James 3: 7 – 13
We are reminded that the Book of James was written predominantly to the Jews who were in diaspora. There was no mention of the Gentile world or people in this book and as such, many, if not all of the examples that were cited in this book would have been understood by the Jews because this Book takes them back to the Old Testament mode and kind of worship. The Old Testament kind of worship centered more on the external (Works) and James does not cease to remind them of their background and custom. This is the reason James could stress on his point that faith without works is dead and meaningless.
To the Gentiles, reading the Book of James meant there was no hope for Salvation. Nothing in the Book encouraged Salvation and it’s for this reason Paul went back to the Council at Jerusalem resulting in the big debate that led to Peter, James and John separating themselves from Apostle Paul by continuing in their preaching and teaching to only the Jews, while Paul was accepted as he pitched his tent amongst the Gentiles. Apostle Paul took the Gospel to the Gentiles (every other race apart from the Jews) and hence the New Testament teaching for the Church (which is a combination of Jews and Gentiles, who would accept Christ as Lord and Savior).
The Church therefore cannot depend on the message of the Old Testament and the four Gospels for nutrition because we have come to understand that no new covenant can be enforced until blood is shed. Through the four Gospels, we have come to learn about the story of how Jesus was sent to the world by God to shed His blood for the New Testament. Until after His death, there couldn’t have been a new covenant aside the Old. Through the Good Book, we have come to learn that if the Old Testament were perfect, there wouldn’t have been a reason to bring or initiate a New Testament.
So there must be a messenger who will explain the New Testament in detail and in depth to the newly formed combo (Jews plus Gentile) called the Church. The great Apostle Paul provided this detail and depth to us. Many, if not all of his Epistles pointed to the audience as being the Church, not Jew or Gentile believers but the Church. His Epistle to the Church at Galatia spells it all. To James, Peter, John and the other disciples who wrote some of the “Books” in the New Testament, their audiences were predominantly the Jews and not the Gentiles.
So here’s the question: does this mean we should only read the Epistles of Paul? No, no and no…there are so many things written by the other Apostles that we can learn from. For example, James taught about the fact that we (Christians) should be slow to speak, quick to hear and slow to anger, and that is very true, but being slow to speak, slow to anger and being quick to hear or listen should not have any inclination on Salvation. James preached and taught on the Gospel of Works, which ends up in people becoming legalists rather than to worship and enjoy God just as they are.
When you read from James and also read from Paul, you will find that there are a lot of contradictions and personally I believe that the Epistle to the Church at Rome is more like a correctional writing to the Book of James. This does not mean James was wrong but that he couldn’t have written any better because he wrote from the purview and understanding of the Old Testament custom, tradition and rites. So when I read the writings of Peter, James and John or anyone aside Paul, I am sure to know and understand that their audiences are predominantly the Jews. I am also able to learn a great deal from these Apostles, as I remain a human being who is able to draw out more on the moral values of what they teach.
Going back to the third chapter of James and to the issue of the tongue, one would have thought that mentioning the bits in the horse’s mouth and the rudder in the ship (used to control the animated and the lifeless objects) that the next thing James would have mentioned is that the tongue in the same way, can control the human being. But in pushing the Gospel of Works, James disagrees that the tongue could bring about control to our lives as human beings.
In today’s parlance or language, James is saying action speaks louder than words or talk is cheap. In other words, James is alluding to that fact that if you claim to have faith, you must show it by what you do and not by what you say. He made it clear that although the horse is bigger and stronger than any human being (making reference to the old times where animals could be trained – domestic animals), yet they are controlled by human beings; the rudder of the ship (again bigger and mightier in size) in the midst of the busting clouds and winds was enough to control the ship as per direction; but to the tongue, James clearly stated that the tongue cannot be tamed by any man and further describes it as a restless evil and full of deadly poison (a quote from the book of Isaiah).
I want to agree with James because sometimes, the spark of an ill-chosen and careless word; a truth spoken without love or churlishly; the sharpness of an unkind word can poison an established relationship as well as injuring and harming people, but this is not where James is going and please remember that the main subject of the Book is “Faith with Works” and James must continue to make a case for his topic. How do we work this out? Read on!
If the tongue is not controllable or is an unruly evil, then from the example he gave about how we can praise God with the same mouth that we use to curse and how he feels that it was almost impossible for this to happen, he drives home his point on this impossibility and inconsistency of the tongue. Other examples he cited to buttress his point, is that, it is impossible for fresh and salty water to flow from the same spring; neither can a fig tree bear olives nor can a grapevine bear figs. Hmm…
In trying to proffer a solution to this problem of the unruly and the incongruent tongue, he poses a question by saying, “Who is counted wise amongst you?” In other words, do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here is the answer he gave, “Here’s what you do: live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. This is also an extension of Faith without works is dead.
I end this article with a quote from a renowned preacher of preachers, Charles H Spurgeon who said, on the issue of works that, “Every one of us ought to remember that a great deal of that commodity in this world known by the name of good works, is not good works at all. What is a good work? I should venture to say that anything that has in it the element of selfishness is not good. You may question that, but I think it is the highest virtue to be unselfish. If a man be found to be virtuous, as we say, with the design of benefiting himself, has he not spoiled his virtue?
Keep it right here and be refreshed!