It was the first day of a new school year, and the 2nd grade teacher, Miss Johnson, wanted to see how much her students still remembered from first grade, so she wrote this sentence on the chalk board,
“I ain’t had no fun all summer.”
Then she turned to a little boy in the front row and asked,
“So, George, what should I do to correct this?”
George thought about for a few minutes, then he answered, “You probably should get a boyfriend.”
It’s not always easy being a teacher…even the book of James would agree with that! Here’s what James 3:1 says
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
James gives this serious warning concerning the responsibility of teachers, and why God has set a high standard for those who would teach His Word. Why do you think that is so? One commentary says this:
Teachers exert a powerful influence over trusting students, a relationship that makes the students vulnerable to serious error. The teacher is held in strict account for what he or she teaches. This strict judgment should restrain teachers from careless words.
The tongue of the teacher can be a devastating peril.
Jesus also spoke about the positive and negative aspects of taking on the role of teacher:
Matthew 5:19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Okay, so there are two key elements here – the use of the tongue and causing others to stumble. Now James is going to address both of these things in greater detail:
2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
It would take a perfect man to never stumble.
Only Jesus lived perfectly. We face the challenge of trying, with the help of God’s grace, to keep this tiny pink food-taster from turning our life in the wrong direction, the way that a bridle forces a horse to turn or a rudder steers a ship in a particular direction. What happens if we allow our tongue to get us turned in a bad direction? Fire!
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
An uncontrolled tongue is like a fire that is raging out of control, or a dose of deadly poison. These comparisons are also found in the Old Testament. For example:
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips,
From a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you,
You deceitful tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With the burning coals of the broom tree.
A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
Psalm 140:3 “They sharpen their tongues as a serpent;
Poison of a viper is under their lips.”
And James is not the only New Testament writer to make these same comparisons. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”
Then James point out how illogical it is for us to allow our tongues to pour forth evil words:
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
Notice the similarity here between James’s metaphors and the words used by Jesus in Matthew 7:16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”
In Chapter 2 James showed that true faith shows up in our works. Here is says that true wisdom should result in good behavior:
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The true sign of mature wisdom is a gentle and humble spirit. Just like arrogance and foolishness go together, so do humility and wisdom. Envy and covetousness are linked to self-centered and self-serving ambition.
Those things blind us from true wisdom and are contrary to the law of love. They flow from the wisdom of the flesh and they are simply foolishness in the sight of God.
True wisdom that is a gift from God and it reflects the pure heart of God Himself. True wisdom can be recognized by:
An authentic peace this is free of quarrelsome attitudes.
A gentleness that is respectful of other people’s feelings, willing to listen to what others have to say.
Mercy that is sincere, without deception, deceit, or fraud.
One sure way to keep the tongue from wrong uses is to keep it busy with right uses. Speaking words of positivity, singing songs of worship, and proclaiming the truth of God’s word are guaranteed ways of focusing our speech in the right direction.
Each of the people who are getting baptized today have made that a priority. They are making the choice to publicly proclaim that they are followers of Jesus Christ, trusting Him for their salvation and eternal life, and fully surrendering to Him every aspect of who they are, including the words that they speak.