Teaching Teachers' Tongues
In his letter, James is describing the Christian lifestyle and what type of attitude and conduct believers should have in various situations. Therefore, you have profited from this book so far if, as a Christian:
- You have faced recent trials with patience and joy knowing that God is maturing your faith through these.
- You have faced and responded to temptation with Christian action that includes:
- Recognizing that you are being tempted.
- Praying for the wisdom needed to face various temptations and trials.
- Changing your ways according to God's will and Word.
- You have decided to not only listen to the Word but actually do what it says.
- You have begun to treat others with equal regard, not making distinctions based on race, wealth or other differences.
- You have demonstrated the sincerity of your faith by doing good works.
In chapter 3, James specifically addresses those in the church who want to teach. He reviews what qualifications they should have and the fruit they need to produce if they are to successfully serve in this ministry.
Qualifications of Teachers
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
- James 3:1
Responsibility brings accountability. God will examine you more closely as one who teaches others (remember the Pharisees). This warning should be a sobering reminder to consider the consequences as well as the rewards for those who seek this role in the church.
Control of the Tongue
2For 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. 3Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look 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.
- James 3:2-4
It is very easy to sin with the tongue. However, control of the tongue points to one who possesses overall maturity and self-control. James gives as examples for this the rider who controls his horse by pulling on the small bit in the animal's mouth, and the command that the captain has of a large ship by simply turning its rudder. The point that James makes is that the mature Christian directs his entire body by controlling his tongue. This is the kind of teacher who will be acceptable before God and a blessing to the church.
It is necessary to do this because an uncontrolled tongue is very dangerous and can cause great destruction.
5So 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! 6And 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.
- James 3:5-6
A small spark can cause a great fire, and in the same way an evil tongue can send one to hell. James warns us that no other part of the body can get us into more kinds of sin. The tongue helps to plan sin, encourages it, joins in it, defends it and spreads it to others. In addition to this, the tongue is a danger because it is naturally hard to control (i.e. the animal kingdom can be tamed but not the tongue).
7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
- James 3:7-8
Not only does the tongue produce evil, but the evil it begins cannot be easily stopped (gossip, insults or lies). It can also destroy our Christian witness since we, as believers, are moved to both bless and curse with the same tongue.
9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
- James 3:9-12
People will judge you as evil if evil comes out of your mouth. A person who cannot control the tongue, therefore, is not fit to teach anyone anything, and usually causes more harm than good in the church.
James has mentioned some of the necessary qualifications that teachers must possess (prudence and control of the tongue) in order to have the privilege of teaching God's people. Now he describes the fruit that good teachers need to produce in the lives of those they teach.
Christian Teachers Must Produce Fruit
You can tell a tree by its fruit, this same principle applies to teachers. Their fruit will be a witness for them.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
- James 3:13
James begins by listing three important virtues needed by those who aspire to teach. First, one must demonstrate high morals in his behavior. Added to this is faith's witness of good deeds done in humility. Finally, he mentions the source of this type of behavior which is wisdom. James then develops this notion by describing the two types of wisdom that exist and the kind necessary to be a teacher in the Lord's assembly.
14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
- James 3:14-16
There is the type of wisdom that comes from below. It is earthly (the sphere from which it originates), natural (appeals to the flesh) and demonic (a reference to who controls this type of wisdom). Earthly wisdom from below has a certain intelligence, but its fruit is destructive. It produces bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, arrogance and a type of religious zeal based in pride that leads to bitterness, disorder and evil action, not joy or peace which should be the natural fruit produced by those claiming Christ as Lord. Where these things are present, there is sin, and the source of this sin is usually the wisdom from below. The final result of this kind of wisdom is a witness against the gospel, not for it.
The other kind of wisdom that James mentions is the wisdom that comes from above.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
- James 3:17
Wisdom from above comes from the heavenly sphere and is spiritual in nature because its source is God's word, and it is controlled by God. Its fruit is pure (you see it as such), peaceful (produces peace in others and preaches peace), meek and reasonable (not interested in its own way, not manipulative), merciful (kind, compassionate), sure (exact, clear, unchanging) and sincere (not hypocritical). Good teachers demonstrate this kind of wisdom.
James has given us the qualifications necessary to be a teacher of God's people (prudent/tongue control) and the type of fruit that they must produce (heavenly wisdom). Solomon adds to this instruction by showing how one can become a wise teacher.
1. Listen Carefully
5A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, 6To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. 7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
- Proverbs 1:5-7
Listen carefully when receiving instructions from God's word, this is the first step. The flesh does not want to hear the wisdom from above so it will offer up many distractions in order to sabotage your learning. If you want to be a wise teacher, you have to pay attention to what God is teaching you.
2. Respond Immediately
13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
When you hear something that requires a change, an effort or some kind of repentance in your life, do it right away. The Word is only effective if you put it into practice. The longer you refuse to obey, the harder it becomes to obey. Listening with the intention of doing, this is "fear of the Lord." Listening without the intention of doing is hypocrisy, and obeying without carefully listening is foolishness.
3. Control Your Tongue Diligently
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.
- Proverbs 10:19
A person cannot become wise without tongue-control. Here are some practical exercises that help develop that control:
a) Learn to apologize
A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
- Proverbs 29:23
If you sin with your tongue, repent with it. This is the best way to cultivate humility. Learn to say, "I am sorry" and "Please forgive me."
b) Learn to hold your tongue
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
- Proverbs 17:28
There is not much left to say if we eliminate what is untrue, exaggerated, distorted, unnecessary, coarse, repetitious and stupid. We do not always have to say everything that passes through our mind (this is from pride).
A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.
- Proverbs 18:2
c) Learn to filter what we say
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
- Philippians 4:8
d) Learn to say the right things at the right time
The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
- Proverbs 16:21
Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
- Proverbs 25:11
God has given us speech in order to praise Him, bless one another, communicate and express ourselves. We need to learn to do these things in a gracious, wise and heavenly way, not a foolish, insincere or coarse earthly way. Heavenly wisdom comes from wise teachers and we can all become wise teachers of our children, brethren or others in the church if we learn to listen carefully, respond immediately and control our tongues.
James is talking to teachers about teaching and in verse 18 he summarizes the entire matter.
And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
- James 3:18
The teaching (seed) that changes the hearers for the good will be brought by a truly wise teacher. You will know this person because he will already bear the fruit of his teaching in his own life (he will be pure, peaceful, meek, self-controlled, etc.) and he will, with his teaching, produce these things in others.
Who are the wise teachers? They are the ones who are able to promote in you the heavenly things you already see in them.