Midweek Bible Study – James 3
James 3 English Standard Version (ESV)
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace
As someone who teaches (and is doing so now through this Bible study) this verse is a sobering one! Nevertheless, its words ring true and indeed, it is a weighty and serious thing to discuss the ways of God. This is true for all believers who at one time or another will be called to teach and instruct someone in the way of salvation and when that time comes may the Holy Spirit give us the words to say so that Christ is honored! Here though we are also reminded by James that as Christians we are called to put every part of us – even things that seem small like our tongues – under submission to Christ. Even our speech needs to be redeemed, for Christ reminds us that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks and he further reminds us that we will be held accountable for every idle word we speak in the Judgment. Like the tip of an iceberg, may our tongue be an indicator that the Gospel runs deep below the surface into all parts of our being.
As James continues his original thought in the paragraph above, he reminds us that the tongue is often an oversight or simply not considered and yet it is perhaps the greatest indicator of a person’s spiritual health (or the lack thereof) unlike any other part of our body. The chances are, if a person has a handle on their tongue and if their speech is seasoned with grace then it is usually safe to assume the rest of their spiritual life is in order as well. Likewise, if a person is a gossiper and a slanderer and is characterized by speech that is ungracious, it is reasonably safe to assume that their spiritual life is in great peril and they don’t have a tight hold on the Gospel. Just as one cannot expect to go to the ocean and draw freshwater; one cannot encounter someone who curses his fellow man and yet also legitimately blesses their Heavenly Father.
In verse 13, James reminds us that wisdom in its truest sense is not simply a wealth of head knowledge but is “good conduct shown through meekness.” Said another way, wisdom is not just an accumulation of knowledge but rather is the Godly application of knowledge, it is head knowledge put into tangible action. All the while, it is accomplished through a spirit of meekness, modeled after our savior, Christ who did not come with sword and brute force but came in the form of a servant to all. Our hope though is that one day he will return for the second and final time – this time as the conquering King come to claim his Bride with his kingdom reign of grace and peace.