Since it has been a while since I have blogged, I will be posting Part 6 of James series shortly after this one. Thanks for your patience.
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”
Again we see how deeply James has been shaped by the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount. While calling us to a radical standard of active and selfless faith, he recognizes that we are broken and sinful people. We will fail and therefore should have the humility to make choices accordingly. This is not a cop out or a compromise. He makes it clear that there are no excuses, but rather calls for caution, especially when we would choose to place ourselves as teachers of truth.
While James would likely have affirmed this statement in respect to false teaching, given the wider context, it becomes clear that James is not cautioning against teaching untruth. Rather, he is warning us against teaching truth with our mouths, but living lives contrary to those truths. Again like Jesus, James warns us against this hypocrisy. He calls us not to perfection, but to humility. By saying “we”, he indicts himself as much as anyone else. Seeing this, we know that this is a natural progress of his teaching on faith and works.
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
In his most vivid language yet, James paints some brilliant pictures to help us understand how significant our words are. It is not enough for us to claim and/or proclaim Christ. Our words must bear witness to what our lives bear out in good fruit. Again the old rabbinical proverb comes to mind: “We have two ears, but one tongue- and it was provided a wall of teeth to hold it back”.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
The worship of God is sacred. This would be all the more clear to the Jewish believers who read James’ words. Therefore, to contrast the casual and caustic use of our tongue with its use in worship is a powerful image of how corrupting our words can be. As we pray, worship, read Scripture and speak words of love to God and one another, consider what other unworthy words have passed our lips. Like in faith, our words cannot serve two masters. Our words, like our hearts, must be pure at all times.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
James reminds us that true wisdom is proven through humility. Why? Because it is only in humility that we can see the truth of our sinful nature. And it is only through humility that we can see the true nature of grace. The humble and contrite heart is fertile soil for faith that produces good fruit of words & deeds. Boasting of ones wisdom is a self-defeating pride, as all wisdom comes from God, not our own cleverness or righteousness. By our fruits will we be known. For us today it is critical to remember that our words include our blogs, tweets, text messages- any use of words. Guard your tongue as you guard your heart.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
Again we see that all wisdom, all righteousness in word or deed, is a grace from Christ alone. It is only received as we come to the Cross in humble repentance and contrition. It is when we are weak that we become strong in the grace and the wisdom of Christ. It is when we are truly humbled before God that His wisdom produces in us the good fruit. It produces believers who are lovers and makers of peace and leads to a harvest of His righteousness.
For those who would dismiss or minimize James as suggesting salvation through works, here he refutes them quite clearly. For Christ is the one and only foundation for forgiveness of sin and lives of faithful and fruitful obedience.