Wisdom That Works Through Words (James 3)
This is your worship at home guide for Sunday 5/17/20. It's part of the "Journeying through James" series for May (see the post about this series here).
You can consider lighting a candle to set the environment for worship and to symbolize God's presence with you.
Families with little kids: There are questions in here to help your kids engage. You may need to reword content, depending on the age of your kids.
How we treat others measures whether our faith is dead or alive. The way we relate to people is a significant part of our Christian life. In chapter 2, James talked about how we relate to the rich and poor, warning us not to give special treatment to rich people because they are rich. If we have believe in God who doesn't who favoritism, then we need to love others without favoritism.
Our relationships matter a lot. How we relate to others shows what kind of relationship we have with God. The quality of our faith in God is made visible by our actions toward others.
So take a moment to assess your relationships. Think about the relationship you have with your parents, kids, siblings, grandkids, coworkers, friends, relatives, neighbors, people in our church, etc.
- How would you describe your relationships with other people?
- How would you describe your interactions with others?
- Is there a lot of peace or a lot of hostility and tension?
James is going to show us today that if we are experiencing a lot of hostility and tension in our relationships that it comes down to one very small part of us that is exercising a big influence over our lives.
The Wild, Untamed Tongue (James 3:1-12)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 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. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 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. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:1-5a)
James doesn't make it clear why he addresses those who may want to become teachers of God's Word here. There were perhaps some in the Christian churches to whom James was writing who were aspiring to become teachers and he takes this opportunity to give them a warning as a way of introducing his next topic. James wants to address the topic of how we talk to and about one another, and teachers do a lot of talking.
James acknowledges in verse 2 that every disciple of Jesus stumbles in many ways, including in what we say. If someone didn't stumble, they'd be considered perfect, already fully mature and complete, which is God's goal is for us (see James 1:4). A mature, perfect, or complete person is able to bridle or control their whole body.
Then James uses two illustrations of a small object that has great influence over a large object. A bit in a horses' mouth is small, but can control that huge animal. The rudder of a ship is small, but can control that huge ship. In the same way, the tongue is a small member of the body, but it has great control over our lives.
Consider the relationships you reflected on earlier. What control has the tongue had over those relationships? What words have you said that you shouldn't have? What words have you not said that you should have? And vice versa?
James goes onto a third illustration:
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 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. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:5b-8)
The first two illustrations were how a small object has a great influence. This third illustration is about a small object having great desctructive power. A small spark sets a whole forest ablaze. I remember in school learning about Smokey the Bear and hearing stories about one cigaratte being thrown into a dry forest or a small campfire not being put our properly and it turning into a huge forest fire. That's the picture here. The tongue is small but can bring great destruction to our lives.
James points out an issue of integrity and hypocrisy in verse 9:
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:9-12)
How can we use our tongue to both worship God while cursing people made in his image? That's James' question. He reveals in verses 11-12 that this problem comes from deep within us. This is a heart problem. It's flowing out of us like a spring. It's growing naturally from us like fruit on a tree. But he also said in verse 8 that no human being can tame the tongue. So what are you saying James?! Are we stuck? It sounds a bit hopeless. But like his brother, Jesus, often did with people, James has led us to the end of ourselves. He has led us to look beyond ourselves. He has led us to stop looking to ourselves for the resources to change and to start looking to God. Jesus said it best:
"With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)
James shows us who can tame our wild tongue so it doesn't destroy our lives.
Wisdom from Above (James 3:13-18)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
Two types of wisdom are set in contrast to one another in these verses that are named in verse 15: wisdom from above and earthly wisdom.
- How is wisdom from above described?
- What does wisdom from above produce in someone's life?
- How is earthly wisdom described?
- What does earthly wisdom produce in someone's life?
James begins this section with a question: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" Imagine he was standing in front of a group of people and asking for people to raise their hands if they think they are wise and understanding. With the people's hands raised who think they are wise and understanding, he gives an instruction: "By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." In other words, if you think you are wise, then make your wisdom visible by your actions in the meekness of wisdom.
Let's focus on this phrase: "in the the meekness of wisdom." A good translation to clarify it would be "in the meekness that comes from wisdom." A wise person has learned meekness and they are to take action in the meekness that comes from wisdom. But what is meekness?
Jesus uses this word to describe himself in Matthew 11:29: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) It's translated as "gentle" here but it's the same word. Jesus also uses it in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). We also saw it in Colossians 3 several weeks ago: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience..." (Colossians 3:12).
"Meek" isn't a word we use very much today. One definition of the Greek word used here is "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance." Think of Jesus who describes himself as meek. He is the most important person in the universe, but he is not walking around making demands that people serve him and meet his every wish.
I've heard some people describe meekness as strength or power under control. I think of those videos you sometimes see of a huge dog playing with a super small kitten. That huge dog could crush that kitten. But they are gentle. They have their strength and power under control so they can act with great gentleness. They are meek.
Jesus is strong and powerful and important. But he has no need to crush people with his might. He doesn't have to walk around with bravado. He has power and strength under control, thus he's gentle. He doesn't walk around with a sense of his own self-importance. Think of a gentle giant.
The opposite is harsh and destructive, demanding and self-seeking. Another definition of meekness is "gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others." Think about someone who is impressed with their self-importance. They are not gentle. Someone who is meek is gentle. That's why humility, meekness, and gentleness are almost synonyms. They go together.
This is where wisdom comes in. The need for wisdom was first introduced to us in chapter 1. James said: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). Remember that wisdom starts with a proper perspective about who God is and who we are which leads to proper action. This wisdom that God gives where we see him for who he truly is and we see ourselves in light of that is the solution to taming our tongue.
When you have wisdom from above, you are defined by God and that determines your actions. You don't gain your sense of worth, significance, or value from your performance or others' opinions of you but from God and that makes all the difference in how you see and treat others.
When you have wisdom from above, you have a new outlook on other people. They are no longer enemies or competitors or obstacles that you have to defeat, cut down, or overcome with your words. You are no longer filled with jealousy and selfish ambition (verse 16) because you have allowed God to tell you who you are. You don't need to jealously desire what other people have or use every opportunity to get ahead of them. You aren't biting and clawing and scratching your way for a higher position. You aren't pushing others down or stepping on them to get ahead. You aren't squabbling and scrambling for praise and positions. You aren't constantly uptight about whether others think too little of you or too much of someone else.
You have come to Jesus. You are no longer weary and burdened. You are at rest. You are at ease. You are light. Why? Because you are defined by God. Others don't define you. So now your relationship with God is what determines how you talk to others and how you talk about them. You aren't trying to get something from other people and you aren't trying to get ahead of them. You have no agenda with them. You have what you need in God. You are no longer trying to advance yourself or your kingdom. When your self-importance or worth or value or significance or security are not at stake, then envy and selfish-ambition melt away.
The tongue is only one small part of a person, but it has a disproportionate affect on a person’s life. It has control beyond its size and does damage beyond its size. James tells us that we will never get our tongues under control unless we look to God and let ourselves be defined by him so that our actions are determined by him.
What does he say will be the result in our lives? Peace, gentleness, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (verse 17). Lastly he says in verse 18: A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. In 1:20, James said that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Here he tells us what does produce righteousness: peace-making. Sowing peace grows righteousness.
God is the ultimate peacemaker. There was hostility between us and God. But he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross while we were still hostile toward him and he was hostile toward us. He paid our penalty so that all hostility could be removed. If you have trusted in Jesus, there is no longer hostility between you and God. There is no longer tension and strife. There is only peace. You have been reconciled. God calls us to sow that same kind of peace in our human relationships. That's why Jesus said:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)
What has the potential to destroy your relationships? What has the potential to destroy your family? What has the potential to destroy our church community? What has the potential to destroy your career? What has the potential to tear someone down and make them feel like they are nothing? Your tongue. It's small, but it has the power to control and destroy like no other part of your body.
But at the same time, God has the power to tame your tongue. It can become a force for good. It can be used to bless, build up, uplift, encourage, and comfort. It can be used to speak the gospel and bring someone from death to life. It can be used to sow peace, not hostility. Your tongue can be used to produce righteousness in the lives of others.
If you have felt like your tongue is wild and untameable, there is hope! If you look back at your life and see the ashes of the fires your tongue has caused, there is hope! Because with God your tongue can be tamed and used to do his good and perfect will.
The driving theme of this letter is: What does true, genuine faith look like in someone's life? Today we saw that:
- Faith in God means we use our words to both bless God and bless his image bearers. Not to bless God then turn around and curse his image bearers.
Some possible responses for today:
- Do you have anyone with whom you lack peace? Do you have a relationship where there is tension and strife?
- How do you talk to them? How do you talk about them?
- Do you envy them? Are you jealous of what they have? What does that lead you to do?
- Do you have selfish ambition that is harming the relationship? What does that lead you to do?
- How would that relationship change if you were defined by God? If you found your identity, security, significance, worth, and value in him?
- Who needs to be blessed by your tongue? How can you use your words this week to bless them?
Worship with others:
As a church, we want to encourage one another every Sunday by worshiping together on WhatsApp. Take a few minutes to post in the Encouragement group on WhatsApp.
Here are some examples of what you could post:
- how God spoke to you through your time of worshiping at home
- a verse that stood out to you
- a song that touched you from the worship playlist
- a truth that God reminded you of that you needed to hear
- what God is teaching you
- a prayer
- thankfulness to God - who he is, what he's done
- and more!
If you haven't heard of The Bible Project, they are great. They make short, animated videos for books of the Bible and themes in the Bible. Here is their video for the book of James.
More in Good News Church Blog
May 31, 2020Living in Light of the End (James 5)
May 23, 2020The Danger of Pride (James 4)
May 19, 2020Perspective and Plan for Our Worship Gatherings - 5.19.20