Good morning. So, did anyone else do Keri Folmar’s challenge in Day 1, Question12: This week try to keep your tongue under control and keep a mental note of when you say something you shouldn’t? Was anyone else really convicted this week? Because we’ve had some time off due to pps spring break and first Thursday, I started this lesson 3 weeks ago, and it has been a weighty 3 weeks as I have been more introspective about the things that I’m saying, especially to my kids, to my friends, to church family. I’ve also been more suspicious about my words as James makes it clear the tongue is not neutral – it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. God has brought some painful conviction, but also small steps of good repentance. Overall, I have far to grow. I wonder if you feel the same way.
Though “Taming the tongue” is clearly the focus in this section of James and of our curriculum this week, I’m actually not going to overly focus on individual tongue application in our time together today. I could spend our whole time and more talking about ways God has convicted me, but it might not be how he’s convicting you. I’m going to take a page from our speaker’s book from last week and as she said, just let the Holy Spirit speak individually to you on that.
What I do want to point out today, is how this passage fits with what we’ve read in James so far, and also how some of these seemingly unconnected parts of 3:1-18 fit together. So if you’re not already there, go ahead and open up your Bibles to James 3. I’ll be jumping around in the passage today and I think it will help you if you have it open. Honestly, my first question when I finished doing the study this week was: are these thoughts in this passage even connected at all? I mean, he starts off with a warning to those who want to be teachers (very comforting, btw to the person who is standing up here teaching!), then all these illustrations about the power and the evil of the tongue, to selfish ambition and jealousy, then wrapping up with James’s definition of wisdom with an add-on about peacemaking. At first glance, it seems like a random compilation of morals. And actually some Biblical scholars think that’s all it is. James is often referred to as the “Proverbs of the NT” and some feel there isn’t much of a link between these verses – that they are just helpful bits of wisdom. But I think they are connected and so do other scholars. If we merely take this passage as proverbial wisdom cobbled together for our own individual tongue-improvement plans, we can miss out on some other important insights and applications.
But before we consider how these verses fit together, let’s consider how this whole passage fits into the book of James. James begins this passage as a new section with his characteristic tell “my brothers”. Look there in verse 1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers”. James is beginning a new argument here, but James has addressed a believer’s speech before. Remember back to chapter 1:19 – followers of Jesus should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. And then in 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” James is now going to flesh out these statements in our passage today. Why is this so important? Remember chapter 2 – faith without works is dead. A religion without works is worthless. Clearly how we use our tongue is a work that either verifies our faith or suggests we may be deceived about our standing before God. James is showing us in this section that doing faith, true religion, looks like a disciplined tongue. It looks like speech and life that is adorned with humility and wisdom from above (v17).
Now, to see how the verses within this passage fit together, I think the key is to consider what is going on in this particular church community. I don’t mean what’s happening to them, like the persecution it seems they are undergoing from early in chapter 1, but what is going on within the church? Keri actually asked this on Day 2, Q2. What did you say?
i. partiality/over concern with outward prestige
ii. people claiming to be followers of Christ but lives don’t show it – look just like the world
iii. selfish ambition, rivalry
It seems like prestige is very important to this church, and it’s possible that people are wanting the position of teacher or leader for the wrong reasons. I think that’s why James gives the warning to those who want to become teachers in 3:1 and warns against selfish ambition, jealousy, and boasting in 13-16. Remember, that James’s audience here consists of primarily former Jews and the position of religious teacher, Rabbi, was one of the most prestigious you could have. Now these Jewish Christians are in newly formed church communities and some may be vying for power and influence for the wrong reasons. James doesn’t want the church to look like some of our favorite political dramas. That’s what the world does.
James wants the church to look entirely different after the humble wisdom of Christ. A community of true worshippers whose lives and whose tongues have been changed by Jesus Christ. People who find their identity in Christ, not in a position, a ministry, our talents or abilities, family status or any other foundation of sand. And who should be the wise and understanding teachers and leaders in this community? Not those who are the most ambitious, persuasive, or whose boast is the loudest, but those who by their good conduct show their works in the meekness of wisdom. Those should be the servant leaders the rest of us imitate. Instead of the worldly wisdom and priorities, our leaders and our church communities should be marked by the wisdom from above. Look at the list verse 17: Wisdom from above is:
-pure: As James says earlier, we are to be unstained from the world. Jesus was in the world, but not of this world. To grow in love for Him is to grow in love with the purity of his life and example.
-peaceable: Instead of burning to gossip about an offense, it is a Christian’s joy to cover that offense because she knows Christ has covered her great offense before God.
-gentle: The deep, deep love of Jesus leads to a deep, deep love and gentle handling of the hearts of others. I loved what one of our sisters shared last week. She was discouraged about how her house and her heart weren’t always in order until she remembered that Jesus loves her immensely and equally on her best and worst days. And that unconditional love of Christ allowed her to reach out in love and gentleness toward her kids, despite their offenses.
-open to reason and impartial. When we have taken up our crosses to follow Jesus, we are learning to put to death self. Most of the time, when we have arguments, it’s because we can’t see past our own bias, our own self-interest. Someone who has been learning to put this aside to follow Jesus, is more able to put it aside with others and can then see more clearly.
-merciful. She is merciful to others because she treasures the mercy she has received in Christ.
-good fruits: As we abide in the vine of Christ, we produce the fruit of the spirit. Good fruit that grows out of a love relationship with Christ, not fruit stapled on through keeping the law.
-sincere: A woman who is abiding in Christ is becoming more sincere because she is learning to fear God more than fearing man. I appreciated another sister’s insight on this one: A woman who fears God isn’t flattering others to garner their affections or loyalty. She also doesn’t need hide her failings or justify herself when criticized – the cross has criticized her far more than any person could. After all, if it took the blood of God’s one and only Son to pay for her sin, nothing anyone can say against her could be worse than that. She can then be unafraid to live genuinely, sincerely before others.
Ladies, we all stumble in many ways, but let’s pray that the grace and heavenly wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ would grow in our hearts and on our lips. Let’s pray the body of Christ would be built up, and that He would be glorified in us and before a watching world.