In our contemporary world, words of rage and unchecked slander on the internet have birthed culture wars, inflamed unthinking partisan loyalty, birthed fake news, and are inciting wars and rumors of wars. No wonder the Apostle James was so adamant in calling out these abuses of the tongue in his day. "The words of the reckless still pierce like swords"(pro,12:18)-in so many relationships, marriages, churches, other community groups and nations. However, surrender of Christians to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit can cut off those inflammatory words and from the Spirit we can speak healing words which can flow out from us through Jesus Christ. Words of hope not harm.
Sermon: Fresh or Bitter Water 11 4 23
Many times we open our mouth to speak words of pride, defending our reputation, boasting of our accomplishments, justifying our offensive behavior, demeaning others. The Apostle James would say those words are bitter words , usually destructive for ourselves or others. Tony Evans gives an example:
There was a frog that wanted to cross the lake but he did not have the wherewithal to do that distance. So he tried to figure out how to get across the water and came up with a brilliant idea. There were two birds nearby and he talked the two birds into each picking up a twig, a pretty solid twig, and holding it in their mouths while he grabbed and held on with his mouth in between. The plan was for the birds to fly over and of course fly him across as he held on with his mouth. The birds thought it was very brilliant for the frog to come up with a plan for overcoming an impossible situation. The frog latched his mouth on the twig as the birds lifted off.
As they ascended, there was a man who saw this unusual sight of two birds carrying a frog through the air. He asked out loud, ‘Whoa! Who came up with that brilliant idea?” The frog said,” I. .. “ Opening your mouth at the wrong time in the wrong way can do great harm.” (Evans, Illustrations, p 320)
The book of Proverbs has a number of sayings about opening our mouths to say bitter or fresh words:
v A wise man’s heart guides his mouth and his lips promote instruction. Precious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov; 16:23-24).
v The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (Prov; 10:11).
v A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Prov.25:11)
v Whoever spreads slander is a fool.. . When words are many, sin is not absent but he who holds his tongue is wise. . .The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment . . .The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom but a perverse tongue will be cut out. . .The lips of the righteous know what is fitting but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse (Prov.10: 18,19,21,31,32)
v Better to live on the corner of the roof than share the house with a quarrelsome wife (Prov.25:24)
v A scoundrel plots evil and his speech is like a scorching fire. (Prov.16:27-28).
The book of James, chapter 3, takes this theme of the tongue as fire and adds these devastating indictments:
v The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and itself is set on fire by hell. (Jam.3:6).
v It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (Jam.3:8).
v Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing – fresh water and bitter water [that pollutes.] Beloved, this should not be. (Jam.3:10).
James’s book is imminently practical so today’s sermon is on the power of the tongue – an issue every person on the planet needs to address. “Bitter or Fresh Water?” Let us pray.
The devastation caused by our hurtful speech.
The context of James’ indictments of the tongue begins with the warnings to the false teachers who were devastating the early church. As the graphic says “The tongue is a powerful tool. And the words we say are never forgotten. Never. “ James saw how these false teachers were taking young Christians away from the true gospel in Christ and working from their own base of power and self-derived authority. He said the source of their words was directly from Satan. They poisoned the communities who were following them. Theirs was bitter water, indeed, which polluted all under their influence. Or, using another analogy, their words were like a fire that engulfed all around them. Tony Evans speaks of how one small fire (as in false words) can wreck havoc.
“On October 8, 1871 Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern at 8:30 pm. That led to the Great Chicago Fire. It left 100,000 people homeless, 17,500 buildings destroyed, 300 people dead and $40 million dollars worth of damage done . . .One match can burn down a house. The tongue is like a match. It sets things aflame.” (Tony Evans, Illustrations from Tony Evans, Moody2009. P. 321.)
In our contemporary world words of rage and unchecked slander on the internet have birthed culture wars, inflamed unthinking partisan loyalty, birthed fake news, and are inciting wars and rumors of wars. No wonder the Apostle James was so adamant in calling out these abuses of the tongue in his day. “The words of the reckless still pierce like swords”(Pro.12:18) - in so many relationships, marriages, churches, other community groups and nations.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt, and to destroy. A deliberate insult is worse, for we openly disgrace our brother in the eyes of the world, causing others to despise him”. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 1.). Fay Angue agrees: “ It is not so much what goes in one ear and comes out the other that bothers us, it is what goes in one ear, gets garbled in the process, and then comes out the mouth!: Fay Angus in Running Around in Spiritual Circles. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 16.
However, a surrender of Christians to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit can cut off those inflammatory words and lead people to repentance and forgiveness individually and globally. From the Spirit we can speak healing words which can flow out from us through Jesus who said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him [streams of living water in one’s words]. By this he meant the Holy Spirit whom those who believed in him would later receive.” (John 7:37-39). So, as a contemporary application for Christians around the world today, let’s consider how our words can bless rather than curse others.
In the book of Numbers we read that God directed the early priests in Israel to speak the Aaronic blessing over the people each time they assembled in worship: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Num.6:24.) Then throughout the Old Testament God continued to speak blessings to the people through His promises. Ultimately, He sent Jesus to earth as “the Word of God, the One in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Col.2:9), the “radiance of God’s glory and “the exact representation of His being” (Heb.1:3) so people could understand God’s character and His communications to them. God speaks, God sustains, He protects, He directs; He pours His love into believers’ hearts. And through the Holy Spirit God then seeks to transform our character so we too can speak His words of blessing and guidance and nurture for others.
What does that look like practically? The Apostle Paul says in Eph. 4:29-31:
29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
There are several key words in this admonition.
v The first is the negative “Don’t let any”. Most people rehearse at least a small portion of what they will say before they say it. If negatives come out of one’s mouth, they have been thought of before they are spoken. Not tolerating “any” negatives in speech encompasses the totality of one’s speech.
v “unwholesome talk” Various translations for unwholesome are: “ugly or hateful” (the Passion);”harmful” (Good News) “evil”(Wycliffe), foul, profane, worthless, vulgar” (Amplified)
v Bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Eph.4:31) bring forth “unwholesome” words!
v Speak “Only” what is helpful” –This makes this admonition a black and white command
v “To benefit those who listen”, “building up another according to their needs”
v And do not “grieve the Holy Spirit”
Because of the high standard of grace and kindness required in our speech, we are wise to pray each day that the Lord “set a guard on the door of our lips!”(Ps.141:3) It is also wise that we listen to the Spirit’s prompting in the choice of our words. God wants to use us to bless others – to speak words that will lift them up, encouraging words, words of hope and kindness, words of counsel and applicability. Often that means we speak the scripture that the Spirit brings to mind in prayer for the other person.
Words of encouragement
Words of encouragement are those kind of words. Let me share 4 practical examples. For some people they became the difference between life and death:
1. A teenager with a heart to help has received a commendation for her efforts, which local officials say have helped save at least six lives. Paige Hunter, 18, has written more than 40 heartfelt notes of encouragement, attaching each of them to the railings of the Wearmouth Bridge in Northumbria, to provide a critical boost for those who might be in the midst of a mental health crisis. For her work, and the impact it's made, Hunter was recently given an official commendation by Northumbria Police Force, signed and delivered by the local police chief. "Paige has shown an incredible understanding of vulnerable people in need of support, and this is an innovative way to reach out to those in a dark place.
Despite the commendation, Hunter is keeping everything in stride. The sales associate and college student just wants the attention on people who need help. She says, "It is important that we encourage people to speak out and raise awareness of mental health issues and the impact on peoples' lives."
"An inspirational teenager who has pinned uplifting messages onto a Sunderland bridge to help those in despair has been commended by Northumbria Police," Northumbria Police Press Release (7-22-18)
2. “Edvard Greig, the nineteenth century Norwegian composer, wrote his parents concerning the encouragement he received from famous Hungarian composer-pianist Franz Liszt, who had just played Greig's Piano Concerto in A Minor. Greig writes: “as he handed me the score, he said, "Hold to your course. Let me tell you, you have the talent for it, and—don't get scared off!" This last is of infinite importance to me. It is almost what I will call a sacred mandate. Time and again when disappointments and bitterness come I shall think of his words, and the memory of this hour will have a wonderful power to sustain me in days of adversity; that is my confident hope.” Ravinia magazine (August, 2008), p 160
# 3 Laura Mazur and Jessica Robertson had never met before they reached the mile 14 marker at the Pittsburgh Marathon. Mazur was running her 12th marathon overall, while Robertson was running her first marathon.
Mazur told reporters she was feeling paranoid because she didn’t want to finish last. She turned around and noticed another runner, Robertson, was there as well. Robertson said that she was feeling defeated and upset with her performance when she noticed Mazur beside her. The two began chatting and decided to buddy up and run the rest of the race together. Mazur later wrote in a Facebook post, “I told her I’d stay with her if she stayed with me.”
The two clicked instantly and encouraged each other along the way. Robertson, who was nervous about the possibility of not completing her first marathon said that Mazur’s words of encouragement kept her motivated and confident. Mazur said she told Robertson, “You’re fine! I know you’re OK! You can do this.”
Mazur said that despite holding up the rear of the race, they were cheered by spectators along the way, including a large cheering section at mile 25 of the 26.2 mile race. “There was great crowd support,” Mazur said. "You feel like royalty. You feel like a real athlete. It's super awesome to have people cheer you on.”
It was this encouragement that propelled them forward to finish the race. Robertson said, “We made it 26. I can do 0.2 [more].” Mazur said, “I just took her hand and said ‘Let’s go!’ It was so great that we got everything done and we were still together. We finished what we started.”Ali Gostanian and Caitlin Fichtel, “Women in viral Pittsburgh Marathon photo encouraged each other to finish
And finally, #4:
"He made drinks sparkle, desserts shimmer, and Richard M. Nixon look less shadowy—all with
meticulous tricks of lights." So begins an obituary for Imero (or "Immie") Fiorentino, the man who was called "the maestro of lighting" and "The Picasso of lights and strobes." Because he usually worked quietly behind the scenes, most Americans have never heard of him. But when Fiorentino died at the age of 85 on October 1, 2013, he had served as an adviser to every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton. His work had illuminated some of the biggest entertainers of his day, including Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, and Muhammad Ali. He orchestrated the lighting behind everything from Walt Disney's Epcot Center to TV commercials for Jell-O and ginger ale.
But if it wasn't for the encouraging words from one of his high school teachers, Mr. Fiorentino's career may have ended before it started. The New York Times records what happened:
Several months before graduating from high school, he found what he thought was an empty shell casing in the street. Wanting to make it into a key chain, he took a soldering iron to it. It was a live round. Shrapnel from the explosion pierced his right eye, blinding it. He despaired of being able to work in lighting. Then one of his teachers, visiting him in the hospital, told him, "You're going to be the best one-eyed lighting designer ever." "I can do that," Immie replied.
Due to those words of encouragement, Mr. Fiorentino went on to earn a bachelor's degree in theater from Carnegie Tech in 1950. On graduating, he was hired to teach theatrical lighting at Indiana University, and from there his career took off. Margalit Fox, "Imero Fiorentino, Lighting Designer Who Mastered Television, Dies at 85,' The New York Times (10-13-13) Fresh words, words of encouragement, that changed a life.
What can be added to these examples from the effect your encouraging words have given to others?
“May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.” Amen.
Dr. M.L. Codman, Pastor, New Hope Global Fellowship 11 4 23