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About this series
Research tells us, and we see it played out every day, that the current culture is bearing down on the Church with such pressure that it's sometimes difficult to see how they're different. Taught by Chip's son, Pastor Ryan Ingram, Social Restoration looks at how it's possible for the Church of Jesus Christ to be IN the world, but not OF the world. Ryan provides practical, biblical solutions to how we can counter the cultural pressure and bring light, not heat, to a world that's, literally, falling apart.More from this series
And then we’ve got to ask, not only is it true? Is it helpful? But is it kind?
See, kindness actually addresses things for the good of the other person. Am I adding to the conversation? Am I building up? Am I helping? Is it kind? Not just like I’m being nice to you and I don’t want to address something but is it really kind to you? Is this going to be for your best? And then, finally, have I truly listened?
Friends, followers of Jesus, we have to become far better listeners than question-answerers.
I like how David Augsburger, I think that’s how you say his last name, said it. Here’s why this is so important. He said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” This is so important. Before I speak in, before I’m going to lean in, before I’m going to utter words, I’m going to go, “Have I listened? Have I really heard?” Not have I just figured out how to respond and what argument I have or what thoughts do I have, but I want to understand where you’re coming from.
See, social restoration, it requires of us that we lean in and we watch our words and we ask the questions: is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind? Or have I truly listened? And I want to talk about what’s at stake? Like, why do we have to be so careful with what we say?
And James actually is going to unpack how words are so powerful. That this would give us pause as we begin to engage with one another, as we begin to have dialogue with others we might disagree with. As we post.
Listen to what he says. He’s going to say that words are powerful. Now, we know that already, but we need to be reminded of it. He says, “We put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us. We can turn a whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.”
Here’s what he’s saying. He’s saying our words have directional force. Your words. My words have directional force. The same way a bit in a horse and a rudder to a boat – steers the horse, your words have directional force, both in your life and in other’s lives.
See, your words are powerful. Some of the words that we are saying to ourselves are directing the very course of your life. I’m no good. I’m a failure. I’ll just never make it. This is impossible. It has directional force.
And we have all experienced it. That someone’s words in our life has had directional force, hasn’t it? Maybe it was a coach that offered encouragement. Maybe it was a mentor who spoke in or a parent that surrounded you and the career path that you’re on was actually set in place by someone else’s words. And it has directional force, both good and for bad.
I was reminded of a friend of mine who was wrestling whether he wanted to start his company or not. He had this entrepreneurial spirit and we sat down and we had this conversation and it’s like, “Man, what’ the worst that can happen? You’re a really smart, gifted guy. You start this thing and it doesn’t work, you’re going to go get a new job. You’re young! Go for it!”
And he points back and he goes, “Ryan, that conversation was the tipping point for me to start this business.” See, your words, my words, they have directional force. We have to be careful because we’ve got to recognize our words have directional force.
The second thing he’s going to go from bit to horses. He’s going to say our words, and we know this, have destructive power that can do harm. He talks about how a little spark…
See, we think of our words, remember that definition of words as a communication by where the mind finds expression? Like, it’s just a little thing. It’s just a – I didn’t even mean it. It wasn’t that big of a deal. And James says, “In the same way that a spark can move and turn a whole forest onto fire. Our words can have the same impact. They actually can be so destructive, we have got to be so careful because we recognize it might have just been an off comment and it can really, really create damage.
I was thinking about this in my own life and I was having breakfast with a friend and we were talking about it and there’s obviously, I mean, when you start something there are lots of insecurities, fears, all these sort of things and we were talking about it. And he made this comment about my preaching and compared me to someone else. And it just cut me to the point where that conversation shaped the way I thought about my communication for years. I never felt good enough, every time I got up to speak I was desperately insecure feeling like I just didn’t have enough.
And so, then I started, instead of trying to communicate God’s Word, I was trying to get people to think well of me. Literally, years. One conversation and it wasn’t even something that he meant in that way, but it just pierced my heart and we have all had that before. And unfortunately, we have done that before to others. He says why we are to be so careful? Our words have directional force. Our words have destructive power.
And then he finally, he says, “Our words are very difficult to control.” In fact, he says, “We can tame animals, wild animals. And we have tamed all sorts of them. But you can’t tame the tongue.”
Notice what he says in James chapter 3, verse 7. He says, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Wow. Trying to underscore the damage. See, we don’t think a whole lot about this, but the damage that can be done.
See, our words, James would say, in and of ourselves and in our own strength, it’s not difficult, it’s actually impossible. We need the Spirit of God to transform us to be able to tame our tongue, not just our willpower. And they are difficult to control.
And they are powerful. So then, what do we do with them? How do we become a people that bring restoration and healing in the words that we have because they are powerful? And not destruction and harm?
Well, James is going to tell us first, we have to repent. Oh boy. I used the “R” word. Repent for the incongruity of your words. Notice what he says. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praises and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
We actually, the first step for you, the first step for me is we repent of our incongruity, the dissonance of where we sing songs, where we just worshipped and recognize that we yelled at our kids. Where we just worshipped, and we just talked about someone negatively. Where we just worshipped and on Monday, we just slam our boss or our coworker or our spouse or a friend or a roommate.
And we’ve got to repent and own ours. See, it’s easy to look at everybody else. It’s easy to go, like, look at what they are doing and how they are doing it. This is not the invitation for you to evaluate everybody else’s language. This is the invitation for you, that’s the reason I changed the pronoun. All the other ones were “our” and “we”. I changed it to “your” because it is for you, for me. Okay, we are going to repent and say, God, this is not okay. This is not right.
Years ago, there was a high-profile pastor that stepped out of his ministry and he was doing some things that I didn’t understand. And I remember sitting around a table with friends and we were talking about it. And me and another buddy who were in ministry, we were so critical of his decisions. We don’t know him. At that point, I had never met him. Didn’t know all the circumstances. And I just spoke so negatively and authoritative in that moment.
And I remember driving home from hanging out with my friends and my wife said to me, “Ryan, that was not right. The way you spoke about him and you don’t know.” And it was so convicting. And I had to repent of my own brokenness where I can praise God and preach the gospel and then cut down someone who is preaching the gospel. Friends, that should not be.
And I sent a text out to the friends and apologized and I asked for forgiveness. And the humor of God was a few months later, ended up doing and speaking at a conference with this person. It was just like God going like, See? Pay attention.
See, we have to repent. It begins right there. God, I’m sorry, because my words as I worship You, I cannot cut down any other human, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, like them or dislike them, they are Imago Dei. Image bearers of You. And so, I will not have incongruity. I will not have dissonance. I will not praise You and curse them. And so, God, would You do the work in me?
So, what do we do? We repent. And then we have to go to the root and address the fruit. This is what James says. He says, “Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives or a grape vine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” He’s going, “You’ve got to get to the root of the issue. If you don’t like the fruit, you don’t adjust externally.” And that’s what we try to do. We try to just put a muzzle on our lips of, like, “I’m going to try harder not to say this or say that.” He says, “No, no, no, no. Go to the root.” What’s the root? The heart. He’s actually talking about what Jesus talked about.
Luke chapter 6, verse 43, Jesus said, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick up grapes from briar bushes. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good. The evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil.” Now notice this, “For his mouth speaks from that which his heart is filled.”
You’ve got to go to the root. See, what we do is we go, “I just didn’t mean it. It slipped out.” Our words reveal what is in our heart. This is what Jesus is saying. This is what James is talking about. And if our words are cutting, if our words are critical, if our words are putting down, if our words have incongruity where we are worshipping God on one hand and we are putting down His image bearers on the other, he says you have to do heart work. God, it’s actually a heart issue. It’s not a words issue. It’s a heart issue.
That’s why social restoration requires followers of Jesus to do the heart work – the heart work, the work of the heart – to bring about redemptive social language. See, for us to be a people where our words bring healing instead of hurt, where our words are not bringing hatred or discord or divisiveness or animosity but where we are bringers of peace and justice and righteousness and grace. It begins in here, not out there.
See, we are wanting everything out there and we need to adjust that. And the invitation is: I’m going to repent for what the brokenness in my language and God, it is revealing something in my heart. And so, I am going to do the heart work. God, as David prayed, give me a clean heart, O God. A prayer that I pray so often is, God, would You make me a man after Your own heart? If You just study the Scriptures,
“Guard your heart above all else, for from it flows the wellspring of life.” The Scripture speaks immensely about your heart. God, give me an undivided heart. And as you do that, what will flow out is the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of peace, the fruit of hope, the fruit of life.
And Proverbs says this, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words are powerful. Jesus follower, your words are powerful. And we have the opportunity wherever we’re at, whether it’s online or in person, to bring life. And so, in this moment, where are you at? Where do you need to be? It’s not about other people and what they are saying and what they are posting. What about you?