated anything, she was always critical and negative. And that’s a habit pattern. That’s a mental habit pattern. And that had to be broken.
But the way to break it, as the tongue goes, so goes the life. If you want to see radical change, you must redirect your tongue. The most vivid example I have ever seen of this in my life, you know how it is when you are attracted to someone? I can say this, my wife gave me permission.
And when you’re in love, everything is positive, positive, positive. And then you get married and then after six months it’s like, Wow! This person sure has changed. Well, I started listening to my wife talk, “I can’t do that. Oh, I don’t want to do that. Well, they wouldn’t want me. Oh, I would never do that. Oh, I’m not a very good person. Oh, no one likes me.”
And it was like her words, all the time. And I’m thinking, I’m biased, okay, I think she is wonderful, kind, godly, beautiful. And she’s got all this self-talk about, I’m not worthwhile, I don’t like me, no one could like me, I don’t bring anything to the table, I’m not gifted, I’m not smart, I’m not kind, I’m not godly. It’s, I’m not, not, not, not, not. It kept her from taking any kind of steps.
And I’m scratching my head and so I’m trying so, as men, we are going to fix things, right? So I tell her all the right stuff. “No, honey, you’re beautiful and you’re talented and you ought to try this and you ought to try that.”
It was like, guys, have you ever had this? BBs off the old tank. Bing! Bing! Bing! And I would do this for a couple of years and I’m thinking, What my wife’s words are telling me: she, her soul, she doesn’t like her. A negative self-image would be a kind way to say it. She didn’t like her.
I did a little research and I found out all the reasons why. And she had been through a lot of things that had formed an opinion where she didn’t think she was valuable, worthwhile, or people could ever like her or care about her.
And after we got a little counseling, because it affected our marriage, then I will never forget, for about two years, in fact, I still have the cards and I have them on a little list. My wife began to change her speech and when she changed her speech, see, what happens is, to change your speech you have to renew your mind.
And when you renew your mind, then your heart begins to change. And when your heart begins to change, your speech changes. And things like this, she had about twenty or thirty 3x5 cards. And on one side of the card it would say, “Misbelief,” and something like this: I need other people’s approval in order to be happy. And then there is a big, bold, “STOP,” and she would say it out loud.
And then she would flip it over, “Truth.” I want people’s approval of me, but I don’t need it. With God’s approval I am no longer compelled to earn love and acceptance. I am free to be me.
Second one: If others dislike me, I am bound to be less happy. Well, she had a lot of people take her through some hard times. “STOP.” The truth: I want people to like me but I don’t need for them to do so. I am at this moment loved and accepted by God. His love for me is what I need and I have. And she had about thirty of these.
And it was hard for her and so as we went down this journey I, early in the morning and each night we would sit on the couch and she would say them out loud. And I’m thinking I’m really helping her, except I’m starting to listen to these realizing, I think I need these more than she does! Because since we are desperately insecure, some people learn to withdraw from the pain and some people learn to be strong and outward and verbose to cover the pain.
When my wife changed her speech by renewing her mind, as your tongue goes, so goes your life. Do you get it? Do you realize what a powerful tool this is?
Now, very carefully, it is a powerful tool for good but the tongue is not neutral. Jeremiah said, “The heart,” down deep, “the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked.” And so the tongue is not a neutral tool. It does reveal, it’s the window of our soul. But the tongue, in and of itself, reveals our heart.
And so now James is going to say, in the next section of verses, notice what he says here. He is going to say that the tongue, there is a warning, is not only powerful, but a dangerous and formidable foe.
As I read this, notice that he is going to do a little bit of a shift. And what he is going to do is talk about the tongue but as he talks about the tongue, he is really giving reference to the heart, reference to the heart.
He is saying, “This is the evidence of what is down deep in the human heart.” Follow along. It says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire,” and then notice, it’s an apposition, “a world of evil among the parts of the body.” That’s the tongue, in reference to the heart. “It corrupts the whole person,” in other words, the tongue, it impacts your whole life, “it sets the whole course of his life on fire, and it itself is set on fire by hell.”
This is that New Testament word, Gehenna. And it was a slang word. It was a place where, in the Old Testament times, the god Moloch was the god of fire and people would bring their children and sacrifice their children to the god of Moloch in this fire.
Later on, it became a dump heap outside of Jerusalem and because people were burning stuff, it would smolder and it was burning all the time. And so it was a slang term, even Jesus used Gehenna to talk about, in reference to, the final fire.
And so it became the word, hell. And what does it say about the tongue here? “It is set on fire by hell,” intrinsically, in our hearts, this evil, born as fallen people. And then he makes the comparison in verse 7. “All kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.” That means, no man, in and of yourself. No person, by your own human strength, self-effort, and power can tame the tongue.
And then notice these last two references, descriptive. “It is a restless evil,” the Greek word means, ready to break out at any time. Have you ever had that experience? Have you ever found yourself, something blurt out of your mouth and as soon as it comes out you wound people and then you go, Oh my gosh. And you just wonder, Where did that come from? It’s a reflection of your heart. It’s a reflection of my heart.
Not only is it a restless evil, “It is full of deadly poison.” And this word, literally, is snake venom. The tongue is a verbal arsonist. The tongue is a murderer. In the recesses of my heart and in the recesses of your heart and it comes out of our tongues, few things in all the world can do more damage.
Notice the little phrase up there, “What a great forest is set on fire by a small spark,” we are back to the power of the tongue. I remember reading in the mid-eighties; a guy had lit a cigarette and threw a match out. Six hundred, six hundred miles of forest – prime, pristine forest – was burned down by one match.
Six hundred miles! Do you get the point? One little word can have devastating effects. Devastating effects.
Few things does the Bible speak more strongly about. Yes, the tongue is the window of our soul. Yes, as the tongue goes, so goes the body. But it is a powerful and formidable foe. Few things does the Scripture warn us as strongly about as our tongues.
The book of Proverbs has an interesting little line. It says there are seven things that God hates. That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? Just to know the God of the universe, all that He has made, His character, when He lists them in order there are seven things that He hates. The first thing that He hates? Haughty eyes. God is always against arrogance.
You know the next thing He hates? Lying lips. A lack of integrity. When what comes out of our mouth isn’t true.