Tag Archives: James

The Untamed Tongue

 

In the book of Job, there’s a sub-current theme that has largely gone unnoticed but deserves a closer look.  This theme is developed around the use of words and speech throughout the book, so much so that 22.5% of the Hebrew found in the book is related to key terms for speech.  For comparison, the book of Isaiah uses these same key terms 22.7% of the time, while Deuteronomy and Proverbs are 34.2% and 8.7% respectively. (see Barrick, William, “Messianic Implications in Elihu’s ‘Mediator Speech'”)

While the principal speakers of the book of Job – Bildad, Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, the Narrator, Zophar, and the Almighty God – all use or make reference to words or speeches, by far and away the majority is by Job himself (Note that Satan, Job’s servants, and Job’s wife do not make use of these words).  This should be unsurprising for at least the basic reason that Job is the central figure and does the majority of the speaking, however, the larger meaning likely has more to do with the overall interpretation and understanding of the book as a whole, namely that even righteous Job cannot tame the tongue.

While we are told early on in the book that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”, it is by his own admission that his tongue has tripped him up with respect to speaking about his affliction, its divine purpose and meaning, and more importantly, questioning the very character of God, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3  

In chapter 4, during the speech of Eliphaz, he reminds Job that in the past, his “words have upheld him who was stumbling” yet as the affliction wears on and indwelling sin continues to be stirred up, Job’s words are unable to be restrained. This affliction, brought about by the hand of God, served to stir up settled sin in the heart of Job, out of which the overflow spilled to his words.

In the Book of James, which some have argued (rightly) is a New Testament commentary on the Book of Job, the Apostle draws the readers attention to the dangers of the untamed tongue, first by way of introduction in chapter 1 and then by way of exposition of this intro in chapter 3. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that James has Job in mind when he mentions this section, particularly as he describes mankind’s ability to tame all sorts of creatures, but not the tongue, For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8  This should especially call to mind the references to the creation of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, that Yahweh uses in His response to Job in chapters 38-41.

Commenting on this verse in James, Puritan Thomas Manton writes, 

The tongue is barely subdued for any good use.  And in this life God does not give absolute grace to avoid every idle word.  This refutes the idea of the power of free will alone; we cannot tame one part of the body.  Consider the offenses of the tongue and you will see that you must walk humbly with God. (CCC on James, pg. 195)

With Job, we are given evidence and insight into the life of a truly righteous man who reveals that in the midst affliction, even he is unable to tame the unruly tongue that speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).  Job fell victim to the trappings of the “last word” in an argument and looseness of his words toward Almighty God.  If Job fails in with regard to the untamable tongue, what hope is there for us?

Turning again to Manton we get sound counsel in this regard,

Though we have lost our power, God must not lose his right.  Weakness does not exempt us from duty; we must bridle the tongue, though we cannot do this ourselves.

Even if we cannot bridle it, God can.  The horse does not tame himself, nor the camel himself; man tames the beast, and God tames man.

He then offers two methods for the duty of taming the tongue

  1. Come before God humbly; bewail the depravity of your nature,  manifested in this uncontrolled part of the body.

  2. Come earnestly.

Finally, we may gain superior wisdom from the pen of the divinely inspired Apostle James who writes that we should, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  James 1:19

The example of Job and the exhortation from James stand as stark witnesses that the tongue is an untamable viper.  Nevertheless, let us labor in this duty; let us mourn when we fail; let us extend grace to those whose tongues speak with liberality; and let us follow the example of our Lord, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23

The Taming of the Tongue

 

In the book of James, chapter 3, the author begins a penetrating discourse on the most deceptively wicked member of the human body, the tongue.  While in the original letter there were no chapter breaks or verse numbers, it’s interesting that most all Bibles would begin chapter 3 with, “Not many  of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  Following in context, James builds his argument against the tongue.  In the broader context, it would not be difficult to make the argument that teachers and preachers should be especially on guard with their tongue since words have meaning and consequence and as such they must be extremely careful not to spread false doctrine or knowledge of who God really is.  But it would seem here that James has a more general audience in mind, namely everyone, because this passage so greatly details the problem that each of us have in taming the tongue.

In verse 3, James begins his discussion by using several analogies to describe the tongue.  First is the bridle of a horse as he states ,”If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.”  The bit, as part of the bridle equipment of the horse, is essentially a mouthpiece used to control the horse.  In essence you have on average nearly a half-ton animal being controlled by a small piece of metal placed in their mouth.  Figuratively speaking, James is equating this to the tongue, in that it directs the whole body.  If we have control of the tongue, then we control the rest of ourselves.  Sounds easy enough right?  I mean if an animal nearly 5 times the size of a human can be controlled via the mouth, surely we can too right?

In verse 4, he continues with another analogy this time that of a ship’s rudder, “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.”  Again, note James’ contrast of a large object managed by a smaller, seemingly inferior object.  It would seem then that since a large ship is controlled by such a small rudder at the hand of the captain, that we as people should be able to control our tongues and likewise our own bodies.  But James is methodically building his argument against the easiness of that idea.

The author pulls together his analogies by bringing the focus to the tongue in verse 5, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  This verse isn’t a direct assault against the pride of man in boasting so much as it is a description of the tongues “piloting” abilities, much like the horse’s bit and ship’s rudder.  But in the second part of verse 5 we can see a change in direction from analogous descriptions of the tongue to the damaging effects of the untamed tongue.

“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. 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 3:5-12

Let’s summarize how James describes the tongue: 

  • A fire
  • A world of unrighteousness
  • A stain to the whole body
  • Source of fire
  • Set on fire by hell
  • A restless evil
  •  Full of deadly poison
  • Used for cursing people

This is a deeply penetrating list and should convict each of us about the things we say, the carelessness of our words, and how we speak to others.  Think about it, gossip, rumors, and lies spread like a fire.  Even if untrue they have potential to do serious harm to another person’s character or reputation.  Sarcasm, backbiting, malicious words, belittling jokes can do serious damage to another person.  Think it can’t?  Consider the rampant online bullying that has caused teens to act out in violence or to harm themselves.  Our words matter.  Coarse or perverse talk, foul-language, name calling, are more examples of the tongue’s wickedness (Ephesians 5:4).  All of these things and so much more are evidences of the heart, as Jesus tells us, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34b

The Apostle Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  This should be the goal for each of us, to speak words that edify and build one another up, rather than corrupting talk that destroys and tears down.   But if James’ argument from verse 8 above is true, and it is, how can we possibly control our tongues and offer only good words of encouragement rather than words of destruction?

I offer 3 solutions, which I am in great need of as well:

  1. Renew your mind.  As believers, we are repeatedly reminded in the Bible to renew our minds (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10, Philippians 4:8).  This comes by way of filling our minds with the things of God, i.e. His Word and prayer, while reducing, even eliminating, worldly influences to our mind, i.e. unwholesome movies/music/conversations.  Truly input = output.  In doing this surely we will eliminate much of the damage caused by careless words, by lessening their frequency of use.
  2. Filter your speech.  Many times, as I know I’m severely guilty, we offer up sarcasm for a quick laugh, or unintentionally hurtful comments for the sake of humor.  This really spills over from pride, or in a more obvious way the desire for the approval of man.  Everyone wants to be liked and often we think that through quick wit or sarcasm this develops a likeable characteristic at far too often the expense of others.  If we just stopped to realize that by filtering our speech and allowing words of encouragement and edification to flow freely it would garner more respect from people.  James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  Slow to speak.  In other words, think before you speak.    
  3. Apologize often.  More often than not, a hurtful word just “slips out”.  Maybe it is the tone or the context in which something is said and perhaps even no true harm was meant.  But in the end the damage has been done. In these cases, apologize, quickly yet sincerely.  Genuinely ask forgiveness and grow from it.  Luke 17:3-4 says “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to  you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”   Here we see repentance and forgiveness working together within a brotherly/sisterly relationship.  Sometimes we need the wrong brought to our face in order to recognize it.  Other times, we recognize it ourselves and apologize.  Either way, reconciliation is important to maintaining the relationship (Matthew 5:24).

Our speech, i.e. tongues, have such a great potential to glorify God by praising Him, sharing His glorious Gospel with unbelievers, and teaching and edifying fellow believers.  But it also has such great potential to destroy or cause serious damage, hurt or harm to not only others, but to ourselves as well.  I know personally, I need God to work in my heart such that my tongue comes increasingly under control.  Surely I am not alone in this.  Diligently seek the Lord for His help and choose your words wisely and carefully.  Renew your mind with the things of God, filter your speech by being slow to speak, and apologize sincerely when those occasional discouraging or hurtful words come out.

Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

 

Examine Yourselves

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” II Corinthians 13:5 ESV

The words of the Apostle Paul ring loud and clear, “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.”  What does that mean to us today?  Why should self-professing Christians need to test themselves to see if they are actually saved?  Have you ever followed Paul’s instructions and examined you faith?  If you read the post from December LINK there was some alarming survey data results from self-professing Christians, which revealed that many were not holding to a biblical worldview and less than 1/3 recognize absolute moral truth.  With so many people claiming Christ, yet living worldly lives with no concept of Biblical living, it’s therefore vital to heed the words of Paul and examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.

 When we hear someone say they have faith in Jesus, we need to understand what this means.  This saving faith means that despite all the sin and deplorable deeds in a person’s life, they are repenting and turning away from those sins and looking to Jesus Christ, trusting in Him for forgiveness of those sins.  Trusting in Him as the living Son of God who came to earth as a man, took their sins with Him to the cross.  Here at Calvary, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice in atoning for our sins by taking all of God’s wrath on Himself as payment for those sins with His life, yet just as He laid His life down willingly, He took it back up and raised Himself from the dead and with that giving all those who believe on Him, newness of life and hope of eternal salvation with Him.  Faith is NOT merely believing that Jesus lived at one time, that He was a good moral man or great teacher.  It does NOT mean that you simply recognize that He died on the cross, or that you believe He rose again.  There is a huge difference in recognizing that something happened and placing your faith in Jesus.  Don’t dismiss this.  Do you realize how many non-believers there were who saw Jesus die on the cross, yet didn’t put their faith in Him?  Do you realize that Satan himself knows that Jesus died on the cross?  There’s a difference.  Examine yourself today friend.

In the book of James we are given examples of 3 different kinds of faith.  For our test today, we’ll go through testing our own faith against them.  The first example is DEAD FAITH from James 2:17, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  James here is assuming that a person has faith, but he is asserting that without works that faith is dead.  The typical western evangelical response to this passage is to object and say, “Hey this is pointing toward ‘works-based salvation’.  The Bible clearly states all I need is faith, no works.”  This is probably one of the biggest misunderstandings in today’s church.  James is not saying that you can or should do things in order to get saved or stay saved, but he is saying that works, or righteous deeds, are evidence of salvation, true saving faith.  Without that evidence, it’s dead faith.  Remember the parable of the sower from Matthew 13?  The seed that fell on the rocky soil received it with joy (Matthew 13:20) and immediately sprang up!  They made a declaration of faith, yet because there was no root in true faith, the seedling withered and died when things got tough.  Consider the words of Jesus from John 15:5-6, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  Those who abide in Jesus, who put their faith in Him, who treasure Him above everything else will bear fruit, those who do not, have dead faith like the withering branch.  Examine yourself, are you bearing fruit?  Do you desire to bear fruit for Jesus?

The second example is DEMON FAITH found in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!”  Just like we mentioned earlier, even Satan believes in God.  Even demons know that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross, they too know that He rose again.  But they have one-upped the “dead faith-ers” because they have fear of God.  In Matthew 8:28-30 Jesus confronts two demon-possessed men who cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”  They then begged Jesus to cast them into a herd of swine.  Do you see their faith?  They knew who Jesus was and recognized His power and authority, yet they feared He would torment them and begged Him to just cast them into swine.  So demon faith is able recognize and recite orthodox Christian beliefs of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus and even have fear of His sovereign power, yet those of this kind of faith are no more saved than the demons.  It’s not enough to know the facts or to be able to recite some truths.  Those with demon faith, like false prophets, teachers, and believers, appear genuine because they know the truth, but are not of the truth.  Jesus is quick to warn us of this kind, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20 Dead faith produces no fruit, withers and is thrown into the fire.  Demon faith fears God, but produces bad fruit and is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Examine yourselves.

The third example of faith is USELESS FAITH found in James 2:20 ESV, “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”  It’s important to note here that some versions of the Bible imply that James is reiterating dead faith, but the ESV makes the distinction between dead faith and useless faith.  In verse 17 James uses the Greek word nekros which literally means dead, lifeless.  Here in verse 20 he uses the Greek word argos, which means “free from labor, at leisure, lazy, shunning the labor which one ought to perform; idle, slow, and barren.”  We’ve defined what dead faith looks like, in that it bears no fruit.  Useless faith, which likewise bears no fruit, is the category where the majority of “worldly” self-professing Christians would be identified.  Each would certainly disagree to having dead faith, despite the lack of evidence by fruit and no doubt very few would confess to having demon faith or empty theology or doctrine, yet the large majority of self-professing Christians fall into the category of useless faith, also known as “lukewarm”.  Just look at the definition of the word James uses: at leisure, lazy, idle, and slow.  At leisure implies worldliness, self-centeredness, concerned with the pleasures of life, luxury, free time, entertainment, entitlement, freedoms, rights, anything and everything that has absolutely nothing to do with advancing the Kingdom of God.  Yet just like the other two examples of faith, Jesus is very specific with regard to those who have a useless, lukewarm faith, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.'” Revelation 3:15-16  Dead faith, demon faith, useless faith. Withered, cut-down, and spit out.  Examine yourselves.

In reading through James, we’ve seen 3 solid biblical examples of fruitless, undesirable, damnable faith.  We could easily surmise that true, saving faith would simply be the opposite characteristics, but we need to also test ourselves versus the good qualities.  To do this, we could stay in the book of James and find ample characteristics to test against, but let’s instead look at the Apostle John’s first epistle.  “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” I John 2:3-5a Our first point is Obedience.  The disciple whom Jesus loved states that our evidence of saving faith is keeping the commandments of God, obedience.  Do you love what God loves and hate what God hates?  Do you delight in His law (Psalm 1:2) or do you feel it a burden that infringes upon your freedoms and happiness?  Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Loving Jesus manifests itself through obedience, meaning it is the fruit or evidence of our faith in Him.  John confirms this later in his epistle, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.” (I John 5:3) Obedience. 

Our second quality of saving faith is becoming a Follower of Christ.  John states, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I John 2:5b-6 This path is hard and it leads to a gate that is narrow (Matthew 7:14), but Jesus commands it of all those who claim Him as their Lord and He began with His disciples, “And He said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  Even after spending day after day following Jesus, the Apostle Peter asked, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”  The rewards are not only for His disciples, but also for those who follow Jesus to this day.  Are you following Jesus Christ or something else?  Anything else is an idol. 

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (I John 2:9-10)  The third test of saving faith that John provides is Brotherly Love.  If you are in the light, meaning with Christ, then brotherly love is evidence.  This kind of love is contrasted a few verses later by worldly love, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world.”  (I John 2:15-16)  Do you love fellowshipping with your brother’s in Christ, sharing and rejoicing over His Word and His work in your lives?  Or would you rather commune with those who love the world spending their time on the fleeting pleasures of life?  Jesus in speaking with the 12 states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What is the evidence of being a disciple of Christ?  Brotherly love.

I realize no one likes to test or question anything these days, but it’s necessary because there are so many who identify themselves as Christian, yet lack a love for Jesus and therefore make no attempt to obey His commandments.  They pursue the world and her pleasures rather than following Christ and they have no concern for those brothers who have professed Christ as Lord and Savior.  We’re not talking about living a life of perfection to the letter of the law, but we are talking about loving the Lord with all your heart, making Him your treasure in life, and not only realizing you are a sinner, but hating sin and making war on it in your life.  The fruits that we speak of will not save you, nor will they keep you saved, but they do provide evidence of a genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Examine yourself, as the Apostle Paul says, but know that with the testing that Paul speaks of, the greatest assurance of faith in Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit that resides inside of you if Jesus is your Savior.  His presence bears witness to your salvation Romans 8:16.  He works in your life to regenerate you and make you a new creature in Christ, He guides you in truth, He is continuing the good work in you that began with your justification by faith in Christ, and He will lead you in sanctification until you reach holiness on your day of glorification in heaven. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Romans 8:9  

We can summarize with the following quote, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Examine yourselves.

Repent! Believe! Follow Christ and make Him your Treasure!