The power of words is what we are going to look at today. The readings all speak to the effects and consequences of what we say, what we proclaim, how we use our tongues. We can praise God, confess Jesus as the Messiah, speak words of wisdom. Or we can ignore wisdom and speak folly, curse God, and deny the costs of discipleship. What we listen to and what we proclaim makes all the difference in our lives.
With school back in session and religious education programs resuming in many congregations, it is essential that we listen not just to the cries from politicians, parents, and educators, but also to the words of wisdom God offers us in these texts.
Proverbs basically tells us to listen and live. It says that the voice of wisdom is not hidden or obscure but very loud and very clear. How many of us have used ignorance as an excuse though? I’m sorry officer, I didn’t realize I was going 20 miles above the speed limit. I’m sorry I’m late for dinner, I didn’t see the time. I’m sorry I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t think you were serious. The writer here is very clear that we know what God is saying. The wisdom of God can be heard and is clear: “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.” So, ignorance to what God says is not an excuse.
Proverbs go on to say that even though we know the voice of wisdom, there are always those who will remain in their foolish ways. Some will never acknowledge truth even if it’s staring them in the face. Some are so sure of their ideas that they’ll keep on attacking any views that contradicts theirs. You could announce the greatest and most important truth there is, and they still wouldn’t heed it. It’s not that they can’t hear. It’s that they don’t want to hear. And yet Proverbs tell us that people like that can still change and learn: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.” So, there is still hope! But if we will not listen and we will not change, we will march towards a disaster which is laughably inevitable
“But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you.”
We are still here today. It is not too late for you and for me to right what we know to be wrong. It’s not too late to follow what the doctor tells us to do when he tells us to quit smoking, or it will not end well. To stop drinking before it will rob you of your loved ones. To make a dietary change lest we suffer the consequences and so forth. How many of us stare at a situation thinking, “If I’d had one more day … I could have …”? The truth? You had that one more day, but it was last week or last month and you spent it on things that didn’t matter. How dreadful to have invested your life in things that don’t matter, and now to find there are no more days to secure what has always mattered above all else. But right now, there is still time and wisdom says listen and live:
“Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
There is still a moment. There is still time. “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). That word “now” is so significant. The moment of salvation, the moment of change, is not tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or any ‘next’ in the future. Now means now. It’s this moment, this exact moment. It’s this day, this hour, this minute. Living God’s way and being reconciled with God through Jesus Christ can never be delayed. Now is the time to change, to hear wisdom’s words, to turn to God through Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and then to do what is right. That is the only way to “live in safety, and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
The word of wisdom James mentions to us this morning is about controlling our tongue. Not the tongue, the organ that swallows food, and assists in chewing and tasting but the tongue used in the process of speech. The way we use words to communicate with others. Even though the tongue is very small, the Bible says it is powerful. What does the Bible say about the power of words? In Genesis we see that God spoke and the world came into being. As human beings created in the image of God, we have been given this gift of speech. The words we speak have the power to build up or tear down others. The words we speak has the power to create unity or to cause division. The words we speak have the power to heal or wound others. How are we using our words? Are we using our words to build up people or destroy them? Are the words we speak filled with love or hate? Blessing or bitterness? Compliments or complaints? Victory or defeat? We watched a family movie a couple months back, titled “The Help”. A great movie! In it, the caregiver of this little girl looks her in the eyes and asks her to repeat after her the following words: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
This morning the voice of wisdom is telling us through James to use the power of words properly and not abuse this powerful gift God has given us. We abuse it when we are being inconsistent in our speech. James writes: “with it we bless the Lord and father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
Being inconsistent in our speech is one of the biggest ways we abuse the power of words. Praising God one minute and cursing the next. We've all been guilty of doing this at times. Here I am worshipping the Lord and the minute I get out of church and drive my way to Owen a deer might cut me off and something unholy might come out of my mouth! Here you are worshipping the Lord but then on your way home a car cuts you off and there comes that word. One minute you’re telling your colleague about how awesome God is and what he has done in your life but
then a short time later you’re using a racial slur for example. James tells us plainly "these things should not be this way." Do not be inconsistent in your speech.
Telling lies, foul language are ways we are abusing the power of words as well. “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 Telling lies and deception and foul language are all part of the old self. But we are now a new creation. We have been transformed by the truth of Jesus and the words from our mouth should reflect the transformation of our heart. God expects us to use the power of words to build up each other and never to tear each other down.
The last portion of our text from James says: Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.
What does this mean? It means that what comes out of our mouth is what is actually in our hearts.
When we have become followers of Jesus, the Bible tells us that we become a new person and that the old person is dead. There is an expectancy that a change in our speech should follow our conversion because living for Christ should make a difference in every aspect of our lives.
The voice of wisdom tells us to “Listen and live.” Listen while God’s wisdom is still in our ear, while there is still time, while there’s a moment we can change. Controlling our tongue is a hard thing to do but we can ask God to help us in this area. We can pray like the Psalmist daily “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, o Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen
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