The tongue is a tiny organ physically, but from a spiritual perspective, it is powerful. With our tongue we do great damage to ourselves and those around us. Our tongue creates words that are able hurt people. Our words can cause people to become very angry or very sad. Our words make people hate or fear us. Even one evil comment can spread like a tiny spark that lights an entire forest on fire. A few harsh or false words can cause many people to dislike us or to believe things that are not true about us or God.
This is why James tells us today that our ability to control our tongues (i.e. our words) is a good indicator of our self-control in general. As we will see in the next post, the tongue is very difficult to tame. A person who learns to master their words is a person whose heart is under the taming influence of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. Angry words come from angry hearts. Jealous words come from jealous hearts. And so forth.
Have you learned the power of your words? May we all be more humble before God and choose our words more carefully to limit the damage we might cause to others.
The Text (James 3:2-6)
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.
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.
Questions to Think About
- Do you agree that people who control their words have good self-control in other areas of their life? Why or why not?
- Have you ever been on a horse or a boat? Have you ever watched the bit control the horse and the rudder control the ship? Explain what you saw.
- How have you ever said that something that did a lot of damage to yourself and others? What happened?
God treats the teaching of His Word as a serious job. Sadly, not everyone shares the Lord’s perspective on this issue. In the evangelical world today, many people think that anyone and everyone is fit to lead a Bible study or devotion. Students often believe that they can teach the Bible to other students or even adults simply because they profess to be Christians. As a teacher, I do not let students lead my homeroom devotions or lunchtime discipleship teaching. This is not because of disrespect towards them, but because of my deep respect for the task of teaching the Bible.
God has not given everyone the spiritual gift of teaching His Word. This is evident by the fact that one qualification in 1 Timothy 3 for a pastor or elder is they “be able to teach.” Such a requirement for the church’s leaders assumes that not everyone is fit to teach the Bible. Similarly, even though teaching the Bible is a gift, it is a gift that must be developed through study and practice. To earn my Masters of Divinity degree in pastoral ministry, I spent 90 credit hours over a period of five years studying the Old and New Testament in English and in their original languages of Greek and Hebrew. I studied the Bible’s teachings on topics like marriage and the family, systematic theology, and ethics and morality. I sat under godly men who were themselves gifted and trained Bible teachers. I took specific classes on how to prepare and deliver sermons and Bible lessons. And all of this was after I had spent 10 years from age 14 to age 24 sitting under gifted preaching and teaching in Sunday school, Sunday morning worship services, and Sunday and Wednesday evening Bible studies. While not everyone who would teach the Bible needs to attend seminary or Bible college, they at least need to have spent several years learning under people who have. We need to be disciples or learners of God’s Word for a long while before we are ready to be teachers of it to others. We can’t share knowledge that we don’t have.
This is why James warns us today that “not many of you should become teachers.” Why would he say this? Because teachers of God’s Word will “be judged more strictly.” The church will hold them accountable for the content and quality of their teaching. More importantly, the Lord will one day judge their work. This is a scary thought that ought to make everyone who considers teaching the Bible pause and humble themselves before God. We will all be judged for our words on the Day of Judgment. Teachers will be held to a higher standard because they will be judged for what they have taught others. While no teacher of God’s Word will be perfect, they ought to strive for it. Teachers of God’s Word must be equipped and prepared to handle the Bible faithfully and accurately. Only when a person is proven to be sound in their doctrine and capable of teaching the Bible with clarity, conviction, and compassion should they be allowed to teach it. Similarly, Bible teachers should have a solid testimony of several years of Christian living that is above reproach (see the rest of 1 Timothy 3). That is a high standard, but it should be. After all, it is God’s own book we are talking about. We should treat the Bible and the teaching of the Bible as a serious job just like God does.
The Text (James 3:1)
1Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Questions to Think About
- How has today’s post changed the way you think about the teaching of God’s Word?
- Have you ever listened to a Bible teacher do a poor job of handling God’s Word? How did that make you feel and why?
- What would you say to someone who said they want to lead a Bible study or devotion but you know that person does not know much about the Bible and does not regularly sit under solid Bible teaching at church?
- Why do you think God takes the teaching of the Bible so seriously? What negative effects can bad Bible teaching have on those who hear it?
Most of the Bible is written in the form of true stories that teach us about ourselves and God. The Gospels are told as stories about the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Book of Acts tells the real life adventures and experiences of the apostles and the early church. But James appeals in today’s passage to two famous stories from the Old Testament to prove his point that genuine faith will lead people to take action for God. When God told Abraham in Genesis 22 to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac as a burnt offering, Abraham trusted that God would raise his son from the dead (see Hebrews 11:19). In faith Abraham obeyed God and was about to plunge the knife into his strapped-down child before the angel of the Lord stopped his hand. Abraham proved through his obedient actions that He loved God the Giver more than his son the gift.
We might argue that the prostitute Rahab’s faith was even greater. She risked her own life and the lives of her entire family when she hid the Israelite spies from the searching men of Jericho and then sent the soldiers in the wrong direction. Rahab must have feared the king and guards of Jericho, but she chose to fear the God of Israel more. By faith, Rahab took action to serve the God of Israel and help his people escape. As a reward, Rahab and her family were spared death during the destruction of Jericho. Even more importantly, she married into the nation of Israel and became part of the family line of the Lord Jesus Christ. What an incredible reward!
The entire Old Testament is filled with such examples of men and women whose faith led them to take action for God. An important reason for including such stories in the Bible is to teach us what biblical saving faith looks like so that we can imitate it. True, we will often sin and fail in our attempts to pursue the Lord’s will in our lives. Many times as Christians, our fear may win out over our faith. But if we are truly saved, there should still be some evidence in our lives of godly actions, things we’ve done because of our faith in Jesus. If we look hard at our lives and see that our faith never produces any active obedience to Christ’s commands or sacrifices for Him and the gospel, can we really say that our faith is alive? May we all have the kind of living and active faith that we see commended in God’s Word.
The Text (James 2:20-26)
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Questions to Think About
- Have you ever been willing like Abraham to give up something you loved for God? Explain.
- Have you ever been like Rahab and taken a risk for God? What happened?
- Give some other Old Testament examples of men and women who proved their faith in the Lord through their actions.
What is faith? Is faith just thinking that certain things are true, or is faith something more? Does God define faith for us in the Bible? How much faith does a person need to be saved and go to heaven? Can a person have faith in Jesus and that faith have no effect on their life?
These are very important questions that James will answer for us in the rest of chapter 2 of his epistle. The Bible makes it clear in passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 that the salvation of our souls is by faith alone and not by works: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Yet we see in the very next verse, Ephesians 2:10, that Christians “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is these good works that James describes through the example of helping fellow Christians, family, or neighbors who need food or clothing. When we truly believe that Jesus is Lord, we will walk in His footsteps by actively showing love to those around us. Biblical faith is a trust in Christ that leads us to love God and love others, to serve Jesus and obey Him as Master.
The right connection between our faith and our works is important to grasp. It is our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone that saves us; no amount of good deeds can pay off the sin debt that we owe God. But if our faith in Jesus is a real faith, it will change us to do good works as new creations being remade into His image. To say that we believe in Jesus but to then be unwilling to follow Him and do what He says reveals that our belief is mere head knowledge. The devil and his demons have that kind of faith, but their destiny is hell because they do not love Jesus and want to be with Him in heaven. Our prayer is that all of you would have a genuine saving faith in Jesus that is proven over time by your deeds of loving obedience to Him. May we all have faith that works.
The Text (James 2:14-19)
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
Questions to Think About
- How and when did your belief in Jesus go from simple head knowledge to the kind of saving faith that James describes in today’s passage?
- Why is helping and caring for others a good evidence that someone has a saving faith in Jesus?
- Why do you think people are often deceived about what it means to be a Christian?
- Do you ever pray for other people? Who do you pray for and what do you pray? Why might praying for others be good evidence that a person has saving faith?
God loves mercy. God hates sin and must punish it because He is a just God. But God is also love. God’s love moves Him to show mercy to sinners who humbly repent and turn to Him in faith. God takes no pleasure in the death and eternal punishment of those who reject His offer of salvation through Jesus. Christians are people who have received God’s mercy of free pardon for all their sins. The natural response to God’s mercy towards us is that we should be merciful people who are quick to love and forgive others who have done us wrong. Part of being merciful is not giving special treatment to people by loving only those we like and then withholding love from people we don’t like.
This is James’ logic in today’s passage where he urges Christians to avoid judging others and committing the sin of favoritism. When we favor some people and not others, we are not loving people with fairness as we should. We are sinning by not loving ALL of our neighbors as ourselves. And we know as Christians that even one sin is enough to make us guilty before God Almighty, the great Judge of every person who has ever lived. We want God Our Judge to pardon us and give us mercy and forgiveness. We want His “mercy” to “triumph over [His] judgment” when it comes to how he treats us. In the same way, therefore, our mercy towards others should win out over our desire to judge them for their wrongs. May we all receive God’s mercy by faith and be willing to show that mercy to ALL of those we encounter.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Questions to Think About
- Why is favoritism a sin?
- How are you doing at loving your friends? How about your enemies?
- In what ways have you experienced God’s mercy in your life?
- Are you a merciful person? Would your friends and family call you merciful?