Preached at the San Diego Rescue Mission on Wednesday morning, August 16, 2017.
We destroy each other with harsh words. We hurt the ones we love through words that weren’t thought out well. We use hurtful words to try and bring others down. Harsh words hurt, but God’s wisdom heals.
This past weekend, racism reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia. Racism is evil. There is nothing Christian about racism. Christ unites, but racism divides.
We saw on the television and on social media members of the KKK and other racist groups gather together at a statue to chant words of hate and division. In those images, we were reminded of America’s ugly past of racism, segregation, and slavery.
The next day, things got worse. Other groups showed up to protest the racist march, and fights broke out. Hatred spewed out in the streets, as strangers threw punches, swung weapons, and created havoc. To our horror, we saw a car come flying down the street into a crowd of protestors, killing a young woman, and hurting others.
Where does racism come from? Are we so blind that we can’t see that we all bleed the same color? Racism is full of hatred. Racism is full of harsh words.
We use harsh words to divide us. We use words to label ourselves into groups, to keep us separate from each other. Where Christ wants to unite us in Him, we use angry words, divisive words, hateful words, to tear each other down.
We might say that we would never behave like the racists in Charlottesville. But when no one is looking, how do we talk about others? Do we use our words to tear other people down? How do we talk about our co-workers? How do we talk about our friends? How do we talk about our family? Do you tear other people down when you don’t think they will hear?
Words are hard to control
We need to know that words are hard to control. Words are hard to control.
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. James 3:1-5
What is James saying here, and who is he talking to? He is speaking to the church. He is saying that they should be careful with their ambitions in the church. The pastor has a difficult job. Of all people, the pastor must keep control of his words. His words will be scrutinized, since he is telling people about God. Many pastors get in trouble because of their careless words.
Sometimes people become Christians, and decide that they should now become a preacher. They become ambitious. James says to be careful with that. Can you control your words? Words are a hard thing to control.
We all make mistakes, but the costliest mistakes we make are with our words. Words must be chosen with care. A husband comes home from a hard day of work. He is stressed about the finances. They barely have enough to pay the rent, and need to buy groceries. He comes home, and finds a bag from Macy’s sitting on his bed. His wife has gone shopping, and bought some clothes. There is a receipt in the bag for $200. His wife walks into the room, and sees him looking at the bag. The next words the husband says to his wife are crucial. These could be words of wisdom, words that will address the situation while keeping the peace in the home, or it could be words that start another screaming match, words that will ultimately lead to their divorce. We must choose our words carefully. The costliest mistakes we make are with our words.
Our Christianity is known through what we do, what we say, and how we say it. The Spirit of God should make a real impact on the words that come out of our mouth. We are a changed people. Let us speak and act according to the change that God has made in our heart.
James says, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26). Our Christianity is useless if it does not affect the people around us. Our love for people should be so strong that people ask, “What has gotten into you?” Our Christianity should affect everyone around us. The things we do, and the words that we say, should inspire people, not divide them. We should be a godly example, living a life that points the people around us to Christ.
James says that we stumble in our words. We often say things that we know we shouldn’t say. Sometimes, when we find out something about someone, some struggle that they are going through, we get tempted to gossip. We find someone to tell them this news we’ve heard about someone else. “You know, I heard from so-and-so, that so-and-so is cheating on his wife! Yeah, it must be true. The other day, I thought I saw him looking at another woman too long…” And then we get convicted, so we try to fix it up. “We need to pray for him.” We use gossip to build ourselves up, and tear other people down.
Don’t gossip. If you have something to say about someone, tell it to that person. Speak to people personally. Don’t speak about them to others. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Be careful with your words.
Words point us in a specific direction. They have the power to steer the outcome towards good or evil things. James compares our tongue to the bit on a horse’s mouth, or the rudder on a boat. It’s a small thing that can make big changes. We must be careful with how we steer our words.
Hitler steered his words towards evil things. He wrote hate-filled books, and gave big hate-filled speeches to thousands of Germans. He encouraged people to hate, and killed millions of Jews by the power of his words.
Martin Luther King, Jr steered his words towards good things. He encouraged people to love one another. His words inspired numerous people to hope in God, and to live for something bigger than themselves. He said things like, “I have a dream that my four little chi1dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His words inspired people, and gave them hope. He steered his words towards good, and inspired people to love one another.
When we look at these two men, we see the power of words. Words are packed with so much power, yet they easily get away from us. James reminds us that words are hard to control.
Harsh words hurt people
When we have a hard time controlling our words, we quickly learn that harsh words hurt people. Harsh words, hurt.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is 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. 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. James 3:5-12
The things we say can start a lot of problems. James says that saying the wrong thing, an evil thing, is like a small fire in a forest. Our words can set the whole forest on fire! Our words are hard to control, and harsh words can make a situation bad, quickly. When we use harsh words, when we say things to hurt people, we start a huge fire with others.
Everyone in a relationship has felt this. It’s that verbal punch in the gut that comes when we get upset. “Well, if you weren’t so…” fill in the blank – lazy, stupid, sensitive. We love to blame others, and not take the responsibility for our own actions. We love to say, “It’s all your fault that things are this way.” And what does the other person do? The other person must now put up their defenses, and fight back. “Well, I wouldn’t be that way if you would stop doing this.” We throw harsh words at each other. “You’re unlovable!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re ugly!” It seems like we use the harshest words on the ones we are supposed to love. Harsh words hurt people.
James talks about us cursing others. What does he mean by cursing men? Cursing others is treating them as worthless, invaluable human beings. That is what racism does. Racism is built on hatred, a hatred that says that you are worth nothing. It is cursing men, men made in the image of God. Not any specific type of men, but all men, all human beings are made in the image of God. Racism is the spreading of hatred against people that God created, and loves. There is nothing Christian about racism. Racism is despicable. It something full of hatred for God’s people and His creation. Racism breeds on chaos, and divides.
This weekend we saw firsthand that racism exists in America. People in Charlottesville were heard chanting hate-filled words. Hateful words inspired a man to ram his Dodge Charger into a crowed of protestors. A young woman named Heather Heyer lost her life. A reporter went to go interview a leader of the North Carolina KKK after the events of this weekend. He said that he was glad that girl died. Harsh words hurt people.
We tend to hang around people that look like us, and talk like us. We segregate ourselves because we have a common culture. Yet, as Christians, we shouldn’t be that way. In Christ, we are all one people. Racism is the opposite of Christianity. Racism divides, but Jesus unites. We are complete and unified in Him. Why not meet and get to know someone who is different than you? Find out what interests them, and ask them about it. Love your neighbor, as Christ loved you. We are called to be unified in Christ.
James reminds us that our words should not be a mixture of good and evil. He says that, “out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” This is called hypocrisy.
When I was in high school, a guy I knew said he was a Christian. He was excited about being a Christian, and would tell others about it. The problem was that he had a bad cursing problem. His conversations would go like, “I am a (bleep bleep) Christian, and am (bleep bleep) proud of it! I go to (bleep bleep) church, and (bleep bleep) have a good time (bleep bleep). You should (bleep bleep) be a Christian, too.” For him, literally, “out of the same mouth came blessing and cursing!” He didn’t convince me to become a Christian. His words didn’t match his Christianity. His words were hypocritical.
As a teenager, I helped with the sound ministry for my church. The guy in charge had a short temper. If he didn’t like what you were doing, he would get stressed out, and tell you how many ways you were messing things up. He would make you feel like you ruined the whole service. His words would stress me out, and I started to react in the same way I saw him act. Eventually, that guy became the pastor of the church. To me, he was hypocritical, with a mouth that preached the Bible at one point, and at other times spoke hurtful, harsh words to people. I couldn’t listen to him as the pastor, because I knew of the way that he spoke to others outside of the pulpit. He was hypocritical.
How do we avoid hypocrisy? Always live what you believe. Be a Christian when it is inconvenient. Be a Christian when it is socially unacceptable. When people gossip, slander, and backstab others, don’t participate. When people lust after the opposite sex, don’t join in. When people curse others, and put them down, don’t be a part of it. You have been saved by Christ to be different. You aren’t the same person anymore. If you are a Christian, you have been changed. Be who you are, a child of God, in word and in deed.
We know that words are hard to control. We know that harsh words hurt people. So where do we find healing from the harsh words that we and others say to people?
Godly wisdom heals
It is only Godly wisdom that heals. Harsh words hurt, but godly wisdom heals. Godly wisdom heals.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18
We want to learn about God’s wisdom that heals. But first, James tells us about a worldly wisdom that divides. He talks about a worldly wisdom that comes from an envious and self-seeking heart.
Envy happens when we see something someone has, something we imagine is valuable, and we desire it. We want something that we don’t have, and get angry at people who do have it. We see someone’s position, and envy it. We say to ourselves, “He doesn’t deserve that. I deserve it!” Envy puts others down. It says that other people are not as valuable as you are. Envy puts you at the center of the universe, and believes that you should have everything.
The world will tell you that you deserve it all. Millions are sunk in credit card debt because of this motto. They spend and spend because of the belief that they should have what other people have, now.
An envious and self-seeking heart is all about “me.” It is all about taking care of the most important person to you, and that is yourself. It is idolatry, because you believe that you are the only one valuable and worthy of praise. An envious and self-seeking heart is destructive.
Harsh, hurtful words come from an envious and self-seeking heart. Dictators envy the powerful. They want the power that other have, and do everything they can to get it. They take control through hate-filled words that inspire violence against other people. Hitler rose to power this way. Other dictators rise to power this way. An envious and self-seeking heart combined with harsh, hurtful words is a dangerous thing.
Marriages are destroyed through hurtful words from an envious and self-seeking heart. One person may envy the relationship of another person. Maybe a husband is envious of another co-worker’s marriage. He thinks his marriage should be like what he imagines his co-worker’s marriage is like. So, he says harsh words to his wife. “You know, John’s wife does this or that, and you should do it, too!” His wife goes away hurt, and wounded. Worldly wisdom hurts people, and divides them.
Careers are lost this way. An employee may envy a boss’ position, believing that he should have that position. So, he talks about the person behind his back, and criticizes him constantly. Harsh words come from an envious and self-seeking heart.
Do you have an envious and self-seeking heart? Do you look at what other people have, and believe that you should have it, too? Brothers and sisters, we should not be envious of others. If you are a child of God, you already have everything you could ever want. No matter what your position is in life, no matter your present circumstances, if you are a child of God, you have it all. You are rich beyond compare. You may not have worldly wealth, but you have something better. You are a child of God! Thank God today for your position in Him through Christ. Thank God today that you are a child of God! And trust Him, knowing that Your Father does His best for His children. God has a great plan for your life, because He is a loving Father. Through Jesus you are blessed because you are a child of God.
Worldly wisdom may divide, but Godly wisdom unites. Where worldly wisdom is confusing, Godly wisdom is clear. Godly wisdom shows itself in us through obvious works of righteousness. Wisdom that comes from God is pure. It is not confusing, saying one thing, and then doing another. Godly wisdom is totally consumed with reflecting the character of Christ in you.
When we seek God, as He works in our life, the Holy Spirit builds up a heart of purity in you. Like the Lord, we become peaceful and gentle. Jesus said that He is, “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29), so we will be gentle and lowly in heart. We become merciful to others, and full of kindness. The work the Holy Spirit does within us produces good works of righteousness through us. In everything we do, the Spirit of God empowers us to do it. God keeps us from hypocritical living, as we trust Him more.
Most of all, godly wisdom makes peace with others. See, harsh words hurt, but godly wisdom heals.
While we have had many times of racial discrimination and prejudice in our society, we have also have had times when people came together, to love each other. The events of this weekend reminded me of another event that happened two years ago. On the night of June 17, 2015, a white man opened fire in a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people, including a pastor, during a prayer meeting. The suspect, Dylann Roof, was arrested in North Carolina and extradited to South Carolina. The family of the victims were able to speak to the killer in the courtroom.
The relatives of people slain inside the historic African American church in Charleston, S.C.… were able to speak directly to the accused gunman… at his first court appearance. One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead… they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses.
One by one, these church members said, “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you.” They knew that there is no hope in hatred. They knew that there is no healing in hatred. Harsh words hurt, but godly wisdom heals.
How should godly wisdom affect us? James says that we are to be peacemakers. Because of the work that Christ has done in our life, we are responsible for bringing peace to others. We are responsible to bring peace to our household. We are responsible to bring peace to our workplace. We are responsible to bring peace to our schools and our churches. We are responsible to bring peace to our society, because we bring the gospel of peace, the good news of Jesus Christ to a hurting and dying world.
We don’t have to be people who divide others. Yes, words are hard to control. Words are hard to control, and harsh words hurt. But thank God, His wisdom heals.
We must be a careful and praying people. Let us pray that we won’t stumble over our words, and fall into the temptations of gossip, and slander. Let’s pray that we won’t be divisive people, but a united people in Christ. Let’s pray that we won’t curse men, but will love all men, because all people are created in the image of God. Let’s pray to be a wise and godly example to others. Let us pray for the godly wisdom that heals, and let’s pray that we will sow peace wherever God leads us.
Let us proclaim His promise, that as we put our faith in Christ, His Spirit will work in our lives to build His righteousness within us. Thank God for His wisdom, His peace, His gentleness, and His mercy.
Most of all, let us obey Christ at every turn. God wants us to show godly wisdom by good works and a humble character. When God changes your life, He changes your attitude. Remember that harsh words hurt, but God’s wisdom heals. Trust Him today.