James — Chapter 3
Hello everyone. Today we’re going to continue through the book of James in the Bible Study that we have been going through of that wonderful book that was written by the apostle James, the brother of Jesus Christ. Please get your Bible and follow along and let’s study the scriptures that God inspired James to write down in this book. And let’s see exactly what we can learn from them.
Let’s pick it up where we left off last time here at chapter 3.
1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
A better translation there is: Be not many teachers, understanding that you’ll come under the stricter judgment. In other words, James is warning against self-aggrandizement and self–appointed teachers and ministers and leaders. People who just take the power unto themselves because they want the limelight, they want the power, they want the attention. But they don’t realize they’re going to come under greater scrutiny. They’re going to come under much stiffer criticism and requirements because they’re in a leading position. And therefore they’re judged in a much stricter way.
So anyone who decides, “Well, I’m going to be the leader, I’m going to be a minister, I’m going to be a pastor, I’m going to be a teacher” on their own without God in the picture and without Him appointing them to that office are taking unto themselves a much greater judgment, are taking unto themselves a much stricter set of requirements than if they were not the leader. A lot of people don’t give that any thought when they decide to appoint themselves as a leader. And that happens quite often to people who want to be a minister. They just want to be a minister and they decide to be a minister and they say they’ve received their calling from God and now they’re a minister. But now the requirements that are put upon them as a minister are much greater than will be put upon them if they were not in that office and in that position teaching other people and guiding other people and leading other people. So that’s what James is saying here.
Notice James 3:2.
2 For in many things we offend all. —
Or we stumble.
2 — If any man —
Stumble not in word or
2 — offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
In other words, being human we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to have misspeaks and they have to be corrected. But those misspeaks and those mistakes we make can cause other people a lot of problems. And we then are held responsible for those misspeaks and for those misjudgments because we’re in the leadership position.
So he’s saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about and you have no idea what’s going to be required of you.” If you just set out on your own to decide to be a minister, who decide to be a leader and assume that responsibility over other people. Well, that responsibility is going to require that you answer for your actions and that you answer for your words to a much greater degree. That’s what James is cautioning against right here.
And I want to turn to a couple of verses in the Bible that show that God is the one who chooses His ministers and sets them in that office. He’s the one who appoints them. You can’t take that honor to yourself. God is the one who calls, chooses, trains and ordains His ministers. And then He backs them up and guides them and directs them. And they’re able to do the job because He put them there and He helps them. But if you take that honor and that responsibility unto yourself, you’re on your own and you’re going to be in big trouble real fast.
Let’s turn over here and see what Jesus Christ Himself said about this. Let’s turn to John 15:16. Look what He said here, speaking to His disciples and His apostles.
16 You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Why? Because I’ve chosen you, I’ve ordained you. You’re my minister. Now I will back you up. You will bear fruit, and I will give you that extra amount of strength to carry that extra amount of responsibility. And then you can get the job done. You haven’t appointed yourself. That’s what Jesus Christ is talking about here.
Let’s notice what Paul said about this very subject over in Ephesians chapter 4. Let’s turn there. Ephesians 4:11, speaking of the ministry.
11 And he —
Who? Jesus Christ. He —
11 — gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
And why did He do that?
12 For the perfecting of the saints, —
Or the equipping of the saints,
12 — for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
So that’s an honor that has to come from God, not from men being voted into the office, and not from men appointing themselves. Otherwise they’re taking a load upon themselves that they won’t be able to carry. That’s what James is saying over here in James 3:1 and 2.
Now, let’s go back there and let’s pick it up in James 3:3.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Isn’t that an amazing thing to see? You can get a 1,000–pound powerful horse or even a 2,000–pound powerfully built Clydesdale horse. And you can train that horse to go to the right, to go to the left, to stop, to go forward, to pull, to do whatever you want him to do basically, if you treat him right and train him right, even though he’s a big, huge, powerful animal. Or he might be a race horse, very fast, very quick, very powerful. And yet you can train that horse to turn when you want him to in the direction you want him to turn to and do what you want. He will obey you if you train him properly. But he weighs much more than you and he’s much more powerful than you are. And yet with a bridle and a bit, you can neck–rein a cow pony to the right, to the left. You can stop him, you can have him go forward, you can train him to be a cutting horse, and he will go in and get exactly the animal from the herd and cut it right out over here and separate it right out over here. And then you can take it to the corral and ship it off to market. Imagine a big, powerful animal like that, that’s so easily controlled by such small things, having a bit in his or her mouth and some reins to turn it to the right or turn it to the left. It’s an amazing thing.
And let’s notice what he says here in verse 4.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, —
4 — whithersoever the governor listeth.
Or wherever the pilot or the captain wants that ship to go. It doesn’t matter how big the ship is. It can weigh multiple thousands of tons, displacing multiple thousands of tons of water. It can be steam–powered, nuclear–powered. It can be diesel–powered. It can be wind–driven. It can have cargo on there weighing many thousands and thousands of tons. It can be out in the open ocean, and yet by simply turning the wheel or moving the rudder, or deciding to go to the left or go to the right or go in a circle, one individual can do it with one hand because of the engineering and because of the steering mechanisms and because of the systems that are in place to steer that ship. Men can design that on any ship out in the ocean, an aircraft carrier, a sailboat, a small powerboat. And they’re easily controlled. Of course, they can get in conditions where rough seas make it much harder to control and even dangerous. But in normal conditions, steering that big, powerful, loaded down vessel is a very simple matter if it’s done skillfully by a capable captain.
But notice what he says as he continues into the subject here, verse 5. Having considered this about big, powerful animals, horses; and having considered this point about big, powerful ships in the middle of the ocean, look at now by comparison what he says about the tongue, verse 5.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
He’s discussing here people who are careless with the words they speak. You know, in World War II there was a saying, “Loose lips, sink ships.” In other words, there were spies around and you had to be careful about discussing sailing schedules and ship dockings and so on, or else those spies could report back to Germany or Japan and plans could be made to sink those ships at a particular time now that they knew what time they’d be sailing and the sea lanes they’d be taking just because somebody was speaking out of turn.
Just think what has happened in history with the spoken word. Good things have taken place, happiness has resulted, success has been the result of words that were spoken in the right way at the right time. Disasters have taken place, death has occurred, marriages have been broken up, organizations have been devastated, whole nations have been set aflame with anarchy and revolution and rebellion just because of one speech that might be given or several sentences that were spoken, or words that were used in the wrong way at the wrong time, saying the wrong thing. That’s how important words are for good, and that’s how important words are for bad. And yet we get careless as we speak. We don’t think before we speak. And once we speak, it’s done. You can’t unspeak what you’ve spoken. It’s done, it’s out there. Before you spoke that, those words were yours. Once you speak whatever you speak, they become everybody’s for good or for bad. And that’s what James is talking about here.
Look at the arguments, look at the hurt, look at the pain that takes place when two people begin to attack one another just with words. Look at the good, look at the comfort, look at the peace, look at the encouragement that takes place when two people are helping one another with what they say and with the words that they use. It’s so important to consider this point that James is emphasizing here.
Notice verse 7.
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed of mankind:
Every type. Just look at these big beasts or these wild beasts or these beasts that roam free, that can be captured and then trained and then tamed, and then be brought into civilization where people can get up close to them and look at them and listen to them and watch them. We can do that.
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
But, now, consider this. The tongue of and by itself can’t do anything. It’s just a member of the body that’s put there to help us speak. We form words with the tongue and the mouth and the teeth, and the sound comes out and the sound is formed into a word which conveys meaning to people, places, and things.
But the tongue of itself is not the problem. It’s the thought behind the tongue. “Out of the abundance of the heart or the mind, the mouth speaks,” Jesus Christ said that.
Let’s turn over here to Matthew chapter 12 and read it. Matthew 12:34. Look at what Jesus Christ said.
34 O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? —
See? If you’re an evil person, what you say is going to be evil.
34 — for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
That’s how important words are. And Jesus Christ is telling us here, it’s out of the heart, out of the mind, from the character, that’s where our words come from. So when we get that right, if we get our hearts right, if we get our minds right, if we are building character that is right, then our words will be right. And then the tongue is a force for good and not evil.
So the way to control the tongue is to control the mind and what we say. And then good things happen instead of bad things happen. But how many people are willing to do that? That’s what James is bringing out here.
Back to James 3:8. Repeating that.
8 — the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Well, with God’s help, it can be controlled and tamed. But without God’s help, most people just don’t exert that much effort to be careful about what they say. They do on a number of occasions, but first thing you know, something will slip or something will be said, or gossip will be passed along, or criticism will be poured out, or slander will go flying, and then people are hurt and hurt permanently. It’s just incalculable. It’s impossible to estimate the pain and the sorrow and the suffering, and even death that occurs just because certain words were spoken. And that’s why James says here, “It’s a deadly poison.”
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
The same person and the same mouth will bless and praise God, and curse and condemn men. And, of course, some even curse God. All of it coming from a person’s mouth and using the tongue in the wrong way, coming from the thoughts that are in the heart, of course.
10 Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11 Does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
No. If you find a fountain of water that’s clean and fresh and delicious, that’s what you get. If you find the source of water that’s bitter and distasteful, that’s what you get. If you mix the two, the bitter and distasteful water is going to pollute the clean, fresh water. So in order to keep the water clean and fresh, you can’t let the bitter and the distasteful water pollute that.
Well, the same is true with human beings and the words we use in the conversations we have and the speeches that we give. We have to make sure that we maintain our thoughts and therefore our words at a high level. We can speak freely. We can voice opinions. We can define problems and solutions. We can have a free give and take, fun–filled afternoon of conversation and discussions, but in order to do that, we’ve got to be thinking in the right way and we’ve got to be considering the other person’s feelings and we’ve got to make sure that we think before we speak. Otherwise, in the middle of all of that, somebody can gush forth with some poison and with some evil–speaking and with some nasty words that can ruin an individual’s life because then it can get passed around, and first thing you know their reputation is gone, they lose their job, and it just goes on and on. That’s how serious this all is.
He goes on to say in verse 12.
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? —
No. It doesn’t bear olive berries. It bears figs.
12 — either a vine, figs? —
No, the vine bears grapes.
12 — so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
If it yields salt water and fresh, it’ll be salt water. It’s either got to be fresh or salt water. And the same is true with our individual speaking with our words, with our tongue, with our mouth. Either we’re going to have wonderful, good, right conversation and words and communication, or it’s going to be laced with profanity, with evil, with gossip, with put downs and criticisms and slander. And therefore then the results are going to be very negative and very hurtful and painful, and in some cases deadly and disastrous.
So as Christians and as upstanding citizens and as people of character and integrity, we need to examine ourselves and make sure that we keep our conversation and our words at a very high level. And when we slip—and it always happens. And it’s human to slip. Or when we make a mistake or when we misspeak, we need to correct that and sometimes apologize and get that taken care of, and don’t let it stay out there and start to really hurt people and create bad situations.
I want to go to a scripture over here in Proverbs 25:11. It’s a wonderful verse that illustrates how words can be used for the good.
Proverbs 25:11. Just imagine this.
11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
A word spoken at the right time, it’s like a beautiful picture. It’s pleasant to hear, like a picture is pleasant to look at. These words are pleasant to hear. Surely you have had conversations with people that inspired you, encouraged you, lifted you up. You may have been having kind of a bad day and then you sat down and start talking with a friend and they’re very positive, they’re realistic, they’re factual, They listen to you, they care for you, They’re interested in what you have to say and they have interesting things to say. And they focus on things that are profitable and productive and that get results. The words they speak are words of life, words of success, words that achieve good results. And when that conversation is over, you leave and the whole day has been turned around just by a conversation where good words were spoken, fitly spoken at the right time. As opposed to evil words, negative words, painful, hurtful words that only generate the wrong kind of results.
What we want to do is develop our conversation, our use of words, and therefore develop the way we think and what’s really in our heart in line with scriptures like this that we’ve already read and I’ll read again.
11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Now, let’s turn back to James chapter 3 and finish this part of the book of James.
13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
If you want to know somebody who is a wise man, someone that’s a pleasure to be around, or a wise woman, someone who is a good friend and will help you lead a balanced, successful, productive life, then these are the people to have as friends, and these are the people to spend time with in your family or at work or in the neighborhood. Right here, James explains it so well.
13 Who is a wise man —
Or woman, really.
13 — and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation —
13 — his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, —
You know, that’s going to come out in the words that come out of your mouth and the way you use your tongue.
14 — if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom —
This worldly wisdom —
15 — descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, —
And another translation for that is self–seeking. All about the self, got to be number one, want to be on top, want to dominate everything and everybody, want to be in control.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
And it’s just selfishness. It’s not thinking about the other person. It’s not being considerate. It’s not caring for the neighbor or the fellow worker or the family member. Rather it’s just completely and totally looking after the self, number one. And that comes out in the way we speak and it comes out in what we do, and the results are evil it says here.
16 — there is confusion and every evil work.
And when you think about the power of words, whether they are written or spoken, and then you start to upgrade the words you use and the way you used them and when you used them, this becomes a thrilling, wonderful part of living life more fully and more abundantly. And it helps us fulfill the great purpose for which we were put here on this earth because words go with our actions, and both our words and our actions flow from our attitude.
So if we’re going to set the right example and let our light shine so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven, it starts with the way we think, which then develops what we say and what we do. And what James is bringing out here is really talking about a way of life that a Christian ought to be living. We ought to be living that way of life that pleases God and serves others. And part of that way of life is, yes, what we do, but it’s also, as he is emphasizing here, what we say. And what we say gets back to the way we think.
And so, if we give some good, solid thinking to what makes us tick, so to speak, on the inside, we’re giving some good, solid thinking to how we can improve what we say and the tone in which we say it, and the best time to speak and the best time to remain silent.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy a tremendously scintillating conversation on a regular basis. That’s what we should be enjoying, and others should be enjoying that along with us. But to do that, we have to think about the importance of the words that we speak, the importance of thinking the right way, getting the heart right so that the words will be right. And that leads to wisdom. Now, if we don’t do that and we think about ourselves and we’re full of envy and we end up putting other people down and exalting ourselves, this is going to create confusion. It’s going to create strife. We’re going to end up sinning and setting the stage for other people to sin.
But, now, here’s what we want to do, here in James 3:17.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, —
It’s not polluted, and the speaking that goes along with this wisdom is pure. It’s not polluted.
17 — then peaceable, —
Not full of strife and violence and anarchy.
17 — gentle, —
Not inconsiderate, not bullying, not rude, not pushing other people around, not being a loud mouth.
17 — and easy to be intreated, —
Teachable, willing to listen, willing to work things out, not compromising on God’s word, but willing to understand so that everybody involved can get to the same place, the right place and do the right thing.
17 — full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, —
Playing favorites, being biased or prejudiced—without that.
17 — and without hypocrisy.
Being two–faced, talking out of both sides of the mouth, pretending to be one thing when we’re actually another thing, saying one thing and doing another. Verse 17 here is just a gold mine in the things that have to do with living life abundantly, and the things that have to do with fulfilling the very purpose for which we’re put on this earth.
Verse 17 has principles that are at the heart and core of true Christianity. And it involves what we think, what we say, and what we do. And, of course, what we think and what we do are of utmost importance. But don’t leave out what we say as being of utmost importance too. And to come to the point to where we’re going to say things that are right is so hard to do, that we can’t do it without God’s help. We can do it part of the time, but just to get to where our pattern is right where it ought to be in what we say all the time, we have to have God’s help.
We can turn a big ship if we’re trained to do so very easily. We can rein in a big horse if we know what we’re doing very easily. But we can’t rein in our tongue, rein in what we’re going to speak, and turn from the wrong way of speaking to the right way of speaking without God’s help. And that takes wisdom from Him. And that wisdom is not earthy and it’s not physical. It’s from almighty God and it’s spiritual. And that kind of wisdom directs our knowledge, our actions, our thinking, and directs what we say. And the fruit of that kind of wisdom is nothing but good fruit, wonderful fruit, great results. Isn’t that what it says here in verse 18?
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
And part of making peace is learning how to have words that are fitly spoken. So there are many lessons that we can learn from James chapter 3.
To repeat verse 18 in conclusion, this is what it all leads to what we just read in James chapter 3 regarding actions, thoughts, and in specific terms in this chapter, our words.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Until next time, this is Charles Bryce with the Enduring Church of God.
You can subscribe absolutely FREE to the print edition of Straightforward Magazine—no strings attached! Fill out the form below to receive your free subscription to this unique and vitally important magazine.