James 3:1-8 – No other section of the Bible speaks with greater authority or impact regarding what we do with our tongue than this passage. Jesus spoke on this subject. (Matthew 5:11,18-19). We need to see that the heart and the tongue are directly associated with each other. The tongue is what communicates the content of the heart, when we think of the word tongue, we need to think heart.
In James 3:1 Jacob says ‘Stop becoming many teachers”. He was warning believers not to be so quick to become teachers. Along with James 3:2 James introduces a sobering reality: teachers will incur a stricter judgment than their students. Because what a teacher teaches affects many lives and because the teacher is expected to live the truth he or she teaches.
Since the tongue is the teacher’s tool, a teacher is to guard the way he or she uses it. Jacob is not condemning teaching, but warning against rushing into that work before fully understanding the responsibility. Furthermore James is not promoting silence, but rather control. James teaches that the Tongue is small but powerful. The tongue speaks what is in the heart or mind, and it is the tongue that shall either justify or condemn us before God.
This is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 12:34‑37. Not only the wicked utterances of the tongue will rise up against us in that day, but every foolish, idle word we speak will be recalled so as to give an account! It has been estimated that most people speak enough in one week to fill a 500‑page book. In the average lifetime this would amount to 3000 VOLUMES or 1,500,000 pages! It is a frightening thought that by these words we shall either be “justified” or “condemned.”
James 3:3-5 Jacob gives three illustrations to bring home his point in James 3:3-5. The first is a horse’s bridle, which among other things contains a metal bit which, when placed in the mouth of a horse, controls the horse’s every movement. We put a bit into the mouth of a horse, knowing that if we can control its mouth, we can control its whole body. So James says that if we can control the tongue, we can control the whole body; but if the tongue is uncontrolled, the whole life is directed in the wrong way.
There is an illustration of this in dressage in horse back riding. A bit of love is the only bit that will put a bridle on the tongue. The second illustration is a ships rudder. A rudder is smaller in proportion to a ship than a bit is to horse, yet in spite of its size, it determines the course of a ship as it crosses across powerful ocean currents.
A third illustration is even more extreme than the other two. A tiny spark that can even be at times unseen by the human eye, can cause the destruction of an immense forest, destroy homes, and be responsible for the death of many. Consider the Chicago fire (Proverbs 16:27)
James 3:6-8. Here James elaborates further on the concept of fire, which is used to represent the sum total of iniquity. It is almost impossible to be filled with anger and bitterness, or filled with lust, or be self-centered, or hungry for control and power without revealing it through the tongue.
Jacob goes on to say that the tongue is set on fire by hell. The word used here is not Hades, the place of the dead but Gehenna, which was the valley that child sacrifices were offered and eventually in his day was the city dump, where there were continual fires and odor. James also describes the tongue as an untamed beast.
There are few animals if any that man hasn’t been able to tame; the lion, bears, snakes, animals that hunt and kill their prey. Yet man has not yet been able to tame the tiny tongue. We are told that the tongue is a deadly poison. It’s poison when dumped, spreads death-like thoughts and comments.
Not to long ago CBS released The Karen Carpenter Story. Karen died unexpectedly of heart failure at age 32 brought on by years of self abuse from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. But what was it that brought on Karen’s fatal obsession with weight control?
It seems a reviewer once called her “Richard’s chubby sister”. The tongue Jacob says affects the course of our lives. A.T. Robertson in his Word Pictures In The New Testament tells us that the phrase “the course of our life” in James 3:6 is very descriptive and picturesque. In the Greek it means the wheel of nature, the wheel of life, the unending span of life stretching from birth to death.
Therefore, the tongue can do just what this verse says: pollute and dirty a man’s body and the whole wheel of his life. Ben Franklin said “A slip of the foot you may soon recover, But a slip of the tongue you may never get over.
James 3:9-12 we learn that the tongue has the ability to be helpful but sadly it is inconsistent. The tongue must be controlled by believers. “Brothers—all who are brothers of James—brothers in the Lord—these things must not be.” It is not fitting or right for a believer’s tongue to be untamed and it is inconsistent for a believer’s tongue to be untamed. A believer is just like a fountain, a fountain for God.
Does a fountain that is supposed to bring forth sweet water bring forth bitter water? It is incompatible with Faith – A true Believer that gossips, speaks in a harsh and hurtful way. It is inconsistent to in one breath praise God, and in the next, speak badly about or to brother, made in the likeness of God. It is contrary to the nature of believers to have an untamed tongue. A believer is just like a fig tree.
Does the fig tree bear olives? Or a vine, figs? No fountain yields both salt and fresh water. No good tongue yields both words of blessing and words of cursing. Only an evil tongue could do this. If you don’t stumble in speech which is a sign of Christian maturity, if you can bridle tongue, you can master the other parts of your body.
Jacob tells us in James 3:26 that if we can’t control our tongues our religion is worthless. What is our tongue saying today about the content of our hearts? This is one instance where the tongue does not lie. That which is harbored within us will be represented by what we say. Psalm 39:1 gives one of the best insights in learning how to control our tongues. We want to learn how to heal with the tongue instead of crushing and wounding others with it. Listen to the words of King Solomon (Proverbs 15:4 NASB).
James 3:13 – What is wisdom, true wisdom? Misunderstanding wisdom is a temptation that attacks all men, but especially teachers. One of the greatest temptations that confront teachers is the temptation to twist true wisdom. The term “wise man” ( Gk. sophos ) refers to the teacher one who teaches the Word of God including ministers and teachers.
Some of the teachers were acting unwisely, yet they thought they were wise and knowledgeable. A wise and knowledgeable teacher will demonstrate two significant traits; the first is good behavior and conduct. A Biblical if he is going to show wisdom must live what he teaches and preaches.
The wise teacher knows that he cannot teach one thing and do something else (Matthew 7:24-27;John 7:17;Hosea 14:9). Secondly there is the trait of meekness or gentleness. The word in the Greek means to be, tender, humble, mild, considerate, but strongly so. Meekness has been described as power under control. The meek teacher simply loves people and loves peace and walks humbly among people regardless of their status or circumstances in their life.
A meek man associates with the poor and lowly. A meek man is able to look at situations and want what is just and right to be done not ignoring what is evil and wrong, or that which is abusive and causing suffering. The meek teacher controls his spirit and mind; the lusts of his flesh, not quick tempered, and retaliatory.
The meek teacher dies to what his flesh would like to do, and does the right thing, what God would have done. A meek man forgets and lives for others because of what Christ has done for him (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2).
James 3:14 – there is the false wisdom and wrong teaching of this world. The fact is that there are teachers, ministers and laymen alike, who follow the false wisdom of the world. A characteristic of these teachers is that their teaching arouse envy and jealousy. They harbor in their hearts envy of others work and ministry and their attitudes invariably wind up in their teaching.
We who are in ministry or envious of other ministries should remember the words of John the Baptist when his disciples questioned the greater ministry of Yeshua over his (John 3:27) John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.
When a teacher begins to teach some false doctrine or to live an unholy life, he should be corrected by those who follow the truth of God’s Word. False wisdom or wrong teaching arouses bitter envy and jealousy. It stirs up division between the servants of God and churches.
God’s servants should ever envy another persons ability, church, position, or recognition. A false wisdom and wrong teaching, James tells us, arouse these kinds of feelings (1 Corinthians 13:4). Furthermore, false wisdom and wrong teaching arouse a spirit of strife in our hearts. The word “strife” means selfish ambition. This kind of person is not at peace with themselves or with others (Philippians 2:3-4;2 Timothy 2:24).
The source of false wisdom and wrong teaching is from the world the flesh and the devil. They tend to focus on man himself, and neglect the fact that he is a spiritual being. They stress humanism, education, technology, science, health, comfort, and peace. Demonic teachings stress things as pride, self-ambition, bitterness, envy, strife, and fostering division, which is not of God (Romans 1:22;1 Corinthians 3:19-20).
The effects of false wisdom and wrong teaching result in confusion and people become disturbed and divided. Believers become angry and hold feelings against one another and some even leave the church and forsake God. Worldly wisdom and false teaching is the source of confusion and division within families and causes the weak to return to the world and to forsake God and His Word (1 Corinthians 14:33).
True wisdom comes from above, not from this world. It comes from seeking God. It is described by James as consisting of eight things:
1) It is pure, completely separated from impurity and wrong-doing. A truly wise person keeps his relationships pure protecting his family and the name of the Lord. James that wisdom is first pure emphasizing its importance in being wise (Matthew 5:8;1 Peter 1:16).
2) It is “peaceable” in the original language means to bind and weave together. It means a wise teacher is bound and joined together with God and his fellow man. He does all he can to keep and make peace. He works to reconcile people to God and to each other (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14).
3) It is gentle” this word is difficult to translate into English but has been translated by others as gentleness, forebearance, reasonableness, consideration, courtesy, patience, and softness. The wise person will be gentle and forbearing in dealing with people. The last thing that a wise person should do is criticize, condemn, neglect, and ignore people. Too many of us are harsh and critical while being wrapped in the cloak of religion. The desperate need today is to reach out with the gospel in a spirit of love and gentleness (Ephesians 4:2;Colossians 3:13;2 Timothy 2:24).
4) It is reasonable; willing to listen to reason and to appeal; being willing to change when you are wrong. True wisdom is not stubborn or hard (Isaiah 1:18).
5) It is full of mercy, which means to have compassion, affection, and kindness. Two things are essential in order to have mercy: seeing a need and being able to meet that need (Matthew 5:7;Luke 6:36;Job 29:15-16;Proverbs 31:20;Micah 6:8).
6) True wisdom is full of good fruits. This means that the wise teacher actually reaches out and helps those in trouble. He does not experience feelings of compassion and then push them out of his mind. He acts; he meets needs; he helps the suffering. The wise teacher does all he can to meet the needs of the lost and destitute of our world (Galatians 6:2,10).
7) True wisdom is without partiality which actually means two things showing no partiality or favoritism to anyone(Leviticus 19:15;1 Timothy 5:21). Secondly it means being undivided in your convictions and judgments. Knowing exactly what God’s Word says, not entertaining false ideas or teachings.
8) It is without hypocrisy which means to be free from insincerity, acting, and wearing a mask. This means not teaching one thing and doing another thing (Philippians 1:9-10;1 John 3:18). The effect of true wisdom is the fruit of righteousness, a life of righteousness.
But note how righteousness is brought about: by making peace; treating each other as we should. The greatest need we have is for peace with each other and peace with God. The result would be a community and a world of righteousness which is the product of men and women living like they should a world just like the world for which God longs. How can we ever have such a world? Only by the teachers of God—ministers and laymen alike—becoming teachers of true wisdom leading people to make peace with God and with each other (John 16:33;Romans 14:17;Colossians 1:20).