Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
James very clearly spells out the hesitation that should be exercised before taking a teaching position (it is assumed in the church) among the brethren. He then takes a very serious view of the tongue which need to be true of all of who would take a teaching position and even every believer. Reading here, you will find out that verbal abuse epidemic has been in existence for a long time. The tongue which has the power to guide and control, is accused of so many evils in this passage – boasting of great things (v. 5); it is a world of unrighteousness and staining the whole body, and even leading the body to hell! (v.6). The tongue is also accused of being untamable, restless evil and deadly poison (v.8). Moreover, the tongue has the power to curse or bless people and God vv.9,10). For this reason, James gives a warning regarding becoming teachers and goes on to explain this on how we should use our tongues. Self-proclaimed teachers are addressed.
1. WARNING AGAINST BECOMING TEACHERS
Note what Pastor James says; “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers…” He does not say, not any. Therefore, you should not read this verse and dismiss yourself from considering a Bible-teaching position in the church. Instead, when you read this verse, you should be warned from rushing into teaching without due consideration. He also does not say, not many of you should be teachers. While it is true to say that all must not be teachers, it should be acknowledged that women must not take Bible-teaching positions that would make them teach men or exercise authority over men. Moreover, even among the men, not all men should aspire to be teachers. Therefore, this passage is a rebuke of those who try to become teachers before they are ready. You must not make yourself a teacher! It is also a warning that many should not even become teachers ever!
It is a grave mistake to believe that everyone should become a public teacher at some point in their service to Christ. I am not saying that there is any Christian who can’t serve Christ. Rather, it is that there are those who have not been gifted to be public teachers but can serve the Lord elsewhere in His church. You see the church, like a body has many members, and all members do not have the same function. This is repeated again and again for the New Testament church (see. Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). We should definitely use the gifts that God has given us to serve in His church, but we must not use such gifts that we do not have. For the sake of Christ do not fake spiritual gifts of speaking or even assume that you’ve got them!
Why many should not become teachers:
1) Teachers will be judged with greater strictness (v.1)
a) There is an awful responsibility involved in teaching others.
You have to prepare in advance in order to prepare. Besides, having prepared you have to make sure that you call for God’s help and that you have got it before venturing into the public to teach. Then you have to be sure that you are edifying people. If no one is profited by your ministry, then you have no business taking a teaching position. This evaluation should be done by your spiritual leaders in the church. It is the responsibility of the pastors to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
b) It is possible not only to lead people into truth in teaching, but also in error.
This is another reason why much diligence in preparation to preach it absolutely necessary. If you will not invest good amount of hours in preparation beforehand, and prayer, then you do not covet this teaching position in the church. It comes with the responsibility of not only teaching the truth, but of also refuting error. Error must not be propagated either presenting skewed or imbalanced truth or of exaggeration or joking. In addition, one has himself to demonstrate the truth that he preaches by living a life that is godly, dignified and exemplary. It is better not to teach at all than to be false teacher!
c) Teachers will be held responsible for what they teach others.
We who teach will give an account to God. This is what the Lord told the elders in Hebrews 13:17 because every elder should be apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). All that one teaches people must be on conformity to the Word of God. Absolute carefulness need to be exercised before men while teaching, for one day each and every teacher will stand before God and he will be judged with a greater strictness (v.1).
We who teach have a responsibility to our hearers. We must deliver the truth of God to them for them to be edified. We must make sure that what we preach publicly and privately is followed and obeyed. This means that teaching responsibility in public is only the beginning. This private follow –up, leading to encouragement, exhortation, admonition, etc. is what demonstrates whether we taught people in order to be seen or out of the love of God and of people. God will find out what we did with our hearers at the end of our ministry.
2) We all stumble in many things (v.2)
There is no doubt that pastors and teachers are not perfect men. They all have faults. Their faults include their communication abilities, even if they have been appointed to speak, they make mistakes even in their speaking! How many times have I spoken carelessly? Everyone has faults and with many people the improper use of the tongue is a big problem. However, we who teach, must endeavor to improve ourselves so that we become better teachers.
James is not discouraging anyone from trying to find out what is the area of gifting in order to serve the Lord. Rather you are to avail your gifts to the church and be tested, nurtured and matured to become a mature teacher of God’s Word, by your pastors and other mature Christians in the church.
It takes spiritual maturity not to stumble in the use of the words. This is because the ability to bridle the tongue is a mark of spiritual maturity – he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body. We should strive at this perfection, even though we know that it will be achieved at the point of glorification. Our sanctification is imperfect until when we see Christ face to face in glory.
2. WARNING AGAINST THE USE OF TONGUES
a) Bridle/bits: Put in the mouths of the horses in order to obey us as we control and direct them. A simple small bit directs the whole body of the horse.
b) Rudders for controlling large ships: Large ships driven by strong waves are guided by a small rudder according to the will of the pilot.
Bits and rudders are used to illustrate that a tongue, though a small member of the body controls the whole body. How does the tongue control the body?
Negative: If you speak a lie, you will immediately try to live the lie in order to cover it up! If you flirt, you will be known to be immoral and so your own words define you!
Positive: When one uses his teaching abilities to edify the church, an army for the cause of Christ is built. The teachers of the word have, by faithful exposition of the Scriptures, ability to transform lives and churches for the glory of God.
c) Small fire:
Pastor James simply employs two figures of speech called metaphor and hyperbole respectively to describe the tongue when he says “… the tongue is a fire…setting on fire the entire course of life.” The point is that just as a flickering cigarette stub can set the whole Mt. Kenya forest on fire when it is dry, so it is with the tongue. Who doesn’t know that a lose tongue can ruin one’s reputation? Tongues have destroyed ministers and ministries. Families have been divided by tongues. Companies have been completely devastated. Friendships have not been spared by tongues.
It is for this reason that James does not spare phrases to describe the challenges posed by tongues;
i) A tongue is a fire (v.6)
ii) A tongue is a world of unrighteousness (v.6)
iii) A tongue is set among our members (v.6)
iv) A tongue stains the whole body (v.6)
v) A tongue sets on fire the entire course of life (v.6)
vi) A tongue is itself set on fire by hell! (v.6)
vii) A tongue is a restless evil (v.8)
viii) A tongue is full of deadly poison (v.8)
Why can’t we harness this potency in the tongue to destroy and defile both ourselves and others for the glory of God and good of man, instead? The tongues is such an important and power equipment that God gave us, so that we may serve Him and His people. Yet at the same time it has such a capacity to cause evil and wickedness. Therefore, with the help of our Helper the Holy Spirit, we should strive to make sure that this member is well controlled so that it does good rather than evil.
2) The difficulty of taming the tongue
Domestication of wild animals: James once again compares the tongue with wild animals and he concludes that it is easier to domesticate a beast, a bird, a reptile or a sea creature than to tame a tongue – in other words, no creature is harder to tame than one simple organ of the body called tongue! You see, while man has been able to tame and domesticate these animals, yet he is completely unable to tame his own tongue for he says, “… no human being can tame the tongue” (v. 7-8).
What James is saying is that unless you call for God’s help, by your own effort and skills, you will be defeated by your own tongue. Why don’t you call to God for help like David did when he prayed in Psalm 141:3?
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Inconsistency with the use of the tongue: Pastor James once again has made good observations in dealing with people and so very concerned for true faith producing true religion, writes in verses 9-10;
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Is it not shocking how inconsistent we are with our tongues? You are here now, quiet in worship, reading or listening to a sermon about your tongue but later on you could be angry and throw words at your own son? You sing here and praise the Lord, yet at the slightest provocation you lash out at your spouse. This inconsistency is frightening so that we should be more fervent in prayer that the Lord may help us to use our members not as instruments of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13).
The question worthy considering now is,
Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
With these three illustrations, James presents to us what the Lord Jesus taught. That the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart (Matt. 7:20-23). For what comes from a person is a true indication of the condition of the heart.
Therefore, despite how much we sing and praise the Lord, what really shows what you are really made of is the curses and insults that you hurl at the people that He has made in His image. Ultimately, the truth is that the pollution of our tongue is what prevails over any sweetness or blessings we may have.
You see if there were two springs, one fresh and clean and the other salty and dirty and they finally flow into the same pond, the polluted spring will pollute the fresh one and the water in the pond will not be termed as fresh anymore! It is polluted and no one would want to drink it. This is what he already said, that the tongue is always in the camp of the devil, the enemy and has to be on the spiritual leash always. It has to be tamed by the Holy Spirit in us for it to bear a good fruit.
1. Would you learn to speak more responsibly from today?
The brothers that Pastor James was writing to were persecuted. So how was this section an encouragement to them? He was seeking to help them to desist from complaining, retorting, cursing their persecutors, or any manner of reviling and railing. It could be that they were criticizing, backbiting and slandering each other. It might be that they were lying to the authorities in order to escape the persecution and punishment.
Whatever it is that they were doing with their tongues that, was dishonoring God, had to stop. Christians have to speak as God has instructed in His Word. In the same way, we are to stop all these tongue sins and instead learn what God says in His Word;
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:25-27, 29, 31-32)
2. Repent of your past carelessness and inconsistency?
You cannot be rid of the past unless you bring it to the cross of Christ. He alone is able to cut that knot. I as a preacher, must not say or think that I am clean or immune from the problem of the tongue. This is because James includes himself when he says that, we all stumble in many things.
You also have sinned in this matter of speaking wrongly as much as I have if not even more! While sinful speaking is sinful, yet there is mercy and pardon for a repenting sinner. The Lord calls us to go to Him we who are weary and heavy laden with sin and guilt and He will forgive us and give us rest.
Repentance is a change of heart leading to a change in the course of action. Therefore, we have to admit that our irresponsible and inconsistent talking has to come to an abrupt end. It cannot continue – these things ought not to be so (v.10). This change cannot only be wrought by the Holy Spirit our teacher and Helper. He will sanctify us and present us blameless.
Thankfully, Christ receives sinful men. He forgives slanderers and gossips. Jesus receives into His fold even blasphemers and liars. Those who complain can be forgiven now by Christ. Go to Him this evening and be cleansed from all filthiness from your mouth.