Stain Upon Your Lips; Forgiveness Laid Upon Your Tongue

Text:  James 3:1-12

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Just as a small rudder can direct an entire ship, the small human tongue can direct the entirety of a life as well.

Just as a small bit in a horse’s mouth can control the whole horse, the small human tongue can exert tremendous control over the body. 

There is no doubt about it that the tongue, though small, is incredibly powerful.  This small muscle of our human body—weighing only 2.2 ounces—is that part of our body that pronounces and speaks ‘words.’  These words that come from this small tongue are not just powerless puffs of air that accomplish nothing.  That is to say, contrary to the old nursery rhyme, sticks and stone do break bones and words will hurt you. 

You see, words that come from the tongue and lips are powerful; they communicate, control, coerce, express feelings, teach, lead, guide, and shape people.  These words that roll off the tongue have the power to hurt and heal.  Indeed, the Epistle of James tells us that the tongue can speak words that bless or it can speak forth words that curse. 

If not kept in check though, the tongue and its words can act like a spark, igniting fire and destroying the lives of people.  It only takes a spark to set a whole forest on fire; it only takes the small tongue to stain and poison a group of people as well.  Undeniably, the tongue and its words have started wars, divided families, split churches, separated communities, and caused divorces.  Destructive words go out from the tongue and travel through phones, social media, the town-talk, and the press.  These destructive words go forth and wound the conscience, get imbedded into the mind, and then haunt our memories for the years to come.  These painful words will not only stick in our minds, but will also be passed down from generation to generation wounding our children and our children’s children. 

The tongue and its words are indeed powerful.  These words can bless or they can curse.  In other words, there is nothing that does greater good and greater harm to our neighbor, before God and man, than the tongue. Even though the tongue is the smallest part of our bodies, it yields tremendous power.[1]   

With all that stated, even though the tongue is so small and is captive inside your mouth like a caged wild beast, no human being has been able to tame it.  Even though we can cage lions, tiger, and bears—and even tame them—mankind has yet to be able to tame the tongue.  If you think about it, it is rather simple to tame the tongue; all it would take to control the tongue would be to shut the mouth, locking the tongue within this cage.  However, as we all know from our own experiences and from what we can easily observe in history, the tongue is restless.  When the ears hear that little bit of gossip on the streets, the tongue squirms with joy and it bursts out of its cage—that is the mouth—so that it can spread the gossip into every corner of the community.  While the tongue destroys the character of our neighbor, it relishes, delighting in the chance to stir up someone else’s dirt like pigs that roll in manure.[2]

We have all said it, “they should just keep their mouths shut.”  We have all thought it, “why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?”  Indeed, the tongue speaks sin, commits sin, and then after it has ignited the spark, it defends and justifies itself and the sinner.   

It’s a bad deal. 

It is not the way that it should be. 

The tongue—your tongue and mine—should not be used to harm a neighbor.  It should not be used to say anything evil of a neighbor to bring about their character assassination.  It should not be used to spew forth false doctrine.  It should not be used to blaspheme the Lord.  But rather, the tongue should speak only the best about our neighbor by cloaking and veiling our neighbor with our own honor.  The tongue should confess and bless the Lord as well.

This is where the problem lies though.  James is calling for consistency of the tongue.  In other words, James is pointing out in his epistle that a Christian has received the implanted Word of God, which means that there should be no slander, gossip, blaspheming, false doctrine, and the like coming from that very tongue. To prove his point, James asks these rhetorical questions: 

Does a spring of water put fresh and bitter water through the same opening?  Of course not!

Does a fig tree yield olives?  Of course not! 

In other words, should the Christian—that is you and me—who has received the implanted, perfect, whole, and good Word, speak forth slander, blaspheme, and false doctrine?  Of course not!

Think about this for a moment.  Think about your tongue.  If we claim to be a Christian but let our tongues go wild, we are fooling ourselves. In other words, do you think that tongues that slander, tongues that blaspheme, tongues that confess false doctrine, and tongues that spew forth poison belong to the Baptized?  Should our lips and tongues that have tasted the very body and blood of Christ, call down the powers of darkness, confess doctrinal lies, and curse our neighbor?   It ought not to be this way, for this is not who we are!

And yet, even though we confess that it should not be this way, it is this way.  We simultaneously bless the Lord and we also curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  As much as we try, as much as we fight against it, and as much as we attempt to keep the tongue in its cage, we must admit that from our mouths comes blessings and curses, each and every day of our lives.  Bluntly put, it is this way because we cannot—in this life—tame the tongue. 

It seems that we have now arrived at a predicament.  Our tongues ought to be pure, but they are not.   We ought to speak blessings, yet we slander.  The good that we want to do, we don’t do.  The very evil that we don’t want to do, we end up doing. 

Tragically, we are not completely renewed; our tongues are wicked for our hearts are wicked as well.   

There is no doubt about it that this morning we have been admonished by the Epistle of James.  Therefore, we must confess together that our tongues are not consistent with the implanted Word that we have been given.  We are people of unclean lips; we cannot tame this tongue.  

Oh, what wretched tongues and hearts that we have!  Who will save us from this? 

We mustn’t take this lightly or shrug it off, for this would be doing the exact opposite of what James is warning us about. 

Dear friends, I need to be forgiven; you need forgiveness.  We need it from outside, from above, and by another. We need our unclean tongues to be absolved, by the one who had complete control over His tongue.  We need our unclean hearts forgiven, by the one who has a pure heart.  We need Jesus Christ and His Word for us. 

With that stated and with your tongues caged in your mouth and your ears open, hear these words from a clean and righteous tongue, “It is finished; your sins are forgiven.” 

Though this may sound like seven simple words, keep in mind that these simple Words of Jesus do not merely turn a ship or steer a large horse, but deliver you from the condemnation of sin, the sting of death, and the power of the devil.  That is to say, even if a pack of demons filled the land threatening to devour you, do not tremble for they cannot over power you.  Even if the world’s tyrants rage against you, do not shake for they cannot over power you.  Even if the weight of sin seems to crush you, do not despair.  Why?  You have been given seven simple Words of Christ, little words that subdue, prevail, and conquer over sin, death, and the devil.  Seven words that are for you, “It is finished; your sins are forgiven.”

Furthermore, with your tongues caged in your mouth and your ears open, here this: behold, your lips and your tongue have been touched by the Gospel and will be touched by the Christ today.  In point of fact, with your lips and your tongues, you have received and will receive the body and blood of Christ for the very forgiveness of your sins.  Your lips and tongue have been touched; your guilt is taken away; your sin is atoned for. 

Baptized Saints, there is no condemning word against you and no condemning tongue of hell pronouncing you guilty, for you are in Christ. 

Baptized blood bought Christians take heart, Christ Jesus has delivered you from the condemning tongue of hell, the jaws of death, and your slavery of sin, unto Himself.  In Christ you have been purified and freed from the stain of sins on your lips and upon your heart.  Though you will daily sin; the Lord will daily forgive and restore you, for He is your ever present Savior. 

It gets better.  The Holy Spirit through the Gospel will daily purify and sanctify you so that your words may uplift, strengthen, and bring peace where there is strife.  Daily by the Word and Sacraments the Holy Spirit will grant you repentance of your erring tongue and daily will lead you by bringing sincerity where there is falsehood.  Daily being returned to your baptism, your faith will be strengthened.  Daily the Lord will use your forgiven lips and tongue to speak His glory, to tell of His wonderful deeds, and to proclaim salvation. 
May your prayer and my prayer, as His children, be, “Create in us a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within us, while continually purifying our lips for your service.” 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: 8th Commandment.

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