It didn’t see that way at the time, but after I got older, I realized how cool my summer jobs were.
When other kids were flipping burgers and scooping ice-cream, I was seeking adventure on the high seas, well at least on the seas.
I had my first summer job at sea when I was fifteen and for the first two summers of my high school years I worked on Tugboats. Between grade eleven and twelve I changed things up a bit and got a job on the Irving Artic a 614-foot-long oil tanker that spent that summer moving petroleum products from the refinery in Saint John to Montreal and Boston and points in between. Here is a picture of the Irving Arctic.
And my job that summer was the helmsman. That meant that I got to steer the ship, not all the time, just when we were arriving or leaving a harbour and when we were sailing up the Saint Lawrence River. The rest of the time, the ship was on autopilot.
So, just for a minute, picture in your mind your favourite 17-year-old, now envision him or her being in control of a 614-foot oil tanker full of refined oil products. That’s scary isn’t it.
By that point I had my driver’s licence less than a year. But, if you search the records you will not find any instances of the Irving Artic going aground or running into another ship, at least not while I was at the helm.
Now understand, that wasn’t my first rodeo so to speak. If your father was a tugboat captain, and if you had spent every chance that you could on said tugboats from the time you were 14 on, there was a pretty good chance you had spent some of that time at the helm. Which I had.
We are continuing with our “A Few of My Favourite Things” series at Cornerstone. An opportunity for our pastors to re-preach some of their favourite messages from the past. A number of the messages that I’ve preached have been from as far back as 20 years ago. Not so much this one. This was preached less than two years ago in a series that Pastor Rob and I preached called surrender. And we touched on living a surrendered life. Part of that was surrender your anger, surrender your bitterness and surrender your thoughts.
Early in my ministry I worried about people remembering my messages, but I learned very quickly that they weren’t that memorial. There was a time that people carried paper bibles to church, and they would make notes in the margins. Some folks even made notations next to scripture about who preached on that text. But that isn’t really a thing anymore. Here is a helpful hint if you are the note taking kind. When I’m preaching there are usually note taking guides on the information table in the lobby, and they are usually printed on blue paper.
The scripture that was read earlier spoke in great detail about the power of the tongue in the lives of believers.
One of my favourite stories involves John Maxwell and long before he was a leadership guru he was a Wesleyan Pastor, and once I heard John say that when he was pastoring Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego he was asked “Are you praying that your people will get the gift of tongues?” “No” he replied, “I’m praying they’ll learn to control the one they’ve got now.”
The scripture that was read earlier comes from the book of James, which was a letter written by Jesus’ brother James to the early church, and it was there that he warned Christians in James 3:2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
And then for the next ten verses, James spells out the danger of an uncontrolled tongue and gives us three very vivid metaphors for the tongue.
So, James goes on to say, James 3:3-6 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
Two of those metaphors conveniently, resonated with me. Actually, all three did, but we don’t talk about the brush fire I was responsible for when I was twelve.
Here James compares the tongue to the bit that is used on a horse’s bridle to steer a horse, and the rudder which is used to steer a ship.
In my early teen years my sister and I both owned horses and we spent most of our waking hours on said horses, so I am quite familiar with the concept of using a bit to control and steer a horse. I looked for a picture of me with our horses and this was what I found.
I wondered why there weren’t more, and I realized, we owned horses, we couldn’t afford film.
In my later teen years, I worked on various ships, including being a17 year old helmsman on the Irving Arctic.
So, I am familiar with the concept of a comparably small bit controlling a large horse and a comparably small rudder that could steer a huge ship.
When I say comparable, If I was standing next to the rudder it would be immense but when compared to the ship, they are small.
So, what do we learn here? Being Maritimers and close to the ocean, let’s simplify it and only use the rudder metaphor. If we were in Alberta the horse one might work better.
So just a couple of things to begin
The Rudder is not in Control A ships rudder is an inanimate object. It doesn’t have life, it has no mind, it only moves at someone else’s whim and control.
The person who holds the wheel of the ship is in control of the rudder and the ship.
And that is important. When I was working as helmsman, my shift was four hours on and eight hours off. So, I worked from 8 to 12, morning and evening. And when I was relieving someone, I would say “I have the helm” and I would take a hold of the wheel and they would let go. I was in control of the rudder and the vessel.
At that point I was responsible for the direction the ship was going. The rudder provided the mechanical advantage to actually do the job, but I told the rudder what to do.
Which is why James wrote, James 3:4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. The rudder makes the huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go. Not the ship. Not the rudder. Not even the strong winds determine the course, the pilot does.
Sometimes, when I hear someone say something that they shouldn’t say, they will blush and apologize and then add, “I just couldn’t help myself.” What they mean is that when they hit their thumb with a hammer they had to cuss. Or when they got cut off in traffic they had to swear. Or when they heard a bit of dirt about someone, they had to share it. Or when someone posted something, they didn’t agree with they had to give a snarky response.
“I’m sorry I said that I just couldn’t help myself.”
Here is my thought: Oh yes you could have.
Here are some interesting things I discovered while preparing this message. The average human tongue is 10 centimetres or 4 inches long. It weighs about 65 gm or 2 ½ ounces.
It contains eight muscles. Four intrinsic muscles which are not attached to any bones.
Those are the muscles that help change the shape of your tongue. How many people can roll their tongues? 70 % of North American’s can roll their tongues. I can’t.
How about form a cloverleaf with your tongue? that’s even rarer I can’t do that either.
And the tongue contains four extrinsic muscles, those are muscles that are anchored to the bone and help position the tongue. Those are the muscles that allow you to touch the end of your nose with your tongue. How many people can do that? I can do that, and only 10% of the world’s population is able to touch their nose with their tongue.
The tongue has thousands of taste buds, nerve endings and blood vessels. What it doesn’t have is a brain or a will of its own. It will only speak words that it is asked to speak.
I used to marvel when I worked in retail how the language would change when the store closed. Words that would never have been spoken in front of a customer were freely bandied around when it was just staff.
I hear people in Tim Hortons using foul language and I wonder if they use that same language in front of their children, grand-children, parents or ministers. Of course they don’t. Which means they choose the language they are going to use in particular situations with particular people.
The second thing that comes to mind with the metaphor about the tongue and a ship’s rudder is: The Results Aren’t Always Immediate.
When you steer a ship, especially a very large ship you have to take into account that it’s not like driving a car. You don’t simply turn the wheel and immediately change direction.
And so, if we were steaming up the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and as the helmsman, I had been told to steer 270 degrees, which is due west. And the river began to bend I might have to change the course to 275 degrees.
When you first were learning, the temptation was to turn the wheel and if you didn’t see immediate results, you would turn the wheel some more. And the ship would still be heading in the same direction, so you’d hold the wheel over a little longer.
And then all of a sudden, the ship is moving and instead of steering a course of 275 you go right by 275 and all of a sudden you are at 282 and you pulled it back. My first trip up the Saint Lawrence looked like a snake crawling along the ground.
In the same way, never underestimate the long-term effect of your words on somebody’s life. There are adults that are still dealing with words from their childhood. And relationships damaged almost beyond repair by words spoken years before, without realizing the long-term impact on the other person.
So, with those two things in mind, what does a surrendered tongue look like?
There are several places in the New Testament where our speech is referenced. For example, Ephesians 5:4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
And Colossians 3:8-9 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.
And Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23-24 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech.
But for the sake of our message this morning we are going to focus on, Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
Now, like all verses in the bible, that can’t be taken in isolation. It is included in a number of verses that Paul introduces with these words, Ephesians 4:21-24 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
With that in mind we skip down to Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
So, what does it look like when we’ve surrendered our speech to God?
1. Surrendered Speech isn’t Foul or Abusive Maybe I’m just becoming an old prude. But I’m hearing more and more foul language in public places.
And even more disturbing, I’m hearing Christians who cuss without giving it a second thought.
When I was a kid, my father used to tell me that profanity was the refuge of children and illiterates.
And while we use cursing and swearing interchangeable, the original meaning of the two was slightly different. Curses were directed at people; you were cursing them. While swearing was directed at God.
Now it seems that profanities, by the way, profane comes from a Latin word that means outside the temple. Profanities can be divided a couple of different ways.
Words that are vulgar, which usually deal with body parts and functions, and those that are blasphemous, which means using God’s name in a frivolous manner. And you know my view of blasphemy. Unless you’re talking to God or about God then you are taking his name in vain. “Oh my God” is not simply an exclamation, it is a blasphemy.
The Bible speaks very plainly about both vulgarities and blasphemies. And it is clear that Christians aren’t supposed to use either. For simplicity today, we’ll just refer to both as swearing.
And personally speaking, when I hear anyone swearing my opinion of them and their intelligence drops several spots. And when I hear a Christian swearing, I am disappointed. I kind of feel like George Washington who said “The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”
You understand that who you are as a believer will be judged by the words you speak, and who you are as a person will be judged by the words you speak.
Profanity and blasphemy don’t make you a hero it doesn’t make you sound grown-up, it doesn’t make you sound worldly. It makes you sound like a jerk, with no education and no respect for the people around you.
And you’re thinking, “Hey Denn, isn’t that a little judgemental?” Yep, sure is. Jesus told us in Matthew 15:18-19 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.
Remember that is the same mouth you use to kiss your mother.
And if you justify your language by saying that’s the norm, then you have simply surrendered to the world, and part of that is because you’ve allowed swearing to become the norm by what you watch and listen to.
I used to think that Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was right when he wrote, “Swearing is the arguments of those who are wrong.” My thinking was when you start to cuss it means you’ve run out of intelligent things to say. Now, those words are so commonplace I just think you’re lazy and can’t think of better words.
Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
2. Surrendered Speech is Good and Helpful
Do people view you as a positive person or a negative person? When you begin to speak are people bracing for criticism and rebuke, or are the anticipating encouragement?
I probably speak for all of the staff at Cornerstone when I say that we experience both types of people on a regular basis.
People’s perceptions of you are often based on the words you use.
It is imperative that we be positive when we talk to and about people.
It is so important to hold up people’s achievements and give praise where praise is due. As parents, we need to verbalize our love for our children and tell them how proud we are of them. Our words mould our children and become self-fulfilling prophecies. And not just your children, but our spouses as well.
husbands tell your wives; wives tell your husbands. Billy Sunday said, “Praise your wife, even if it does surprise her at first.” Take time to say “I love you,” The old farmer’s wife said “you never tell me that you love me anymore.” and he replied, “I told you that I loved you forty years ago, and if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
How about telling your friends how you feel about them, or your brothers and sisters in the church, or the workers in the church. I’m not talking about flattery I’m talking about sincere praise. Most people can tell the difference.
Let’s make a conscious effort to be positive in our comments to one another. To speak up more in praise and encouragement. Everything that happened this morning happened because someone did it.
From the worship team and sound person being here to make sure they were ready for the service, to the person who signed you in, the person who read the scripture and the people who are working in CS Kids nursery making sure that your children get to learn about God today.
Everything that happened this morning happened because of someone. Have you thanked and encouraged someone lately?
Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
3. Surrendered Speech is an Encouragement to Others
Your words will either lift people up or will pull them down. Paul challenged early believers when he told them in Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
When you speak the truth, do you do it in love? And I don’t just mean your intentions, I mean your words and your tone when you speak those words. Are they filled with grace? How would you feel if the same words were spoken to you?
A woman once told Wesley, “I have a talent for always speaking my mind.” His response was, “that’s one talent that would be best buried.” It’s sometimes too easy to point out a person’s shortcomings and sometimes the damage is devastating. Had a lady in one of my churches, a wonderful woman, do anything for you but was very blunt about people’s faults. She’d tell you if she thought your haircut didn’t suit you, or you were a little overweight, or you weren’t singing on key.
And a lot of people were hurt, by the truth. I may have been true, but it wasn’t wisely applied, and it wasn’t spoken in love. In another Wesley story, it seems that a woman came up to him one time with a pair of scissors and said “Your tie offends me.” And she cut it off. The story goes that Wesley took the scissors from her and said “Madam, your tongue offends me.”
It’s been said that we need to apply a threefold test to what we say, 1) is it true? 2) is it kind? and 3) is it necessary? I think that would probably help a lot. Remember what your mother told you, if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul proposes some guidelines for what we think, Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
I don’t think it would do any injustice to the scriptures to read that portion of scripture this way Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Speak only about what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Speak about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
And if we speak on those eight things then we won’t have time to be malicious and nasty and hurtful.
Parents realize the damage that you can do to your children with harsh and critical words. Christians realize the damage you can do to brothers and sisters in Christ. And church folk realize the damage that can be done to pastors. And we pastors have to be aware of the damage that can be done to our people.
I have mentioned it in every church that I have pastored, parents if you are going to discuss my numerous problems and shortcomings, please do it out of earshot of your children. Don’t let your speech betray your lack of love.
Two thousand years ago, when Paul spoke about speech, he was basically talking about what came out of your mouth. Today your speech has to include what you write and what you post online.
It is so easy to be negative and rude on social media. So easy to ruin your witness when you start commenting and arguing online. And you are thinking, “But Denn, you don’t know what they posted.”
Nope, but I have told you before, I have discovered that getting into arguments online is like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.
You will either control your tongue, or your tongue will control you.
So here is your tip today, this is the prayer that you need to pray on a regular basis if you are going to surrender your speech to God, and it comes from the Psalms.
In Closing, memorize it, write it down and pray it on a regular basis, Psalm 141:3 Take control of what I say, O LORD, and guard my lips.