James 3




Taming the Tongue (3:1-12)

1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers. Why does James say this? Because in James’ time (and in our time too), many people were trying to be teachers and leaders. They were seeking honor and high positions for themselves. James is saying here: “Don’t seek to be a teacher in order to gain honor and position, or you may regret it.” To be a teacher can be a great disadvantage. Since teachers and leaders are given greater knowledge and responsibility than others, they will be judged more strictly on the day of judgment (see Luke 12:47-48).

Therefore, many should not seek to be teachers. But it is necessary for some to be teachers. To be a teacher or leader is a good thing (1 Timothy 3:1). In this case, what kind of people should be teachers? To be a teacher or leader, there are two requirements. First, to be a teacher a person must have a special gift from the Lord, because teachers are themselves a gift from the Lord to the church (Ephesians 4:7,1112). Second, to be a teacher or preacher a person must have a special calling or appointment from the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 9:16).

2 We all stumble and sin in many ways, but the most common way we sin is in our speech. This is a special danger for teachers, because their work involves much speaking. But speaking is not only a danger for teachers! It is a danger for all Christians; countless opportunities to sin come to all of us through our speaking.

James says that ifwe could perfectly control what we say—if we could control our tongue—we would be perfect people. If we could keep our tongue in check (under control), we could keep our whole body in check. Among all the members of our body, the tongue is the most difficult to keep under control. The person who can control his tongue will certainly be able to control all the other evil desires of his body also.

But we know that no one is perfect; and one reason is that no one is able to perfectly control his tongue.

3 One can control a big horse with a small bit. Our tongue is like a bit. If we could control our tongue, we could then control our whole body.

4 Our tongue is also like the rudder of a large ship. A rudder is a very small thing attached to the back of a ship, by which the ship can be steered. In the same way, our tongue is a very small member of our body, but it has a big effect.

5 Our tongue is also like a small spark of fire, or like a match. Such a small thing can set a huge forest on fire!

From these three examples—the bit, the rudder, and the spark—we can see that the tongue is a very important member of our body. One small word ofslander can split a church and bring dishonor to its leaders. Or one small word of false teaching can cause many to go astray.

6 The tongue itself is like a fire. Satan uses our tongue more than any other of our members. Our tongue is set on fire by hell; that is, Satan sets our tongue on fire. If we do not control our tongue, our tongue will corrupt our whole person and set the whole course of [our] life on fire. That is, if not controlled, our tongue will lead us to destruction.

Among Christians, the tongue does the most evil. A Christian may lead a very devout and godly life in all other ways, but if his tongue is evil, it will ruin his life. The commonest sins among Christians are sins of the tongue.

7-8 … no man can tame the tongue (verse 8). If this is so, is there no help for us? Yes, God will help us “tame” our tongue. However, in this life we cannot expect to perfectly control our tongues all the time in every situation.

Our tongue is a restless evil; it is always looking for an occasion to speak evil. The tongue is full of deadly poison. Some kinds of poison can’t be recognized when they are first tasted; some poison may even taste sweet. Only later does the poison do its deadly work. Our tongue is like that (Psalm 140:3).

9-10 Many people (including Christians) are “double-tongued.” In prayer meetings they praise God with sweet words. But then they go out later and speak evil oftheir brother. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.9 My brothers, this should not be.

11-12 Here James uses illustrations from nature to show that being double-tongued is, in fact, impossible. Because the sweet sounding prayers of the double-tongued person are not really sweet at all; they are like the sweet-tasting poison mentioned above. They are not sweet in God’s ears; He will not listen to them (Psalm 66:18). The “double-tongued” person, then, is really a poison-tongued person who sounds sweet from time to time.

In nature, only one kind of water comes out of any one spring. From a fresh-water spring comes fresh water; from a saltwater spring comes salt water. Similarly, only one kind of fruit comes from any one tree. Fromafigtreecomefigs; fromagrape-vine come grapes. We can recognize the spring by its water and the tree by its fruit.

In the same way, we can recognize men by their speech. If a man’s speech is evil and bitter, his heart will also be evil and bitter. An evil person may fool us for a time by speaking sweet words, but we will not be fooled for long; soon the evil in his heart will be manifest by evil words.

Let no one deceive himself: God will not accept the sweet prayers of someone who speaks evil of his brother. God knows such prayers are false. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20-21).

Two Kinds of Wisdom (3:13-18)

13 If we say we are wise and understanding, then let us show proof of it! If we say we have love, let us show it. If we say we have faith, let us show it. How can we show it? We can show it by our good life, by our deeds.

Our teaching, our preaching—whatever work we do—must be done in the humility that comes from wisdom. There are two kinds of wisdom: God’s wisdom (heavenly wisdom) and man’s wisdom (worldly wisdom). God’s wisdom always leads to humility. Man’s wisdom always leads to pride—that is, to bitter envy and selfish ambition (verse 14).

14 The person with worldly wisdom may boast that he does God’s work, but in fact he does only what is for his own benefit. Such a person should not boast about what he does for God. If he does so, it will be a lie; he will be denying the truth.

15 Just as we can recognize a spring by tasting its water, so we can recognize what kind of wisdom a man has by observing its fruit. The fruit ofheavenly wisdom is humility. The fruit of worldly or natural wisdom is envy and ambition. Worldly wisdom is of the devil—that is, of SATAN—who is the prince of this world (John 16:11).

16 What is the cause of division in the church and fighting among brothers? The main cause is envy and selfish ambition (verse 14). And this occurs not only among ordinary brothers in the church, but also among the leaders! Let each believer examine himself.

17 The wisdom that comes from heaven is God’s wisdom. We must ask God for this wisdom (James 1:5).

What is God’s wisdom like? How can we recognize it? First, it is pure, because God is pure. Our wisdom must be pure, or else it cannot lead to peace and other good fruit.

Second, God’s wisdom is peace loving. A wise man (one with God’s wisdom) does not cause strife. A wise man is quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). He always tries to do what leads to peace (Romans 14:19).

The wise man is considerate. He cares about others. He doesn’t speak hurtful words. Unwise men debate in a harsh manner; they are only interested in winning the argument. Such men may win the argument, but they lose their friends. The wise man does not act in this way.

The wise man is submissive; he is willing to remain in submission to others (Ephe-sians 5:21). The wise man does not try to control other people; rather, he respects their thoughts and desires.

The wise man is full of mercy. He does not judge others. He is always ready to forgive others. He never tries to take revenge.

The wise man is also full of good fruit—that is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is impartial; he does not take sides or show favoritism.

And finally, the wise man is sincere. He is worthy of trust. He never tries to deceive someone for his own gain. He always speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Is our wisdom and our speech sincere? That is a deep question. Sometimes when we talk to each other our speech is not completely honest and open. We hide things. Our speech is devious, crooked, insincere. Our words are sweet, but our thoughts are not sweet! We don’t speak an outright lie, of course; we all know that is a sin. But we often keep back part of the truth in order to create a false impression—and that also is a sin.10 However, the wise man is always sincere; he always speaks with complete sincerity and honesty.

18 The peacemakers mentioned in this verse are those who are wise, those who have God’s wisdom. They sow seeds of righteousness and they reap a harvest of righteousness (see Galatians 6:7). Peacemakers have learned to control their tongue.