One must take seriously the task of becoming a teacher of the Word of God. Those who instruct are held to a stricter accountability to the Word and therefore face a stricter judgment. We all stumble in many ways, if we did not stumble in the Word, then we would be a perfect man, also able to bridle the whole body.
It is an easy thing to do taking the position of teacher in the Church. But we must take that position seriously as our accountability is held to a higher standard. Both before God and the people we serve. We must at all times protect our testimony that we do not shame our Lord before men. Jesus warned to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much have been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:48)
Being held to a higher accountability is a sobering thought in light of our common weaknesses. The Greek word for stumble does not mean a fatal fall, but something that hinders our walk with the Lord. We all stumble including James, but James does not excuse himself or us in our stumbling. We know that we will stumble; still we should be constantly trying to improve our walk with the Lord. By saying that if we do not stumble in the Word James is setting the measure of spiritual maturity for teachers of the Word and all Christians. To not stumble in the Word shows true spiritual maturity. This is so much more important for teachers who have more opportunity to sin with their tongue.
A bit in a horse’s mouth can control a strong horse. A large ship can be guided by a small rudder. If we have control over our tongue, then it shows that we have control over our whole body. Whoever can control the tongue can bridle the whole body. As the bit and the rudder are small parts of the whole so is the tongue to the whole body. Yet the tongue has tremendous power, for either good or evil.
The tongue is as a fire and has been used to burn many. We have all heard the children’s rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But this catchy rhyme is not really true. A word spoken against us can leave a bitter pain that can last a lifetime, long past the time a broken bone has healed. A casual sarcastic or critical remark can inflict an injury on another person with long lasting effect. On the other hand a well-timed encouragement or compliment can inspire someone for the rest of their life. Proverbs speaks of the person who doesn’t consider the destructive power of his words. Like a mad man, who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18-19) James echoes the words found in Proverbs. In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. (Proverbs 10:19-21)
ü Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)
ü Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)
ü Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)
It is easier to tame a wild animal than to tame the tongue. In fact James tells us it is impossible to tame the tongue. The spirit of man has an incredible capacity for self sacrifice. We have heard of people who have cut off their own limbs to free themselves from hopeless situations, and then they drive off to the hospital to receive medical treatment. Yet that same man cannot tame his own tongue. Yet the power of the Holy Spirit can tame the human tongue. We can say that God is mightier than the human tongue.
A tongue untamed can deliver a deadly poison. A woman came to John Wesley and said she knew what her talent was. “I think my talent from God is to speak my mind.” Wesley replied, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.” Speaking forth everything that comes to mind is unwise, poisonous speech.
Our tongues can be used for its highest calling which is to bless our God. The tongue can also be used for its lowest evil which is to curse men. Those who are born again and followers of Jesus should never be both blessing and cursing. Our speech should be consistently glorifying God. We should not be speaking in one manner in the Church and a different manner outside of the Church. Like a spring of water our mouths should not bring forth fresh and bitter alike. James points to the ultimate of contradiction if bad fruit and bitter water continues to come forth it means the tree is bad or the spring is bad. Jesus taught that the words that come out of a man’s mouth are a reliable revelation of his inner character. (Matthew 12:34-37) What we say indicates what we are.
Wisdom is not just head knowledge. True wisdom will show in our lives by our conduct. True wisdom is also seen by a meek manner. Those who do their good works in a way that brings attention to the works they have done are displaying a lack of true wisdom.
If our motives are full of bitterness and self seeking these are opposing to the meekness mentioned in James 3:13. Those who are full of bitterness and self seeking intentions should not deceive anyone, especially themselves. Their wisdom is that of the world, sensual, and demonic. Their “wisdom” is more characteristic of the world, the flesh, and the devil than of God. The fruit of this worldly wisdom is plain. This worldly wisdom is full of confusion and every evil thing.
The wisdom that comes from God also bears fruit. Here James defines exactly what he meant by the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13) The character of this wisdom is wonderful. It is full of love and a giving heart, consistent with the holiness of God. This fruit is like a seed that will bear fruit as it is sown by those who make peace.
James now shows what the wisdom for God is. He uses seven words to show what it is like.
- Pure. It is clean and has no selfish ambition. It is holy, as God himself is holy.
- Peace-making. It brings people closer together and nearer to God. It does not fight but brings peace.
- Gentle. It is fair and kind. It knows the weakness of human beings and helps them. It does not insist on its own rights. It is always ready to help and not to blame.
- Open to reason. It is easy to approach it. It will listen to what other people say.
- Full of mercy and good fruits. It helps those who suffer. And it has sympathy for all those who are sad. It has the pity and the love to do good for them and all people.
- Fair to all. It shows respect for all people. It does not make distinctions. It does not do things from prejudice. It is sure about what is true. It has good standards that do not change.
Real and sincere. It is honest. It does not pretend or act a part. It is sincere in all that it does and with all people. It does not work for its own benefit.