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Home Sermons ‘Real Faith and our pattern of speech’ James 3:1-18 - Text & Audio

‘Real Faith and our pattern of speech’ James 3:1-18 - Text & Audio

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‘Real Faith and our pattern of speech’           James 3:1-18




David Calderwood

Audio Link 

The letter of James, originally written to Christians scattered around the Roman Empire, is equally relevantto you and me because it emphasises the inseparable link between what Christians are, and how we live. 


The link is simple, but important, and even more important to get right. Look at 1:18



People expect that children will have a strong family likeness, primarily because they have the genetic code of their parents. This is the premise of James’ letter.



Every Christian is born into God’s family, or verse 21, has the life-giving word of God implanted in them, effectively God’s character or DNA implanted into them. 



James’ picturepoints back to the first creation when God breathed life into the lifeless forms that were Adam and Eve, making them image-bearers, not only in theory, but practically displaying God’s glory, unity, and creative character as they lived in God’s world.



In this sense Christians are renewed image bearers and, therefore, the first-fruits of the new creation in Christ.So, we should expect every Christian to demonstrate a strong family likeness.



This link is really important to understand. James is not urging saying – If you do X, Y & Z then you will become a Christian or prove you are a Christian. He’s saying that since or because you are already a Christian, with God’s DNA implanted in you in the form of the Holy Spirit, then you will want to do X, Y & Z because it is the natural outworking of who you are in Christ.



It is a worldview argument, a question of orientation –As a Christian I should expect to see in myself, and others in this church family should expect to see in me, the practical outworking of this new orientation in beliefs and actions which reflect God’s characteras I get on with the business of living daily as Christ’s person.



But this orientation also introduces real tension and challenge for me and you as Christians as we struggle for consistency between what we say we are and believe, and demonstrating this  practically in actions which please him and honours him.



1:1-18 - it is a real struggle not to be double-minded - saying that every aspect of this world is controlled by God the Father, and ruled over by the Lord Jesus Christ for the good of his people, the church, AND AT THE SAME TIME going to pieces in tough circumstances.



1:19–2:12 – it is a real struggle to avoid self-deception – talking up grace and our understanding of how God has evaluated us contrary to what we deserve, yet not demonstrating the way of grace as we think about, evaluate and interact with others.

2:13-26 – it is a real struggle to avoid living half-truth – talking up a strong theoretical belief in God which does not overflow into actions on the ground as a Christian.



While it is obvious and a matter of fact that we all display terrible inconsistencyin different situations and relationships and actions, such inconsistencies long term just doesn’t fit with who we are in Christ. They are not right and should not be.



And now, 3:1-18 – it is a real struggle with our patterns of speech.


Interestingly James addresses speech patterns in believerssix times in this letter. I wonder why!



Since we have God’s word implanted in us,then we ought to expect to see the character of God’s word reflected in our normal patterns of speech. But the sad reality is that nowhere are we more regularly and more obviously inconsistent than in the way we speak of and to one another.



First James focusses our minds by highlighting the seriousness of the issue (1-2).



 James leads out with a reference to teachers, but only to get our attention. In the society of the day teachers had heaps of prestige and influence, and the pinnacle of success was to be a teacher.



Christians with a Greek background grew up believing that the greatest gift was eloquent public speaking – skills to use words to persuade, flatter, manipulate, or even attack and destroy.

Christians with a Jewish background esteemed the Rabbi, whose title means great teacher.



So it is no surprize that this sort of thinking surfaced in Christian communities where the heart of the Christian gospel is a message – words that need to be conveyed and argued and taught.



But James, verse 1, warns Christians to beware of jumping into the limelight as a teacherbecause God will hold the teacher to account for every word used and the way it is used. And that’s real scary because, verse 2, we so regularly mess up and get it wrongwhen we open our mouth.



But his point applies to all Christians. So common is our failure in speech, it’s not too much to saythat if you find someone who consistently gets it right when they speak, then you are looking at perfection. The problem is that serious, and common to us all – so don’t think of others as we proceed, think of your own situation in respect of your pattern of speech.



Then James pushes Christians to recognise the extent of the problem (3-12)



First, verse 5: a word can seem so small and insignificant when I say it, but the power of that word is enormous – just like a small piece of metal can control the surging energy of a horse galloping at full tilt, or a small rudder can steer precisely a massive 150,000 coal container ship.

We need to recognise there are no such things as neutral words – they will either be good or bad, they will heal or hurt, build up or tear down.So often we play down publicly the impact of our words, but secretly love to see them control, manipulate, encourage, flatter, or wound others.



Second, verse 6: speech patterns tend to drive the whole person. In other words I will go where my mouth or words or speech pattern takes me.



And typically, unguarded words will naturally push me down the road of being destructivewith all the speed and catastrophic outcomes of a developing wildfire. Just moments can separate the first word I say from the total devastation of relationships. All it needs is the fire triangle – heat, fuel, and oxygen!



But notice that the first casualty of unguarded words is the person who speaks them. That might surprize you. We tend to think that as long as weget to say what we want toour words only impact on others, but in factwe are the first casualty. But how?



They make me a walking, talking inconsistency, claiming to be motivated by the overflow of love created by the implanted word of Jesus, but actually and knowingly allowing Satan to use me to bring dishonour to the name of Christ.



Finally if this becomes the new normal for me then I will show that I have drifted away from Jesus, no longer motivated by the overflow of love for him. My adversary, Satan, will have taken my out of the battleeffectively, even though he has no power to destroy me completely.



Third, verses 7-8, that we continually underestimate the impact of unguarded speech. A zoo-keeper will always treat a tiger that is thought to be tame with extreme caution because it is always capable of attacking and killing without notice.



In comparison, our tongue is impossible to tame yet we see no reason to exercise extreme caution. We vastly underestimate the risk and likelihood of our breaking out in attack or destruction of another believer.



Likewise, we go to great lengths to secure poisons in our homes, and use them only under strict safety conditions, but when it comes to spraying the deadly poison of unguarded words and speech patterns, we seem totally unconcerned about any restraint.



And this highlights the fourth problem, verses 9-12, becoming de-sensitised to utter inconsistency.



Being inconsistent is a fact of life when it comes to our words, but becoming totally comfortable with and dull to a growing inconsistency is far more dangerous and serious.


Verse 9 is a damning example cited by James. How can it be that one minute we are praising God, saying this is his world and we are his people determined to model his character and glory to those around us, but the next minute we are ripping into those made in his image.



This has direct implications for the way we speak of any person, even non-Christians, but primarily it applies to the way we speak to fellow believers. Every Christian in this church family is a new creation in Christ. The image of God, so messed up by sin, has in so many ways been restored by the renewing of God’s Holy Spirit.



So, when our words hack into our brothers and sisters in Christ to poison relationships; to hurt, malign, or defame individuals because of jealousy, hurt, malice, or just plain thoughtlessness, then we are utterly inconsistent with who we are in Christ, and how Christ treats those we are attacking.



But too often as Christians we lose sight of this inconsistency and start living, verse 11-12, as if these two opposites were quite compatible and an easy fit in our daily walk with Christ.



The Lord Jesus says to you and me today – this can’t go on! Friends, this makes a mockery of the gospel and Jesus.Such thinking and actions cannot continue without serious challenge and real determination to change.



Friends, we need to stop underestimating the damage we do through our words. We need to start owning the trail of damaged and broken relationships we have caused and continue to cause in relationships in this church family.



We need to realise that if we are to grow in grace, if we are to become mature spiritually, if we are to be the tight unit Jesus wants us to be as a church family, we must pay constant and close attention to our words and patterns of speech.



But given the impossibility of taming our tongue, what is the way forward? (13-18)


Does James leave us in despair demanding we do something he knows we cannot do? Not at all.



He’s clear we must struggle for consistencybetween who we are in Christ and our patterns of speech. But the key to moving ahead is to approach this most difficult of challenges wisely.



And that is James’ point in verses 13-18.Wisdom is about living well in Gods world as God’s people: living in a way that recognises the direct link between attitude of the heart, and outward actions.



James shows that the way ahead in dealing with our tongue is recognising that what I say, my pattern of speech is only revealing what is happening in my heart.

What I say is the overflow of the attitudes of my heart. That was what Jesus said, Matthew 12:34 and James sees it as the key here.



Verse 13, wisdom is responding in humility to the implanted word of God, as James established earlier, 1:18-25.



So, the real opportunity for moving ahead and mastering my patterns of speech is not more effort to change myself, to be kinder and more thoughtful, to be less nasty in my dealings with others.



Rather it is asking God to keep on changing my heart, my attitudes as the Holy Spirit words truth and renewal within me.



Here’s the key point for James – if I want to address my words and pattern of speech – first and foremost I must humbly recognise that I can’t do it on my own and I need to plead that the Lord would continue to dig deep into my heart to expose and change deep-rooted, bad attitudes.



This in turn is the basis, verse 14, for my striving to curtail my tongue and seek to display Godly wisdom and character in my pattern of speech. Look at verse 14 – When sin rises up within me and pushes me to use words of death and destruction, I must struggle not to give free rein to such things and thereby deny the truth of the renewing power of the Spirit within me.



The reason I will continue to struggle in this is that I know God has already begun the process of renewal and is continuing that work. So as I struggle to curtail sinful patterns of speech and put in place godly speech patterns I am assured that God’s Spirit is working to help me achieve this.



Friends, worldly wisdom suggests that our speech patterns are fixable simply by learning new skills of communication and being careful only to speak affirming words. Worldly wisdom suggests that the damage caused by my speech can be turned around by tweaking my behaviour.



But godly wisdom recognises that to have speech patterns saturated constantly with God’s characteristics, I need a changed heart, something only God can effect.



Friends, if you are like me and constantly lament the damage caused by words and speech in relationships, and are exhausted from trying to be different, to be better. Then perhaps, like me, you need first of all to go back and recognise this is a problem of sin and attitude of your heart and plead that God might change your heart.



Imagine the difference we would see in relationships in our church family and in our marriage relationships, and general friendships, and with our children, and with your parents if our first course of action was not to wound or hurt with words, or to react to and blame others for their words, but to be pleading for our own hearts to be changed.


In the science of fire – the fire triangle – firefighters know that a fire will simply die out if only one of the three ingredients is removed. If the heat source is removed the fire cools and goes out quickly. If the fuel load is removed the fire is stopped in its tracks. If the oxygen source is removed – if there is nobody fanning the flames or blowing on it, it will simply die.



Pray that the Lord will change your heart, as I pray the Lord will change my heart . . . .


so that we stop providing that first spark, the initial heat source that easily gets out of hand and consumes relationships and ravages our church family.



so that we refuse to add to the fuel load of an existing wildfire by joining the assassination of a brother or sister in Christ through supplying extra material for angst.



so that we are not known for fanning the fire of anger, gossip, bitterness, jealousy, cruelty, and all kinds of destruction and hurt, that someone else has started. Rather that we are known for seeding conversations and relationships in the terms of verses 17-18 






Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 06:23  

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