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Me and My Big Mouth

We have two choices with our words—either bless, or to curse.


“Pad kid poured curd pulled cod." Researchers from MIT say this is the world's most difficult tongue twister. Have a go. If you can say it ten times you may get a prize.

The world tongue twisting champion just got arrested. If found guilty he’s guaranteed a tough sentence.

What tastes better than it smells? Your tongue!

They can’t be seen with the naked eye, but you have up to 4,000 taste buds by the time you’re an adult, each with up to 150 taste receptors. You have less when you’re a child which are more sensitive to sweet tastes which might explain why you preferred candy to cabbage.

Your tongue is as unique to you as your fingerprints. It’s a combination of eight muscles intertwined like an elephant’s trunk so it can move in any direction. They are the only muscles in the body that move independent of the skeleton but like other muscles the tongue is trainable, though it never gets tired (don’t look at the person next to you).

Here James is going to show us how the tongue is a test, so we must train the tongue God’s way. Because though it’s a myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle, it is the most powerful.

Our words can hurt or heal, build up or tear down, bringing wisdom or wounds, the Bible says that little thing is the most dangerous in the whole world. How many wars have started as a war of words?

In the Talmud the Rabbis likened the tongue to a sharpened arrow, a lethal weapon that can wound at long distance.

The Deadly Tongue

Why is it so deadly? Well physically speaking, few places are more infested with harmful bacteria than the human mouth. 600 different types, second only to your digestive and urinary tract with 1 million bacteria for every drop of saliva. Of course many of them are good bacteria, but most toilets are cleaner than your mouth.

Physicians want you to put your tongue out as a health indicator so now lick your lips while we think about how spiritually the Bible directly links the mouth to the heart. Time and time again we’re told that when the heart is good, the words coming out of it are—and the opposite is also true. What’s on your tongue tells what’s on your heart.

When I gave my life to Jesus, God gave me a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). James is going to show us that’s meant to be showing on my tongue. This subject come up a lot in his teaching, in fact in every chapter he tells us something about the tongue. But here in this passage he gives us the most detail.

Of course the Bible has a lot to say about our words and our mouths. The Psalmist (141:3) implores, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” And in Matthew 12:37 Christ tells us “… by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

James is like the Book of Proverbs, which also has many words about our words. Proverbs 18:21 is quoted the most, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Sometimes biting your tongue causes less pain than letting it loose.

There are about 170,000 words in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary. However according to the Guardian newspaper the average speaker knows only 300 words at the age of two, 5,000 at five, and 12,000 at twelve—and most people stick around that. About the same number used in one average newspaper. University graduates may know up to twice as many. Shakespeare used 30,000. But he made a lot up.

Whether you use many words or few, each and every word—and the way you say it—has power. Ever notice how just the tone of your words can change what has been said? Really.

Like I can say “Really ...” Or “Really?” Or Really?!”

I’ll never forget hearing someone say that words are like nitroglycerine—they can blow up bridges or heal hearts.

Two Choices: Bless or Curse

James shows us we have two choices with our words—either BLESS, or to CURSE. And the Bible has much to say about this, with words about blessings and curses occurring almost 600 times. Since the universe was created by God’s Word, as his image bearers our words are charged with supernatural power either from God or Satan. The patriarchs and prophets knew the power of words to affect an individual’s life or a nation’s destiny from generation to generation—for better or worse.

Genesis 12:1-3 describes the comprehensive sevenfold blessing that God spoke over the father of faith, Abraham:

1) I will make you a great nation;

2) I will bless you

3) And make your name great;

4) And you shall be a blessing.

5) I will bless those who bless you,

6) And I will curse him who curses you;

7) And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

God is as good as his word, so that on his death bed Abraham was “blessed in every way.” (Genesis 24:1).

Did you notice the curse included on anyone who curses him, that’s part of the protection of the blessing.

We should not live in fear of curses, but the wise are aware that we can co-operate with them or cause them, just like with blessings. There are nations all around the world that know the reality of this without question. I’ve seen it in India, Haiti and Kenya, but we can become so civilised and blinkered in our rational culture that we dismiss the biblical supernatural reality here.

The Celtic saints tapped into the power of words when they used theirs, listen to the words of St Patrick’s Breastplate and bind its protection over your own life today as we face fears visible and unseen.

I bind to myself today

The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:

I believe the Trinity in the Unity

The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today

The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,

The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,

The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,

The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today

The virtue of the love of seraphim,

In the obedience of angels,

In the hope of resurrection unto reward,

In prayers of Patriarchs,

In predictions of Prophets,

In preaching of Apostles,

In faith of Confessors,

In purity of holy Virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today

The power of Heaven,

The light of the sun,

The brightness of the moon,

The splendour of fire,

The flashing of lightning,

The swiftness of wind,

The depth of sea,

The stability of earth,

The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today

God's Power to guide me,

God's Might to uphold me,

God's Wisdom to teach me,

God's Eye to watch over me,

God's Ear to hear me,

God's Word to give me speech,

God's Hand to guide me,

God's Way to lie before me,

God's Shield to shelter me,

God's Host to secure me,

Against the snares of demons,

Against the seductions of vices,

Against the lusts of nature,

Against everyone who meditates injury to me,

Whether far or near,

Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues

Against every hostile merciless power

Which may assail my body and my soul,

Against the incantations of false prophets,

Against the black laws of heathenism,

Against the false laws of heresy,

Against the deceits of idolatry,

Against the spells of smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today

Against every poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against death-wound,

That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ at my right, Christ at my left,

Christ in the fort,

Christ in the chariot seat,

Christ in the poop deck,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today

The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,

I believe the Trinity in the Unity

The Creator of the Universe.

What difference would praying that every day mean to your heart?

There is incalculable power in your words, especially the ones you speak about and say to yourself. Very often people don’t need anyone else to curse them, they’re doing a great job of it themselves. They do it all the time.

I was reading through the Gospel of John this week and noticed all the “I Am” statements of Jesus. For example, he said “I am the Bread of life, I am the Light of the world, I am the Good Shepherd …” and I realised that though nobody more humble ever walked the earth, Christ never said anything about himself that was not positive.

How about you? When you say, “I am,” what usually comes next? Aside from the external markers that for me would say “I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a Pastor.” Would you say, “I am hopeless, I am a failure, a disappointment, a loser, a waste of space…” Or would you say what God says about you?

When you feel down, do you say things like, "I wish I were dead. What's the point of living? I'm never going to make it." Those kind of negative words are a self-imposed curse, a self-fulfilling prophecy. God is determined to bless you, but you can call down curses on yourself or others intentionally or unintentionally—even as a Christian.

The words you’re using have creative power, setting you and others in your world up for poverty or provision, failure or a future, fear or faith, defeat or victory, sickness or health mentally and physically.

But the good news is Jesus. It’s always Jesus! On the cross, God made it possible for us to be released from every curse, to live under his blessings. Galatians 3:13-14 talks about the great exchange: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, ’Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' - that the blessing of Abraham might come upon (those who) receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

You can break out from every curse, and live blessed to be a blessing. God wants to release the positive power of your words to bless not curse, to help and not hurt; to encourage not dishearten; to praise not pull down.

So what’s coming out of your mouth? (Or your fingers on the keyboard?) Review the past for a little while. Have you been building up, or burning down? Pouring out like a fresh spring or salty sea water that drives everyone crazy?

Before I close I want to highlight the helpful pictures James as we watch our words because our words can direct or destroy our lives, so we have to decide how we use them.

James’ Pictures

James says remember the tongue DIRECTS your life, like a bit or a rudder.

(Read James 3:1-4)

When I was a police officer I spent a little time working with the Mounted Section. I’m a city boy so it was a steep learning curve to get on the back of one of those massive beasts but when you could control one of those, you could also control a crowd! And it was done by means of that little piece of metal in the horse’s mouth.

Recently Zoe and I took up learning to canoe. I had done it before but she never had and kept going round in circles until her instructor tied a small rope off the back of the kayak and draped it in the water to act as a kind of rudder. That little thing fixed it! You can’t choose which way the winds will blow in your life but you can choose which way you’re going to steer that rudder.

One or two little words can shape the whole course of your life—for better or worse. We might call it a little white lie on the CV, but when it’s found out you lose the job. We may say, “I’m only joking,” but the best way to bury a marriage is lots of little digs. How many churches split because someone couldn’t hold in criticism or push back on gossip?

The right word at the right time can open the right door, or that tweet you tweet or the email you send reply all on thinking it was just to your friend can ruin your reputation for good. Is God directing the muscle that directs your life?

Next James says that the tongue can DESTROY your life, like a fire or a wild animal. Words can destroy a relationship, divide a church, or tear a nation apart.

Think about those fires in Australia, when that was the biggest story on the media - 27 million acres destroyed, 33 people, 3,000 homes. Huge fires start with a little spark. Think about what we might call a “heated exchange,” the damage that can do.

James says an untamed tongue can bite like a poisonous beast. Psalm 140:3 says evil people “make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s, the poison of vipers is on their lips.”

He warns us the tongue “is a fire, a world of iniquity.” That word world is kosmos meaning a system, a culture, a whole world gets created by the lies or negative words we speak and it gets quickly out of control and pollutes everything. One person speaking like that unchecked could destroy a friendship, devastate a family, and discredit the leaders of a whole church, really quickly. If you get pulled into it. Whether you meant to or not, the smoke damage might never go away. The tongue can destroy everything.


That’s why God says we have to DECIDE, in every circumstance, what we will say. People know you by how you talk. What would they say about what you say?

Will we bless or curse? James says God has had it when we praise him but curse our brothers and sisters. If we lie, abuse, enrage, decry, flirt, gossip, slander, criticise, insult, flatter, deceive, make false promises—God can’t stand it. It’s bad water, the wrong fruit. Yuk!

So Verse 7 talks about taming the tongue, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed …” Dogs can be tamed. I’m not so sure about cats, but lions can be tamed. I saw someone put his head in a lion’s mouth. But how do we tame our own mouths?

James says we can’t do it. We can’t do it ourselves. It’s “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6).

What I’ve found is the more I praise, the less I moan. The more I bless God and lift him up, the less my tongue gets used to pull people down. Maybe that’s what James means here.

The Jewish people would pray eighteen benedictions, three times a day out loud. Each one ended with a blessing. So it’s good to sing our worship together today. Give your tongue back to God as you present yourself for your worship (Rom 12:1). Ask the Holy Spirit to take control because if he directs your tongue he directs your whole life.

What can I suggest we do this week, to practice taming the tongue? And listen I fully get what James said here when he wrote that none of us get this right, and are never at fault in what they say. I so need to mature in this too! I am a man unclean lips! I need the Holy Spirit’s water to flow over this salty tongue and wash my mouth out. Because right now there is so much to be negative about in the world isn’t there? I can so easily dive right into that.

But the antidote to that poison, the way the church has tried to deal with it over the years is this—SILENCE. Learning to be quiet. To not have to speak. To not have to say the first thing or have the last word. Again, James said, “slow to speak, quick to listen.” That’s hard for me, I’m the other way round. I’m a talker. But “where words are many, sin is not absent.” I’ve said so many things I wish I’d never said.

Some of you, it’s easy for you to keep quiet. But maybe you need to voice the blessing this week. To not keep it inside but to speak a word of praise or encouragement. That would be harder for you than keeping quiet. But the words you speak, can help direct and steer someone else into the destiny and plans the Lord has for them, if you choose to bless and be a blessing.

Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”

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