James Lesson 6: Faith seen by Production of Self Control (3: 1-18)

James:Tests of a Living Faith

Faith Tested by Production of Self Control (3:1-18)

By Steve Budd

South Suburban Evangelical Free Church

Section Summary

The genuineness of a person’s faith will inevitably be demonstrated by his speech. The tongue only produces what it is told to produce by the heart (mind, will, emotions), where sin originates.


I. The Significance of a Controlled Tongue (1-2)

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Be not (ginesthe me): The negative with the imperative suggests that there was a movement on the part of “many” (polloi) to pose as teachers that had to be stopped.

James begins this section on self-control by addressing those who present themselves as teachers of God’s Word. Some commentators believe the entire chapter is addressing just teachers, and while it certainly true that teachers should exemplify self-control, it is not untrue that the principle of self-control should apply to all believers. It seems most appropriate to interpret these admonitions as directed first to teachers, then to every believer. The command is to stop becoming teachers in such large numbers (“many of you”), and is not likely referring to heretics or false teachers, but to those who tend to excessive talkativeness, reckless or thoughtless statements, frothy rhetoric, or misleading assessments. To emphasize the point that increased influence demands increased responsibility, James says that those who teach God’s Word will be held to a stricter judgement (i.e. judgement of rewards for believers, not eternal damnation). Paul writes to Timothy about such people when he says, “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:5-7). To guard against this danger, local churches must test and validate their teachers, much like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Not only should a teacher have the inward calling to teach God’s Word, his ministry must be validated by mature believers.

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

Stumble (ptaio): Does not necessarily suggest a fatal fall. “It denotes a failure that arrests our progress in our daily walk, but after recovery, there is continued progress along the road.” Lenski

Stumbling is extensive, as noted by the phrases “we all” and “in many ways”. James is not making excuses for stumbling in our Christian walk; we are all personally to blame for the many ways in which we stumble. He is making the point that if a man’s tongue is controlled, his body will also be under control. “Perfect” can mean either perfection or maturity, and here it is obvious that it means maturity. James says that Christian maturity is demonstrated by what comes out of our mouths.

II. The Need for a Controlled Tongue (3-6)

Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

James illustrates the principle he has just stated in verse 2 by comparing the horse/bridle/rider and ship/rudder/pilot. The horse/ship is large, but can be controlled by very small parts (bridle/rudder) to go whatever direction the rider/pilot wishes. He then talks of the tongue being small, yet boasting great things. As we contemplate this truth, we should remember that our tongue is guiding our life. To emphasize the danger of an uncontrolled tongue, James uses another illustration; forest and fire. The words “set aflame” point to the small spark or kindling that is needed to start the fire, not the all-consuming inferno that results. The spark of an uncontrolled tongue will be used by Satan and his hosts to spread the fire of Hell. Stronger language could not be used to drive this truth home.

III. The Untameableness of the Tongue (7-8)   (editor’s comments: is Untameableness a word???)

For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

In emphasizing the untameable nature of the tongue, James points out that man is able to tame every beast, but he cannot tame his tongue. Man has been given dominion over the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:28-30), but cannot gain dominion over his tongue. It is like an alcoholic police officer that can restrain drunk drivers, but cannot contain his own alcoholism. Apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is no hope for a man to control his tongue. Eventually, the “restless evil and deadly poison” will reveal itself

IV. The Inconsistencies of the Tongue (9-12)

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

James now shows that an uncontrolled tongue is completely inconsistent for a Christian. He uses the same part to praise God that he uses to dole out personal abuse. The words that are used here indicate that James is not referring to “cussing”, but to personal verbal abuse stemming from temper. It is inconsistent for a Christian to spew such abuse, thus if one sees this in their life, they may not be a true Christian. True faith will produce self-control.

V. The Wisdom of Controlling the Tongue

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

True faith expresses itself in gentleness that comes from godly wisdom. This is exactly what Paul describes as “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. False (dead) faith expresses itself in a self-centered and arrogant way, also described by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21. James has now set forth yet another test of a living faith; production of self-control. I trust we have assessed ourselves in light of this truth and have found ourselves in Christ. If we find that we are a Christian who has stumbled, we should humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10).

Next Lesson: James 4:1-12 Faith Tested by Reaction to Selfish Strife

God Bless you

Steve Budd


About waynem

As a Minnesota based photographer and artist I have been greatly influenced by the Upper Midwest. I focus my skills and energies on portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, architectural and fine art work. My best work comes from images first painted in my mind. I mull over a prospective image for weeks or months, seeing it from different angles and perspectives, then finally deciding what to capture. The result is images that deeply touch people's emotions and powerfully evoke memories and dreams. My images are used commercially by companies and organizations ranging from Financial Services firms, mom and pop Ice Cream shops and The Basilica of St Mary to communicate their shared vision and values. Book and magazine publishers have featured my images on their covers. My photographs also grace and enhance the decor of many fine homes.
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