Taming the tongue. James 3: 1-13.

James 3:1 NASB Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Raised in the church, we frequently had missionaries come back into the church, with videos and slides, demonstrating the work they had been doing. They NEVER spoke to the crowd with the hope of making new teachers; it was always a push to be missionaries. To be honest, good Bible teachers were rare, and therefore there was little to inspire us to be a Bible teacher.

When I “came back to the Lord,” I was about 23, and almost immediately I was fortunate enough to get involved with a few “good” Bible teachers. I felt like I finally had people that I could emulate. Unfortunately, I got married to a girl I met in church, and thought she would be perfect, she was not, and getting married to her was nothing more than a fulfillment of my selfish desires. With that marriage, my dreams of being a Bible teacher came to a crashing halt for almost 40 years.

The verse says, “we (teachers) will be judged more strictly.” Let me give you the KJV for contrast.

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (James 3:1 KJV)

It seems as if the emphasis changes. Is it possible that this has nothing to do with a judgment from God, as the majority of the teachers emphasize?

What if this has everything to do with the opposition you receive from the religious and the world, who have just enough religion in them to be a thorn in our flesh?

When I look at the KJV I get the word knowing. Knowing is the Greek word eidō and means to see. Again, the KJV states: we shall receive. We assume that it means we shall receive from God. It is the Greek word lambanō and means to take up a thing to be carried.

My experience teaching is limited to you, and a very small handful of men, rarely exceeding myself and two others. I am not a pastor, not do I want the responsibility of being a pastor. I have enough trouble handling my own life. However, I do feel the weight of responsibility to teach these guys an appropriate, intelligent, and Holy Spirit inspired message. I am fortunate as, currently, we all seem to be like-minded; there is that, and the way I teach is to demonstrate that there could be alternate ways of looking at a passage. This approach has been very freeing, as I do a reasonably thorough job of researching the subject matter, and point out things like, how the Book of Revelation, is a Jewish oriented book.

the greater” is the Greek word meizōn and means larger. The KJV finishes off the sentence with the word condemnation. This word is kríma and means to judge. The suffix -ma indicates the result of judging.

Maybe my speculation is off track and it is judging.

The Holy Spirit acts as a control in the life of the believer, but here is something else.

Romans is a letter that Paul wrote to the church of Jewish converts that were meeting in Rome. Having returned after an expulsion, they have brought Gentile believers into the mix. Sadly, the Jews are exhibiting far too many traditional ideas and aspects of the law in their interactions with the Gentile believers. Paul had to address this in his letter. Notice the terminology that Paul uses, as it seems to speak to this theme of being judged.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? (Romans 2:17-21 NASB)

Let me break down what we just saw in Romans. It begins with an admonition to the Jews, who:

    • rely on God,
    • know His will,
    • approve the things that are essential;
    • are instructed out of the Law,
    • and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind.
    • a light to those who are in darkness
    • a corrector of the foolish
    • a teacher of the immature
    • having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth
    • you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

So, if you feel condemnation from James 3:1, then ask yourself, do you not teach yourself?

James 3:2 NIV 
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.

Did you catch that?

The one who is never at fault in what they say is PERFECT.

Is that even possible?

If it were, then this person, perfect as they are, would be perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. Eugene Peterson’s Message, says this person is “in perfect control of life.” Surely Peterson did not mean that this person who controls their tongue, controls all of life? Maybe with control of their own tongue, they are in control of their own life, and that, I think, would be enough. Nonetheless, I am snickering as I write this, as I have never met anybody like this.

Almost as if to say, you are all that, what about horses? Well, that’s a brutal comparison.

James 3:3 NLT  We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.

And if James hasn’t gotten your attention yet, what about ships? Ships are mindless machines that do what the competent commander directs the crew to do.

James 3:4 NET. Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs.

To be honest, all this could be nothing more than a contrast and comparison example, and the next verse proves that out.

James 3:5 NET. So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze.

Well, it’s true; the tongue, in comparison to the entire body, is quite small, but look at the damage it can do.

Why just recently, my lovely wife, had to add, when I pointed out how vacant the streets of our local community were, and how I still miss our times of sitting at one particular coffee shop. Mind you, Starbucks had not taken over every street corner as yet. To my comment, she added, and your family drove everyone away from that lady’s coffee shop. I found myself thinking, did she really intend to be insulting by her comment, especially when we all knew that the lady was running two business out of the same small shop at once, and, at the time that quaint little street was suddenly losing the theater crowd, as the theater was going to undergo major structural repairs; and, yes, Starbucks did move in on the next corner. Whether she chooses to realize it or not, she kindled a fire with her so-called innocent comment. Oh yes, that reminds me, I need to refill the fire extinguishers.

James 3:6 is rather straight forward in the NET Bible.

And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence — and is set on fire by hell. James 3:6 NET.

How about something a bit different?

James 3:6 CEV  The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person’s entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself.

Any questions? None from me either as the verbal lashing continues.

James 3:7-9 NET. For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. (8) But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (9) With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people made in God’s image.

Well, maybe not cats, but if there was anything that should be trainable, you would think it was a human. James, seems to say, NOT SO.

    • But no human being can subdue the tongue.
    • it is a restless evil
    • full of deadly poison.
    • With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people made in God’s image.

Every one of these statements cuts me to the heart. Dear God, there has to be some hope.

James 3:10-12 NET. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. (11) A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? (12) Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.

    • From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
    • A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter.
    • Can a fig produce olives, or a vine produce figs?

I think we get the point. I, for one, need answers, and yet what does James do, shift gears and begin to talk about wisdom.

Think about what we have just heard: the tongue is a fire that can destroy, not only the body but everything around it. The obvious factor is that this is a problem for all of us and that NONE of us is perfect. I can’t help thinking about the “man cave,” and how there seemed to be NO desire, in several of the men, to change the speech patterns. Maybe I am judging, but it makes me think that there is nothing motivating them to change.
I know that this last thought is completely unsound because we have the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us, therefore He is NOT going to quit speaking to our hearts, about living a more controlled life. Hence the transition to wisdom.

James 3:13 NET. Who is wise and understanding among you?
By his good conduct, he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.

James asks,

    • “who is wise and understanding among you?”
    • “By his good conduct, he should show his works – (works) done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.

Refresher course.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, says in Romans:

    • 1:17 – that the righteous by faith will live.
    • 4:11 – that Abraham gained his righteousness by faith.
    • 5:1 – (states that) we have been declared righteous by faith.
    • 11:20 – tells us, that if we stand, it is only by faith.

James, on the other hand, seems to advocate works. Having gone through two chapters of James already, we know that is a misconception, as faith without works is dead.

So we shouldn’t be shocked when James tells us that Godly understanding (wisdom,) should bring about a gentleness, that shows up in our works.

Earlier in James, we saw this:

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. James 1:22 NET.

It is not as though we have a huge ugly list of does and don’ts, and we see this fact in James 1:27.

The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world. James 1:27 CJB 

Our list of do’s are simply:

    • to care for those who have no one to set a good role model for them, or feed them – orphans are a good example of this;
    • take care of the widows in their distress;
    • and, most importantly, keep yourselves from being contaminated by the world.

Yes, we are subject to the law, it’s called “the perfect law of liberty,” and it is written upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

We don’t need oppressive tablets of stone, we have the grace and mercy of God, that allows us to walk in this freedom that the law brings. If the “law” that motivated us was simply to care for others, as we see above, that would be enough, but James added the most difficult law of all, keeping ourselves from being contaminated by the world.

What is the world’s contamination?

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. (17) The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17 NASB

There is your answer: “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.”

The enemy will try to tell you that it is people; people are trying to take you down because they are flaunting their stuff, things, and bodies at me.

And, to that, I would have to agree that it seems that way, however, they are merely puppets playing a role. The true enemy, that fights against the wisdom of God, is this:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 NASB)

Keep your mind straight, and keep your armor on and polished. This action of polishing your armor will simply remind you that you did not take it off. Since you are armored and prepared, walk-in wisdom because the world that surrounds you is filled with evil.

Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom.
Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom.
Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.
James 3:14 MSG 

The NET Bible says, “do not boast and tell lies against the truth.”

Who is the truth? That, of course, would be Jesus. So acting in opposition to what we saw in James 3:13b “Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” and being mean spirited it acting against Jesus, the truth.

For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
James 3:15 NLT 

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
James 3:16 NASB

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
James 3:17 NASB

And finally, we finish off with this.

You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. James 3:18 MSG 

Are we, in general, doing that? No.

Since the church is failing in this regard, then this command falls back on us. We have to do the hard work of getting along with each other and treating each other with dignity and honor.

This entry was posted in bible study, bridle, fire, James, judgment, rudder, stumble, teachers, Thoughts on scripture, tongue, untamed and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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