For our study on James we have been looking at how faith and words go together. He makes it very clear that a Christian, and especially teachers of the Bible, need to be conscious of what they say. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” James 3:1,2
The emphasis is on bridling the tongue and in verse three he illustrates his statement by telling how a bit in a horses’ mouth is able to direct the horse to wherever the rider wishes to go. So, it is that a little thing like a tongue can control the destiny of a person. How many times have we said something only to wish the words back as soon as they leave our lips? Friendships have been destroyed, marriages ruined and jobs lost over an angry outburst that spewed forth venom. James in verse eight even alludes to the tongue as being full of poison. “But no human being can tame the tongue- a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Notice, that taming the tongue isn’t something that comes natural to us or that we can even do. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 15 what the real problem is. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this defiles a man. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” V.18-20
The problem is that our words are usually only a reflection of what we think in our heart. After an outburst we can say we are sorry, but the anger, hurt and pain still lives within the heart. As Christians we need to do a good inventory on the heart before we speak.
But, I think James is hitting on something much deeper still when he mentions teachers would be judged with a greater strictness. What we as teachers say have an impact on people from a spiritual perspective. God has given the gift of teachers to the church (1 Corinthians 13) and expects that gift to be cherished and taken seriously. There is no room for a teacher to lie to those who look to her teaching for guidance. There is no excuse for a teacher to be sloppy in his research and understanding of the passages of scripture they expound upon. There is no room for teachers to speculate on minute points of theology and then pass those findings off as the Gospel. It is wrong for a teacher to withhold the truth of Scripture from us because it doesn’t set with what his church teaches and he doesn’t want to rock the boat. It is important to remember that honesty of words spring from honesty of the heart.
Do we make mistakes as teachers? James says, “we all make mistakes,” but the emphasis in verse two is on the fact that if we never made a mistake we would be perfect and the proof of that would be in our speech. I have thought long and hard about this verse and one thing jumps out at me over and over, that to be considered perfect is to never err or make mistakes in the words that we speak.
If a teacher believes he is on the road to perfection he needs to stop, take a deep breath and ask himself if every word that proceeds from his mouth is accurate, honest, uplifting, theologically accurate, and so on. Remember, James is speaking to teachers in verses one and two particularly, but also to the rest of us as well.
No, we are not going to reach perfection in our speech, but it shouldn’t stop us from being much more careful when we talk. Only the Holy Spirit working in our heart can deal with our guilt, anger, frustration and hurt that bubble over into our speech. In reality it isn’t the words that hurt us (sticks and stones), but the rot within us expressed through words that steer us away from God.
Old time legalists use to use these verses to say Christians shouldn’t laugh, make light of things, joke or show strong emotion like roar and holler at sport events. That is not what James is talking about here, it is the use of the tongue that leads others away from God, and betrays our high calling as followers of Jesus.
For a more in depth study on this topic just go to the digging deeper section on the menu bar and scroll down to study 13.