James packs a punch with his words, doesn’t he? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Do you realize God is actively equipping you through His word to do good? In this exact moment, He is using the book of James to teach, rebuke, correct, and train you for His purpose. You are a beautiful instrument for Him – let perseverance finish its work in you (James 1:4). Okay, time for James 3…
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 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.
- Here’s more “give it to me straight” talk from James: “Not many of you should become teachers…” That lays it out flat, right? He goes on to explain why in that teachers have a higher standard of judgment. You know the saying that goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.” This isn’t it. Teachers are the example, and as Paul would say, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1Corinthians 11:1). We shouldn’t shy away from teaching, we simply must know there is a higher expectation. After we wrap up James, we’re going to study the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews (which is most likely Paul) wrote in 5:12 (NLT), “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God's word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” We must continue to grow so that we can teach others. You don’t need to have a special 501(c)(3) ministry to teach people about God. It’s meant to be your lifestyle, not necessarily your livelihood.
- I remember one time when I was in college, I was dating a guy (who wasn’t godly, by the way) and he was being disrespectful toward me. One of my friends pulled me to the side and said I needed to “Check that.” It’s an urban phrase that means “to make a correction.” I eventually did correct that relationship by parting ways, and those were two words I continue to remind myself of today. Not so much when it comes to my relationships (I now have a godly man as a husband), but I use it regarding myself. I’m not faultless in what I say, but I need to make certain that I “check that” tongue continuously. People are listening to what we say and how we say it. Just this last week I apologized to one of my direct reports because I didn’t truly listen to what was being said and I responded out of frustration (and was dismissive) instead of listening with my heart. We must keep our tongues in check because we’re constantly stumbling. Myself included.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 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. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
- “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” Small things can cause big problems. Song of Solomon 2:15 (mushy, mushy, mushy) says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Foxes can seem cute, especially tiny ones. My favorite dress has little foxes on it and it gets a few compliments. But, friends, foxes are bad juju when it comes to our lives. If we let them into the garden of our hearts they will consume the fruit of our lives. The same is true if we leave our tongues untamed. We’ve all seen the news about horrendous fires on the west coast – burning up countless homes and stealing lives. Our tongues can do comparable damage when it comes to relationships. Our words can corrupt our entire life, and the lives of those around us. Let’s set our course to fix, fasten, and focus on God; He will change our hearts so the overflow is fruitful (Luke 6:45).
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
- If the tongue can’t be tamed, then why are we even talking about it? Note what it says in verse 8: but no human being can tame the tongue. Good thing it says, “With God, all things are possible” in Matthew 19:26. You can strive and work hard and read self-help books until your eyes are crossed, but it will gain you nothing more than a head knowledge. God doesn’t want you to have a head knowledge – He wants you to have a heart knowing. Remember the apostles at Pentecost who “saw tongues like flames of a fire” (Acts 2:3) and many came to faith. When God lights the fire, He can do the miraculous. Let Him rein in your tongue by reigning in your life.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
- If you turned on a spigot in hopes of a cool, refreshing drink and tasted saltwater, you would immediately spit it out. Bleh. If you went to that spigot a second time (just to double check) and tasted fresh water, you’d be relieved. What if again you visit it and it was salty? Crazy watering hole. So it is with you and me. We blast our neighbor (you know, how we talked about in James 2) and then praise Jesus on Sunday. That doesn’t really scream, “I am sold out to Christ” does it? Praise God He is forever patient and loving. He’s willing to create in us a new heart and renew a right spirit within us (Psalm 51). Warren Wiersbe gives us these stout words: “If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart.”
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
- In these verses, James shifts our attention from words to wisdom. We must remember that for every godly truth, there is a counterfeit. We may see someone who has worldly wisdom or great understanding (the Greek root for wisdom in this context is psuke, which is where we derive our word psychology), but James provides us with the litmus test as to whether it is true: inspect the fruit. Matthew 7:15-20 says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
- Essentially, James tells us to check our hearts (check that). Look for sinful residue like envy and selfish ambition (note it doesn’t just say ambition – it says selfish ambition). I think verse 16 is interesting because it says where envy and selfish ambition exist, the result is disorder and evil practice. I spend a great deal of time with people in my leadership role, and believe me that I have seen plenty of individuals who are confused and sinful (I have my days, too). As we learned in James 2, mercy triumphs over judgment. While we may see the fruit of the evil, we are still told to have compassion; not on the sin, but on the misery the person is experiencing (and if they’re without Christ, they are miserable – even if they don’t know it).
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
- Verse 17 starts with an awesome word: BUT. After all this talk about confusion and sin and bad fruit, God inks hope onto the page with a single word: but. Synonyms include: however; even so; nevertheless. Despite all that crud we discussed previously, the wisdom that comes from heaven is pure. Then, it gets even better: it’s peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, has tasty fruit. It keeps going…it’s impartial, genuinely sincere, and finally (wait for it…), it’s about peace and packs a powerful harvest. Remember in James 1 we were told to ask for wisdom if we were short on it. This is the kind of wisdom God imparts. Who doesn’t want a massive dose of wisdom? Yes, please! Let’s pray in faith that the Lord would give us His wisdom and fire us up for Him so we can teach others. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Yes, please!