Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watching What We Say

James 3:1-12

1          Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2          We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3          When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
4          Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
5          Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
6          The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7          All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,
8          but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9          With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
10        Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
11        Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
12        My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

            Not long ago someone was telling me about a trip he had made to the Bahamas.  He said he was walking along and he came to this pier on the beach, and at the end of this pier there was this great commotion that was taking place at the end of the pier and he was curious so he went to see what was going on.  He looked down and he saw this modern day adventure who was preparing his homemade sailboat for a solo trip around the world. 

            He said everyone was around that pier yelling at this young man.

            “You’ll never make it.”

            “You’ll run out of food.”

            “You’ll die of thirst.”

            “You’re an idiot.”

            “You’re a fool.”

            But there was one voice in that crowd.  A relative probably.  Obviously a friend.  One voice that was shouting, “You can do it.  I have confidence in you.  I’m proud of you..”

            What a perfect example of life!

            In the old cowboy folk song, there is a line about the home on the range, “where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” 

            But we in our life and place seldom hear an encouraging word.

            Many of us stand at life’s piers and we look down on others, speaking discouraging words. 

We need to learn to watch what we say.  James says that “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?
The author of Hebrews said in his New Testament book (Heb 3:13), “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
St. Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:11), “Encourage one another and build each other up.”
Yet most of us do not do that.  We speak evil of one another.  We tell lies about one another.  We give discouraging words to one another. 
Many of us stand at life’s piers and look down at others and tell others, “You’re never going to make it.” 
“You are a fool.”
“It can’t be done.”

James was right when he said “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?  We need to learn to watch what we say.

            The Duke of Wellington,  the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo was not an easy person to serve under.  He was a brilliant, demanding soldier but he was not one to shower his subordinates with praise and words of encouragement.  Yet, even the Duke understood that his methods left something to be desired.  Late in his life he was asked if he had his life to live over again, would he do anything differently.  And he admitted that if given the opportunity he would give more praise to others.

            And all of us ought to do just that.  Praise one another and give encouragement.
Now mind you, I’m not suggesting that the Scriptures teach that we should give false praise and empty flattery.
Our Old Testament lesson from the Psalms says, “flattering lips speak with deception.”
William Author Ward once said, “Flatter me and I will never believe you.  Criticize me and I may not like you.  Ignore me and I will never forgive you.  But encourage me and I will never forget you.”
Dr. John Trent, President of Today’s Family, said in a magazine article that sometimes giving encouragement means giving praise in the work of another person.  Words and phrases like, “great job,” or “I’m proud of you,” or “Beautiful work,” or “well done.”
But on the other hand, there are times when encouragement makes no pretense that the other person has done a good job because maybe the other person has not done a good job at all.
Maybe they have done a lousy job, but we still should watch what we say, for they still need a word of encouragement from us.
You need to lift someone up in such a way that says to him or her, “You’re worth something.  You have value to others.”
I read recently about a man who lost his job and he was thrown out of his profession for some indiscretion.  He was a white-collar worker.  Had a wife, kids, nice home, nice car.  Everything he’d dreamed of.  Then he lost his job.  He lost his car, the house had to be sold and the family had to move into a tiny apartment.
He took work at a construction company at the very bottom of the construction ladder, literally.  He had a job hauling concrete bricks from the loading dock to wherever the bricks were needed.  It was hard work and it was exhausting work and it was completely different from anything he’d ever done. 
Instead of going to a nice air-conditioned office every day he was going to a dirty, dusty, hot work site.
Instead of wearing tailor made suits he was wearing blue jeans and T Shirts.
Gone was the piped in music that played softly in the background of his office.
In its place was the blaring music of hard rock and rap and music he couldn’t understand.
Any girl that walked by was subject to rude whistles and salvos of profanity by the workers.
He said he just couldn’t take it any longer.
After three weeks it was just wearing down his soul.

He had discovered the truth of what James had said.  “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

The words of others brought pain and sorrow and discouragement and finally he just couldn’t take it any longer.
He decided one day that he would go in and work until Noontime.  And when the foreman came by with his paycheck he was going to take it and walk out and go home and never look back.
It so happened that this day was a particularly bad day.  He did something stupid and everyone was cutting him down for making a very simple mistake. 
The foreman brought him his paycheck and for the first time in three weeks this foreman said something civil to him.
He said, “Hey, there’s a woman in the front office who knows you.  She says she takes care of your kids sometimes.”
And the foreman gave the name of a woman who worked in the nursery of the church where the man and his family worshipped. 
The foreman handed him the paycheck and went on with his rounds.
The man tore open his paycheck and inside was a note.
It was from the woman in the front office.
It read, “When part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer together.  I just want you to know I’m praying for you.”
He stared at the note, astonished at the Lord’s timing.  He didn’t even know the woman worked in the front office of this company.  Here he was at his lowest point in life.  He had committed a terrible and public indiscretion.   He had a lousy job and he was doing a poor job at it.  And here was this woman who gave a word of encouragement that was just enough for him to pick up that wheelbarrow and begin pushing another load of bricks. 

James was right when he “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

We need to watch what we say.  What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?

            In fact sometimes it is in the midst of a person’s worst failures that a person needs to hear the word of encouragement most.
It was during a practice session with the Green Bay Packers and things were not going well for his team.  Coach Vince Lombardi singled one of his players out for his failure to put out.  It was a hot, muggy day and the Coach pulled that Guard aside and leveled a barrage of criticism at this young man, as only Coach Lombardi could do, telling him in effect, “Son, you are a lousy football player.  You’re not blocking.  You’re not guarding.  You’re not putting out.  In fact, you’ve had it for the day.  Get off my field and hit the showers.”
The young man dropped his head and walked into the locker room.  Forty-five minutes later Lombardi found him in the locker room sitting on a bench.  His head hung low.  He was sobbing softly.
Lombardi was always a rather changeable character.  He had a compassionate side of him, so he walked over to the young man and put his arm around him and decided to give him some encouragement.
The coach said, “Son, you know you really are a lousy football player.  You aren’t blocking, you aren’t tackling.  You aren’t putting out.  But in fairness to you, I should have told you the rest of the truth.  You may be a lousy football player now, but somewhere in you is a great player and I’m just the great coach who can pull that great football player out of you.  I’m going to stick by your side until that greatness comes out.  And with those words Jerry Kramer straightened up and began to look forward to the next game.  He went onto become a great football player.

James was right when he said, “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  But, James also said, “Out of the same mouth comes praise.”

We need to watch what we say.  For we can hurt or heal.  We can encourage or discourage.

            But it is not just in those moments of failure that we need words of encouragement.  Even people who are successful.  We look at them as having all the confidence.  All the positive image they need.  But even they need words of encouragement.
In the Library of Congress is a box on display. It is marked, “Contents of the pockets of the President of the Untied States the night of April 14, 1865.”  Of course that was the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  Five things are found in that box.  A small handkerchief embroidered with the words, “A. Lincoln.”  A country boy’s penknife.  A spectacle case that was repaired with string.  A purse that contains a five-dollar bill.  For some reason, it is a Confederate bill.  Go figure!  And – some old faded newspaper clippings praising the work of the President.  One of the clippings is a speech from John Bright proclaiming, “President Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time.”  Well—everyone thinks that today, but back in 1865, a lot of people did not feel that way.  The President’s critics were many and they were fierce, and he spent hours in lonely despair.  There is something touching about this man who is NOW thought of as one of the great men of all time needing to hear some words of encouragement in his own lifetime. 
But, of course, we all need to hear encouraging words.  Whether we are a President of the United States, a future great football player, or a construction worker moving concrete bricks from one place to another.
And the people around us need to hear those words.

There is an old chant that many of us would sing as children.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Of course, that has never been true.  Words can hurt.  Or they can heal.  Proverbs (18:21) says, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” 

Therefore, we need to watch what we say to others. 

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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