Summary: This message serves as instruction for any who struggle with using foul or off-colored language.
Chapter 3 begins a new discussion. The first two chapters of James have been about trials and temptations and how we can overcome them. These trials and temptations are common to everyone. We all have things that cause us to walk through a valley in life. We are all tempted from time to time. But now James tells us that these trials and temptations are especially common to teachers.
Teachers are being specially addressed now. What is the first temptation common to us all, but especially to teachers? That of misusing the tongue. I am sure that most teachers and preachers have said something that could not be backed up by Scripture. So, we must be careful. Let’s get into the passage.
READ v. 1. If a church was soliciting for Sunday school teachers, this might not be the verse to have them read. But what James says is so true. Not many believers should become teachers because teachers shall face a stricter judgment from God. A teacher is always telling others how to live and correcting them when they come short. A teacher, in that position, is responsible for the lives and spiritual growth of those under him/her. God holds the teacher responsible.
So, if the teacher fails to live what he teaches, he will bear a greater judgment and condemnation. Teachers must live what they teach and preach. Let’s note three facts about this.
1. A person should commit his life to teach only if he cannot keep from teaching. Teaching is a high calling. It’s ranked second only to the apostles and the prophets.
2. A person is not to fear this responsibility and neglect the gift of teaching. If a person is called to teach or preach and is gifted in it, then that person must teach or preach.
3. A teacher’s main tool for work is speech or the tongue. So, it’s the tongue and its use that will have a great bearing on the teacher’s condemnation. The tongue is where the first great temptation attacks teachers, the temptation to misuse the tongue. Now, there are four things about the tongue that believers must know, but especially teachers, and these 4 things are the subject for the remainder of this passage.
READ v. 2. The tongue stumbles and sins often. Note that it says “we all stumble.” This includes teachers and preachers. No believer, no matter how great a teacher he is, is free from stumbling and falling. The verse says, ”In many ways” we all stumble. We don’t just occasionally fall and sin. We are always coming up short before God. Is there anyone here that has never come up short before God? Thank you for being honest.
You see, this includes all teachers or preachers as well. So, what is the proof of this? When some believers live such pure and righteous lives and walk so faithfully among us, how can Scripture say that they are always offending and stumbling? Look at the tongue. Is our tongue always showing that we are patient, kind, rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing God in all things, hoping in God in all things, enduring all things for God? Do our tongues never brag, or act puffed up, or jealous, rude, or never think evil thoughts?
How short we are of the glory of God! The tongue shows us that we are always stumbling and coming short. We are held accountable by God for every word we speak so we must learn to control the tongue.
The tongue speaks what is in the heart or mind, and it’s the tongue that will either acquit or condemn us before God. That’s why Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12: 34, 37)
READ vv. 3-5. This speaks for itself. The tongue is a little part, making great boasts. James gives two illustrations of how the bit in a horse’s mouth steers the whole animal, and how the small rudder guides the large ship.
He says, so it is with the tongue. It’s such a little part but can have such destructive power. That destructive force comes in the form of boasting. A person can boast about anything and can boast in a quiet, unassuming way or boast by talking big. But no matter how the boasting is done, it’s destructive.
It either lowers the image of a person in the eyes of others because of his boasting, or it makes the listener feel inferior or less of a person than the boaster. Boasting is nothing more than vain or empty talk, but it’s destructive force must never be underestimated.
READ v. 5-6. The tongue is a fire, a world of evil. Verse 5 says that a great forest is set on fire by only a little spark. So, it is with the tongue. The tongue is a fire that can set the whole forest of lives and relationships on fire, destroying anything in its path.