Today we’ll begin looking at James, chapter 3, in which James talks about tongue trouble and true wisdom.
Jam. 3:1-4 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (2) For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. (3) Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. (4) Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Be Not Many Masters
The word “masters” here means teachers. James warned his readers that not many of them should be teachers. Shouldn’t every believer want to be a teacher? You’d almost get that impression from the book of Hebrews:
Heb. 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
That verse isn’t saying that, after a certain amount of time, all believers should become teachers. Rather, it’s saying that the readers had been saved long enough, and should know enough by now to be teachers.
Why does James warn his readers not to be teachers? “We shall receive the greater condemnation,” he says. Bible teachers claim to represent God, and they influence people’s lives. So God holds teachers to a higher standard. Are they speaking the truth? Do they practice what they preach? Jesus reserved His most severe criticism for the hypocritical teachers of His day:
Mat. 23:1-13 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, (2) Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: (3) All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (4) For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (5) But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, (6) And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, (7) And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. (8) But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. (9) And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. (10) Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. (11) But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (13) But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Notice, though, that James said, “not many.” Teachers are gifts to the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11). It’s an important office, and you shouldn’t enter into it lightly. But don’t turn away from it if God calls you to it. Know what you’re talking about and live it. I think Ezra’s response to God’s call is just what He is looking for:
Ezr. 7:10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
Another reason James counsels not many people to be teachers is that it increases the opportunity for offense. “In many things we offend,” he rightly says. The more you talk, the more likely it is that you will offend someone:
Pro. 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.
A Perfect Man
It’s hard to tame our tongues. (In fact, James tells us a little later in this chapter that you can’t do it by yourself.) If you can master that, you’re a perfect (i.e., fully mature) man. Learning to control your lips is an essential discipline that you can apply to your whole life.
Bits and Rudders
A small bit controls the direction the horse goes. A little bit directs a large horse. A small rudder set the course of a large ship. James uses these two illustrations to show the power a small part to steer the larger whole. That’s how the tongue is. It turns our lives. Consider these verses:
Pro. 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
Pro. 13:2-3 A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence. (3) He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.
Pro. 18:20 A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
Pro. 21:23 Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
Almost 30 years ago, two words, “I do,” improved my life forever. Other words I’ve said have hurt people. I wish now I could get them back – but I can’t. Some words I’ve said have helped folks, and that blesses me, too. Don’t underestimate the power of your words to alter the course of your life and the lives of the people around you.
Eph. 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
How Are You Doing?
- Do you want to be a teacher? If so, are you called and qualified to teach?
- How have your words altered your life and the lives of the people around you?
Read James 3:5-8 for tomorrow. It might be painful, but think about how your words have hurt others and created problems for you.