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James 3:118comment (0)

August 13, 2009

By Jay T. Robertson

Related Scripture: James 3:118

Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

James 3:1–18

Speak Carefully (1–2)

James began with an abrupt and somewhat surprising command: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers.” Teacher is an important word in the New Testament, being used more than 50 times. Teachers gave believers instruction in the practical duties of the Christian life and sought to ground them in knowledge of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. The office of teacher offered a respect, a prominence and an authority, which made some men covet it. James said don’t think so much of its outward privileges as of its immense responsibilities under God.

Teachers will receive a stricter judgment. These words should be a sobering reminder to us that one should not rush hastily into the work of teaching. Before filling that position, one should examine his qualifications and motives. A ready tongue without an informed mind, a devout character and a holy life will hinder rather than advance the cause of Christ. All of us commit sin again and again, but at no point are we more likely to sin than in the realm of our speech. Since the tongue is the most difficult member of our bodies to control, one’s ability to control the tongue implies control over his or her whole body. All Christ-followers, especially teachers, must be careful how they speak. 

Speak Harmlessly (3–6)
The tongue must be handled with care. It can direct, destroy and delight. The tongue is like a bit in a horse’s mouth. A horse is a half-ton of raw power. Yet place a bit in its mouth, and a 100-pound woman who knows what she is doing can make the horse dance. Just a “bit” of a word can control a person’s destiny. The tongue is also like a rudder. An aircraft carrier is 25 stories tall, has 1,000 feet of runway and has 5,000 people living on board, yet a small rudder directs the entire ship. These two illustrations demonstrate the power of the tongue.

The tongue is also like a fiery spark in dry grass. On Oct. 8, 1871, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern. That little spark spread and destroyed some 17,000 buildings and killed about 300 people in what became known as the Great Chicago Fire. That same day, in the north woods of Wisconsin, a spark ignited and burned one month, killing more people than the Chicago fire and destroying billions of yards of timber. Fire is a good servant but a poor master. Like fire, words can warm the heart or inflame hatred. Do not be guilty of spiritual arson. The tongue can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate and bring nations to the brink of war. But the tongue also can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing and soothe the dying. Christ-followers must seek to speak harmlessly and use the gift of speech for the glory of God.

Speak Consistently (7–12)
These verses show the good use of the tongue (blessing God), the bad use of the tongue (cursing others) and the absurdity of doing both with the same tongue. What is impossible in the physical world is improper in the spiritual world. James was saying it is not right for a person to praise God in worship and then criticize his or her brothers and sisters as he or she heads out the door to Sunday lunch. “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way.” Five minutes after the benediction, some move from the gospel to gossip, from the creed to criticism, from blessing God to cursing one another, from the Savior to slander. May God help us to speak consistently.

Behave Wisely (13–18)
James reminded us of the need for true wisdom and insisted that evidence of this must be given by one’s daily life. There is a godly wisdom we should do. This wisdom affects our actions and attitude. There is an earthly wisdom we should deny. Human wisdom is divisive, deceptive, demonic, disorderly and destructive. There is a heavenly wisdom we should desire. This wisdom overcomes sin, strife, stubbornness, selfishness, snobbishness and sham. May we desire heavenly wisdom and behave wisely.  

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