If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. James 3. If you don't have a Bible with you, there should be a hardback black one somewhere near you. Grab that. As always, I want to encourage you to look at what the book says more than what I say, and so if these two things go in different directions, trust the book in your lap rather than the goofy, gangly guy up front.
We're going to be in James 3:1-12 in our time together, but here's a fun fact to start our day. The average person…that's the average person; not the overly-talkative one or the super-shy one…spends one-fifth of their life talking. If all of our words were put into print, the result would be this. A single-day's words would fill a 50-page book. In a year's time, the average person's words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each. That's average.
Some of you are like, "Simply not true about me. I'd have written four books in a decade," and others of you are like, "Bro, I'd fill a library. I'm on the scale over here. I'm definitely not over there." The point of this stat is this…we are constantly talking. We are. We talk to ourselves. We talk to others. Yes, texts and tweets do count. We are a communicating creature created by a God who communicates via words, and so we are constantly talking, constantly thinking, constantly sharing what we think.
Some of us are external processors, some of us are internal processors, but we all talk a lot. One-fifth of your life will be spent with your mouth open. Now that's a lot of opportunity to bless and that's a lot of opportunity to curse. I don't mean curse words. Are you tracking with me? That's not what we're talking about here today. I know some of you are like, "Whew!"
So in the end here, it should not surprise us that the Word of God and God's invitation into life as he designed it to be would have to some things to say about how we use a fifth of our lives, right? It shouldn't be surprising God has an idea, a design for how we use those words.
Already in the book of James, he has alluded to some of it. In James 1:19, he said, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to [listen], slow to speak…" So be quick to listen and slow to speak, and so all my quick-witted, fast mouths felt shame.
Be quick, be speedy to listen. Be slow, be in molasses when it comes to talking. But are we not a culture that flips those two? Haven't 24-hour news cycles and the incessant need for gossip made us talkers long before we're listeners? So James 1:19 has already weighed in on this, but chapter 3, the first 12 verses… We're about to read it. Here's the premise of 1-12.
1. Words are powerful. They bless and they curse. With that said, let's look at James 3, starting in verse 1. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways." I praise God that sentence is there. I have it underlined and highlighted in my Bible. "And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things." Or great power.
"How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And 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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue."
That's a bit of comedy injected into a very serious subject. James is going, "Hey, we can tame a snake and a dolphin, but we can't watch our mouths. We can tame any kind of bird, reptile, creature on earth, but we cannot get our tongue to obey us." Then he goes on from there.
"It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it 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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."
Words are powerful. With them we bless, we build up; with them we curse, we burn to the ground.Let me show you this. Throughout the Bible, this is actually a very common conversation. In Proverbs 18:21, here's what Solomon says. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue…"
Now that might sound overstated, but as I was preparing for this sermon, I just did simple research on how often in main media news we're coming across teenagers and young adults who are taking their own lives simply for the incessant tearing down and mocking of their peers, and then there were too many to pick from.
Literally, in the last three years, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories of teenagers, college students, and young adults who have ended their lives not because of a deep depression, not because of chemical imbalance, but because the incessant, constant, non-stop belittling, mocking, and tearing down by other people either via social media or in their life led them to take their own lives. Words have the power of life and death.
The Proverbs would also argue not only do they have the power of life and death, but they have the power to wound or to heal. Proverbs 12:18: "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Words can wound, and if we're honest, almost all of us could probably think back and remember when someone said something to us that cut so deep that it affected us later.
Most of our children are ill-equipped. What do we send children out in the street with to handle the assault from words? Pithy, weak poems. "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you." Like, who wrote that? They were deaf. All right, whoever wrote that couldn't hear words. Then my favorite is the one I think the kids came up with. "I'm rubber and you're glue. Whatever you say to me bounces off of me and sticks to you." That's the defense. Those are the coping mechanisms for hurtful words.
Lest you think this is, "Oh that's cute," I'll bear my own soul to you. My daddy was a military man, so we got moved around, and then on top of that my daddy had a restless soul. My older sister is in this room. She'd testify to this. So dad would oftentimes just move us houses. The military wouldn't move us; he would just need to move to another house. So a couple of different high schools. We were just always moving around.
When I was about 10-12 years old, we had moved yet again, and now we're in a new neighborhood with a new set of little boys, and I'm trying to get in with the cool kids. Right? Don't judge me right now because none of you went, "Who's getting made fun of a lot around here? I'd like to hang with that crew." No! So I saw this group that was about four little boys in the neighborhood about my age, somewhere around where I was, between 10 and 12, and I wanted to get in.
So I just do what I do. I just inserted myself. In the middle of that, one of them, kind of their ringleader, said, "Dang, Chandler, you're such a spaz." Somebody just giggled there. I'm trying to bare my own hurts here and you want to giggle? I'm going to use this as an illustration 10 years from now when I'm preaching something like this. He calls me a spaz. "Yeah, he's a spaz!"
I don't remember that like really crushing my soul or anything, but here's what I found out years later. I mean, this is crazy. Years later, I mean decades later, I have a son, and here's what I began to notice. I began to notice when he got real hyper and excited I would come down real hard on him. Like, when he gets excited, his voice goes up like this! I mean, he really is a spaz, and when he would act like a spaz, like I would crush it.
I would come in and be like, "Hey! Look at me! Calm down! Why do you act like this? Did you get sugar? What's happened to you? Why are you freaking out? Sit down! Why can't you just sit still?" Then I would remove from him, and then I'd be like, "Oh my gosh! I just lost my mind. Why did I just do that?" I couldn't navigate it, because here's what I was doing. (This will be a theme.)
I would go, "I don't need to talk like… I mean, he's 5. Let him love life. Why do you have to squelch him, Chandler? I'm not going to talk to him like that again." Then sure enough, the next time it would happen,"Hey! What's up?" So I called a friend of mine who is a biblical counselor, and I was like, "Bro, I need help. For whatever reason, I don't do it with my oldest daughter, but I come down hard on my boy when he acts up."
He said, "Well, what do you mean acting up?" I was like, "Well, man, he just can't seem to sit still, and he just won't stop talking. Like, it's like he can't not talk. Sometimes literally he follows around the house while I'm trying to get dressed and it's just a stream of consciousness, and it makes me snap!" Here's what I found out. I mean, we're giggling and having a good time, but here's what happened.
That little "You're a spaz" wound when I was 10-12 had me crushing my son's vibrancy, because I didn't want anybody to call him a spaz. I didn't want anybody to put that on him, and so I'm trying to save him by telling him not to be a spaz. Because being called that is better when it comes from your dad, right?
Words are powerful. They wound in ways we really aren't even aware of. Most of the ways we lash out and act have to do with some sort of wound that probably came about via words. They can wound or they can heal. They can heal. This is especially true for teachers, and this is James' point. All verbal activity is potentially dangerous.
Teaching is especially so, for the teacher of error has the potential not only to destroy the teacher himself but also harm the students. This is James' point here. Teachers who slander, who make reckless accusations or verbal attacks, who grumble and quarrel will naturally cause greater damage to the community by virtue of their position and their implicit authority.
So hear me. Be careful who you listen to. Be careful who you listen to. James' appeal to this church is this. Not many of you should want to step into the space of teacher for a couple of reasons. First, you're going to be judged with a stricter judgment, and secondly, you might come across, share in your desire to have a position of authority, you might poison the very community you teach.
My doctrine professor and my preaching professor was a guy by the name of James Shields. I loved him and hated him. He was a very hard prof, which was why I loved him and hated him. One of the things he said I didn't believe at the time… What do you know when you're a sophomore in college? There's just stuff you think. What he said was five years into your pastorate what you don't like about your church is what you probably don't like about you. I wrote that down. I was just like, "Ha! Ridiculous."
Then five years here, I was like, "Sheesh! I don't like this. I don't like this. We have to grow here. We have to grow here. We have to grow here." I might as well just scratch The Village Church. I'm putting, "Matt Chandler needs to grow here, needs to grow here, needs to grow here." See, James' point is if you sit under a guy who only knows what is wrong and can never point you to what is right, you will be experts on what is wrong and have no clue of what is right."
If you tear down everything and don't build something in its place, we all end up homeless. Be careful who you listen to. Also be careful of stepping into space and pretending to be an expert when you're not. There's a way that seems right to man, and in the end it leads to death. I'm not trying to terrify you from giving advice to others; I am encouraging you to make sure that advice is built upon the Word of God and not something you think.
If we did a brief history of stuff you thought that turned out to be crazy, we'd have a couple-of-hours conversation, wouldn't we. We would. What is unchanging is the Word of God; what is constantly changing is our opinion of what should and shouldn't be done. Then from there he gives three illustrations. They all point to the same thing, but they are three different illustrations. Look there at verse 3.
"If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well." Now my 12-year-old daughter barrel races, and she has a Quarter Horse, Gypsy, who is about 800-900 pounds. My daughter, 12 years old, probably weighs 60 pounds soaking wet. She's long and gangly, as you could guess. She gets on the back of that animal and makes her do whatever she wants her to do.
Gypsy is powerful. There was a day we were out at the barn. I'm an idiot. I don't know anything about horses, and so I wrap my arm around her neck, and I'm just petting her chest. At some point she thinks she's in danger, so she reared up and flung me in the air. Because I'm such an athlete, I landed on my feet, all right. True story. I did land on my feet. It has nothing to do with athleticism as much as just sheer luck. Landed on my feet. That horse threw me in the air like I didn't exist, and yet my 60-pound daughter can get on her back and, with the bit in her mouth, completely control her.
The second illustration is the same. It's a ship. "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things." See, both examples here emphatically illustrate the power of speech. If it is controlled well, it is effective and wonderful, but if not controlled or controlled poorly, the disaster can be enormous. Then his third illustration is that of a fire.
"How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And 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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it 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." If you pay attention to history, the highest of heights in human history and the lowest, most depraved moments are marked by the same thing…rhetoric.
How did Hitler gather the Nazi party and set out to take over the world? He did it with rhetoric. There is no great movement in human history that did not have an amazing communicator somewhere in the midst of it, who set language, who with rhetorical flair incited fury, patriotic duty, zeal, love, hate. See, one of the truths of human history is that words can lead us to some of the most deplorable, despicable, wicked things imaginable. Things we couldn't fathom doing we're now able to do because words have defined reality for us.
This was true of the Holocaust. This was true of the Jim Crow South. This is true even now when it comes to abortion and how we view babies in the womb. See, you dehumanize it. It's not a person. Yeah, it has its own heartbeat. Yeah, it has its own DNA strand. Yeah, it has its own blood type. Yeah, its heart is beating. Yes, its brainwaves are functioning. Yes, it can feel pain. But it's not a baby. It's cells. It's an it. Right? So all you have to do is say that. If you say that, then you can do anything, because you can do anything you want to an it. Right? Can't you?
Language matters. You dehumanize. Not a baby; it's a clump of cells. It's not a baby; it's a woman's body. It's not a baby; it's a choice. All right, words matter. They change how we view things. It's how we were able to exterminate so many Jews. It's the reason African Americans in this country were subjected for so long, because there was a certain language, a certain way of thinking and talking that allowed predominant culture to subjugate the sub-dominant cultures. Words matter. All highs and lows in human history have somewhere around them brilliant rhetoric.
This is what makes Christianity such a true outlier in world history. The apostle Paul, who wrote 75 percent of the New Testament, is the greatest missionary we've had in our faith. He actually says, "I'm not a good preacher. I didn't come with wise and persuasive words, but rather by a demonstration of the power of God."
So Christianity flourished not under rhetoric but under power. Christianity spread not because in the first century we had magnificent orators, but rather because the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work among those who were preaching what appeared to be ridiculousness and yet was so infused with power that men and women were converted to Christ.
Now rhetoric would show up. Great preachers and communicators would show up, but early on that's not what it looked like. So our varsity guy couldn't preach a lick and yet was planting churches all over the ancient world. In fact, if you read the book of Acts, when that first band of brothers was brought before the powers that be, they called them unlearned men. These unlearned men are turning the world upside down.
So Christianity, although it has a history of good teachers, good communicators, good preachers, its foundation was not one of rhetoric but power. Our foundation is not one of good explanation and strong apologetics, but rather a demonstration of the Holy Spirit's power. That's where we stand. Then from here, here's where I want us to dive in. Words are powerful. With them we bless, with them we curse. Then here's another point of James', one we need to spend some time on.
2. Words reveal the progress of our faith. One of the principal marks of maturity is self-discipline. Self-discipline with regard to one's speech is rare. Look there in verse 2. "For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." Now here's a unique mark about the sins that come from our mouths, the words we use to cut, to tear down, to hurt, to purposefully break, those things.
Here's an interesting thing to think about. There's a whole set of sins that loses its power as we grow older. The last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes explains what happens as one gets into the twilight years of their lives. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes says desire fails, that sexual desire eventually fails.
Now I'm looking around and a lot of us are like, "Ain't there!" Okay, but the Bible says if you live long enough you'll be there. I don't know where that is. Maybe you're a 90, 117, 145. I don't know when it happens, but the Bible is clear. The desire eventually fails. Not just sexual desire, but desire to conquer and overcome, to build, to be mighty. All of that desire fails.
So there's a type of sin that begins to lose its power because of our fleshly abilities or non-abilities in a way that's not true about the tongue. In fact, the tongue all the more will get sharper and more aggressive as you grow older. If you have a bitter heart or an angry heart, as you physically grow older, some of the sins that might push itself out in your physical body you're incapable of, but you're still able to be very bitter and angry with your tongue.
As you're physically unable to be angry, to intimidate, to force people with physical power, or manipulate with physical presence, the tongue is always there. It's always there. Now here's something I need to clarify. James is not saying that if you simply learn how to control your tongue all your other struggles will magically go away, but rather the work of taming the tongue takes us right into the epicenter of all that is wrong with us, namely our hearts.
This is the way Jesus would say it in Luke 6:45. "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil…" Here's the sentence. "…for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth…" What? "…speaks." So that one-fifth of our lives spent talking, the words that come out of our mouths, where do they come from? Why are they so powerful?
They're not powerful simply because they're vibrations in the air we interpret as certain words; they're powerful because it's our heart saying to another soul, "This is what I think about you." Our words reveal what's really going on in our hearts. Now think about how good of a gift this is from God. You don't have to wonder if you have an angry heart. You don't have to wonder if you have a jealous heart. You don't have to wonder what's going on. Your words reveal it.
If you're always snapping, always exploding, you have an angry heart. You don't have to go, "I don't really have an angry heart." Don't justify right now. "I just didn't get enough sleep. I was just stressed out." Yeah, and all of that led to anger that exploded out of your mouth coming from your heart and landed on somebody else.
If we're honest, some of our lives are marked by words that tear down, words that attack, words that hurt. In fact, just so we all feel a bit more comfortable, how many of you in this room have purposefully tried to wound another with your words? You did it on purpose. You knew if you said it, it was going to hurt. You knew if you said it, it was going to crush them, and you wanted to crush them, and so you said it.
How about this one? Sometimes some of us are too fear-of-man oriented to go that far and just crush somebody, so instead we just refuse to enter into their celebration. Whatever they're excited about, we just kind of take it away from them. "Did you see my new truck?" "I did, but I'm more of a Ford guy." Right? It's like, "Ah, I'm not entering into that with you. I'm going to try to take your joy from you."
"Look at these wheels!" "Do you know how much those wheels are going to cost to replace? I just think it was an unwise decision, brother. Is that good stewardship?" So I'm just going to take that from you. I'm going to wound you, but I'm too cowardly to just outright say, "I don't like you," so I'm just going to passive-aggressively chisel away at you.
Or how about this? Are you jealous? Look at me. Do you constantly have to give people your resume? Are you at dinner waiting for them to finish talking so you can one-up them? "Hey, I got to go to a Cowboys game." "Man, that's awesome. I did too. I had sideline passes. Where were you? Oh, I've never really sat up there. Can you see the field for the screen? I mean, you really could've just stayed at home, right? I mean, you just watched the screen. You might as well have just stayed at the house, right?"
Just always having to one-up, always having to try to give the resume about why you're so great and why you're so amazing and why everybody… Let me tell you what all of this reveals about our hearts. See, what drives you is your identity. What drives your mouth is your heart. What drives your heart is your identity. Here's where the gospel enters this space of our mouth and saves us.
Let's have an honest conversation. My issue for the longest time was anger. Anger and control. So what came out of my mouth if I got stressed, if things didn't go my way wasn't manipulation; it was anger, it was rage. It was my issue. There was no way I could justify, "No, I'm not really an angry person." You could tell. You stress me out, I'm not passive aggressive; I'm just aggressive. I could see that in me. It was another time in my life where I had to go get help. I couldn't get out of it.
Here's what I was doing. See if you can relate. I would blow up and then I'd see the carnage of me blowing up and then I'd feel guilt and shame, and I'd swear, "I'm not going to do that anymore." Then I would even apologize, and I'd go, "Hey, I'm so sorry that I freaked out. I don't even know why I freaked out. Now that I'm away from it, it seems so dumb. Please forgive me. I'm not going to do that again." For another week. Then all it would take is the pressure of life to get to me again, and I would explode again.
Now maybe yours isn't anger. Maybe yours is jealousy. Maybe yours is bitterness. I don't know where your heart is, but your words are telling you. Quit trying to justify even now, "Oh, I'm not really an angry person; I just explode once or twice a month." Right? No, you're an angry person. So here's where the gospel and gospel identity enter that space and begin to transform our mouths, begin to make us an edifier and an encourager, set us free to rejoicing in gladness in a way that a wrong identity never can.
See, as we grow in an understanding that Christ's love and forgiveness rests on us and that who I am first and foremost is a son of God, adopted by God through the blood of Jesus Christ, and then secondarily I am Lauren's husband, and then I am the father of my three children, and then I am the pastor of The Village Church, and I am the president of the Acts 29 church planting organization, and then I am my friends' friend.
Those are my identities that are sub-identities of my identity in Christ, and if I can anchor myself in what God has said about me in Christ…that I am his, that I am accepted, that I am loved, that he is for me, not against me, that all of my sins were absorbed by Christ on the cross…now my mouth begins to change.
Here's how. I don't need Lauren to be my savior; I have one. So when she doesn't measure up, I don't have to wound her with my words. When my son acts like a spaz, I don't have to control and manipulate. I get to just rejoice. Here's a great one. If I come across someone who is better than me, I don't have to tear them down. I get to celebrate, "Man, they're gifted!"
See, because if your identity is you're the best business guy, you're the best salesman at your office, if your identity is you're the best dad in the herd of morons you run with, or if you're the "I'm the best mom in the worlds I live in," if that's where your identity is, you will be forced to tear down others because your identity is at stake.
See, if you're the best salesman at your office, and another guy comes in, and his numbers are better than yours, then when someone comes up and goes, "Hey man, Charlie has been killing it, huh?" you are forced then in that moment to go, "Yeah, but you know what? I think it's a little bit shady. I think eventually we're going to find out the dude is cheating."
If someone comes up and goes, "Man, I love to watch her, how she mothers her children," you're going to be forced to be like, "Yeah, like a helicopter. I mean, you watch. One of those kids is going to grow up to be a serial killer." You have to tear down because your identity is at stake. But if your identity is rooted in the gospel, then you're free! Now I get to celebrate. Now I get to rejoice. Now I'm going to be marked by edifying and encouraging because you can't threaten me. I'm secure in Christ.
You're going to put people around you who are stronger than you and are no threat to you at all, and that in turn is going to make you better. You're going to rejoice in the gifts and abilities of others, not see them as threatening. But if your identity is not rooted in Christ, not growing in an understanding of his grace, his forgiveness, his love for you made available in Christ, then you will have no choice but to point out the weaknesses of others as it relates to your identity, because you cannot be dethroned.
Because if you're dethroned as the greatest salesman ever, the greatest doctor ever, the greatest mom ever, the greatest dad ever, the most beautiful lawn ever, if you are dethroned then you don't matter anymore because your identity has been taken from you. Once your identity is gone, you're lost.
So what compels such vitriol coming out of our mouths is a misplaced identity in things that can be taken from us rather than our identity being rooted in the one thing that cannot be taken from us, that we are his, that he does not love some future version of me, that I am being used by God in the measure he would use me, no more no less.
Don't compare myself to other preachers and teachers. Don't compare myself to other pastors. Don't need to. God is doing a thing through them. Praise God for it. He's doing a thing through me. I'm going to play in my space. That just sets me free to rejoice in others.
So let's ask some questions. Have you been set free to rejoice in others? Let's just talk about your heart. Are you angry? You don't need to guess at this. Are you angry? Are you jealous? Is your identity set in Christ or do you incessantly feel like you have to point out the weaknesses of others, the weaknesses of institutions, the weaknesses of work, the weaknesses of church, the weaknesses of home, the weaknesses of the neighborhood? Are you an expert on all that is wrong? An identity rooted in Christ changes how you see the world.
I'll use this example. Michael Bleecker, our worship pastor here at Flower Mound… We go way back. We were working together for a couple of years before I got to The Village. He was one of the first hires once I did get here. Love Michael Bleecker. Bleecker is rooted in gospel identity, and here's why I love him. Everything is awesome. Seriously.
I don't know if you know Michael Bleecker, but he's The Lego Movie. Everything's all right. I mean, that's him. If he goes to a restaurant, and you're like, "How was that restaurant?" he's like, "Oh my, it was amazing."
"How was spring break?"
"Best spring break ever!"
"How was vacation?"
"We all got the flu, but we did it together. It was awesome."
This is him. Just everything is amazing, everything is incredible. If we go to an event and someone else is leading worship, he will almost always meet me when I'm done and be like, "Isn't Aaron Ivey incredible?" Not, "Why does he fill it with so much key? I don't know why he does that. I just feel like it's distracting."
See, that's what happens if you're insecure, if your identity is not in Christ. If your identity is rooted, you rejoice in the gifts of others. I love watching Bleecker. I want to be like Bleecker when I grow up, because there are a lot of things I think are awesome, but I still am pretty good at spotting things I don't care for.
I'm not saying there's not a place for legitimate critique, and I'm not saying there's not a place for hard words, because when we're talking about words being a blessing or a curse, sometimes hard words are a blessing. Proverbs tells us that the wounds of a friend are a gift from a God. A friend can wound you with their words. "This is inconsistent, brother. You need to repent of this sin."
Words can hurt. They can sting. Nobody likes being exposed, and yet is it not a blessing to have friends who are willing to risk like that? Most of us have friendships that aren't deep enough for that to even take place, and it's a dangerous thing to walk in such shallow friendships because you will be unaware of your blind spots, and everybody has them. "I don't see any." They're called blind spots.
As I was studying this week… First of all, deeply convicted. I'm witty and like to make jokes, and so I think there are some people who avoid me because they don't want to be the brunt of that joke, and so that's been my personal confession this week. I had to apologize to about 70 people before I could even preach this. Already I was like, "Hey, I'm an idiot. Please forgive me. I'm getting help…still. So there was this spaz thing that happened to me, and I'm taller than they are now and better looking and far more successful, but it still hurts." I might still need some help, right?
Here's a way I dreamed for us as I was studying this text. What if The Village Church became a place marked by edification and encouragement? What if even now in our heads we'd begin to make a list of people we wanted to speak life into? "I see this in you, brother. It's so encouraging. I see this in you, sister. Praise God for the gift of faith. You're always the one who drives us to prayer. You're always the one who points us towards the Lord. You're so willing to open up your home and your heart. Thank you."
What if instead of just thinking about how awesome certain people are, we're quick to tell them we think they are? But I think before we get to that piece, we have to start at this piece. What does your mouth reveal about you? Are you angry? Are you jealous? Are you bitter? Are you desperate? Are you sad? Are you needy? Look, you can try to spin it and justify all you want. Your mouth has betrayed you.
Look at me. This is good news, because if you were left just to wonder what was going on in your heart, you would always think you're incredible. But God loves you too much for that, so he says, "Hey, see how you just incessantly wound people? How you incessantly have to be seen as the best? How you incessantly have to be seen as having this identity…being the strong one, being the fit one, being the popular one, being the good looking one?
See you're constantly trying to defend yourself? Wouldn't it be better to just rest? Wouldn't it be better to just breathe and know you're mine? All the acceptance you crave is found in me, not in any of those places." Even if you earned that reputation and are seen that way, it won't be for long. There's going to be someone better than you. There already is someone better than you. If you build your identity on anything other than Jesus Christ, your words will be hateful or boastful or both, and Christ loves you too much to let you stay there.
I think there are two things we need to do. We are exposed by God of what's going on in our heart via the Word of God for two reasons. First, we repent and then we confess. We confess to God but we also need to confess to others, and here's why. Words are another one of those areas where it doesn't just hurt us, but it hurts others. In fact, if I had to guess, you most often hurt those who are most dear to you and closest to you.
If we've been exposed today and we're angry or we're bitter or we're jealous, then we don't need to just go, "God, I'm angry. Help me to not do it anymore." We need to say, "I'm angry," and then go to our wife, go to our husband, go to our children and go, "Daddy, Mom, we've acted in anger in our hearts. It's not good. It's not right. Dad and Mom, we're going to go seek help."
One of the reasons I have purposefully interjected into this message that on two separate occasions (honestly, seven or eight separate occasions) in my own journey with Christ, knowing the Bible very well, reading books, always there were parts of my heart I couldn't navigate. I couldn't figure it out. Like, "Why am I snapping at my kid?" I couldn't figure it out. I knew it wasn't good or right, but I couldn't stop. What was happening? So I had to get help.
If you've had an angry heart for 10 years, please don't do that today, where you're like, "I'm sorry, God. I'm sorry, baby. I'm not going to do it anymore. Okay, let's go home." No, faith works. Take that step. That's why we're here. Here in a minute we'll pray. We're going to move into a time of Communion and response. We're not dismissed yet.
Then when all is said and done at the end of our time together, there are going to be men and women available to pray for you, to walk with you, to help you. This is what we're here for. Look at me. Let us. Please, please, please don't buy into Bible Belt veneer spirituality that would have you pretending you're great.
See the cross over here. If you're on video, you can't. Here in the room, do you see the cross over there? That's God already outing you. That's God already saying, "I know you're a mess! I've made the way. I know you're broken. Let me help." Men, do you use your words to dominate? That needs to be confessed and repented of. Women, do you use your mouth to manipulate, to tear down? That needs to be confessed and repented of. We need to seek help in the gospel via good, helpful guides of what's really going on in us. Where are we failing to trust? Have we misplaced our identity?
So I'm going to pray for us. Then we're going to enter into response via the Lord's Supper, confession and repentance. My prayer is ultimately that God would so establish gospel identity in our hearts that we would be a church marked by edification and encouragement. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for my brothers and sisters. Thank you for the opportunity just to let your Word bear its weight on us. You are good and generous and gracious. Even now as we prepare to respond to your Word, I pray you would save us from self-justification, that you would save us from punting down the field these issues for another day.
I pray you would aggressively if not ruthlessly expose our anger, our bitterness, our jealousy, our false identities, and that you would establish a root today of knowing we are loved by you, accepted by you in Christ, our sins are forgiven, and that our identity first and foremost is son/daughter of God, fully loved, fully accepted, not some future version of us loved and accepted, but us right now.
So empower, strengthen us to confess, to repent, to take the small steps of faith that lead to greater understanding of who you are and, therefore, who we are because of who you say we are. Help us with these things. They're tricky. It's for your beautiful name, I pray, amen.
We'll be done here in just a moment. We provide Communion primarily for our covenant members, but if you're here today as a guest who's a believer in Christ in good standing with the church you're visiting us from, please take a cracker and a cup. You are a brother and sister of Christ, an heir of God, co-heir with Christ. It would be foolish for us not to celebrate Jesus with you.
But here's what I would like to ask. If you're not a believer in Christ, will you abstain? Will you just let the elements pass? See, what we're celebrating here is true for us, that the things we've talked about this morning, the identity we have in Christ, that all of our sins have been paid for, that Christ loves us now, not some future version of us, that's true for the Christian. For the un-Christian, it is an invitation you must walk into. It is an invitation you must submit to.
So the invitation is to confess your sins, to repent and put your faith in Christ. See, the gospel is good news. It's not information about what you should or shouldn't do. It's news, historic news that this is what Christ has done for you. If you will by faith put faith in that grace, the heart is made anew, identity is anchored in Christ, and life begins to change. The call is a call to come and die.
With all we've said today, I wanted to give you just a few moments here to consider the nature of your heart, what's going on in there. Are you bitter? Are you angry? Are you jealous? What's happening in your heart? So just for a few minutes here, I'm going to let you pray, let you consider, let you think, and then I'll come back up, and we'll take Communion together as a family. But for now, five minutes for you to pray, consider your heart before the Lord. Are you angry? Are you bitter? Are you jealous? What do your words reveal?
The Bible says that on the night Jesus was arrested, he took the bread and he broke it and he said, "This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." After the meal, he took the cup and he blessed it and he said, "This is the blood of the new covenant. Do this in remembrance of me."
Father, I thank you again for an opportunity to gather with family and friends, to pray for one another, to sit under your Word, to be shaped and formed by you as we gather. You're good and gracious to us. It's for your beautiful name, I pray, amen.
Scripture James 3:1-12