James Chapter 3

1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

When you are in conflict with someone, and they are doing something that you think is wrong, what is the first thing you might typically do? You open your mouth and tell them that what they are doing is wrong.

And what just happened? You became a teacher – a teacher of moral / spiritual things.

When that happens, God has to now judge you at a different level – a higher level. Your slip ups are more serious now.

We need to be aware that during a trial we have the tendency to teach those who we think are the source of our trial. We throw Scripture at them and tell them how they should behave. James tells us that many of us should not do that because when we teach others God’s expectation of us is higher.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they messed up a lot and God was patient with them for a long time. But when Moses messed up very slightly God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12; Deut 3:23-27). Why? It was because, as a teacher, Moses incurred a stricter judgment.

So the next time you think of opening your mouth and giving someone a piece of your mind, remember James, and remember Moses, and may be you’ll change your mind and leave them in peace instead – unless God has indeed given you the grace to be a teacher and not incur the stricter judgment.

So how can one become a teacher and escape that stricter judgment?

2-12 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. 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. 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.

The teacher uses his tongue to teach. If we want to become teachers then God expects us to master our tongues. This is because it is capable of great evil.

Have you ever had the experience of saying something – just a few words – at the wrong time and seeing the situation go downhill from there?

A small bit can control a big animal (like a horse). A small rudder can control a big ship. A small tongue can set an entire family or church in a certain direction. The tongue is like spiritual dynamite! And therefore, it has to be handled with great, great care. If you want to be a teacher you have to learn to handle this dynamite properly – otherwise, you’ll destroy yourself and a whole bunch of other people too. That’s why the book of Proverbs has so many verses dealing with how to use your tongue wisely.

The tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. For example, suppose someone did something to hurt you. If you go to your accessible friend and tell them what that other person did, what have you just done? You’ve poisoned your friend’s mind and set your friend to be on your side and against the person who has hurt you. You think you have come out ahead because you’ve got one more person on your side. But actually you haven’t! You haven’t come out ahead because you lost God! God hates people who separate brothers (or sisters) (Pr 6:16-19) and when you separate people by making a person look bad by telling another person what that person did (without first trying to settle it with the person who hurt you), God is no longer on your side. You need to apologize and repent.

For another example, if you’re the jealous type, and you have two friends who are closer to each other than to you, that’s not going to sit well with you. Then, one day, these two friends have a disagreement, and make the great mistake of complaining to you about each other. And you then use your tongue to tell each friend what the other said! What have you done? You’ve let your jealousy cause your tongue to light a great fire between your two friends that perhaps separates them forever. You might think that these two friends will now be closer to you. But unfortunately, God has now gone very far away from you. You’ve used your tongue to blow up the relationship your friends had with each other, and the relationship that you had with God. That’s how dangerous the tongue can be!

An anonymous poet once wrote a poem called ‘The Owl’. It goes like this:

A wise old owl, lived in an oak;
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why can’t we all be like that bird?

What great insight!

In a trial it is common for people to think that they are very spiritual, especially during praise and worship. But if we also speak evil about others and curse them or wish evil upon them then we are showing that we are not spiritual at all, and unfit to teach. This is because a good heart cannot wish evil upon others.

So then, for most of us, the safest option is to refrain from teaching others, especially when in conflict with them. But if you want to teach others, you have to first master your tongue.

Now you have to understand that these words that get spoken through your tongue, originate in your thoughts, and that your thoughts are governed by your attitudes. Therefore, the next thing to master is jealousy and selfishness. That’s what James follows up with beginning from verse 13.

13-16 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.

What James is saying here is this: if you think that you are qualified to teach, then prove it by using your tongue wisely. You cannot say you are sufficiently wise and understanding to teach others if the words that you speak stem from jealousy or selfish ambition.

Most of the time, when people speak, it is to get something from someone, or to find fault with someone, or express unhappiness that someone has something (or does something) that they don’t have (or can’t do). That is, their motive is jealousy or selfish ambition.

Anyone who has bitter jealousy or selfish ambition lies if he says that he is wise enough to teach others. In that case it is better to admit that you are not wise enough and remain silent.

Jealousy is to have a bad attitude towards someone when you see them enjoying something that you too would like to enjoy, but cannot. You make yourself ineligible to open your mouth and teach someone if you are jealous of them.

Selfish ambition is to try to get everyone to do what you want to do and to serve you. If you have the habit of using the people in the church to get your stuff done then you have selfish ambition. You make yourself ineligible to open your mouth and teach someone if your main motive for teaching them is so that your life becomes more convenient and your needs are met.

Jealousy and selfish ambition do not lead to wise behavior, but to disorder and every evil thing. If you see disorder and evil in your home you need to search for jealousy and selfish ambition and remove it.

The gentleness of wisdom refers to not expecting a person to change immediately after you show them the right thing to do. If you expect people to obey you instantly, you’re not ready to teach.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

Once you’ve mastered your tongue and dealt with jealousy and selfish ambition, and your only desire is to help others, God allows you to start teaching. And what happens then? Well, if you’re teaching the truth, you’ll find that a whole bunch of people, and some of them might even be your close friends and relatives, will get very upset with you. They’ll call you names and persecute you. How do you deal with that?

Well, the first thing to remember is that a teacher cannot compromise his message or dilute it just to fit in or appease people or to prevent an argument. You have to stick to the truth without compromising. If a person is wrong you cannot take his or her side even if he or she is your close friend. You have to risk losing the friendship.

Once you take a strong stand for the truth, then you can attempt to calm any conflict and seek for peace (without compromising purity). If people want to argue let them do that – you don’t have to be quarrelsome. That’s how you deal with those who disagree.

For those who agree and want to abide by your teaching, be gentle. Gentleness requires you to give people time to understand your teaching and adopt your teaching. You can’t expect everyone to change suddenly and quickly to align with what you say.

Every attempt is made to be reasonable, to use reason to make a point, to give sufficient time to make amends, and so on. Mercy is then applicable to those who oppose you. That is, if someone opposes your teaching, restrain the urge to find fault with them. Don’t make things personal.

We also attempt to do good things for the person whenever we can. We must do these things consistently, not giving up after the first few attempts, and with genuine affection, not pretending to be good even though we wish the other person evil. This is the wise way to deal with people we want to teach, and is in contrast to the way of being jealous, and of having selfish ambition.

18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

When you teach someone you are planting a seed. The fruit of the seed is righteousness because the goal of your teaching is to get them to turn from wrong to right. So the questions that James is addressing here are: when is the right time to teach, and who is the right person to teach?

If you want to teach a person and change a person’s behavior from wrong to right, the best time to teach them is when there is peace between you and them. If you are in conflict with them it is unlikely that they will accept anything you say.

Further, the chances of them accepting what you have to say are higher if they consider you as a person who is seeking peace. If they perceive you as someone who is trying to attack them or find fault with them then they will not want to listen.

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