Nov 4 2018 The Wisdom of Understanding Before Speaking

This morning we are going to be talking about… as we go through this series on Wisdom – we are going to be looking at Speech – again. There has been a lot of discussion on speech – and you might think I’m trying to tell you something – but as you go through the Wisdom literature AND the New Testament – there is a lot on speech.

James often quotes his brother Jesus – and

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.

He begins this message on speech by telling them to not all desire to become teachers. Teaching was a very respected position in their culture, and it came with economic and social benefits. The churches weren’t as structured as we have today – but there was benefit – so people were vying to become teachers in the church. It is not like we have people vying to take over – as far as I know! And it is not so much of a free-for-all – but there is one caution I would emphasize for us: whenever you share God’s word with others – whether on an individual basis or in a Bible study – I would advise you to use caution in how emphatic you come across. Yes, you should have personal convictions and believe in the authority of God’s word. If you share a verse or passage – and say – this is what God says and that is final – we’ve all said it and meant it. Then, you have potentially put yourself under God’s judgment if something you say is amiss. James is straightforward – in your face – and I am not that way – and sometimes we need that in our own lives.

That might scare you a bit – and it might make you reluctant to share. Here are some principles so you don’t have to worry about what James is saying here.

First – when you speak God’s word – do it with humility. It almost feels unAmerican! I am TRYING to learn to say these words – and I don’t always do it – but I learned it from a Bible scholar who knows the Bible a lot better than I do. He says, “This is my best understanding” – and I love that – because that is the best we can do! Or, this is my personal conviction – and that leaves room that I could be wrong. And I could! This does not mean that we don’t have strong convictions.

Second – if you are going to share God’s word – here is what I believe this is saying – then it is necessary for us to do the due diligence – that we have actually gone in and really studied out the verse or passage and understand the different concepts and teachings of that passage. You might think you would never have time for that. But we all know, there are times we are dealing with things in our lives and we go to His word – and He speaks to us. You can say – I was going through this and this – and this is what God told me through this. But you can’t say – I went through this and this – and THIS is what it means for everybody!

2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well.

James is probably going back to the many proverbs – in many words, transgression is unavoidable. Perfect, many times, means mature. I think he might be using hyperbole – and he is really saying PERFECT. If you never stumble with your lips, you will never sin again! We can’t gain complete control, but we can gain growing control of our speech.

3 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 4 Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot's inclination directs. 5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze.

He uses these illustrations to show that the tongue is a really little thing that has such a tremendous impact on our lives and others. And that impact can be for good or bad. And it seems to me, more often than not, today, it is used for bad. Look at verse 6:

6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence– and is set on fire by hell.

The powers of darkness seek to influence and use our speech to accomplish their evil intentions. Think about that! I believe that the degrading, contentious, foul, malicious, cutting speech that is going on in our world plays a huge role in why our world is violent and perverse. Yes, each person is accountable for their own actions, but we shouldn’t’ be naïve to how the powers of darkness use hate and animosity to bring about evil

Ephesians 6 – for our struggle is not against flesh and blood… wickedness in heavenly places.

The powers of darkness – Public speech has become the proprietary realm of the powers of darkness. They have entered into that realm and are taking over that realm. That is what the powers or darkness do!

7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 8 But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

That little illustration – he is speaking of a snake ready to strike – an allusion to Genesis 3.

9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God's image. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters.

It shows how the tongue – “he who speaks with a forked tongue” – it shows the duplicity of our tongues – nice things to the face but bad things behind their back. This is about people who are made in the image of God. When we do it for the least we do it for Jesus. Our attitude toward the least – our speech toward the least is our speech toward God! No no – with my speech toward God I sing praises – that is not toward the least!

Every human is created in the image of God!

So! What do we do?! That is all discouraging…

James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God's righteousness.

That will solve a lot of problems, if we can just do that.

Seek first to understand, then after that, to be understood. Our tendency, when we get in discussion – is to make our point! There is a place to be understood – but that place is only for when you have understood what the other person is saying.

We like to watch Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday nights – Poldark – just after the revolutionary war – and he fought in America and was wounded – and now he is in parliament. It is really funny – they just all yell at one another and no one is listening. That is NOT what James is saying here!

This verse alone would make social media a safe and civil place to go!

If we fail to understand we will not be understood.

I get into a lot of discussions – theological, not political – and I have found – when I do not first seek to understand, I am never understood.

He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him. (Prov. 18:13)

Colossians 3:8 But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth

The relational context – these things (anger, rage, malice, slander) is all about our speech. These things cannot be a part of God’s community, which is supposed to be characterized by peace, love, forgiveness and unity.

That being said, I think it is important that people feel safe to express themselves emotionally with whatever words are necessary.

I want to be a safe person where people can feel comfortable sharing anything in any way without me feeling offended or them feeling judged by me.


Let no unwholesome (spoiled, rotten, putrified) word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)

On the positive side, let’s use good words that build, edify, and encourage. Bring those words into our vocabulary – according to the need of the moment is added in (in italics). It is saying – before speaking – be aware of the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of those we are sharing with. We need to know our audience so we can respond appropriately to them.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)

When there is tension – step in and see what a gentle word does. Practice that this week! Gentle word. See what happens.

James 3: 11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.

More illustrations – and that leads us to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

Luke 6:43 "No good tree bears bad fruit (same word as Ephesians:unwholesome), nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

The number one way to control your speech? Watch over your heart! If all we do is worry about not saying the right thing, you will fail miserably. First we must focus on having good hearts toward God and people. If you have that, your mouth will speak what is right. If you think you are better or are suspicious, your mouth CANNOT speak what is right. You might fake it once, but it won’t continue.

Ephesians 5:4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Develop a heart of praise and thanksgiving.

Then after, and part of our praise and thanksgiving – be thankful for others.

Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, [q]with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

To change our hearts – to guard our hearts – let the Word of Christ dwell richly in it. First it speaks of the gospel – let the gospel dwell within your heart.

Then memorize and meditate on all of God’s word – and it will come out when we speak.

Third – to guard our hearts – have a heart of compassion and that is the message next week

Sunday Service at 10:00 am

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