Good morning everyone!
In chapter two of his letter to Christians scattered throughout the world, James focused on encouraging his readers to demonstrate their faith through their actions. And remember, the ultimate goal is for his brothers and sisters to grow in their faith, to the point of having a “perfect/complete” faith. It should also be noted the letter James sent would have been just that, a letter. His communication to the church would not have been organized into verses and chapters. He would have just shared his heart, sentence by sentence.
So, it is not unusual for James to return to a subject he introduced earlier in his letter – controlling one’s tongue. He has already shared that what rolls across the tongue provides a clear picture of the condition of an individual’s heart. The primary theme throughout chapter three is the tongue!
This is a very important passage to study because every person who has chosen to become a follower of Christ will be expected, at some point to share what they believe, a declaration of their faith. It is possible we may be called upon to declare our faith before our faith foundation has even been fully developed. When we share our faith, we are “teaching” others about the gospel of Christ. That can be a challenge for we know that we do not IMMEDIATELY transform into experts on Scripture. It often takes years of study to achieve a strong grasp of the truth of God’s Word. Yet, we will all function as teachers when we share our faith. So, James continues his discourse on the tongue in verses 3through 5a.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow brothers, 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. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” (3:1-5a)
Doesn’t it seem as though James is discouraging his readers from becoming teachers of the Word! It is true there is certainly a waning being given to those who seek to become teachers. But there is more to James’ message than just a warning to those who choose to teach.
We know there are those who “campaign” for such positions. Jesus Christ saw that attitude in the Scribes and Pharisees and provided this warning to His disciples: “But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and HE is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you shall be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8)
James shared that God’s children have been given life through the “Word of truth.” (1:18) The written Word is actually God’s spoken Word to us. In the same way that God’s Word is truth, our “words” should be carefully chosen to reflect what is right and true.
Think back to the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and God confronted them with their sin, Adam’s response was: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”
Think about that statement for a moment. I believe there are two problems with the statement. First, Adam said “the woman YOU put here with me.” He is indirectly blaming God when he makes that statement. In other words it is as if he is saying: “God, I wouldn’t have eaten from that tree if YOU had not given me this woman.” Secondly, he is clearly blaming Eve when he says: “SHE gave me some fruit from the tree….” Can you discern how Adam’ words provide a glimpse of his heart in this matter?
Listen to what Paul had to say about our speech and our righteousness: “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:13-14)
Solomon frequently spoke about the need to be wise in our speech. “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (Proverbs 15:2) And “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) Peter also shared that Christians who long for a fulfilled life, a rich blessing from God should: “keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:10)
So, James shares a challenge in verse two: “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.” The challenge: being perfect in what we say. As we consider that challenge, we can ask: “Who has been perfect in everything they have ever said?” You see, we all stumble in many ways – we have stumbled in things we have said, even when our intentions were honorable.
How cam James submit such a bold challenge. Because he LIVED with someone who had perfect control of His tongue and that person was also able to keep His whole body in check. James lived with that person for thirty years!
When James said, “anyone who is never at fault,” he made a universal statement because outside of Christ, there are none who are never at fault. We have all been guilty of making a hasty remark, an untruthful statement, a sly suggestion, gossiping, making innuendos, etc.
I am sure James had his reader’s attention with those comments. Then he shares two examples. There is a difference between the two. In his example of a horse, he draws our attention to the power of a bit. In doing so, he is referencing an internal force. The horse is being directed by a tiny bit in its mouth. The force of the horse, which is powerful, even unruly at times, is controlled by that bit. We can exhibit great force when our emotions, convictions, and attitudes become the driving forces behind the words that come out of our mouths.
The second example is that of a ship. The force impacting a ship comes from strong winds that impact its direction. In that case, the force is an external one that must be controlled, again by a small instrument called a rudder. It has the ability, when used by the ship’s captain to determine the direction of the ship.
We can boast about the power of the bit and rudder accurately because they have the ability to “master” the internal forces of the horse and the external forces of the ship. Too often our tongues boast of great things. The tongue is the “master-key” of who we really are.
James is suggesting that if we are able to control our tongues, we will also be able to control the internal and external forces in life. The pressures of adversity, the sudden and unexpected circumstances we must face, the trials and tribulations of life provide an opportunity for us to show our ability to control our tongues. The internal emotions and attitudes we will naturally experienced also give us an opportunity to show our ability to control our tongues.
James is really presenting a very strong proposition: if we are able to win the battle over the tongues, we will be able to win the battle of keeping our whole body in check. Controlling the tongue will take great strength. It seems reasonable to conclude that if we have the strength to control our tongue, we will also have the strength to control anything and everything we face in a way that brings glory to God.
How successful are we at controlling our tongues? Growing in our faith will naturally result in gaining the strength to control this very important part of our bodies!
What we say is the result of what we believe, how we feel, what we think and what is in our hearts!
Have a blessed day!