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James 3;1–12 – Taking the Helm
by Gary Sims
09/09/03
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The Epistles
James 3:1-12 – Taking the Helm

Key Verses: (NSRV)
  • 1: “Not many of you should become teachers…, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James is stressing the importance of teaching. It is not a responsibility to take lightly.

  • 2: “For all of us make many mistakes.” – Mistakes made in the roles of teacher and leader are magnified.

  • 5: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” – Comparing the tongue with the rudder of a ship, James illustrates that what we say has a great affect on the world around us.

  • 6: “And the tongue is a fire…it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” – Even a small spark of flame can consume an entire forest. When the tongue sets off that spark, creating the fires of distorted truth and self-righteousness, it is doing the work of evil.

  • 8: “but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” – So much damage is caused when thoughtless, uncontrolled speech flows forth from our mouths.

  • 10: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” – In one breathe we can bless God, praising Him and rejoicing in His love and in the next, release a stream of vile, evil phrases attacking those very people that He created.

  • 10b: “My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” – If we are changed by our relationship with Christ, then we need to bridle our tongues so that what flows forth reflects the love that resides within.
Points to Contemplate:
  • Are you a teacher? Isn’t everyone a teacher in some way? Does your life reflect the values that you are teaching? Do you recognize the scrutiny under which you are being judged? Are your mistakes undermining the good you are doing? How can you learn to bridle those mistakes? Does recognizing the importance of your role help you to become more conscientious about your actions?

  • Does your tongue control your life? Do you see the harm that it inflicts? Do you find yourself constantly trying to undo the damage caused by a thoughtless remark or comment? Do you attempt to bite your tongue, holding it back from its tendency to run-away with flippancy and malice? Do you lose the battle more often than you would like? What can we do to bring our tongues into better control? What bridle is available to us? Is it possible to tame the tongue?

  • Why is it so hard to control what we say? Is it because the tongue reflects our inner feelings? When you speak are you revealing your true self in clear and profound ways? If this is so, does this mean that there is still more of your heart that needs to be turned over to Christ? If we have clean hearts, if Christ has entered our hearts and transformed us, then how is it possible to spew forth with language that distorts the truth and destroys others? James suggests it should not be possible. He suggests that if this is a problem then it is a problem of the heart not the tongue.

  • Can you list all of the traits of a ‘bad’ tongue? Did you include the following examples: “gossiping, putting others down, bragging, manipulating, false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, flattering, and lying?”1 How about whining, crying, feeling sorry for your self, bigotry, hate, malice, boasting, distortion, spite, pride, and swearing? Does this illustrate the degree in which the tongue is directly connected with sin? Can you see if you are able to speak of mercy, love, joy, happiness, truth, goodness, sincerity, and gentleness; if you allow traits such as these to dominate your speech that you have turned the rudder of your life into the path of God’s righteousness? Can the tongue become a mirror in which you are able to gage the growth of your Christ-likeness?
Promises of the Gospel:

One of the most important attributes of the book of James is that he is providing us with elementary skills and tools in order to be able to live a life of faith. He does not feel that this is a lofty, unattainable goal or he would not have bothered to write the book in the first place. James convicts us to realize that our relationship with Christ should mean something. We are not simply saved and destined for eternal glory. Yes, we are forgiven of our sins through the Cross and our faith in Christ, however, the result of our salvation and our faith should be a changed heart. James teaches that what we say and how we say it is a direct reflection of our inner life. He vividly paints a picture that illustrates how damaging and evil the tongue can be. He brings the truth of his claim directly into our own living-rooms and provides us with real-life examples. He ends his lesson with the statement “this ought not to be so” in order that we can come to the realization that there are things we can do to allow Christ in our heart. When we do, we take control of the rudder and steer our lives into the path that God wants us to follow.
1“Life Application Bible” (NRSV) – Notes for verses 3.2,3. pp2176

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