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The Fruit of The Lips

FOTL 3-2

“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. 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. 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.” (James 3:1–12, ESV)

Such an incredible impact can come from our words. Through them, we can build up lives with encouragement and hope, or we can destroy them with criticism and hatred. We can draw people in or push them away. We can sow hope that lasts through the toughest seasons of despair, and we can say things that mean nothing to us which go on to plague someone with resentment for a lifetime. Truly, our tongues are a restless evil, full of poison–able to sing the Lord’s praises and curse a man made in His image within the same breath.

James reminds his brothers and sisters in Christ that for them the ability to use the tongue in this way “ought not to be so” (Ja. 3:10). A fig tree can’t bear olives and a grapevine can ‘t produce figs. The words of a Christian are one of the clearest fruit that reveal the root. If we claim that we are a Christian tree, then our words must bear the fruit of that testimony.

Jesus uses the same imagery of fruit to describe the same dynamic of the tongue in Matthew 12:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”” (Matthew 12:33–37).

To stay in this metaphor and framework of fruit proving the root, this series aims to explore how our words can uniquely display the fruits of the Spirit listed in Gal. 5:22-23. The presence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control testify by word and action and motivation to the Lordship of Christ in someone’s life.  This series seeks to explore what it looks like to bear that fruit on the lips. As Hebrews instructs the Christian worshipper, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15).

As a way of setting the stakes on the use of the tongue in this series, let’s take a deeper look at what these passages from James and Matthew are saying about the tongue in general before we move onto our fruit for today, which is love as a fruit of the lips.

 

Full To The Brim

“…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34–35, ESV)

Whatever is right at the brim is what spills out when you are shaken. It is what is abundant in the heart that makes its way out into your speech. When the heart is full of Christ, the words are full of the fruits of His Spirit. But when the heart is full of self, or anger, or impatience, our words make explicit the sickness within. In this way, our words have the ability to reveal our true selves, which is why Jesus says that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).

Take parenting for example, there are countless situations which will bump into our hearts, but what we want to have happen is that grace and patience and love spill out, not irritation, anger, and selfishness. We don’t want our children to believe that right behind the facade of our stability is a volcano held back by a thin layer of patience. “Don’t mess with Mom, she’s volatile”. This is often the way we think that God must be because that is either how we are or what we have experienced from others. But this is not so. Out of His heart He also speaks. And He is absolute patience and love, and holiness, always expressing himself as overflowing in grace and mercy and justice. Remarkably, we are instructed to approach him exactly as a curious and unwary children would and not as an anxious and apprehensive adult (Mk. 10:14).

Q. What situations cause your heart to spill over in words the most?

Q. Do our words spill out more easily in frustration and stress than praise and appreciation? Why is it easier to curse than it is to bless?

Q. What do we often say in our apologies after tense situations brought forth harsh words? (I did’t mean that…, I was stressed…, I was tired…)

There will come a day, Jesus says in Matt. 12:36, when we will be judged for every careless word that we speak. Now, for those in Christ, I don’t take this as a humiliation trial at the end of our lives. We may indeed be judged for our careless words, but they will be considered covered and redeemed by Christ, not weaponized against us in shame or counted against us in damnation. But it does serve as a reminder of the seriousness of their offense, that they are worthy of condemnation from the Lord. This does serve as a very real situation for those outside of Christ, who will indeed be held accountable for every careless and useless word. As Proverbs 13:3 says,  “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin”. What a sobering thought for those who speak so much.

Q. How might these verses change the way you engage with your spouse, children, church, or workplace?

 

Whoa, Nelly!

As James frames his position on the tongue, he says that “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. 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. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:2–5, ESV)  

There are lot’s of ways to get into sin, but one of the more frequent ways is with our mouth. If we are able to tame it, or rather, if the Spirit is able to tame it in us, then an impressive mark of God’s work in us is made evident, signalling a control over the entire person.

If we are able to begin controlling the tongue, James would have us understand that we are gaining control of our bodies as well, like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder to a ship. That is, there seems to be a relationship between mouth and person. The more we curse the more we become cursed. The more we bless the more we become blessed. These are not magic words working like a spell, this is happening, rather, because the heart and our speech are directly related, for out of the heart the mouth speaks. There is link between control of heart and control of speech, but there also seems to be an inverse, control of speech affects heart. Much of the time the things we love are served by us gladly with tenderness and care, but sometimes the order must work backwards. Our hearts may not be engaged, but as we love and care for something it tunes the heart to genuine affection. In some cases, as we nurture our speech our hearts follow. Many times we need to yank at the bit, speaking words of life to others, honoring Christ, and calling for our hearts to get in line.

Q. Have you ever experienced putting a bit in your mouth, as it were, and having your life change direction?

Q. How might you try this in your life? What would your marriage look like if you began to water the dried flowers with words of encouragement? How may your perception and affection change if you built up instead of criticized or tore down?

 

Hell’s Red Glow

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. 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.” (James 3:5–6, ESV)

It doesn’t take much for our speech to have an oversized influence in our lives. As a small flame can burn down a whole forest, so our tongues can burn down our homes with great efficiency. For many of us, we are haunted by single conversations or words spoken to us years ago. Small though they seem, playing with words can be like playing with matches.

James also says that our words are “set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but we don’t always see the corruption in our bodies as easily as we do with our mouths. Since words are the megaphone of the heart, and since the heart is desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), then it’s surprising that we don’t see hell’s red glow in the cave of our throats. From there we have the clearest window into our rebellion against God.

Q. Can you remember a time when a small word made a huge impact on you? What can we take away from that?

 

Empty Talk

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?” (James 3:9–11, ESV)  

Our words being so linked to our heart testify to the genuineness of our faith. But after someone drinks a mouthful of saltwater from the well, they are likely to write it off as unsafe to drink.

Q. How may we guard our testimony in our homes?

Q. Can our words also turn this around? Repentance can be a deep draught of fresh water in what has been historically a salt water well.

 

Ending Prayer

  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, ESV)