AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - October 30, 2005
TONGUE, TRUTH AND LOVE - JAMES 3
Faith then works because it is alive. First in its life it first freely finds justification by faith, such as Abraham was granted by divine, eternal and unconditional fiat (Genesis 12, and 17); and then it sets about working out its own salvation with fear and trembling, God working both to will and to do through it (Phil. 2). Confidence grows by resting in His faith, and obeying Him with godly fear.
Indeed, in what sort of ways does a regenerated life do this ? In particular, James admonishes that little member, the tongue. Is it a tongue of truth, of peace, of grace and goodness, or does it have something very different to express ? If it is not controlled, then it is comparable to a ship's rudder, wrongly turned, bringing devastation on all. Little, it is not lord; little however, it can be robust for ruin. Hence teachers, needing to use it much, must have great stringency in utterance.
We find the opposite as the Age develops in multitudes of churches. In one recently, it is reported that lesbians (excluded like unrepentant adulterers from the kingdom of heaven - I Corinthians 5-6), had a communion service with bread and honey. Blood appears to have been irrelevant, and there may be some truth in that in such a case, since there is a certain fiery prospect for those who "trampled the Son of God under foot, counted the blood of the covenant, by which they were set apart, a common thing and insulted the Spirit of grace"! (Hebrews 10:29). This is a symbol of licence. If anyone wants to flirt, and flit about with the faith, then be warned: do not do this with the gospel and grace of God. Either take it or leave it; but to play with it is like playing with a bushfire.
SHIPS, HORSES AND FIRES
If you take it, however, there is a wise way for the tongue. Horses by bits may be turned as to their whole body; so by a tongue is the whole life changed! How many divorce cases and alienations come because undisciplined words of haughty passion, carnal loathing, impatient selfishness and flashing temper, allied to pride and unrepentance, led to futile insult and reviling again, sundering of sympathies, appalled hearts, angry disdain and elevated hauteur. This then led into separation and severance of the love-nest for children: dropped from any height to any ground below!
Tongues express words, and words hearts! Quite often your pastor is slandered; but it is not for oneself one feels concern, since words of men do not create truth. For the soul sunken in darkness, they merely comment on that darkness. Such lies are for those whose tongues show, like an X-ray, the pitiable depravities of their own hearts, asking for judgment, clamouring for it!
If horses, in their fiery ways, can be turned by a bit, so can a life be turned by a tongue. If for good, then first the heart needs to be a home for peace and wisdom, so that such principles and qualities might be expressed! Indeed, life is likened to a ship with the little rudder the very image of the tongue, able to plunge it to reefs or to calm waters.
The tongue is the flame of the spirit, and James makes of it, in its carnal usage, a cosmos of iniquity, a firebug for the track of nature, its flames engendered by hell itself.
Its lusty appetite for self-fulfilment and autonomy, as if it ruled and were subject to none, is untamed fire; and though beasts may be tamed by a bit, man in sin, open to violence, readily bucks about like a maddened bull of vehement desire. So is a free tongue, not merely vigorous in trespass, like a rampaging tiger, but poisonous like a shimmering serpent, slithery and subtle.
Sweet and Bitter Springs
Men with that same little member bless God and curse their fellow men. Yet they too are made in the image of God, so that Paul's injunction (Romans 12:12-16), to bless and not to curse is more to the point: vengeance is MINE! says the Lord (Romans 12:19-20). We should be:
"Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in
prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality."
"Bless them which persecute you: bless, and do not curse. Rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.”
It is like a spring: either it has bitter or sweet water. How then is the tongue, a spring from the heart, to give now bitter waters, repulsive, horrid, but then sweet ones. Is a man to be more variable than this, as if unable to have integrity, with unhealed heart and suppurating mind, flaying the air with rotten words!
BITTER STRIFE AND PURE, PEACEABLE WISDOM
In fact, how beautiful it is to be peaceable, wise and understanding, not soon angry; and how pitiably polluted it is to have envy, self-seeking, plausible striving for appearances! It is useless to pretend you are religious if such self-centred words flow like bitter spring water into the streams of life, from you! Rather does celestial wisdom, poured forth from above, have qualities of being readily entreated, pure and peaceable, gentle, willing to yield. Of mercy, it is a good supply, of fairness a favoured site, of sincerity a valued testimony (cf. James 3:13,17).
Obviously, from the very tenor of James' own words, this personal meekness does not mean being supple about salvation, or lacking in boldness (as was far from the example of Peter and John in Acts 3-5), for the faith. Will one bring a watering can when a house is on fire, or will one not rather level the full-pressure hose!
It is not the presence of boldness and force, which James deplores, but its descent into selfish motivation and mere carnal carnage. When truth requires, then being ready to yield for your own part (slapped on one cheek, present the other - mere insults), is no more to the point. What you yield is your self, not your Saviour. Casting down imaginations against HIM, is one of the chief thrusts of both James and Paul (cf. II Cor. 10:5), the latter often debating in synagogues, and having to rebuke spiritual sloth and perversity. II Cor. 12:20-13:5 is a prime apostolic example!
That vigorous testimony, however, is not for ambition or selfish advantage, but in order that the truth should not lack a living and shining testimony. At that, there is no need to deal with bitter personal terms, however vigorous the exposures of error. The love motivation and the peace intent are crucial; and the peace of Christ is the aim, which requires, as does a defective car, much to be done, that it may be rightly received! In this, James certainly does not spare! That is where James' FIRST requirement enters, concerning wisdom, that it be PURE. Giving the truth without fear and boldly is like cleaning up a scum filled lake; whereas contesting for merely personal reasons, with bitterness, is like pouring pollution into it. The pure and the godly, unpoisoned by merely personal upset: it is this that works for the glory of God, and workers in this task force are urgently needed for the sake of all, for the glory of God and the testimony of truth.