In an earlier post it seems that I may have hinted at doing another post which would expand upon a particular theme. The post was the one regarding the power and awesomeness of words, language and our ability to communicate. One of the readers email’d me thanking me for the post and saying they looked forward to the one I had hinted at in it.
Now I love feedback of any sort and I encourage you to feedback to me good, bad (maybe not so much of that eh?) or even indifferent comments, but in this instance I was a touch confused, (doesn’t take a lot I know). There I was, I had apparently hinted at doing something else and it had prompted someone to encourage me follow it up. Anyway I scoured the blog and found what I think this kind person was referring too. Buried in the bible study notes download from that blog was a reference to James Chapter 3. A challenging chapter if ever there was one!
To recap, the blog post emphasised the power and importance of language, words and speech. Maybe it is because I have relatively recently started this blog that words, language et al, are in the forefront of my mind. After all the blog would not be possible if I didn’t know English as a language (no rude remarks about my Black Country accent please! (I jest of course)), and if likewise you didn’t know English then our attempts at communicating like this would be made much more difficult.
It’s that aspect of Language that got me thinking about its importance and its relationship to God and voila you have my blog post about the subject. If you have not read it yet, go take a look it really is much more interesting than it sounds.
Anyway I took a look at James Chapter 3, because don’t you find it interesting that God in His infinite wisdom should decide that He was going to inspire the apostle James to pen those words?
Of all the subjects, in all the world, in all of history (that we as mankind have experienced) and in our wisdom that we might have decided are important enough to have a place in God’s written revelation of Himself to us, He chose the subject matter of our tongue! (That sentence is quite a mouthful and there was no pun intended there, I wrote it and had to go back and re-read it so you don’t stand much of a chance).
However, If it is important enough to God to put it in, then it must be important enough for us to take note. Here is the passage in question for your ease of reading:
James 3:1-12 (TNIV)
Taming the Tongue
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings, but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
You know, when I read this again I had one of those wake-up moments. Have you ever had them? I think as Bible believing Christians (is there really any other sort?), I think we should be having those ‘wake-up’ moments on a regular basis.
What do I mean by that?
Well as alluded to in my previous post, the method of God’s chosen communication to us is through His Word! (I’m not precluding any other method of God speaking to us in this statement, it is just that God has revealed His perfect will to us in The Bible). I read parts of it quite regularly, not as regularly as I should by any means but in my Christian walk I must have read The Bible several times over. Sometimes as a deliberate effort “from start to finish”, and almost certainly through the innumerable studies I have undertaken myself and through sermons and seminar events I have attended. Yet it still thrills me when I see some new thing, or God highlights something to me. Oftentimes it is something that I have read probably hundreds of times before, then, one day Wham! ( no not the sickly pop duo from the 1980’s, I mean proper Wham!). Like a bolt out of the blue something new hits you and the only proper reaction is to thank God that He reveals these things.
Ironically I wrote that last paragraph yesterday (that would be Saturday) and in this morning’s service at Church, Pastor Michael was talking about a similar thing as the basis for his sermon. He likewise could not get past the “Luke 22:15 (TNIV)
And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Verse and delivered an excellent and challenging sermon to us.
Anyway I digress, my “wake up” moment from this passage was the opening sentence. here it is:
“James 3:1 (TNIV)
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Have you seen that? Those who presume to be teachers will be judged more strictly. Now James here is not talking about all those wonderful hard working people who teach in our schools and colleges, he is talking, obviously, about teachers of Gods word.
So why this particular warning? Well as I emphasised in my previous post words are powerful. At the risk of repeating myself, in only 11 “God said’s” our material world was created. The Heavens in all their vast array, the planets and our sun, the sky, the hills and mountains, valleys, seas, oceans, lakes, rivers. Vegetation; like trees, grass, flowers, bushes. Animals; like cats, dogs, lions, mighty whales, and of course God’s crowning glory; Mankind. All of it was made through 11 “God said’s”. That is amazing. Well I think it is, what about you?
I also have a theory regarding words combined with music. That the setting of words to music amplifies their force and power. It is why we sing praises to God, it is why the Heavens declare their praises to God in song. Music moves our emotions, that affects our souls and we can have a negative or positive reaction to music and the words that songs contain that can either help or hinder our worship of God. (I will perhaps explore that one in more detail at another time).
So how does that apply to those who presume to be teachers of God’s word? Well Jesus understood the power of speech. He understood that those who teach have a responsibility. See here;
Matthew 18:6 (ESVST)
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Mark 7:6-8 (ESVST)
And he said to them, “ Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘ This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Luke 12:1-3 (ESVST)
In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “ Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
And Paul in writing to the Romans says;
Romans 2:21-22 (ESVST)
you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
I appreciate that we can cause people to sin in many and varied ways, but chiefly we communicate intentions, desires, deceits through language. I think this is why James is so vehement about the tongue. Have you noticed, he recognises that we praise and worship God using our tongue, by speaking, by using words, and that is a good thing to do, but that still does not stop him from using phrases such as:
James 3:6 (ESVST)
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.
James 3:8 (ESVST)
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Strong words indeed. The vehemence in James’ words should give us reason to pause, think, pray.
I exhort you to meditate on his words. Challenge yourself. Pray about what you say. What you say to other people, what you say in your heart, (think of), because even there you are using words and language to formulate ideas, and we all know that God sees even our hearts.
But to those of us who purport to teach have a special warning.
I am sure there are many reasons, including the “millstone” warning given by Jesus. But why does James single out teachers of Gods word for special mention? I believe the main reason relates to hypocrites. Let me explain.
In His earthly ministry Jesus talked a lot about the hypocrites of His day. It would be an understatement to say that He was not best pleased with them. They said one thing and did another. They told, led and exhorted others ‘to do this’, ‘to do that’ and then they themselves went and did exactly what they wanted to do or the opposite of what they had told other people to do. In simple terms God hates hypocrisy in all its forms. It is not honest, it is not truth, it is not good!
I don’t know about you, but I find this challenging.
Am I a hypocrite? Of course I am, after all only human. I sit here typing ‘lessons’ that I think we should listen too and how many times do I then not do the things in them that I am saying we all should do? I honestly do not know the answer to that one but I suspect that the number would be a lot higher than I would like to think. It is a challenge for me. It is a challenge for you. It should be a challenge for all of us all of the time.
Feel encouraged? I would be surprised if you are, because as I finish writing this I am feeling challenged, which is good. But I am also feeling a little despondent and I know where I am going with this, (it a bit like the stand-up comedian who can’t get to the end of his joke because he is laughing so much, his excuse is that he already knows the punch line!) So you might possibly be feeling worse than me at the moment?
Well, can we overcome this tendency towards hypocrisy? I believe we can and James gives us the answer too, and it is already given by the time we get to chapter 3. You see, James teaches us that we should evidence our faith by doing stuff. Good stuff. Helpful stuff. He says:
James 1:22 (ESVST)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Challenging stuff. Do the things that the Bible, Gods word, Gods message, Gods communication to us, tells us to do. Why? Because if you don’t you are only deceiving yourself. Don’t get me wrong it is good to hear Gods word, it is good to listen to Gods word, it is good to read and meditate on Gods word. God knows I need to do more of that. But unless we act upon it we are no better than the hypocrites that Jesus described as white washed tombs!
But better than this, by doing Gods word we are demonstrating Him to a fallen and lost world. A world that is otherwise hurtling towards the very jaws of hell itself, one soul at a time. Let me leave you with another scripture that I believe underpins this, that takes any despondency we might have felt and elevates us into spiritual realms that cause us to move and take action and do things, here it is:
Romans 5:6-11 (ESVST)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (My emphasis).