Saturday, September 12, 2015

Words of Encouragement - James 3:1-12

Old Testament Lesson                                                                  Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,[a]
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?

New Testament Lesson                                                                 James 3:1-12
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,[a] for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet 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 exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,[b] and is itself set on fire by hell.[c] For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[d] this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,[e] yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

In the book The Joy Luck Club, one little girl has the ability “to see the secrets of a chessboard.” Her gift enables her to become a national chess champion when she is eight years old.

But she has a parent who is both envious of her daughter and selfishly determined to use her daughter for her own ambitions for wealth and power.

In one scene the little girl dares to resist her mother’s obsessive pressure for perfection.  In response the mother stands in icy silence and finally tells her daughter, “You are nothing. You are nothing at all.”

This is how the little girl described what happened next: This power I had, this belief in what I’d been given, I could actually feel draining away. I could feel myself becoming ordinary… and the best part of me disappeared.” (Daniel Meyer, “Words and Wisdom: Secrets to the Significant Life” Part 4,

The old adage we learned when we were kids, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is not true.  Words hurt.  Words can destroy our souls.

On the other hand, some words inspire, heal and motivate.
Scott Adams was the creator of the newspaper cartoon series, “Dilbert.”  He tells the story that when he was just starting out in this profession, he would send his portfolio to one cartoon editor after another and received one rejection slip after another.

One cartoon editor called Adams and suggested that he enroll in art classes.

Then Sarah Gillespie, an editor at United Media and considered one of the genuine experts in the field, called to offer Adams a contract. At first, after receiving so many rejections, Adams didn’t believe her. He asked asked if he should change his style or to improve his drawings, and she said he was good enough to become a real success.

She talked about how much confidence she had in his work and abilities. 

Adams later said that this confidence in him had a profound impact on him.  He felt obligated to live up to this other person’s confidence.  He began to improve his style.  His drawing improved with each submission.  Her kind words of confidence had a profound positive  impact on him and his career. (James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart, Josey-Bass, 1999,

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.

        Psalm 12 warns against “flattering lips (that) 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.”

      When James says "out of the same mouth comes praise or cursing," I am reminded of my own father.  My mother once told me that the best thing about my becoming an ordained pastor is that my Dad no longer used profanity - as much!  

      Dad had a prolific vocabulary - he had cussing down to a fine art.  But he also knew how to praise.  One day our family went into a restaurant and as we were being escorted to our booth we passed another booth with another family.  
     Now Dad was a textile executive and that time he was a General Manager of a mill that had over 4,000 employees.  Part of his job included giving awards to individuals and departments every month.  There was the most productive, the most improved, the least defects, whatever.  

     As Dad passed this table he stopped and praised the father of the family for his role in helping the Weave Room accomplish some great something or other.  

    As Dad spoke, this man beamed.  His wife beamed with pride.  His little boy was busting with pride.

    When we sat down I asked my Dad who the man was, and Dad said, "I can't remember his name, but he's one of the worst employees we have.  His department is good, but he's worthless."

     Now here's the thing - a year or so later I am reading the town newspaper.  Now it was a small town and the newspaper was only a weekly publication.  It was the largest weekly newspaper in Greenwood County, but it was also the ONLY weekly newspaper in Greenwood County.  Every month there would be a full page of photos of my Dad presenting awards to departments or individuals in the mill.  And there was my Dad giving an award to this man whom he had earlier described as his worst employee.  

    In a mill of 4000 workers, this man was now being given an employee of the month award.  In the caption, this man mentioned my Dad's words of praise to him as being the reason why he had begun to work so hard and efficiently.

    Words of praise and encouragement can be an investment that pays great dividends.  

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?

Years ago Hollywood put out a movie entitled “Stand And Deliver” It was the story of Jamie Escalante who was an incredibly successful teacher in a rough high school. In his class were two students named Johnny. One was a bright student and a joy to teach, but the other wasted his talents, bucked authority, and refused to learn anything.

Well, at the first PTA meeting for parents, Johnny's mother asked Escalante for a report on her son's progress. The teacher said, “Why, Johnny is a joy to have in my class. I am so glad he is one of my students.

Well, the next day rebellious rambunctious Johnny walked into the classroom with a big smile on his face and a totally different attitude.

He ran up to Mr. Escalante and said, “My mother told me what you said about me last night, and I just want you to know I’ve never had a teacher who wanted me before or even liked me, and I'm going to work harder than I’ve ever done to be a good student.

Indeed he became a model student.

Well, what Johnny did not know was that Mr. Escalante thought that Johnny's mother was the mother of the other Johnny who was his best student. His comments were meant not for that Johnny but the other, but the results were unbelievable. One encouraging word spoken at the right moment, at the right time, for the right person, transformed a young man's life. That is exactly what encouragement does.

 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.

This week, look at your classmates in school.  Look at your coworkers.  Look at your friends.  Look at your family.
There are people around you who need your word of encouragement. 

Give it to them!

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.