James Chapter 3
We continue our series on the book of James: "Practical Christianity”, written, we believe, by the brother of Jesus.
For Chapters 1 and 2, the themes have been on action not words, and works as an output of faith.
Don’t just listen but do. Faith without works is meaningless.
Today the key theme is the tongue and the power of the spoken word, for good and for bad.
It’s power to bless and to curse, to build up and to strike down.
I find it somewhat encouraging that our Bible includes a book written by the brother of Jesus, because there is nowhere where words are used more carelessly that in the home and amidst those you live alongside day to day.
We often forget that Jesus was fully human, with all that that brought. He was fully God, but also fully human. He had to grow up in a family with all the compromise that that involves.
Yes, he was the first born, yes, born in a stable in extra-ordinary circumstances, and yes, to a loving mother and father, but it wasn’t long before that only child had others to learn to live with and to share his parents love and time with.
In Matthew 13, in Nazareth, the question was asked of the man teaching before them, "isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with him?”
Wow, that sounds like a big family.
And it sounds like they all turned out on that occasion to listen to what he was preaching in the local synagogue. He had just come back to Nazareth from ministering in the surrounding area.
He had chosen his team of twelve, spent time with them, sent them out to preach in their own right, and returned home – perhaps for a bit of rest, perhaps to see his family, perhaps just because he felt a call to go back there – but there he was back at home.
Jesus grew up in a big family. Many brothers and sisters. And living in big family can be a lot of fun, but it’s also challenging.
We have just had a few days with all of our children back together again – it certainly changes the speed of life when you have a family of six back together when at least two of them are used to living on their own, in their own space, without a care for anyone...
With our four children, there have been periods when two struggle to get on, they just rub each other the wrong way – invariably one just has a problem with the other; over time that moves on and a different combination connects and another clashes. One struggles with the achievement of another, one is irritated by the habits of another, but how wonderful it is when you see them get on with each other and move on from the insecurities and irritations that caused that friction.
And in that dynamic, it’s the words that are the worst. They cut to the bone sometimes. "you’re so stupid”, "what have you done to your hair?”, "what have you done to your face?”, "when did you last wash?”, "why are you spending time with so and so?”, "I hate you!”.
And sometimes we parents are no better in our turn of phrase: "I don’t know why I bother”, "Sort it out yourself”, "I give up”.
And there have been times when I have had to repeatedly say to one: "if you can’t say anything nice, then say nothing at all”.
The self-discipline of saying nothing is fundamental for us all to learn. It takes a long time to learn to be quiet.
James 3, is all about the damage that our tongue can do to others. In fact, not just to others, but to ourselves. When all we look to do is criticise others, our own hearts turn bad. When our mind-set is to encourage, our whole outlook on life becomes more positive. A pattern repeated creates a habit, and an embedded characteristic. But we have a choice in which we way we develop.
Words can be up-building and positive; they can be a source of life. Sharing and discussing things in the light can dramatically shape outcomes, for the better.
One thing we find is that rather than us as parents arguing with a child about how they have treated us or behaved in a situation, having that discussion in a safe but different environment, where a respected sibling can comment constructively really helps.
We need to constantly learn how to deal with situations and relationships. Doing this together openly often helps.
This morning, I want us to pause and just think, and perhaps challenge ourselves as to the use of our own language and the way in which we speak to those around us – yes, in our family situations – but with any close to us.
Think for a moment about this last week. Has someone upset you in the last days? What have you been criticised for? Who has put you down?
Has anyone complimented you this week? Has anyone said "well done”? Even if they haven’t said it, has someone expressed thanks and love to you?
Turning the table, who have you encouraged and thanked this week? Who have you seen light up and smile as a result of your words?
Who have you cut down, torn apart, or just taken a cheap shot at? Who have you hurt? Who have you seen crumble in front of you? Who was too shocked to respond?
Words are powerful aren’t they? The power to build up and the power to take down.
Do you remember the children’s rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. It’s a phrase of defiance, shouting out against damage, but it’s not true. Names can hurt and bruise far more than sticks or stones.
There is a particular caution in James 3:9: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness”.
And today particularly, it’s not just spoken words; it’s the written word – far more than ever before. And it is written word that is thrown out often with even less thought than the spoken word. A rash text response – in anger, perhaps in love – but without due care. And it becomes permanent. Worse, not just permanent, and private, but permanent and public.
So today is a pause. Let’s take stock. Let’s look at ourselves. And let’s change the way we communicate to that which is respectful, loving, honourable, and where we have fewer regrets.
In fact, as a practical start, at the end of the service today let’s offer praise to one another, not curses. Seize the opportunity to go to someone and encourage them. Thank them for something you have failed to thank them for before, tell them how good they are at what they do, tell them how wonderfully they sing, teach, make coffee, or just laugh; bless them for their resilience in such a tough, tough situation.
Don’t say things for the sake of it though, and don’t blow hot air – if there is nothing to say then don’t say it – but there is a fundamental problem if we all draw blanks.
Easy so far. But…
My advice is all very well in a situation where people are open to listen and receive, but what about those situations which are just not like that.
- you work with someone who is intolerable
- you live with someone who you find impossibly distant
- you cannot bring yourself to re-engage with your parent, your sibling, your old friend – it hurts too much
- you can’t find the courage to make the first step
- or you have tried and it goes nowhere
I want us to explore to different practical steps to the situations we find ourselves in (1) seeking wisdom (2) seeking reconciliation
The last part of James 3 is all about wisdom. Acting wisely and the fruit that this bears.
The Bible is underpinned with the fundamental of getting wisdom; of seeking wisdom from God; a divine learning and inspiration. This becomes a human quality too, refined over time – exhibited by sound judgement.
I love the phrases in Proverbs 3:
"My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgement and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. "
I’d encourage you to read the whole of Proverbs 3, it reads as a letter from a caring parent to a child, with the knowledge of a life well-lived behind it.
How do we gain wisdom?
James 1v5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Ask God, pray to the Father, that by his Holy Spirit he will show you the way and the words to handle a situation.
How can we know our planned steps or actions are the right ones?
James 3 concludes: "..the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”
Making peace is a sermon series in itself, but I want to address one really important element this morning.
It may be that as we have been sitting here, you are acutely aware of some terrible words you have said to someone. Perhaps a brutal email or text you have sent. It wounded. Perhaps the words even destroyed a relationship. It sits on you heavily.
Our God is in the business of reconciliation, of renewal. He can heal and restore.
There may be a simple solution to what is weighing on you. It may be a simple apology that needs to be made. Do it. Don’t let it fester any more. Go to that person, or telephone them, or drop them an email or a card. Make peace. Do what you can to reconcile.
It may be that things are more complex. In that case talk to one of us. We have a prayer team here after every service. It’s not just for prayer, it’s for talking and sharing. Come and sit and start to work through what has happened. Let’s seek wisdom together.
Getting totally practical, let’s commit together to fix the way we speak, to relearn and create new good habits.
And let’s start straight after the service, before we leave the building. Let’s speak words of encouragement, words to build and encourage, to all of those around us.
Think about each of the four example situations under "experience”. What can you thank God for in each of those experiences? Which of those experiences and the relationships behind them do you need God’s help in – either to be mended by him or to learn how to better interact with that person in the future?
How have you been affirmed or blessed by someone's words recently? How do you/could you be more intentional in blessing others with your words?
Read afresh the whole of the book of James, but constantly asking yourself, what do I need to learn from this and how should I be changing the way I behave?