James 3 Bible study

Living Word Magazine

Chapter 3


Not all called to be Teachers


3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.


In the early church teachers were treated with great respect. They were regarded as second only to apostles and prophets (1 Cor. 12:28). But to be entrusted by the Lord with the task of teaching His church is not only is it a great honour, it is a great responsibility. The reason teachers will be judged more strictly is because what they say not only effects themselves, but others. We should presume to take it on ourselves to teach God's people. Only those who are called to this ministry by Christ should dare to do so, for he will require more of those that he has entrusted with responsibility (Luke 12:48).  Teachers should be careful not to teach their own opinions, but the word of God. By this the Church will be built up and kept from error and sinful practises. Teachers must ensure that like Ezra, they practise what they preach (Ezra 7:10).


No man can control the tongue.


3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well.


Even a godly teacher makes mistakes. No man will ever be utterly faultless in what he says for we are all sinners (1 Kings 8:46). Even if we are listening to a man of God, we must not take it for granted that what he says is right. The word of God is our final authority. If a man can control his speech then he is a perfect man and is able to control the rest of his body. After all, it is easier to sin in word than in deed. Jesus said "Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgement (Matt. 12:36-37).


3:3-5 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 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. 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.


James illustrates that a man who can control his tongue can control his whole body. Think of the horse. When we put a bridle on his neck and a bit in his mouth, we can turn the horse to go in whatever direction we choose by simply pulling on the reigns. Large ocean going ships - carried through the water by their great momentum- are steered by a very small rudder, at the will of the helmsman. If that rudder could talk, I wonder if it would boast? Look at me, I'm only small but I can move a whole ship! The tongue is as boastful as that. Although small it makes great boasts, for it can accomplish much both for good and evil. It only takes one tiny spark to light a forest fire, but what devastation that fire can cause! The tongue is like a such a fire. The effects of words can be devastating. Great evil can be caused by a single word. Just as fire destroys, so words can destroy relationships. Just as fire is uncontrollable, so a word, once it is spoken, cannot be controlled, it can never be taken back. William Barclay says "Let a man before he speaks remember that once a word is spoken it is gone from his control."


3:6 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.


The tongue is the part of the body which can be most readily used to express our sinful fallen nature. Correctly translated, this verse tells us that the tongue can speak as part of the wicked fallen world which is ignorant and hostile to God. It defies God even in the face of His judgement, for it is set on fire by hell, that is, the devil himself influences the speech of an unrepentant man. The tongue does not exist on its own. If a man uses his tongue to defy God then he is guilty and defiled in his whole being. Sinful actions are often preceded by sinful words. e.g. A violent exchange of words may develop into an act of violence. Lustful words may lead to immoral actions.


3:7-8 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.


James relates the fact that all kinds of animals, birds and even fish and reptiles have been tamed or subdued by man. This does not mean that a man may keep any animal as a pet, but that man has subdued all animals. A man is able to use the whole animal for his own purposes, whether by killing it for food or training it to work. Therefore man is master  But this contrasts sharply with the fact that no man is able to master his tongue, which frequently takes the opportunity to do evil. Its poison may destroy the life or character of another and will certainly destroy its owner in the end.


3:9-12 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God's image. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.


In Christian life there are contradictions. Here is one. The tongue is used to bless and thank God and the Lord Jesus. Then, in the same day it is used to criticise, judge, scorn and speak evil about other people who have been made in God's image. Why does this happen? It does not happen in nature. As James says, you can never get both salt and fresh water from a spring. You will never find olives on a fig tree or grapes on a fig tree. You should not find cursing or swearing in the mouth of a Christian, but you may. Peter could say "Though I may die with you I will never deny you" and hours later deny his Lord with swearing and cursing. Although we may pray and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit in church, what things do we use our tongues for when not in church? Gossip, slander, swearing and filthy talk? These things, says James ought not to be. A Christian filled with the Holy Spirit should be able to have a good degree of control, through Christ, of his/her tongue for the Holy Spirit takes hold of the tongue and only we ourselves are to blame if we do not.


Two kinds of wisdom


3:13-14 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth.


Anyone who truly has wisdom from God must show it in the way he/she lives by the loveliness, gracious kindness and gentleness of their lives. Those who claim to have wisdom but harbour selfish ambition are, in jealousy, bitterly opposed to all who either oppose them or seem to be better off than they are. They wish to be important but James tells them not to boast about this, but own up to the fact that living in pride and jealousy is to live in a way contrary to the spirit of the gospel. James is still talking about teachers of God's word. The best way to teach is by example. If we would teach others to follow Jesus, then we must follow him in his humility (Matt 23:10-12).


3:15-16 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice.


This so called wisdom, which is nothing but a puffed up idea of ones own importance, does not come from God. It is of the sinful nature and is therefore of the devil. We can see Satan behind envy and pride when we see what it produces: unrest, disharmony and rebellion (AMPNT)


3:17-18 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.


Earthly wisdom is contrasted with heavenly. The wisdom that comes from God is  pure -  it has no ulterior motive. It is ‚ peaceable - it will result in our having right relationships with others. It is considerate - it makes allowances for the failings of others. It is willing to forgive and does not judge people by the letter of the law but takes all things into consideration. It is reasonable. It is willing to yield to others - it does not bitterly fight for its rights but is willing to lay down its rights and opinions. It is full of mercy and good fruits. Mercy is not only a gut feeling or emotion, if it is genuine it will result in action to help others in need. It is characterised by a steadfast faith and absence of doubt. It knows what it is doing and does it does not make a pretence. James closes the chapter with a timely word of advice to any church. If we wish to grow in our Christian lives and enjoy the fruits of this spiritual life then we must seek to create a suitable atmosphere in which we can help each other grow. An atmosphere of bitterness, argument or criticism is not one in which God's people may grow in Christ. This is why James tells us to make every effort to promote peace and love amongst ourselves. In this way we will grow, and produce the fruits of righteousness, which are love, peace, etc.

Further Reading Resources for you - James

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