The Epistle of James
Brother Earl Miller’s helpful exposition of the Epistle of James merits close examination. May the practical lessons from these articles find a response in our lives.
A Living Faith Controls
A living faith is demonstrated by the works it produces. This is definitely proven in the last part of the second chapter. The third chapter continues to demonstrate a living faith by its control of the most unruly member of the human body. A whole chapter is devoted to this one little member. The tongue cannot be tamed by man; it requires a super-man to control it. A living faith puts one in touch with this super-man, who is Christ. Only He can control this unruly member.
James begins this chapter by reference to teachers whose very profession depends on the use of the tongue. The word “masters” is in the Greek, “teachers.” James says, “My brethren, do not become many teachers, knowing that we who teach are judged by a much higher standard.” In the first chapter, James intimated that a genuine Christian is one who is slow to speak but swift to hear. A newly saved person has much to learn before he can speak to the edification and instruction of others. James is admonishing those to whom he is writing not to become many teachers.
The assembly always needs teachers, but many teachers may present a problem. There are always men who like to speak for the joy of speaking, but the Lord’s people are not edified by their much speaking.
A true teacher is rather reluctant to arise to speak, so the idle talkers take the floor. Yet it is this reticence that marks a true teacher. Sometimes way must be made for him to occupy the floor. The Church needs teachers like this that it may be edified.
The Standard of Judgment
Those who teach will be judged by a much higher standard than those who do not teach. The wellbeing of the people of God rests in the hands of the teacher. If people are taught error, spiritual development is hindered; the teacher is held accountable. If the way of salvation is so beclouded with human speculation that the hearer does not find the salvation that is in Christ, the teacher is responsible. In every avenue of the Christian life, the teacher is responsible for the spiritual health of the saints. It is for this reason that James admonishes the brethren not to become many teachers.
The Tongue for Good and Evil
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. With the same tongue God is blessed, and man, who was created in the image of God, is cursed. James thus shows that the tongue can be used for both good and evil purposes. Once, Xanthus, the philosopher, invited some friends for dinner. He instructed his servant to prepare the best thing he could find on the market for dinner. When dinner was served, the philosopher was astonished to find nothing but tongue served in different ways. Finally he chided his servant by saying, “Didn’t I tell you to get the best thing you could find at the market?” The servant replied, “I did get the best thing I could find in the market. Isn’t the tongue the organ of sociability, the organ of kindness, and the organ of worship?” The next day the servant was instructed to get the worst thing he could find in the market. When dinner was served, there was nothing but tongue. The philosopher then lost his patience and reprimanded his servant by asking, “Did I not tell you to get the worst thing you could find in the market?” Again the servant replied, “I did get the worst thing I could find in the market. Is not the tongue the organ of blasphemy, the organ of defamation, and the organ of lying?” “Well done,” replied the philosopher, “You have certainly taught me a lesson.” Just so James is trying to teach us that the tongue is capable of the best as well as the worst things in life. The tongue of one who has a living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ should not do both. A spring does not send forth at the same opening both fresh and salt water. Neither does a fig tree bear olives, nor a vine figs. As a spring cannot pour out both fresh and salt water at the same opening, so the tongue of one who has a living faith cannot both bless and curse. A living faith puts Christ in control of the tongue.
Wisdom and Knowledge
A new role for the tongue is set forth in the last part of this chapter, verses 13 to 18. This role is to display the wisdom residing in the believer. James begins this section by saying, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?” Two important words, wisdom and knowledge, are used here. Wisdom and knowledge are two qualities in human life that determine the use of the tongue. It is a little difficult to define wisdom. The Hebrews looked at wisdom as an attribute of God. The eighth chapter of Proverbs makes Christ the impersonation of wisdom. In fact, Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). Wisdom is not native in man. It is not acquired; it is bestowed. We do not learn wisdom; God bestows it as we need it. The world professes to have wisdom, but God has made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20).
A Teacher is not Infallible
A teacher is not infallible in his teaching. The best of teachers must at times revise his teaching. With the coming of more light or more sober reflection on a subject, he may find it necessary to revise his teaching to present the truth more effectually and to weed out all traces of error. This happens to all good teachers; it is not something unusual.
The second verse of this chapter says, “For in many ways we offend all.” This, unfortunately, is not a good translation of the Greek text. It should read, “For in many things we all stumble.” It is not that we offend all, but we all stumble. If any man does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man able to bridle the whole body. It is possible for a good teacher to stumble in word; he is not a perfect man, and consequently his teaching is not infallible. What he teaches is to him the highest form of truth he has been able to discover, and yet other teachers may differ on some points of this truth. We have workers’ conferences where these differences of opinion can be ironed out. A good teacher never intentionally teaches error. He is always striving for knowledge to make his teaching more effective.