The Epistle of James
Scripture Reading: James 3:1-18
James claims in verse one to be a teacher (master). He therefore intimates that he understands the responsibility of such an important service among the people of God. He herein warns any who would assume to such ministry, for in any failure in the performance, the judgment will be severe. James does not state whether the condemnation is from God or man. Any fault in teaching will usually provoke human censure. Furthermore, teaching that is not Scriptural, according to the Word of God, may prove harmful. Any deviation may suffer the condemnation of the Lord.
It appears as if Hymenaeus and Alexander were assuming to be teachers. Their digression from the truth resulted in very stern censure and discipline by the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 1:20).
No one should presume upon the grace and kindness of the Lord and attempt to serve in a sphere for which he has not been equipped and called.
Through His triumph on the cross, when the Lord led captivity captive (The captivity in which Satan held us before Calvary) has been broken and we have been released. Satan is now in captivity. See Judges 5:12 and Psalm 68. He, the Lord Jesus, gave gifts unto men: “Some apostles; and some prophets; and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). The two gifts “pastors and teachers” as they appear in the text imply that one individual may receive more than one gift. According to Romans 12:7, the gift of teaching may be received alone, separate from any other.
James directs attention to the instrument used by teachers in communicating knowledge. This instrument is used, generally speaking, by all humanity. All should, therefore, give heed to the striking similes used to reveal the activities of the tongue. These similes certainly insist upon the rigid control of the tongue.
These similes are seven in number: the horse, the ship, the fire, beasts, an unruly evil, a fountain and trees. One or two of these similes denote that the tongue may be used with dignity and blessing. Take for example the horse and the ship. There is no animal as noble as the horse, and no object as stately as a sailing ship. Consequently we believe that the tongue is capable of using noble, charming, gracious and beneficial language.
How noble, how stately, President Abraham Lincoln appeared and sounded when after the civil war he delivered his memorable, eloquent address at Gettysburg. In like manner, men still talk of how Winston Churchill mobilized the English language to strengthen Britain and defeat Hitler. The tongue is capable of either impelling or compelling an audience to do good or evil.
Nothing, simply nothing, could be more gracious and beneficial than the proclamation of the gospel. The Apostle Paul applies the words of Isaiah to this very ministry: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15).
From some of the other similes we understand that the tongue may be cruel, damaging and even destroying what is good and what is even excellent. How cautiously we approach the wild beast and the reptile. In fact, we keep them in heavy iron cages lest they harm us. Wolff in his exposition of the Epistle of James quotes Dr. Plummer as saying, “The tongue combines the ferocity of the tiger, the mockery of the ape with the subtlety and venom of the serpent.”
We all realize that fire is a splendid servant, but a tyrant as a master. Isaiah asserts, “For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like lifting up of the fire: no man shall spare his brother” (Isaiah 9:18).
James, the naturalist, would impose strict control upon the tongue. The child of God, a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), left in this world as an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), should control his speech so that “with one mind and one mouth he may glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6).
The fountain (spring) is a simile that should well be pondered: “So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” Wolff says, “Such monstrosities do not exist in nature, but abound in the moral sphere.” The remarks made by James indicate that the same tongue may speak bitterness, strife, lies or wisdom, knowledge and truth. He sums up the practical aspect of the believer’s life by implying not only the control of the tongue but the control of the whole life. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation (manner of Jiving) his works with meekness of wisdom.”
In speaking of control, the firy, powerful horse needs a bit in its mouth and a bridle on its head; only then can its movements be controlled. Without these the will of the master may not be obeyed.
The pilot on the ship insists that the rudder be maintained in proper condition, otherwise the decisions of the captain cannot be executed through the control of the ship. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body.”
James in all probability was still thinking of the teacher when he began to write about the need of special wisdom. He writes that a teacher among God’s people should know how to curb his tongue and to use it in a noble, gracious, kindly manner; furthermore, the teacher must be blessed with heavenly wisdom. The Christian who is spiritually wise and endowed with knowledge will demonstrate these splendid qualities through his personal conduct. He will humbly engage in good works, and although satisfied with some achievement, he will remain in a meek and prudent attitude.
This spiritual wisdom stands in vivid contrast to carnal wisdom which is earthly, sensual and devilish. The wisdom that is developed here is called by the world sagacity, business shrewdness and diplomacy. This is all natural. The Word of God says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Jude speaks of men in their apostasy as “being sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). A third characteristic is added to this description—devilish. This seems to indicate the source of false wisdom. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). Satan embodied himself in this once beautiful creature. He, Satan, brought the curse not only upon himself but upon the very form in which he appeared in Eden: “The condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
Spiritual wisdom is from above (from Heaven). Its true source is our Lord Jesus “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
The heavenly wisdom is “pure.” The word pure used here is “chaste.” It means that which is undefiled, non-contaminated. Furthermore, it is “peaceable.” This probably denotes that such wonderful qualities are not only non-quarrelsome in themselves, but that they attempt to establish peace. One of the beatitudes reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Our Lord Jesus, of course, is the divine example. He made peace (Ephesians 2:15-17).
The unusual attitude denoted in the word “gentle” might be that of moderation. Today men and women are demanding their rights in many spheres of life; the gentle person is conscious of his rights but is moderate in any claims that he might make: “Let your moderation be known unto all men; the Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).
The idea behind the statement, “and easy to be intreated,” suggests that the spiritually wise man may change his mind. He may be convinced of what is inferior and may readily accept Scriptural proofs of what is better. The Apostle Paul knew that there were men who were “unreasonable” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). They in their obstinacy rejected all evidence in order to maintain their own evil way. No manner of persuation would change their stubborn hearts.
The final characteristic in this description is the very essence of Christian living: “Full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” The believer’s life should not be a barren desert; it should be a well cultivated garden in which the fruit of the Spirit grows: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The lives of the Corinthians were barren; they were carnal and walked as men (1 Corinthians 3:1-5). Partiality had wrought havoc among them in their church relationships. Some were partial to Paul, some to Apollos, and some to Peter (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). What a pity!
May we with a strong urge by the divine Spirit, reject the so-called wisdom of men (1 Corinthians 2:6-7), and allow the wisdom which is from above to produce in us the excellent features of a true spiritual life.