Text: James 3:1-18
How do you live as a Christian? It takes wisdom says James and the kind of wisdom that comes from above. Wisdom is working faith does faithful work. James has already spoken about faithful work in your trials and temptations, being quick to listen, slow to speak, caring for the poor and defenseless, loving your neighbor as yourself. James will now have a thing or two to say about how we use our words. Do you get the sense that it’s all important––every part of your life matters. Christ has given you life so Christ should be in all your life. That takes God-given wisdom, the wisdom from above. The result of wisdom––a working faith that does faithful work–– is a harvest of righteousness.
Stumbling Teachers and Tongues (vs. 1-2)
James opens with a general warning to his readers that not many of them should become teachers (vs 1). The reason for this is that teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Teachers have great influence with their position, especially in their use of words, so they should take extra care.
The health of your tongue is an accurate indicator for the health of your body (vs 2). Just imagine that you are now sitting on the doctor’s examination chair with the crinkly paper, and Dr. James wheels up to you and he says, “Stick out your tongue. I want to see the state of your soul.” The words of your mouth reveal the condition of your heart.This prognosis is confirmed by the Great Physician Jesus, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45). Words are eternally important and powerful. And so James wants us to understand what we’re dealing with.
Little, But Powerful (vs. 3-5)
James observes that little tongues do great things. Three metaphors make his point: little bits control strong horses (vs 3), little rudders turn mighty ships (vs 4), little sparks ignite vast fires (vs 5).
Deadly and Untamed (vs. 6-9)
The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness (vs 6). For James, The world is the structure of life set up in contradiction to God’s life and God’s righteousness. James asks in chapter 4, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” James says that pure and undefiled religion before God is to keep yourself unstained from the world (1:27). And yet, we have a world of unrighteousness contained between our teeth that stains the whole body. If the tongue is unchecked, if the fire is not quenched, then your whole life will be consumed and eventually crackle in the fires of hell. The tongue is deadly and is capable of death. And it can’t be tamed. There’s a Crocodile Dundee for every crocodile and a snake charmer for every snake and sea world trainer to every killer whale, but no human can tame the tongue (vs 7-8). Beyond that, the tongue is schizophrenic, blessing God and cursing the image of God (v. 9).
The Source (vs. 10-12)
James asks some common sense questions to get to the source of the problem. “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” Look to the source of the spring, look to the trunk, look to the vine, look to the heart. Good words come from a good heart. Evil worlds from an evil heart. Righteous words from a righteous heart. World-stained words from a world-stained heart.
This should cause both deep fear and great hope. What chance do you have to scrub the stain of sin from your own heart? The problem is not the chunk of muscle and taste buds in your head, but the desires of your heart. This can only be addressed by wisdom from above.
Wisdom from Below, Wisdom from Above (13-18)
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” Wisdom is a working faith doing faithful work (vs 13). What if bitter jealousy and selfish ambition seep from your heart? You don’t have real wisdom even if you claim you do. “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (vs. 15).
Wisdom from above comes first as “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (vs 17). This kind of life produces a harvest of righteousness. What happens to this harvest of righteousness? It is given for the life of others. Life is given when wisdom is sown, and then life is given again when wisdom is reaped.