“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
James continues his theme from chapter 2 of how true faith is seen in our works. And our words are one of the clearest indications of our moral and spiritual character because our words (outward) reveal our inner heart. “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:34) “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.” (Matthew 15:18) As we will see in this lesson the tongue is not the problem but the condition of the heart is what needs to be changed. So James shows us the destructive power of the tongue to inspire us and motivate us to ask God to change our hearts so our tongues can bring forth life and not death. “Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.21 Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Proverbs 18:20- 21)
First of all James deals with Bible teachers (v.1) as those who have greater spiritual influence and therefore greater accountability. Jesus used His harshest rebukes for the Pharisees for this reason. “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34- 37) Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and Jude speak strongly against false teachings and false teachers and the greater condemnation they will receive. For believers this will be loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ but not loss of salvation. Therefore as Paul exhorts us: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
But James goes on to say in verse 2 that we all stumble in many ways. This means that all believers (not just formal Bible teachers) are “teachers” and are communicating truth (or lies) so we all need to heed the warnings James gives us about the seriousness of the words we speak.
James says that though the tongue is small, if it is controlled by the devil and our flesh instead of God it can bring serious damage and destruction. It’s like a huge forest fire started by a cigarette carelessly thrown away. Think of the words of Jesus communicated in the Bible and the wonderful influence they have had on millions of people across the years. Then contrast His words to the words of Adolf Hitler and the destructive power of his words. So James calls us to see the power for good or evil in the words we use. For example, we can destroy or at least damage another person’s reputation with just a little gossip.
James then talks about the impossibility for man to tame his tongue. “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” Elephants, lions, tigers, snakes, and all kinds of creatures have been tamed by man but no one can tame the tongue. But our tongue is not the problem; it’s our heart, it’s our attitude, it’s our rebellion against God or submission to God. Notice how our tongue/words bless God and people when we are filled (under the control) of God, Holy Spirit: “And do not get drunk with wine (be under the control of), for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)
James concludes by contrasting the source, motivation, and manifestation of earthly, demonic wisdom with heavenly, godly wisdom: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Satan divides and God brings peace and unity. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) From our study of James it seems that when the meditation of our heart is to please and honor God, then the words of our mouth will bless and edify others. (Ephesians 4:29)
Until He comes again,
Len and Kristen