James 3: 3 – 6
We have come to understand through studying this Epistle of James that the content and message of the Book was predominantly to the Jewish sect in diaspora; many of the issues mentioned in the book would have assumed that the hearers would have had some form of knowledge about the rituals, customs and traditions of the Old Testament.
One of the very important teachings and doctrine in the Old Testament is the doctrine of Works – the act of doing and observing the Law as the only way to express your belief in God or your proclamation of Him. An example is, there was no way you could express your being remorseful except you appear with the requirements as prescribed by the Law. Nothing else mattered, no matter how much belief you had in your heart, it had to be expressed through ceremonies, traditions or observing the Law.
It is on this premise that James wrote this Book and he couldn’t have written any better particularly as the New Testament had not been written yet. Personally speaking, the Epistle to the Church at Rome and the Epistle to the Church at Galatia addressed a lot of issues written in the Book of James. This is because James wrote his Epistle on the back of the Old Testament. The idea is that though James wrote the way he did, we can still learn or draw some truths from the many things he wrote.
One of the many things he wrote about is this issue of the Tongue. James had concluded that if anyone does not offend in words, then that person becomes a perfect man. We are then able to learn that we should be very cautious of the things we say to people, but reading through what James highlighted in this Chapter, one would be tempted to draw a conclusion by saying, Talk is cheap! (in today’s language) How?
James used two familiar examples like the horses and ships on the Sea of Galilee, as well as fires in the countryside during the dry hot summers of Judea and Galilee. So his audience would definitely be aware of these when it comes to their lives as believers (Jewish, then)
He used the example of an animal to drive home his first point – he used the bits we put in the mouth of horses to control and direct them to wherever we want them to take us. It gives an impression that horses can be controlled. The idea is to slide the bit in the horse’s mouth. Hold the bridle up over the horse’s nose with your right hand. Using your left hand fingers, move the bit against his lips, and insert your thumb into the space between the front and back teeth, called the bars of the mouth and then you can control the large animal. In other words, he likened the bits in the horse’s mouth to the tongue in man.
Secondly, James used the example of the rudder and the ship – a non-living thing and yet can be controlled through the inventions of the intellect. The rudder (so small compared to size of the ship), despite the wind and the forces on the sea is the singular object that is able to control the direction at which the ship sails without fail. The rudder again according to James is still compared to the tongue, which happens to be one of the smallest parts of the body.
One would have thought that James would go ahead to describe how we could use the tongue to control our bodies and lives as a whole but according to James, the tongue is able to boast and make great speeches positive or negative, but worse than that he describes the tongue as a small spark which can set a whole forest on fire; a whole synagogue could be up in arms because of an ungracious word of a Christian Jew, and so much damage could be done to the cause for Christ. Many would ask if there is something positive about the tongue in this contest.
We should understand that James, as he continues to push the Gospel of Works would always look for ways to bring us back into how that Faith must be accompanied with Works or it’s useless. By that, James isn’t about to teach on how we should be cautious in our words to the people around us but as we would discover next week, James is actually stressing that the wise man is not discovered from what he says but from what he does.
Jesus stressed that a good tree because of the goodness, brings forth good fruits, therefore a good man, out of the good treasures of his heart, brings forth good fruit vice versa.
There is a Christian sect in the Pentecostal movement called the Word of Faith Movement – this sect believes that what you get from God is as a result of the things you say. In other words, to get “blessed” or to attract the blessings from God, one has to engage the tongue in saying the things we want to have even though they may not be part of the Will of God.
Apostle Paul decides to approach the issue of the tongue this way – he said, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them and do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you”.
Unwise and unkind words not only offend and hurt people, they grieve the Holy Spirit and the conclusion is that it is far better to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “How our tongues are occupied! They run more quickly than our feet, and carry less, though much mischief sometimes comes from their babble. They are sharper than razors, some of them, and cut deeper than swords, and kindle fire enough to set the
world in a blaze.
Keep it right here as we continue to find out James’ stand on the Tongue in Part 2!