Thoughts on James 3

James 3  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
JAMES recommends modesty in word, that we should not be many masters. When we do not know ourselves, it is much easier to teach others than to govern ourselves. Now the tongue is the surest token of what is in the heart. All of us fail in many things; but if we pretend to teach others, all our offenses become more serious, and deserve the greater condemnation. Lowliness of heart makes us slow to speak, waiting rather to be taught, and that others should express their thoughts. We should be more willing to learn than to teach. With this admonition, James begins a serious dissertation on the perils of the tongue. No man can tame it. As we have already remarked, it is the surest index to the heart. " Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Many do more by hard words than they could by the hand. They often utter, moreover, light and vain words.
James insists on having the will kept in check, that there should be no confidence in self, and that the carelessness of the flesh should be corrected by the fear of God. First, the Christian must not be too ready to teach. We must not be many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. Love seeks to edify the brethren, and the Spirit leads the humble to the exercise of their gifts. But it may be that a Christian likes to make himself heard, that he is not humble, and that he speaks because he has confidence in himself. Now this is not love, but rather self-love.
We all fail in many things, and naturally, when we teach others, or at least pretend to do so, we are the more responsible, and our faults become the more grave. How can we teach others if we do not know how to walk faithfully ourselves? This is not the fear of God. If the conscience be not pure before God, it is impossible to set forth His grace and truth with His power, because we are not in His presence, and He is not with us. The first effect of His presence would be to stir up our conscience. He who teaches ought to keep himself in deepest humility, and watch so as not to stumble in his walk.
This spirit of humility is not a want of confidence in God; on the contrary, it is united to confidence. A man in possession of such a spirit will not say of the Lord, " I knew Thou wert an hard man; " but self-confidence is absent, and he only speaks when it is the will of God. Then he does so in the power of His Spirit He is slow to speak, and waits on God, in order to do so with Him,
But other important truths are contained in these words. First, we all fail in many ways. He who calls himself perfect deceives himself. It is not, necessarily, that we commit open sin, but that we do and say what is wrong in God's sight. Our speech is not always according to grace seasoned with salt. There are failures. We cannot excuse ourselves because the Lord has said, " My grace is sufficient for you," and " My strength is made perfect in weakness." We do fail, however sad it may be to say so; and we have to own it. Walking with God, grace leads us to feel and confess it; and thus we shall walk in greater nearness to God, with more watchfulness and humility. and more in felt dependence on Him.
There is yet another truth revealed in these words. This exhortation would not have been necessary if liberty to speak, according to, God's direction, had not been possessed by all the brethren, in accordance with their gifts and the rules given in the word-for there are such. If one person had been appointed to speak, the exhortation would have been useless. This then is an exhortation to modesty, to quietness, to distrust of self, and to the fear of God. The question is one of the danger of failure, and of responsibility; but the thought of single ministry in the assembly is excluded.
It is not asserted that a single individual cannot exercise a ministry that God may have confided to him; such ministry by one is permitted to each, if the Lord has supplied the necessary gift, but this must be according to the directions of the word. The activity of the flesh is reproved, and the liberty of the Holy Ghost demonstrated. The Lord makes use of each as He sees fit, whether by means of the permanent gifts of teachers, pastors, and evangelists, which will remain with us till the end, or by the ministry of each member in the place he has assigned to it.
What is said regarding failure is in continuation of the discourse on the tongue, the best index to the heart, easily put in action, and following every impulse of the heart. Everything has been tamed, even wild beasts and reptiles; but no man has been able to tame the tongue; it is full of deadly poison.
What James says is very strong, but, alas, very true. But if, in a practical way, we remember that the flesh is counted as dead, and we live by the Spirit, the tongue will be the expression of new impulses, or it may keep silence when grace ought to have nothing to say.
There are many who, according to the flesh, would avoid inflicting a blow, who could not restrain a passionate or hard word against their neighbor; but if man cannot restrain the tongue, the grace of Christ can do it, because the inward man is under the Lord's yoke, and is meek and humble. Christ fills his heart,
and then, just because the tongue follows the impulses of the heart, his words express meekness and humility. But it is necessary that Christ only should fill the heart, and the flesh be held in check, so that when temptation comes, we may not be moved. It is difficult to avoid failure; but it is very useful to see how the tongue indicates what goes on inwardly, as the hands of a clock show the movement of the hidden works.
It is good to observe the true character of the tongue as here defined. When James says, " Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" he does not mean that it is not what happens in the case of the tongue, because it is this that he laments (vers. 9, 10), but that such an evil ought not to exist; it is contrary to nature itself. Then he goes on to show the character of the wise man endued with knowledge. He must show out of a good conversation his works with meekness and wisdom. Wisdom, or at least knowledge, that manifests itself in a spirit of envy and contention, is not divine wisdom. Divine wisdom cannot exist apart from the state of the heart, and meekness produced by grace, the consciousness of the presence of God, a broken will, and that which learns with Jesus meekness and humility of heart.
" The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Wisdom that boasts and strives is earthly, sensual, devilish. It does not come from above, but shows itself in envy and strife, springs full of confusion and every evil work. The wisdom that comes from above depends on the consciousness of the presence of God, and on communion with Him, where the energy of nature is of no value, and where the spirit of dependence on God is shown. It knows that without Christ it can do nothing. The realization of God's presence makes this wisdom first pure; and it cannot be otherwise if communion with God be known. This communion, which gives wisdom, is necessarily pure. The divine nature in us, realizing the presence of God, and dwelling in Him, discerns what suits God, and has the senses exercised to know good and evil.
It is not precisely that good desires violence, but it does not dare to admit evil because it draws us away from God. " The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable," for the spirit of peace dwells in the heart. It is " gentle, easy to be entreated," subject, as to self-will, not seeking its own satisfaction, but ready to do the will of others, when this is not opposed to that of God. Then the activity of good unfolds itself in the heart; it is "full of mercy," and free from selfishness, because happy in God; feeling the misery of others, it produces the good fruits that flow from such sympathy. It is not disposed to strive, nor to find faults, defects, and failure in others or in their work, neither to criticize nor judge as though superior and capable of doing better. It walks, moreover, in simplicity and integrity of heart, not seeking the approbation of men, nor to appear anything but what it really is; it thinks not of itself, but simply of doing the will of God, and of pleasing others as its own greatest pleasure.
Such is the lovely character of divine wisdom. It is well to remark how James always seeks to have self-will in the place of silence, so that it may be capable of doing that of God, and of manifesting the character that partakes of the divine nature-the character of Christ, God manifest in the flesh. He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him who had sent Him; and always submitted even to injustice and wrongs, doing good, and walking in quietness and in love. To do good, to suffer, and to have patience, is, says Peter, acceptable to God. Then love is free when self is dead. It walks in peace, and makes peace, and " the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." Thus I understand these few words. " Blessed are the peacemakers (the procurers of peace) for they shall be called the sons of God." It is the reproduction of the peace and love of God in human walk, as those do in whom Christ is manifested here below.