It would be a safe bet to say that all people desire to be happy. They would disagree on what would make them happy, but they all desire to be happy. The list of things that would make them happy is very long. I won’t even take time to start, you can fill in your own blanks Imagine being told you could ask for one thing and it would be given to you? Like having a genie out of a bottle saying he will grant you one request. What one thing would you ask for that would make you most happy? Something like that actually happened once. There was a man who was told he could ask for anything he wanted and it would be given to him. The answer he gave seemed to surprise the person granting the wish. God offered Solomon a blank check, “ask me for anything and I will grant it.” That is a true test of a person’s character. What Solomon asked for said something about him. II Chronicles 1:11-12 God answered Solomon, “Because … you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor.” Wisdom is such a good thing it’s a package deal. He who gains wisdom gains many good things as well. Let’s briefly define wisdom as the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, good judgment and insight. And this leads to a question, who is wise and understanding among you? Who do you look to for wisdom? Whose life is characterized by wisdom, prudence, discernment, spiritual maturity? By asking the question the implication is that it’s something you can notice, you know it when you see it.
In my first sermon on Revelation I imagined if Revelation were an ocean then the first three chapters would be like wading in up to your waist. But at chapter four all of a sudden we are over our head and sinking fast. There is depth beyond fathoming from here on. With this major scene change let’s remember where we are. It’s the Lord’s Day about 60 years after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. The beloved disciple of the Lord is exiled on the Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. From its shores he could see the hills of Asia Minor in the distance, the region of the seven churches. Those seven churches are under persecution from Satan and under great temptation to sin. The blood of martyrs is flowing, the tyranny of idolatrous Caesars holding sway, demanding worship be given to them. Internal sin was leading the church away from her first love. After all we have heard about the churches, our Lord gives to all churches in all ages a great gift of courage and encouragement, a blessing from heaven.
My biggest struggle with Christianity when I was in high school was that I didn’t see my need. I wasn’t a bad kid doing bad things. I didn’t have a lot of guilt or shame. I had what I needed, a good home, good family, good school, good grades, good friends, I was good. So I thought. I was poor and didn’t know it; I was naked and didn’t know it; I was blind and didn’t know it. The best thing that ever happened to me was when Jesus showed me the truth about me. And that’s the only hope for Laodicea.
Two recent news stories illustrate the power and influence of words. There was the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris and then the announcement by Alex Malarkey that his book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was fabricated. Blasphemy and lies, just two of the many ways our words and our tongues have the power of death and life, as Proverbs says. Nations have risen and nations have fallen by the power of the tongue. Students of history marvel at the power of two great orators of WWII separated by a narrow channel of water. Adolph Hitler on one side inspiring the masses of Germans to war and Winston Churchill on the other inspiring the allies to persevere. Hitler using his tongue to perpetrate great evil and Churchill using the same instrument to lead his nation in its finest hour. James 3:1-12. In chapter one James gave an outline of the practical wisdom he would expand on in later chapters. He introduced a theme in 1:19 and 26 that is now developed in chapter 3: James 1:19 Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. James honestly confesses, “we all stumble in many ways.” I wonder how many unkind remarks James said of his older half-brother, Jesus, before he saw Him with the eyes of faith? I know I speak this morning as a man with unclean lips to a people with unclean lips. The fact that we all have failed in this doesn’t excuse us from seeking and striving by God’s grace to control our tongues more and more. But it does put us all in the same boat, each of us beggars needing the same grace. So here we are this morning to talk about the world’s smallest and biggest trouble maker. It makes me wonder if God paused a bit before creating our tongues, I wonder if He thought to Himself, “do I really want to do this?” James uses six illustrations to make three points about our tongues and its power to direct, to destroy and to delight.
How many of you made resolutions for the New Year? How many are still keeping some of them? How many of you didn’t make any resolutions for the New Year? How many of you are keep that? The changing of the years strikes us as a natural time in life to evaluate and make positive changes in our lives. We make resolutions because we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives and we desire to do better. We resolve to lose weight, to eat better, to get organized, to spend more time on what’s important, to curb some sinful habit, to improve ourselves. All of these are good desires, so why do we have so much trouble keeping our resolutions? One of the reasons we fail in our resolves is because we attempt them in our own strength. We think if we can turn that will-power screw one more good turn, if we try harder we can do better and be better. And when we fail again or fall short of the goal we are discouraged.