52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 49

The Tongue

James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 49
Watching Now
The Tongue

I. Theology of James is very much like that of Paul, but with a twist

II. Tongue (3:1-12)

A. The tongue is an amazing part of our body

B. How can the tongue be so powerful?

C. 1:26 is a frightening verse

III. Four ways in which I think we rationalize not bridling our tongue.

A. It is true – “I can say whatever I want as long as it is true.”

B. She/He hurt me – right to say whatever I want

C. Feign piety

D. Pretend to be really religious – cloak gossip and slander in religious language

IV. So what are we going to do about it?

A. Start with our heart

B. Take every word captive to Christ

C. There is a time and place to talk about issues – confront as well as comfort

V. This is one of the central struggles of the Christian walk

A. Must rise to the challenge

B. Faith without works is dead

C. Never be fully successful this side of heaven

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
The Tongue
Lesson Transcript


James and Paul

The book of James was perhaps the first New Testament book that was actually written. We believe that the author was Jesus’ earthly brother. This is the James who eventually became head of the Jerusalem church that we read about in Acts 15. It is not the James who was the brother of John, who was martyred in Acts 12.

I. Theology of James is very much like that of Paul, but with a twist

The theology of James is very much like that of Paul and yet with an interesting twist. Paul taught that justification, becoming right with God, is by faith. It’s not by works. Becoming justified isn’t something that you do. It’s not something that you earn. And so for Paul, “works” is a bad word. And yet Paul also emphasizes that the justified life will necessarily show itself in growth towards holiness.

When you come to the book of James, we find that he emphasizes the second half of this: that a justified person moves toward holiness. The confusing thing in the book of James is that he uses “works” as a good thing. So if you have been reading in Paul and then switched over to James, it can be very confusing. For example, James says in 2:24, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In verse 17 he says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Now both Paul and James are saying the same thing. They’re just using different language. It can become confusing. Both of these men would agree that you cannot earn your salvation by works; but both of them agree that justification must show itself in works, in a growth towards holiness.

James states his thesis most clearly in chapter 2 starting at verse 14. Let me just read some of the verses. James tells his people, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The Greek has an amazing ability to indicate the expected answer to the question. If this verse had been fully translated we would have said, “That kind of faith can’t save him, can it?” The answer “no” is embedded in the question.

In verse 17, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, [if it does not show itself in a move towards holiness] is dead.” If you just say, “Well, I have faith. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus”, but not having works, not having it affect your life. James says in verse 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” In other words, if you believe in God and believe in Jesus, but it doesn’t change your life, big whoop! You’re as good as the demons.

Verse 22, talking about Abraham, “Faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” He’s not saying that you work to earn your salvation, but he’s saying that a person who is justified, that kind of faith is completed; shown to be true by his life, by his works.

Verse 24, “A person is justified by works, not by faith alone.” Verse 26, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” The ditty that we use is “The faith that saves is faith alone. But the faith that saves is never alone.” You and I cannot work hard to earn our salvation; and yet for those of us who are truly saved, for those of us who are truly justified, that kind of faith is never all by itself, it always shows itself in a movement towards holiness.

All this provides the theological framework for much of what James teaches.

This is the basic theological framework for the entire book of James. He uses a lot of illustrations and examples to drive the point home; but I don’t think any of his illustrations are as powerful as his discussion of the tongue. Understand, that as he talks about the tongue, that’s one example of this basic premise, that a justified life will show itself in a movement towards holiness. And that movement towards holiness includes our tongue.

II. Tongue (3:1-12)

James introduces the topic of our tongue back in chapter 1 verse 26 where he says, “If anyone thinks he is religious [if anyone thinks he’s a Christian] and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” If someone thinks he is a disciple of Christ but doesn’t bridle his tongue, the inspired James, (not your pastor) says that your heart is deceived and your religion, your Christianity, is worthless. He goes on to say in chapter 2 that if it’s useless, it is in fact dead. But if that weren’t enough, James is just warming up for chapter 3 because his main discussion in chapter 3 is about the tongue. I’d like to read the first 12 verses:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 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. [I read it somewhat sarcastically because he’s about to say that that’s impossible. So that is a hypothetical situation. There is no such thing as a perfect man or perfect woman.] 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. So also the tongue is a small member [it’s a small part of our body], yet it boasts of great things. 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 [among the different parts of our bodies] staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life [James is speaking to the church] and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

A. The tongue is an amazing part of our body

The tongue is truly an amazing member of our body, is it not? It’s a world of unrighteousness. It’s set on fire by hell. It cannot be tamed. It’s a restless evil full of deadly poison. The tongue is a small fire, but can ignite a great blaze, a blaze that destroys forests as well as lives. It stains the whole body. It sets on fire the entire course of life. Wow!

B. How can the tongue be so powerful?

How can the tongue be so powerful? Why is James describing it with such extreme language? We’re given a hint of it back in verse 4 where he’s talking about the little rudder of a ship. “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.” The reason the tongue is so powerful is that the will of the tongue is the human heart. Just as the pilot directs the rudder of the ship, so our heart directs, is the will, of our tongue.

In other words, the tongue is a traitor; the tongue is a snitch because the tongue proclaims to everyone who will listen what you and I truly think; what you and I truly believe. The tongue is a snitch because it tells the world what’s going on inside our hearts.

That’s what’s going on in verse 12. James says when you see olives, you know they can’t come from a fig tree. That when you see figs, you know they can’t come from a grapevine. That when you see fresh water, you know it can’t come from a salt pond. Jesus said the same thing, “by your fruits you will know them.” In other words, as you look at our fruits, as you look at our lives and when you look at how we behave, and in this context, what we say that is the fruit of our lips, it’s the fruit of our lips that shows the roots of the tree. It shows what’s really going on inside. Later on in that passage in Matthew 12 Jesus says, “For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

The tongue is a traitor because it broadcasts to all who will listen what you really believe and what you really think. That’s why it’s so powerful.

C. 1:26 is a frightening verse

I don’t know about you, but verse 26 is a frightening verse to me. I know sometimes we see verses like that and we want to gloss them over and say, “Well, it can’t mean what it seems to be saying, so I’m going to ignore it and come back to it in the fifth year of the millennium and figure out what it means.” At least that’s what sometimes goes through my mind. “If anyone thinks he is religious [a disciple of Jesus Christ] and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” We must work to bridle the tongue, as well as visiting orphans and widows and keeping ourselves unstained from the world (verse 27). We must do this, mustn’t we?

Yet there are so many ways in which we can rationalize not controlling our tongue. In the created genius that we all have, the ways in which we can rationalize not controlling our tongues: ways in which we say it’s okay to gossip; ways in which we say it’s okay to slander; ways in which we say it’s okay to destroy a person, to destroy that person and his reputation; to destroy a church’s reputation. You’d think that in light of 1:26 and chapter 3, we would be frightened to do this kind of rationalization.

As I’ve been reflecting, I came up with at least four ways in which I think people in general can rationalize not bridling their tongue. You need to understand that I’m speaking to myself as well as to you. One of the things that is most uncomfortable about my job is that I know too much. I don’t like some of the stuff that I know and I just wish I didn’t. But it gives me this whole other reservoir of stuff that I’ve got to watch my tongue over. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. So I’m speaking to myself as much as to you.

III. Four ways in which I think we rationalize not bridling our tongue.

A. It is true – “I can say whatever I want as long as it is true.”

First and perhaps foremost: “But what I’m saying is true.” Is there not something inside us that says, “I can say whatever I want about you as long as it’s true”? Of course, if we were truly honest we would have to say that as long as I think it’s true or as long as I’m willing to assume that’s it’s true, because how many of us really have firsthand knowledge of the things that we’re tempted to speak about? Truth can start destructive fires just as easily as a lie, can’t it?

In fact, in many ways the truth is more powerful than gossip and slander. You see, gossip and slander don’t have to be false to be destructive and sinful. Just think about it. Do you and I really want to make truth the criterion of whether or not we can say something about someone else? Do you want to do that? Well if we do, that means that in public I can say, “So are you still emotionally abusing your husband?” “Oh hey, are you still visiting your favorite porn site every week?” It’s true. In the words of Malachi, “Hey, you still robbing God by not paying your tithe?” Anyone here want truth to be the criterion of whether we say it or not, the sole criterion? And yet so often I can hear it in my own head that I want to say something and I can hear it go through, “But it’s true, go ahead and say it.” And gossip and slander can be true and it can still destroy and rip the heart out of a person and rip the heart out of a church.

B. She/He hurt me – right to say whatever I want

There’s another way I think that we rationalize not bridling our tongue, and perhaps this is just as strong. We say, “Well, she hurt me, he hurt me. I have a right to say whatever I want.” That’s right, we’ve all been hurt. I would suspect that every single person in this room has been deeply, deeply wounded by someone. Perhaps it was a pastor; perhaps it was an elder or a group of elders; perhaps it was a long-time friend in the church; perhaps it was your spouse; perhaps it was your parent. I don’t know, but I suspect that all of us have been deeply hurt. But just because we’re hurt does that mean we have a right to rip the bridle of the Holy Spirit out of our mouth and say anything we want, destroying that person’s reputation, destroying a church’s ability to minister? Does being hurt give us the “right” in this entitlement society to say anything we want? The verse that Robin and I have been talking mostly about this past month is Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” You may have been hurt, I may have been hurt; but you know what? None of us have been hurt in the way that we hurt God.

One of the things that is so powerful in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, is that it was Mel Gibson’s hand that held the stake that was pounded into Jesus’ hand. Mel Gibson was trying to make a point very clear: who killed Jesus? You did. I did. And I’ve not been crucified lately. I’ve not had anyone run stakes through my hands. I’ve not been asked to bear the sins of the world in a moment. But that’s what God did for us and he forgave us. No matter how much he hurt, he forgave us. And so also, you and I are called to do something that is insignificant in comparison. You and I are called to forgive those who have hurt us. Not lash out in slander and gossip, ripping the bridle out of our mouth; but to respond tenderheartedly, forgiving. I don’t want to minimize the hurt and pain that exists in any group of people, but that doesn’t give us a right to gossip and to slander and to destroy, does it? That only gives us an opportunity, as difficult as it can be, to forgive, understanding that God has forgiven us in Christ for what we did to him.

C. Feign piety

I think there’s a third way in which we rationalize what comes out of our mouth and our refusal sometimes to bridle our tongue; and that is, we feign piety. We love to be fakes. How many times have you heard these things, “Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…”? Or how many times have we heard someone speak in generalities, “Well you know, I shouldn’t speak [then you probably shouldn’t], but you know I have a problem with that person.”? And we fake piety by somehow being general as we lacerate these people.

What about this one: “Well, I’m just going to tell you, but you need to keep it a secret.” This is all fake. It’s fake piety. And sometimes when I’m in those situations and I’m trying to figure out how to respond, I just want to say and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…” Then don’t!! Don’t! If you shouldn’t do it, keep your mouth shut. Somebody asked me the other day what I was preaching on. “The tongue.” “What’s the point?” “Keep your mouth shut!” “I’m not coming.” “I’ll send you the tape.” When someone says, “I probably shouldn’t tell you,” then can we please stand up and say, “Then don’t.” If somebody says, “I’m just going to tell you, but keep it a secret.” Say, “I don’t want secrets. I don’t want to know secrets. If it has to be kept a secret then keep it a secret, don’t tell me.”

I suspect that when we listen to slander and gossip voluntarily, we’re just as guilty as the first, slandering as the person gossips. We feign piety and then the reception of it.

D. Pretend to be really religious – cloak gossip and slander in religious language

A fourth way in which we can sometimes not bridle our tongue is when we pretend to be really religious. We’re good at this. If you have been raised in a church, you are the master of this because we can cloak anything, even gossip and slander, in religious language. We are so good at this.

I am very glad to announce to you that in two years of mid-week prayer services, only once have I heard someone say something I considered slanderous and gossip and it wasn’t someone who goes to our church. Mid-week prayer meetings, historically, can become a cesspool of slander, can’t it? Someone was sharing with me the kind of set phrases as we go through generations and one of the set phrases was, “Well, let me just tell you a little about this person so you will know how to pray better.” Yeah, right. We can be so religious and all it really is is a cloak and God’s not fooled.

Jim Cymbala is the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle and wrote a book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, and there is a half a page here I want to read to you. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve read. Listen to what he says: “One Sunday about 20 years ago, back in our days in YWCA I said something impromptu while receiving new members into the church that has stuck with us ever since. People were standing in a row across the front before me and as I spoke the Holy Spirit seemed to prompt me to add ‘And now I charge you as pastor of this church that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word, a criticism or slander against anyone, myself, another pastor, an usher, a choir member or anyone else, you have the authority to stop that person in mid-sentence and say, ‘Excuse me, who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it Pastor Cymbala? Let’s go to his office right now. He will get on his knees and apologize to you. And then we’ll pray together so God can restore peace to this body. But we will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves.’ New members, please understand that I am entirely serious about this. I want you to help resolve this kind of thing immediately and meanwhile know this, if you are ever the one doing the loose talking, we will confront you.’ To this very day every time we receive new members I say much the same thing. It is always a solemn moment. That is because I know what most easily destroys churches; it is not crack cocaine; it is not government oppression; it is not even lack of funds; rather, it is gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.” Gossip and slander, a judgmental and critical spirit are fires of the heart that ignite the tongue and destroy lives and destroy churches.

IV. So what are we going to do about it?

So what are we going to do about it? Keep our mouths shut? No, that’s not the answer. Let me suggest three things that we can do about this issue.

A. Start with our heart

We’ve got to start with our hearts and we better start with our own hearts, because it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. So if in our hearts there is arrogance, then the tongue will put the other person down in order to elevate ourselves. If there is sin living in our hearts, then our tongues will seek to destroy; but if there is humility in our hearts, then we will put the needs and the reputation of others ahead of ourselves. If there’s forgiveness in our hearts, then our mouths will be full of tender words seasoned with kindness, with extra servings of grace and thanksgiving. This is one example where legalism just fails. When legalism puts all its emphasis on external conformity, its answer to the tongue is then, just keep your mouth shut. We’ve got to start with our hearts. When we say critical things, when we gossip and we destroy, we’ve got to stop and say, “Why did I say that? What is it inside me that drove me to say that?” It starts in the heart, doesn’t it?

B. Take every word captive to Christ

Secondly, I would encourage all of us to take every thought, take every word captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I run off at the mouth all the time. That’s just me. My mom used to say to me, “Bill, you’ve got to engage your brain before you start up your mouth.” It just flows out of my mouth. It’s natural. And I had to learn, and I am learning, and I fail, but I’m working on it by the power of God’s Spirit, to think before I talk; to take every word, to take every thought captive. I pray that God’s Spirit will, “Please whisper in my ear, yell if you need to, that before the words leave, I need to hear, ‘does what you are about to say bring glory to God? Is the word you’re about to say full of grace and thanksgiving, or is it going to destroy a person’s reputation? Will it edify or will it criticize?” And I need God’s Spirit whispering sometimes, screaming other times, and hitting me over the head with a 2X4 at other times to get my attention: “Bill, is what you are about to say going to glorify God, or is it going to destroy someone?”

On the other side of the tongue, I think we need to ask the same thing. As we listen to words and as we listen to thoughts, we need to have the sensitivity and the strength to say, “You know what, I don’t need to hear this. Go and poison someone else’s life.” How’s that? Does that sound harsh? It’s Biblical. James 3 says that our tongues are full of deadly poison. What does deadly poison do? It kills. It poisons, not only the person speaking, but also it poisons the person hearing. And wouldn’t it be great to be a part of a church that we are so sensitive that when we hear something that is destructive, we say, “Stop. Who hurt you? Let’s go to him. If you need support, I’ll go with you. If you’re not willing to do it, then go poison someone else’s life. I don’t want to hear it.”

C. There is a time and place to talk about issues – confront as well as comfort

Thirdly, what are we going to do about it? There is a time and a place to talk about issues. The Bible is not saying to ignore problems. It’s the last thing the Bible is saying. There is a time to confront as well as a time to comfort.

But the Bible is clear that the time and the place to talk about difficult issues of when you’ve been hurt is when you are talking to the person (singular) who has hurt you. There’s a time and a place to talk about issues; when your heart is to reconcile, to forgive and be forgiven. There’s a time and a place to talk about difficult issues when our words are an expression of grace and thanksgiving; when the motivating forces are love, and humility and gentleness. There is never a time, ever a time, to gossip and to slander. Ever.

V. This is one of the central struggles of the Christian walk

This is certainly one of the central struggles of the Christian walk, is it not? I could not cover 52 major events of the Bible and not talk about this thing in my mouth.

A. Must rise to the challenge

It certainly is one of the central struggles of the Christian walk and I call you as I am called to rise to the challenge. If we as individuals and as we as a church do not rise to the challenge, our tongues will stain the entire body. They will stain our body. They will stain the body of Christ that meets in this building. If we do not rise to the challenge, then our tongues, individually and collectively, will set on fire the entire course of the life of this church.

B. Faith without works is dead

Faith without works is dead. That doesn’t mean you get a smaller house in the millennium. That means you’re dead. And a justified person will most certainly show it in a life lived towards holiness; and part of that holiness is learning to control our tongues.

C. Never be fully successful this side of heaven

We’re never going to be fully successful this side of heaven. It’s ultimately impossible to completely bridle the tongue because it’s impossible to completely have a pure heart. But we can move significantly in the right direction as we fill our hearts with tenderness and kindness, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us. We can become, continue to become, the kind of people James applauds in chapter 4:8 when he says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Verse 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”

Let’s covenant together to continue on this difficult journey of a heart cleansed from sin and bridled tongues, saying only that which extends grace and thankfulness to one another.

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