When we talk about the use of the tongue, it makes sense to talk about gossip. We all have a vague idea that gossip involves telling others about things that we ought not to share. We understand gossip to involve things like whispering, rumors, slander, but sometimes we are a little unsure about when we cross the line into Gossip.
Is it not Gossip simply because the information is true? Is it not gossip if you share information so that your audience know how to pray better?
Many passages talk about gossip and its “sister”, slander which give us some good clues. If the passage does not say “gossip”, it will use the word “slander”. Read the following passages:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (Rom 1:29-30)
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish–that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 2Co 12:20)
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (1Ti 3:11)
Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. (1Ti 5:13)
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (2Ti 3:2-3)
We can learn about Gossip from the company it keeps. These passages show that gossip associates with those who refuse to have God in their knowledge, it is accompanied by slander, malice, idleness, and inappropriate conversation. Who wants to associate with that? Birds of a feather, flock together and we should avoid this particular group of birds.
Of course, not every negative communication is gossip and that leads to some of the confusion. In the following passage, you clearly see negative information was communicated to someone else (Paul) when others were not present:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (1Co 1:10-11)
In the following posts, I will offer definitions of gossip, explain why the above passage is not an example of gossip, and mention some “not so hypothetical” situations of gossip. However, if you would like to hear a sermon about gossip, here is a link to one which you can listen to.
Question: What normal conversations have you heard that were actually gossip?
This post is not to try and tell you what gossip is, the purpose is to ASK what gossip is. I want your definition. When you read this, please take a moment and jot down a comment, even if it is half a thought. I am going to be preaching a sermon (or two) on gossip and want to see what others think about it.
Let me start with this: In First Corinthians, Paul starts off telling the Corinthians that he has heard bad things about them and he names Chloe’s house as the source of that information. Question: Why was that not gossip?
No, I am not accusing Paul of gossip. I am convinced that it was not and have my thoughts on why but would like yours.
Lord willing, in a few weeks, I will have a lesson together and yes, I will share! 🙂
Thanks in advance for any comments left here or on Facebook.
This post by Steve Higginbottham is well worth reading and sharing. James, indeed, would have taken the brethren to task for an uncontrolled Facebook comments had he written in this century. Happy Reading.
Imagine you desire to run a marathon, set the goal of finishing the marathon, learn what it takes to train for the marathon and then…don’t put any of it into practice or keep hitting the snooze button! How much closer are you going to get to training for the marathon? Well, of course you are not getting closer.
Activity or practice of what you learn is an essential part of training. In a marathon situation, you practice setting a pace, breathing correctly, even perhaps how to grab a drink from a refreshment stand, drinking a little bit and pouring the rest over your head (I suppose). The point is, if you don’t put your knowledge into practice, it will not benefit you.
James is a classic epistle for talking about putting one’s knowledge into action in the spiritual realm. You learn more patience as you go through the trials than by watching other people do so. You learn more by comforting other people going through those trials than by reading about the ‘right thing to say’. As Job suffered through the trials Satan threw at him, he relied on what he knew about God and his years of experience to keep himself from sinning.
David, in facing Goliath, had previous experience in facing threats which helped prepare him for that situation. In all of it, he credited God with seeing him through. As God saw David through a fight with the lion and the bear, God will help us with the biggest lion of all. Satan is a roaring lion out to devour whoever he can. Activity helps us in our training.
Is attending church services such an activity? Is reading your Bible such an activity? Will these help you become more godly? The truth is, no godly Christian would fail attend church services or read their Bible, but how mature you are will make a difference to the answer. A newborn Christian will most certainly get trained in godliness by attending services but, as you mature, you need to be sure that you are not just a pew-warmer 5 years later. Reading your Bible is always going to move your forward, as long as you do not simply read the same passages over and over and fail to go a little deeper into the text. Apparently those to whom Hebrews was written has such a problem:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14 ESV)
This audience of God’s people missed out (as did we) on an opportunity to learn more about Melchizedek because they were dull of hearing when they should have been teachers. They had reverted back to milk and they did not have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice. In other words, no activity!
Don’t let the fear of mistakes stop you, you simply have to put what you have learned into action. If you talk to much, practice listening more. Make it a priority and a prayer item. If you use foul language, be aware of the times your react like that and, either avoid those situations, or pay attention to your actions so you can conquer the reaction and replace it with an appropriate response.
We don’t get to Heaven by being perfect (or at least perfect in ourselves) but as we add a virtue like godliness to our life, we become more like our Lord and assure ourselves of an entrance into that kingdom.
What activities help you exercise yourself toward godliness?
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. (Jas 3:8-12)
Perhaps this should be a warning to us. I honestly have to ask if it the case that man cannot tame the tongue or chooses not to tame the tongue. It probably makes little difference in the long run; the fact is that we need to bring even the tongue under control and by doing so, we bring ourselves under control.
God’s word offers us many instructions on the proper use of the tongue. We, of course, have to be willing to put it into practice. Again, we see the need to have action in our walk of faith. We need to bring the “want to” into line with The Faith. “So speak and so act as those to be judged by a law of liberty.” (James 2:12)
That the tongue is full of poison and can cause lots of destruction was discussed in the last post. In this one, James gives us an example of the characteristics that the tongue has: Inconsistency, hypocrisy and even a lack of love.
Here James gives us an example of a great truth: You cannot Love God if you do not love your neighbor. This time he shows it by the improper use of the tongue. Who is your fellow man? A soul created in the image of God. In the case of those who are Christians, he is a saved soul and an heir of the promises of God (2:5), in the case of the unsaved; he is a lost soul in need of the Gospel (words of Good news-not curses).
James is astonished. All this comes from the same mouth: Blessings and Cursings? A question you might hear asked after a profanity laced tirade is “Do you kiss your wife with that mouth?” or something like it. James says these things “ought not” to be. “Ought” carries with it idea of moral requirements. Phrases like ‘speaking out of both sides of your mouth” or “forked tongue” all hold the idea of a tongue that says one thing one time and different the next time.
Even nature shows this principle. In Ashland, Oregon there is a park called Lithia. There are drinking fountains there that tap into the sulfur/mineral water at Lithia Park. When I lived there during my 3rd grade school year, I would go there for a drink (it was a novelty) and the water was always awful. Every time I tried it, it tasted the same-an awful mineral taste. It never changed. You couldn’t go one day and get sweet refreshing cool water and the next day rancid, sulfur tasting water.
After 20 years, I went back for a visit. I went to try the water (the inner child calling I suppose) and guess what? It was just as awful. It hadn’t changed. In the same manner, you don’t go out to the grape vines and pick figs, nor collect olives off of a fig tree.
What God has created has a purpose. The tongue was created by God and has a purpose too. When used for its purpose God receives Glory. Things that are good to do with the tongue are praise God, bless others, encourage others and speak words of grace seasoned with salt. Speaking truth in love is what we are supposed to do. We are to speak in the name of the Lord, speak forth the oracles of God.
When things are not used for the purpose God made them problem result. In the case of the tongue, we have corrupted it’s purpose. We ought not to turn what God has meant to be used for good into a tool for tearing people down: Gossips, slanders, curses, words that tear down and don’t build up. Paul tells us
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Col 3:8-9)
Question: Since James started out this chapter by talking about teachers, how does this section of tongue use apply to them?
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 creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (Jas 3:5-8)
Forest fires are started with very small fires. It doesn’t take a lot to ignite fuel that is there and in some cases fuel is not prone to burn. Fire is an interesting entity. I do not have the experience of being a fire fighter but I am told that fire creates its own weather. Things change inside of a fire and even once it appears to be out, it can flair up again.
Understanding that it doesn’t take much to get a forest fire going helps us understand James’ metaphor (or is it an “analogy”) that the tongue is a fire. The ability of the tongue to set ablaze a great ‘forest’ is not one that we have to much doubt about. Experience itself, will confirm by the time you are 12 that if you use your tongue for gossip or slander that you can create a whole world of hurt, not just for yourself but for others.
Gossip can stir up many problems and even separate the best of friends. (Prov 16:28) Those that gossip become involved in saying things that they ought not to say. (I tim 5:13) The trouble with Gossip is that it is so hard to define. “But it’s true!” says the Gossip. However, “true” doesn’t make it “not gossip” nor does it make it tame. Great problems are caused that way.
James says the tongue is a world of unrighteousness. A “world” of unrighteousness! Think about that. In Matthew 15:18-20 shows us that the mouth pulls things out of our heart. That heart, is ours, no one can ‘see’ it (save God) and within that heart exist all sorts of things: evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. That is quite a list! If it is true that each mind is a world, then James has just said ours is full of unrighteousness.
I should note that I don’t think that James is saying that our world is totally filled with unrighteous, obviously being washing in Christ sanctifies us, but as we all know, the temptations still continue, originating from our own desires and we better not use our tongue to say “God is tempting me.” (1:13f) It is when the tongue is not managed that we create the largest problems.
James also says that the tongue is set on fire by Hell. I think James is using this, also as a metaphor for the temptations that we face; temptations that we properly associate with demons. How many times have we spoken out of wrath or envy or pride? More times than I care to count!
Controlling the tongue is not an easy thing to do. In fact, we have better luck taming wild animals that can tear us limb from limb than we do the tongue which can cut a person to shreds in a moment! Once said, it can’t be taken back. The poison that a tongue can unleash will spread and not only creates enemies but destroys friendships.
When I think about the tongue of man, I can’t help but compare it to the tongue of God. God spoke and the world came into existence. Our words also create a world. When you speak well to friends, spouses, family your world is at peace, when you don’t…Well, we have all seen THAT family!
Question: In regards to Gossip, does anyone have a good definition that they like?
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! (Jas 3:5)
We all remember the song we learned or taught to kids in Sunday School. “oh be careful little hands what you do” and one of those verses says “Oh, be careful little mouth, what you say!” This verse may well have been inspired by this section in James!
So James has just explained how the small rudder or small bridle is able to control such force of strength in the horse or the wind, allowing the driver to go in the direction that he wants to go. I think it would be worth putting out the thought that we are all heading in some direction. It could be Heaven, it could be Hell or it could be ‘in circles’. (which is the same thing as NOT heading toward Heaven). James says the tongue is a big part of that direction.
It is small and, really, it is. While other parts of our body are easily seen, the tongue hides away. Unless one opens his mouth, it doesn’t say anything. However, it can say so many things and as James points out, it boasts of great things. I understand this use of the word ‘tongue’ to refer to what we say, how we speak, and really that all gets back to our heart because the mouth speaks what is in the heart. (Mt 15:18) James wants to warn them of the trouble you get into by boasting. Prov 21:23 says “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble”
Great boasters of the Bible would include Lamech (Gen 4), Goliath (I sam 17), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 6), Jezebel (I kings 19), Haman (Esther), Korah (Num 16) and who can forget the little horn of Daniel 7 or Rev 13? Indeed, we can point to sinners and rebellious ones who turn their backs on God, boasting in their own abilities but what about those other great boasters!
Peter (Mt 26:33), Samson (Judges 16:20), Jephthah (Judges 11:30), and Moses (Num 20:10) represent the other side of the equation, using their mouth to promise things or say things that they had no ability to fulfill. These, who would be followers of God and were men of faith, (all of them are mentioned in Hebrews 11-the faith all of fame) yet their tongue got them into trouble and brought misery into their life. Moses, in particular, was denied entrance into the promised land. Ouch!
“I am a great teacher” some may be tempted to say. Others boast in those who they follow. (I cor 1) Some boast in the future (James will talk about his later) saying “I will be profitable”. Some boasted that they had faith (James 2:18) All of these things are vanity and puffing up your own self.
Boasting in the things which you say you have, or which you say you can do, or will do, or even did do is truly a vanity. James has already said in Chapter one that the poor should boast in their exaltation (not that it is of themselves but of the Lord) and the rich should boast in their humiliation (because only the humble rich man will ever see Heaven. Knowing that your riches don’t count is a big step). And Paul exemplifies this principle of not boasting in vain things when he says that he forgets what is behind and presses forward, being too busy reaching the prize in Jesus to boast of his own accomplishments.
In applying this, we can once again go back to chapter one and this time, verse 19 “let a man be quick to hear and slow to speak…”
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. (Jas 3:2-4)
Have you ever just been walking along and suddenly you seem to have tripped over air? It can be embarrassing to say the least. You look around and hope no one saw, or if they did that they may have a courtesy to not say anything (i.e. laugh out loud). Slips like that will happen from time to time and we are often left wondering why it happened.
When it comes to the tongue, those trips “over air” can be a bit more damaging. While I am not a horse rider or a boat navigator, the analogy that James uses should be easy to understand: Horses and boats are both large and yet they are controlled by a driver. The strength of a horse, the strength of the winds which move the boat can be brought under control of the driver by use of a bridle or rudder. When brought under control, the horse or boat can be moved in the direction that the driver wishes to go.
The tongue of a man is a very small instrument too. Yet, it is able to drive a person in many different directions. Control of the tongue is always a good thing. In fact, even a fool who doesn’t speak will be thought to be wise, Solomon tells us. How many politicians have been brought low by the use of the tongue? A comment that was made which reveals the candidates heart will sometimes cost a campaign.
Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. (Matthew 15:18) To me, this means that when a person makes jokes that are inappropriate, crude language, snide remarks, criticisms that are unkind, judgments that are unrighteous, what they are revealing is their heart. These are the things that defile a man.
To defile something is to make it unholy, stain it, reduce its value, or make it unclean. The last time we saw “defile” it was back at the end of chapter one. Again, the context was the tongue and a clear implication is that the unbridled tongue will not result in undefiled religion; rather it will reveal the defilements for all to see.
No wonder James doesn’t want many of us to be teachers!
Look at the charge that was given to Timothy. Paul says:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:3-7)
Notice how much the tongue is in use here. Some of it is for Timothy such as charging some not to teach a different doctrine. He will have to speak to tell them that. Most of the phrases that involve the togue are those that use it wongly: different doctrinces, vain discussions, confident assertions.
However, Timothy in his talking is aiming in a specific direction: Love. This implies to me that Timothy would have to have control over what he said, how he said it, and probably even when he said it in order to be sure that he arrived where he was supposed to be. As you read the letter to the young evangelist, you will see many opportunities for Timothy’s tongue to be used and need for its control.
As I said in a previous post we need to treat our tongues like a horse, bridle it!
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Even though we are looking at this book slowly, one verse or two at a time, the larger context cannot be forgotten. In the book of James, this is not the first time, nor that last, that he counsels on the speech of a Christian. Here, it is very definite, that he is taking seriously the connection between what a person says and the worth of his religion. A person can THINK that he is religious and still have that religion be worthless based on how he speaks.
In Matthew 6, Jesus said that the prayers (speaking) of the Pharisees were of no value in their relationship to God. In fact, one parable (Luke 18) in the NKJV the Pharisee is said to pray ‘thus with himself” and while the context means that he was standing off by himself, the joining of those words can leave the impression that he prayed by himself, to himself and not really to God. Worthless speech indeed. He also in Matthew 6 warns against empty phrases or vain repetitions which the Gentiles use.
James talks about an unbridled tongue and if you look back to the preceding verses we again might see some examples of when a tongue needs to be bridled:
- Asking of God, but in faith, according to His will v5
- Poor brothers who need to boast in exhalation v9
- Rich brothers who need to boast in humiliation v10
- During temptations-so that he doesn’t say “I am tempted by God” v13
- As he hears the word that can save his soul-so that he doesn’t erupt in anger v 19
In addition to the previous verses in which speech is indicated or implied, James will have much more to say on the use of the tongue starting in chapter 3.
We see then, that while James has illustrated in verses 22-25 that actions (hearing with the doing) are important, speech is equally so. We might not think of speech as important but it is also type of action. A person’s speech can invalidate his religion. Again, James says “do not be deceived” and isn’t that just the way with us. We fall so easily into a ‘that’s not so bad’ mentality.
This has to go beyond taking the Lord’s name in vain. Or, maybe we don’t understand what a vain use of God’s name is. We all recognize that profanity with the name of the Lord is wrong. However, I would suggest to you that calling out to God in an unserious way is just as bad. I refer, of course, to those who, in their excitement use ‘God’ as if it some expression of Joy.
While it could be an expression of joy (cf Jn. 20:28), it is not the meaning given when someone shouts out “Oh my–” or abbreviates it “OM-!” in a text message.
Bridling the tongue in both sad times and joyous times is still an essential part of the Christian life. While we DO things that let our faith shine forth, we also need to SPEAK in a way that lets our faith shine forth. Hebrews 11:14 says that there is a speech that let’s people know we belong to the world above. I would also suggest that “Lord willing” is a good phrase that should grace the Christian’s tongue quiet often.
Let us not speak lies or half-truths, let us be kind in our words and not cutting with clever phrases. Let there be no filthiness or foolish talking, or crude jokes, or innuendos but rather let there thanksgiving. (see Eph 5:1-6) I once had a roommate who, while professing to be a Christian (God knows if he was) insisted in using what he called ‘Man language’ (as opposed to the innocent language of boys). I reject that premise. I think James would too.
Cursing men and praising God with the same tongue? My brethren, these things ought not to be so.