Summary: James 3:1-12 is God’s memo to the church warning us of the danger of misplaced words in the Body of Christ. In the church loose lips do not sink ships but they can make shipwreck of people’s lives!
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” (James 3:1-2)
During WWII soldiers were warned not to speak freely back home about what was going on in the war. An official Army memo contained ten specific things soldiers needed to be careful talking about. These words were added at the end of the memo: “loose talk is direct delivery to the enemy. If you come home during war your lips must remain sealed and your written hand must be guided by self-imposed censorship. This takes guts. Have you got them or do you want your buddies and your country to pay the price for your showing off? You’ve faced the battle front; its little enough to ask you to face this ‘home front.’” Remember Loose Lips Might Sink Ships!”
James 3:1-12 is God’s memo to the church warning us of the danger of misplaced words in the Body of Christ. In the church loose lips do not sink ships but they can make shipwreck of people’s lives!
I. The Warning (v.1)
A. The Calling of Teachers
James 3:1 begins with a warning to those who speak in the church. We are reminded of the calling of teachers. James says, ‘let not many of you become teachers”.
Scripture sets out a clear role for teachers. These believers were Jewish and their understanding of a teacher was that it was a person who was an expositor that edified by a clearer understanding of God’s Word (see Nehemiah 8:8). A teacher then, is one who clearly explains the Word of God.
This passage does not indicate there should be no teachers in the church. Instead it is a warning against rushing to make ourselves and others teachers. Verse one could be translated, “Don’t keep on making so many of yourselves teachers.” A pastor in the church is “not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). We should all be learners first and teachers second!
B. The Conscience of the Church
James 3:1 is also a warning to the conscience of the church. It isn’t just teachers who will be judged for their words The verse continues by saying, “knowing that we (all) shall receive a stricter judgment. The word know comes from a Greek word meaning to “know from experience.” These people had already witnessed the consequences of loosed lipped teachers. The infant church encountered false Messiahs and prophets and the result was disastrous. Nothing has changed in our day! We are still beset with false teachers and prophets who claim to have new words from God. James’ warning is no less needful today than it was when he wrote it.
II. The Wisdom (v.2)
A. A Common Problem
These are wise words because loose lips in the church is a common problem. When it comes to words, we all stumble in many things. Believers all sin with their words at some time or another! The verb is present tense meaning we keep on stumbling. The we is plural, meaning we all keep on stumbling. And of all the besetting sins there are, we most commonly stumble in the way we speak to one another.
James focuses on how we need to strive not to stumble in word (v.2). Scripture often sees the mouth as the focal point of our sinful nature. In Matthew 15 the Pharisees were more concerned about external rituals rather than what came out of their heart through their mouth. To this Jesus said,
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand:” (Matthew 15:8-10)
Jesus reminded them that What a man likes to talk about is an indicator of what is in his heart.
So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:16-20).
James is so concerned with the power of our words that he mentions the matter in every chapter of his short book (James 1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:1-12; 4:11; 5:12).