Take Up Your Tongue and Follow Jesus

This sermon, on Mark 8:27-38 and James 3:1-12, was originally preached on September 16, 2018 at Christ Redeemer Anglican Church in Milwaukee, WI.

Introduction

Would you pray with me?

O God, because without you we are not able to please you—especially in what we say!—mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts, so that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts might be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Well, friends, I’ve gotta say that, although it’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning, it honestly freaks me out a little bit to preach at a church I’ve never been to before, when the New Testament reading begins:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes.”!

The insecure perfectionist in me wants to shut up and sit down before I say something wrong! Maybe we should just read the rest of the book of James and call it a day.

But, of course, James’ warning makes sense. Christian teachers ought to be judged with greater strictness, because, to put it simply, words matter—especially when we’re talking about who God is, what God has done, and what it means to live as God’s people.

Although headlines these days might lead us to believe that you can say absolutely anything—no matter how ridiculous or offensive—without suffering lasting consequences, James reminds us that God cares about what you say! Even what you say online, I might add!

Of course, this is somewhat unfortunate because, as James also reminds us, it is so much easier to talk your way into trouble than out of it!

It’s very easy to say the self-serving thing, the dishonest thing, the inflammatory thing.

It’s much more difficult to say the true thing, the loving thing, the wise thing.

Why?

Because, as James reminds us,

“…the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.

The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…

…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Though the tongue is a relatively small part of the human body, just like bits in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship, it can produce some some pretty big changes.

What we say and how we say it can completely change the course of our lives and the lives of others around us. And a careless word spoken to a parent, a spouse, a child, or a friend can ruin lives.

And, here’s the kicker:

“With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

I don’t know about you, but that last part makes me even more nervous.

God doesn’t just care what we say to or about him. God also cares about what we say to or about other people, his image-bearers!

And, if I’m honest, this puts me to shame when I think about how much more time and effort I put into choosing my words carefully in a sermon, compared to how careless I often am when speaking to people who were created in the image of God.

Sure, I still make mistakes in the sermons! But at least I try to think through a sermon.

Yet, I’ll often lash-out at someone without a second thought!

Whether you’ve ever preached before or not, I trust you’ve been there, too.

We’ve all said some things we later regretted. We’ve all learned that it’s easier to talk yourself into trouble than out of it.

Main Point

My main point this morning is, I think, rather simple to understand. But it’s very difficult to live.

It’s this: The only way to tame your tongue is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

The only way to tame your tongue is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Our passage from James has already reminded us that taming the tongue—being wise and controlled in how you communicate—is incredibly difficult.

And James has convicted us that, even though it’s difficult, there’s no excuse for using our tongues to praise God one moment and then to trash the people God has made the next.

This leaves us in a bit of a bind! At least we’re not alone.

Mark 8:27-38

Let’s take a look at our Gospel text in Mark 8.

When Jesus asks his disciples in Mark chapter 8 verse 29 “who do you say that I am?,” Peter hits a home run and says, straight-up, “You are the Christ.”

That is, “you are the Messiah.”

That is, “you are God’s promised deliverer of his people, you are the savior-king that we’ve been waiting for.”

And, look at that! Here’s a bit of good news: by the grace of God, human speech can be accurate! It can even be used to accomplish God’s will in the world (just read Peter’s later letters).

But, of course, things quickly go downhil for Peter. In Mark’s telling of the story, the next thing Peter does is talk himself into trouble. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for Jesus’ clear teaching about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection.

Now, this isn’t the exact same as “cursing” Jesus. It was probably more of a reprimand, like: “Jesus, what are you talking about? If you’re the Messiah, you’re not going to suffer and die. You’re going to conquer! And we’re going to conquer with you!”

Still, even by the disciples’ standards in the Gospels, rebuking Jesus is pretty bad. Peter earns himself the stunning rebuke from Jesus in verse 33:

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Speaking to the crowd and his disciples, in verse 34 and 35, Jesus then says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

In other words, “no pain, no gain!”

Peter was wrong. The Messiah will be victorious, even over death itself! But he would suffer first.

If we want to experience the joy and the glory of Jesus’ resurrection, there’s no other way to get there than to take up our cross and follow him through his cross.

What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

It means that following Jesus requires a painful death. Sometimes, a literal death of martyrdom!

But first and foremost following Jesus requires a death to ourselves and our selfish desires. To take up your cross is to deny yourself.

Now, of course, there are many different ways to take up your cross and follow Jesus in every single area of your life.

This morning, I’d like to focus on what this looks like when it comes to communication.

And I’d like to suggest that the only way to tame your tongue is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

The only way to be wise and controlled in how you communicate is to die to yourself for Jesus’ sake and for the gospel’s sake.

So, we must deny ourselves in order to tame our tongues when we speak to God and to God’s image-bearers.

This is because self-interest is at the root of all foolish and undisciplined speech!

Think about it, every stupid thing we’ve ever said can be traced back to our desires to get ahead!

Self-restraint and trying harder are not enough.

Only the self-denial that follows Jesus to the cross will allow Jesus to set us free from our selfish desires.

The good news is that, although the human tongue is, to use the technical theological term, jacked-up by sin, it is not beyond being saved and used by God.

Rescued by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can be set free to glorify God the Father by loving God and loving others, especially in how we communicate.

The only way to tame your tongue is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

What does that look like, though?

Admittedly, the passage we read from James today doesn’t give us much to go on as far as how to apply these things to our lives today.

Instead, the main point of James 3:1-12 is that, although it’s incredibly difficult to control what you say, it still makes absolutely no sense to bless God and curse the human beings God has made.

The implied point of the passage is that we should not do that. Instead, we should both bless God and bless God’s image-bearers.

That is, in addition to praising God for who he is and what he has done, we should communicate with others for their good and well-being, instead of for our own selfish interests.

How do we do that?

Well, let me offer some suggestions from the book of James as a whole.

First, as our passage implies, we need to realize that, whenever we are communicating with another person, we are either talking to God or to one of God’s image-bearers.

Though it might seem mundane and unimportant, our daily communication with God’s image-bearers is a huge area of our life in which we either obey or disobey Jesus’ command to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.

With our speech, we’re always either building people up in selfless love or tearing them down in selfish pride. (Or, on our good days, we’re manipulating them with flattery.)

We need to take a similar kind of care when we’re talking to God and to God’s image-bearers.

As James seems to focus on later in chapter 4, this should start within the church, by refusing to speak evil of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But then, of course, this should overflow outside the church, by communicating with every human being we encounter for their benefit.

Now, as Jesus himself modeled for us, this “speaking the truth in love” will sometimes involve speaking uncomfortable truths. But there is a difference between doing this for others’ benefit—even if it makes them unhappy—and doing so for your own benefit.

Telling the difference between speaking hard truths in love and speaking them in self-interest requires wisdom.

Second, we need to pray.

As James 1:5 puts it:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Given how difficult it is to tame our tongues, we should regularly ask God for the wisdom and the ability to communicate in a way that blesses him and his image-bearers.

It could be as simple as praying the last verse of Psalm 19 each morning before leaving the house (or leaving your bed):

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Third, we need to slow down and calm down in our communication.

Consider James 1:19-20:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

We should tape those verses to every screen in our lives.

We need to realize that the 24-hour news cycle, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are all conditioning us to disobey God.

They are training us to be slow to listen, or to only listen to those with extreme positions that we agree with.

They are training us to be quick to speak.

And they are certainly training us to be quick to anger.

What in our lives is training us in the other direction? Toward wisdom? Toward the righteousness of God?

How much time do we spend being pulled in either direction?

Perhaps we need to pray for the wisdom and the ability to turn off the TV and log off Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, we need to back up our words with our actions.

Taming the tongue doesn’t just mean not saying anything bad. And it doesn’t just mean saying good things. It also includes speaking in a way that is consistent with your behavior.

James 1:22 tells us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

James 1:26-27 sees right through our pretensions and says:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

As James 2:14-17 puts it:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Saying the words “go in peace, be warmed and filled” to a poor hungry person is not wrong.

Doing so without doing the works of warming and filling them is.

True faith in Jesus Christ shows itself in both words and works.

The only way to tame your tongue is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

So, Father, we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom and the ability to bless you and your image-bearers in how we communicate. Redeemed by his blood, may we display your Son’s self-sacrificial love in what we say and how we live. Amen.

Published
Categorized as Sermons

By Joshua Steele

Anglican Priest, Managing Editor of Anglican Compass, Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School.

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