The people of the Middle East desperately need peace. The Bible makes it crystal clear that man can find true and lasting peace — “peace that passes all comprehension” — only when they know the Lord and the power of His Word. Thus, it is vitally important to teach the Bible, and to encourage and refresh pastors in the region as they study the Bible for themselves and teach the Word to others.
Thus, as I noted yesterday, The Joshua Fund team held a retreat for pastors and ministry leaders and their wives here in the epicenter this week called, “Preach The Word/Shepherd The Flock.” We gathered in the city of Netanya with leaders from Russian backgrounds and Ethiopian backgrounds, various European backgrounds, native Israelis, Arabs, as well as some evangelical Christians from the West.
It was a special time of encouraging, worshipping with, and praying with and for these dear saints who face many trials and tribulations. By God’s grace, we were able to bring along several solid pastors from the U.S. Together we have been teaching through the Book of James, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.
I taught on James chapter three at the retreat. Here is a link to the first part of my notes.
Today, I am posting the rest of my notes from James chapter three. I hope you find them helpful. God bless you.
James 3:2 – “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.
- James reminds us that:
- we are all sinners
- we all like sheep have gone astray
- we all stumble
- we all stumble in many ways
- one of the many ways we all stumble is in saying things we shouldn’t, when we shouldn’t, in a tone we shouldn’t
James is picking up on a critically important theme of which Jesus spoke.
- Matthew 12:33-37 – “[A] tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
- Luke 12:1-3 – “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
Again and again, Jesus warns us to be careful with goes into our hearts, and what comes out of our mouths, and He warns us not be hypocrites like the Pharisees.
- “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” – A man speaks what is in his heart. It has been said that the tongue has been “the tattletale of the heart.” This is true.
- “Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” – The Lord is listening to every word we speak. He remembers every word we speak, and we will give an account.
- “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light.” – Be extremely careful what you say and what you do. Don’t be a hypocrite. Nothing stays secret. Live as though everything you say and do will be on the front page of the Jerusalem Post
One of the most damaging and painful areas we all stumble in is in misusing our tongues.
- Teachers are not exempt.
- Just because a person is appointed by God to be a teacher doesn’t mean he has truly learned how to communicate in a godly, Spirit-filled way.
- Teachers are as susceptible as anyone else to the sin of misusing the tongue – and we will be judged more strictly because we ought to know better.
James notes that a perfect man would always be perfectly careful with his speech, and a perfect man was: the Lord Jesus Christ.
- John 12:49 – Jesus said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (NIV 84)
- Jesus is our model:
- We are to seek the Father earnestly and consistently not simply to tell us but to command us “what to say.”
- The Father commanded Christ precisely what to say in all circumstances, and Christ obeyed precisely — this emphasizes substance, sound doctrine.
- But the Father did not limit Himself to commanding Christ “what to say.” He also commanded His Son “how to say it.”
- Not just substance but style.
- Not just truth but tone.
- The Father command Christ precisely how to speak in all circumstances, and Christ obeyed precisely.
John 7:16 – Jesus said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent me.”
- Jesus didn’t teach His own ideas – nor should we.
- Jesus only taught what the Father gave Him – so should we.
John 7:18 – Jesus said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory.”
- When we say what we want to say – rather than what the Father commands us to say – we do so from pride.
- We are seeking our own glory.
How did you talk before you came to faith in the Lord Jesus? How did your speech change?
- How are you doing in this area today? In what ways are you stumbling?
- How are you doing in the way you speak to your spouse?
- How are you doing in the way you speak to your children?
- Your parents?
- Your team?
- Your fellow brothers and sisters?
- Your enemies?
James 3:3-8 – “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 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. 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! 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. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
- Here James explains quite vividly how difficult it is to control the tongue.
- Bits control horses
- Rudders control ships.
- Small tools are used very effectively to tame, direct and control large animals and great ships.
- But the tongue untamable by mere human efforts.
- James uses powerful images and analogies, carefully chosen to help us understand.
James also points to the catastrophic destruction the tongue can do, even though it is so small — like a small spark, it can “set aflame” a great forest. Consider the language James uses here.
- “The tongue is a fire”
- “The tongue is…the very world of iniquity”
- “The tongue…defiles the entire body”
- “The tongue…sets on fire the course of our life.”
- “The tongue…is set on fire by hell”
- “The tongue…is a restless evil”
- “The tongue…[is] full of deadly poison”
- Again, powerful images and analogies to help us understand.
James echoes the language of David in the Psalms:
- Psalm 32:9 – “Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.”
- Psalm 39:1 – “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle while the wicked are before me.’”
James 3:9-12 – “With it [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”
- James points out how sinful and foolish we can be in how we communicate.
- With our tongue, we bless our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in heaven.
- Yet with that same tongue, we have the ability to curse men, even though they were made in the image and likeness of God.
- This is wrong. This is not godly behavior.
- “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
Yet again, James chooses powerful images and analogies to make his points.
- Fountains down provide fresh water and bitter water.
- Fig trees don’t produce olives.
- Grape vines don’t produce figs.
- Don’t expect a glass of salt water to suddenly produce fresh water.
- Nature is “either/or” – why are we as followers of the Messiah “both/and”?
James is making the case that how we use our tongue is:
- First, a test of whether we really are true born again believers in Jesus the Messiah – because if we are, our speech will be radically different than before we were saved.
- Second, a test of how faithfully and lovingly we are walking as believers – by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must continually be improving the control and direction of what we say and how we say it.
- Our tongue (and thus our faith/the quality and depth of our relationship with the Lord) is tested in various trials. (see James 1:2)
- We need tremendous wisdom in how we use our tongue. (see James 1:5)
- We must be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” for this is evidence of the righteousness that is developing within us. (see James 1:19-20)
- We must not become arrogant about think we are truly godly, religious, righteous people if we cannot bridle our tongue, for we are simply deceiving ourselves. (see James 1:26).
- We are to be guided in all things by the “royal law” of love for our neighbor, and speak and act as those who understand that we will be judged by how faithful we are to Christ’s standard and His “royal law.” (see James 2:8, 12)
James 3:13 – “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
- NIV: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
- Men of true wisdom and genuine understanding are humble, gentle, well-behaved, careful in how they live and in what they say.
“The gentleness of wisdom” is a very useful turn of phrase.
- What does it mean to be “gentle”?
- mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender; meek
- moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe:
- “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will,” says one commentary.
Meekness/gentleness isn’t a trait much-talked about by the world, or by the Church. But….
- It is a trait of our Savior
- Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:1)
- Jesus Himself said, “Matthew 11:29 (Jesus speaking) – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
- Did Jesus ever get angry? Yes, but He never sinned in His anger.
- It is a trait praised by our Savior – “Blessed are the meek/gentle for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)
- It is a fruit of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
- It is a trait required of spiritual leaders.
- Galatians 6:1 – “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”
- Colossians 3:12 – “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”
3:14-18 – “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Here James draws a distinction between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom or “wisdom from above.”
- Earthly “wisdom”
- Produces bitter jealousy
- Produces selfish ambition
- Produces arrogance
- Leads to lying
- Leads to disorder, confusion, and “every evil thing”
- Wisdom from above:
- Pure – divine, holy, unselfish
- Peaceable – seeks to make peace
- Gentle – kind, humble
- Reasonable – easy to entreat, willing to yield, courteous
- Full of mercy – kind, gracious, not defensive
- Produces good fruit – fruit of the Spirit
- Unwavering – not double-minded, not waffling
- Without hypocrisy – does not “claim to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform”
- Is characterized by peace and leads to a fruitful harvest of righteousness
- NIV: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
- The Message: “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
- The Living Bible: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds. It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.”
- This chapter is important for all believers – all of us in the Body of Christ are to love one another, to be kind and gentle with one another, to be careful is what we say to each other, and how we say it.
- This chapter is important for all leaders – James begins this chapter by drawing special attention to those who teach (pastors, teachers, elders and others in the ministry) because we are called to follow the model of Christ and be the model for others. This is a high and hard calling. We ought to do better because we ought to know better. We must be very careful not to be hypocrites, telling others to speak and behave in a godly way, but failing to lead the way in our own personal lives. And James tells us we will be judged more strictly.
The Bible is filled with wisdom for us in how we speak.
- Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Proverbs 15:23 – “A man has joy in an apt answer and how delightful is a timely word!”
- Proverbs 16:23-24 – “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
- Proverbs 19:22 – “What is desirable in a man is his kindness.”
- Proverbs 21:23 – “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.”
- The Lord Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- The Apostle James wrote in James 1:19, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
- The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to be “speaking the truth in love.”
- Indeed, Paul gives much emphasis both to what we say and how we say it:
- Ephesians 4:25 – “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor…”
- Ephesians 4:26 – “be angry, but do not sin…”
- Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, so that it will grace to those who hear it. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit [by disobeying this point]….”
- Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
- Ephesians 5:4 – “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
- See Colossians 3:8-9 – “put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth [and] do not lie to one another…”
How are we doing in this area? Is it possible we think we are doing just fine in this area, but that not everyone around us agrees?
- If I’m stumbling – and James says we all stumble – am I willing to honestly assess the problems I’m causing with my tongue?
- Am I willing to repent and make things right with the people I’ve hurt?
May the Lord lead you and encourage and help you do better in what you say and how you say it, that you may reflect the love and gentleness and wisdom of Christ.
Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog