A Study in James 3
James 3:1-2 – Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
This week is a tough one for me. The majority of James 3 is spent with James telling us that we need to control our tongues. I know for me, especially in my relationships, I like to talk. And not all of what I have to say is earth-shattering (right now, my girlfriend is screaming “Amen” at the top of her lungs). But I like to think that what I have to say is pretty important.
And so does everyone else.
Unfortunately, that is usually not the case. The majority of what we have to say is not really that important after all.
And some of it just isn’t even true!
Here are some statements made by people before they had all the information:
“The phonograph has no commercial value at all” – Thomas Edison
“Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” – President Grover Cleveland
“Airplanes are interesting toys but have no military value at all.” – Marshall Ferdinand Foch, World War I commander in France
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” – Albert Einstein
“(Television) won’t be able to hold any market it captures after the first 6 months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” –Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox in 1946
“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” – W. C. Neuper of the National Cancer Institute in 1954
“We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” – Decca Records rejecting the Beatles in 1962
“There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in their home.” – Kenneth Olsen, President and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1977
I wonder, years after they had said their words, if any of those people wish they could go back and edit what they said.
I know I have a LOT of moments like that.
How many times have you hurt someone you love because of your words?
Let’s look a little closer at what James has to say.
He starts off saying that not many people should become teachers because they will receive more intense judgment on what they say. James explains that we all stumble. He includes himself in there. But those of us who teach must take our role in the church very seriously.
When James is talking about stumbling, the Greek word used for “stumble” here describes a falter, not a fatal fall. As he continues into v.4, he explains that those who do not stumble are perfect. When looking at the context he is writing, it is easy to see how James feels that teachers need to show spiritual maturity and not stumble with our words.
James 3:6 – The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
For next few verses, he uses illustrations of common everyday items to explain the importance of the tongue. The first is a horse’s bit. It is small, but it is used to turn the entire horse. Next we have the ship’s rudder. It turns the entire ship. Next is a small fire that can light an entire forest ablaze.
Have you ever noticed how your words are atomic?
I know just from my past marriage, and even my current relationship, that when I do not choose my words carefully, we can end up in an argument that could last a long time.
The one difference between the tongue and all of the illustrations above is that mankind has been able to tame everything.
But we have not learned to tame the tongue.
James 3:7-8 – All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
The only trainer for the tongue is the Holy Spirit. Only God can overcome the human tongue. We cannot, because it is filled with all manner of evil, pride, deceit, and anger.
A woman once came to John Wesley and told him that she knew what her talent was. She said, “I think my talent from God is to speak my mind.” Wesley replied to the woman, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.”
Speaking everything that comes to our minds is not wisdom. It is the opposite. Even if you feel it is helpful or beneficial to the moment or even used for correcting, the timing or delivery or approach may be wrong.
Our speech, our tongue, can only be tamed by the Holy Spirit. When we choose to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow His timing, His delivery, and His words, then we are using His wisdom.
James ends his section on the tongue by explaining that we as humans use the tongue to both bless and curse, yet no fountain can bring forth both salt water and fresh. While James is going to be discussing wisdom right after talking about the tongue, it is important to realize that true wisdom tells us that a man’s character is found through his tongue.
James 3:9-10 – With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
If a man is a very different person at church than he is at home or at work, then that man’s character is shown through the words he chooses. For example, if at church he chooses to glorify God through his speech, he should find himself doing that each day, day in and day out. But what happens on Monday? The man is no longer at church and goes to work. When his employees call in sick, you may hear a four letter word. Then when a project gets messed up, he may try to save face by lying about who actually did the project. Then when he goes to the grocery store and sees the cashier give him back an extra $20 bill but he says nothing to her about it, then we begin to see the real character come out.
The man who is praising God on Sunday is the fake person. The real person is the one we see when he is away from the church.
James 3: 13 – Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
This leads James to his next topic for godly living, wisdom. James discusses that there are two different kinds of wisdom, earthly and heavenly. The earthly wisdom is filled with envy and is self-seeking.
James 3:14-16 – But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Living in this day and age (and I am sure days past as well, but I can’t speak to that as I wasn’t there), the world would constantly give us pearls of wisdom. You’ve seen it on Facebook or Twitter. Phrases like “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do,” or “you are the most important part of your life,” or “why let others delegate their (stuff) to you, go out and do your own thing.” But listening to that wisdom can get things accomplished, and we have seen it time and time again. Incredibly self-serving men and women can do great things. But look at the end result of them. James tells us that a self-serving wisdom leads to confusion and every evil thing.
James 3:17-18 – But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
On the other side, we have heavenly wisdom. This is wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and without hypocrisy. This wisdom is consistent with the nature of God, filled with giving and a loving heart. This wisdom also does something the worldly wisdom can never do, and that is bring peace, not division.
Next week, we will look at James 4 where we are told to not boast about tomorrow and simply submit ourselves to God.