James 3


“My friends, not many of you should become teachers. As you know, we teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others. All of us often make mistakes. But if a person never makes a mistake in what he says, he is perfect and is also able to control his whole being.” James 3:1-2

Taming The Tongue

James begins this chapter with a warning for those who would like to become teachers of God’s Word and notice that he doesn’t say, ‘not many of you should be teachers,’ he says, ‘not many of you should become teachers.’

In other words, this is not just a rebuke of those who try to be teachers before they are ready, but it’s a warning that many should not even become teachers in the future.

One of the fundamental mistakes that we can make as a body of believers is that every time a man becomes a Christian we think he should be trained up to become a preacher or teacher, that’s wrong.

Some men are gifted to preach or teach, some men aren’t and preaching and teaching involve a lot more than just reading some text from the Bible.

The preaching and teaching need to be Bible-based, but it also needs to be presented in a manner that suits the needs of an individual congregation. A sermon also needs to be clear, it needs to have an explanation of the Bible text, and it needs to have an application.

It’s a mistake to assume that all men will automatically become a preacher and teachers because we know the body of Christ doesn’t function like that, Romans 12:4-8 / 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 / 1 Peter 4:10-11.

The reason that ‘not many of you should become teachers’, is because ‘teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others’. Preaching and teaching others comes with an enormous responsibility because a preacher and teacher of God’s Word have the responsibility to lead people in one of two directions. All preachers and teachers can lead people to truth or they can lead them to error, Hebrews 13:17.

Notice he also says that ‘all of us often make mistakes’, that is, everyone has faults but there is one major fault which most people have which James has in mind here and that’s the fault of using our tongue for the wrong reasons.

He says it takes spiritual maturity not to stumble with our words. But his point is, if some believe that preaching and teaching is their gift from God, then use it, but use it using humility and cautiousness.

“We put a bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us, and we are able to make it go where we want. Or think of a ship: big as it is and driven by such strong winds, it can be steered by a very small rudder, and it goes wherever the pilot wants it to go”. James 3:3-4

How we use our tongue doesn’t just apply to preachers and teachers, it applies to every single Christian in the Lord’s church. And so to help us understand the dangers of our tongues he uses illustrations and in the first two illustrations he uses is that of a horse and a ship.

James says the bit controls a horse and the rudder controls the ship. A bit is a piece of metal that is placed in the mouth of a horse that allows a rider to control the animal. It rests on the bars of the mouth in an area where there are no teeth.

It is held on a horse’s head by means of a bridle and has reins attached for use by a rider. It’s a very small piece of riding equipment but you can never ride and control the horse without it.

Now a rudder is another device used to steer a ship, and when you look at the size of a ship, it’s actually very small in comparison and without the rudder, it’s impossible to steer and guide the ship.

In other words just like the bit for a horse and just like the rudder of a ship, it is the tongue that controls the entire body. If we speak a lie, it won’t be long before we find ourselves living a lie. If we speak suggestively in an immoral manner, it won’t be long before we begin acting immorally.

That’s why James says, ‘not many of you should become teachers’, because whether we like it or not, very often it’s the preacher or teacher who sets the mood of the class or congregation. And they can very easily direct the congregation in an uplifting way, or just as easily direct the congregation in a discouraging way.

“So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself.” James 3:5-6

James goes on and shares another illustration, this time he uses the illustration of a little fire. Some people with their tongues have used them for deceit, and their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

In other words, their tongues are like a small fire, and they can easily cause great destruction. A loose tongue can ruin someone’s reputation, it can destroy churches, families and friendships.

This is another reason why James warns that ‘not many of us should become preachers and teachers’.

“We humans are able to tame and have tamed all other creatures—wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish. But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8

Having humility and caution are not the only things we need when we’re thinking about becoming preachers or teachers, we also need help from God. James says that despite being able to tame wild animals, man is unable to tame the tongue.

He describes the tongue as an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Now it is true that we by ourselves can’t tame the tongue, but with God’s help, we can tame it, Psalm 141:3. But not only can we tame the tongue with God’s help according to Paul we must tame it, Ephesians 4:29 / Colossians 4:6.

“We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse other people, who are created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My friends, this should not happen!” James 3:9-10

As Christians we must take our tongues but we know that’s not always easy and so, to further illustrate just how difficult it can be to tame our tongues, James uses a very common problem even for Christians today. He says we use our tongues to give thanks to God and at the same time to curse other people.

We all come together for worship and just thank God for everything He has done for us but then we jump in our cars and start cursing anyone who pulls out in front of us. James says Christians shouldn’t be doing that.

“No spring of water pours out sweet water and bitter water from the same opening. A fig tree, my friends, cannot bear olives; a grapevine cannot bear figs, nor can a salty spring produce sweet water”. James 3:11-12

To stress his point even further, James goes on and uses the illustrations of a fig spring, a fig tree and a grapevine. He knew that what comes out of our mouths is a real reflection of what is in the inside of our hearts, Mark 7:20-23.

It’s what comes out of our mouth that counts and so, whether we teach or not, we all need to seek God’s help to control our tongue, Psalms 19:14.

Two Kinds Of Wisdom

‘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. But if you harbour 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. 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.’ James 3:13-18

If we want to help each other grow up spiritually together, then we continually need to seek wisdom from the right place. James informs us that there are two types of wisdom that we need to be aware of, heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom.

1. They are different because of their ‘origins’.

He says that earthly wisdom doesn’t come from heaven, it’s worldly. In other words, this wisdom works according to the standard of the world. Paul says the world’s wisdom is foolish, 1 Corinthians 1:20, but why is it foolish?

James says it’s foolish because ‘it is un-spiritual and demonic’. In other words, worldly wisdom is sensual, it appeals to our senses, our emotions and our passions. Its wisdom according to what feels right but because something feels right, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right.

And not only is worldly wisdom sensual it’s also according to James, demonic. It’s the kind of wisdom possessed by the devil and his angels, wisdom that often finds its origin in the influences of Satan.

Now, look at what James says about heavenly wisdom he says that heavenly wisdom is from above, in other words, it comes from God, James 1:5-8. Knowing the origin or source of each kind of wisdom ought to encourage us to select the right one.

2. They are different because of their ‘nature’.

James says earthly wisdom has some characteristics about it. He says earthly wisdom is full of bitterness, envy, and self-seeking in the heart. And he says that that kind of wisdom promotes power, position, privilege, and prestige.

Now used properly all that can be good but we need to remember that it was this kind of wisdom that prompted the devil to rebel against God in the first place. It was this kind of wisdom that prompted the disciples to argue over who would be the greatest in the kingdom.

Now let’s contrast that with heavenly wisdom. Heavenly wisdom doesn’t compromise truth for the sake of peace. Heavenly wisdom is not only pure but it’s also peaceful. Heavenly wisdom holds firm to the truth and it makes every effort to be at peace, Romans 12:18.

But not only is it pure and peaceful, but it’s also gentle. Heavenly wisdom is kind when its dealings with others, it’s not harsh even when it’s right and dealing with those who differ, 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

Not only is it pure, peaceful, and gentle it’s also willing to yield. Heavenly wisdom will yield, not in matters of truth but in matters of opinion, Romans 14:1.

Not only is it pure, peaceful, gentle and willing to yield it’s also full of mercy. Heavenly wisdom is quick to forgive the offences of others and that’s because wise people understand their own need for mercy.

Not only is it pure, peaceful, gentle, willing to yield and full of mercy it also produces good fruits. Heavenly wisdom is displayed in people’s lives and actions.

Not only is it pure, peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and produces good fruits it’s also without partiality. Heavenly wisdom shows no respect for persons, James 2:1-13. Heavenly wisdom treats everyone fairly and on the same basis.

Not only is it pure, peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, produces good fruits and without partiality, it’s also without hypocrisy.

Now, why would James say that heavenly wisdom is without hypocrisy? Well simply to let us know that everything we have looked at so far concerning heavenly wisdom is not an act, it’s not a show but it comes from a heart desiring to please God, not man.

These are all fruit that is shown from heavenly wisdom and if we contrast the fruit with the wisdom of the world, we can see a huge difference. Worldly wisdom is seen in the fruits of confusion and every kind of evil thing but heavenly wisdom produces the fruits of peace and righteousness.

People who are happy with the wisdom they get from the world, won’t want to listen to God, they will just carry on boasting about how wise they think you are.

But if we seek heavenly wisdom, we won’t boast about it, we will show it in our lives with humility. Those who preach and teach will preach and teach wisely using cautiousness and humility.

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