Thursday, January 18, 2024

2024.01.18 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 3

Read James 3

Questions from the Scripture text: How does James 3:1 address the readers? What does it urge them not to do? Whom does he include among the teachers? What will he and they receive? Why—who stumbles (James 3:2a)? In how many things? But in what thing, specifically, does every imperfect man stumble (verse 2b)? What would he be able to do, if he didn’t stumble in word? What else can be controlled in this manner (James 3:3)? And what else are controlled by what (James 3:4)? What can the tongue do (James 3:5a)? What else can do what great thing (verse 5b)? What else is a fire (James 3:6)? What is it a world of? What does it defile? What does it inflame? By what is it inflamed? What have been tamed by man (James 3:7)? Which man can tame the tongue (James 3:8)? Why not? What great and glorious use was it made and redeemed for (James 3:9a)? But what exactly contrary use do we make of it (verse 9b)? What makes cursing men so evil—in Whose likeness are men made? And what makes it so irrational (James 3:10)? By what analogies does James 3:11-12 further reinforce the irrationality of this? What must these few teachers be (James 3:13)? What shows their wisdom and understanding—what sort of conduct, and works done in what sort of wisdom? What two things in the heart are contrary to good conduct and the lowliness of wisdom (James 3:14)? What is a man doing, if he has these in his heart but is a teacher anyway? What does this indicate about his “wisdom”—from where does it NOT descend (James 3:15)? What three things characterize it? What do envy and self-seeking produce (James 3:16)? What kind of wisdom does James 3:17 describe? What first characterizes it? What second? What third? What fourth? Of what two things is it full? What two things do not characterize it? Of what fruit, especially, does the wisdom that is from above sow the seeds (James 3:18)? In what manner is the fruit of righteousness sown? What do those who plant it make?

Since the Lord’s commandments about the Lord’s works are so important, who should teach them? James 3 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these eighteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that teachers in Christ’s church should be men who respect the power of the tongue, who are committed to praise and blessing together, and whose conduct exhibits the humility and gentleness that correspond to wisdom and righteousness from God.

Men who respect the power of the tongue, James 3:1–8. It may be appealing to be a teacher (particularly an elder, a pastor-teacher), but as James well knows, they will be greatly (mega) judged (James 3:1). There is a real danger of someone with an envious, self-seeking heart (James 3:14) ending up as a teacher in the church. It is clear that this is not saying the teaching ministry is for those who do not stumble at all, or even who only stumble a little, because such do not exist (James 3:2a). 

From James 3:2-5, the passage emphasizes just how powerful the tongue is. And from James 3:6-8, the passage emphasizes just how evil the tongue is. A teacher must not be someone who underestimates the power of the tongue or its potential for wickedness. He does not pretend that he is past the risk of doing such damage. He takes the necessity for self-discipline and sanctification with utmost seriousness.

Men who are committed to praise and blessing together, James 3:9-12. Some self-deceived teachers are not so bold as to curse God. They try to keep up appearances, and perhaps they even think that they are good because they bless God (James 3:9a). Note that they even call Him Father! But watch out for a man (especially yourself) who lets himself speak of others in a reviling, despising way (verse 9b). Such a man genuinely disregards the likeness of God (end of verse 9).  

James 3:10-12 hold up to us a mirror in which we ought to see the dreadful inconsistency between reviling men and praising God. Indeed, one who mocks at others should not think that his praise is genuine or genuinely received. But we are made for the praise of God, so let us do so! And if we do so, let us also use our mouths in a way that respects God’s image in them and seeks always to bless them.

Men whose conduct exhibits the humility and gentleness that correspond to wisdom and righteousness from God, James 3:13-18. The language of “wise and understanding” in James 3:13 brings us back to the subject at hand for this entire chapter: qualifications of teachers. What does “good conduct” “show”? “The meekness of wisdom” (verse 13). Lowliness, humility. Good conduct is the opposite of bitterness, envy, and especially self-seeking. 

The way that this section of the passage carefully distinguishes between wisdom from above and earthly wisdom should alert us to the fact that they can be difficult to distinguish from one another. This is very important, if we are to know whether we should be a teacher, or whether we should have someone as our teacher. If a man comes to a wrong conclusion about himself, James 3:14 says that he “boasts and lies against the truth”—very dangerous in light of James 3:1!

If a man has heavenly wisdom, he will be meek (James 3:13), pure (innocent, holy, James 3:17), peaceable (verse 17), gentle (gracious, kind, verse 17), willing to yield (compliant, persuadable, teachable, verse 17), full of mercy (verse 17) and good fruits (verse 17). The last two items in verse 17 take the whole of chapter 2 under the word translated “without partiality” and the whole of chapter three under the word translated “without hypocrisy.” This is a lowly man who treats the smallest and poorest as well as the greatest, and who is the same before God on the inside as he is to men on the outside. 

Earthly wisdom may sound like heavenly wisdom—have many things in common with it. BUT it comes from a person who is self-seeking and ungentle, given to speaking against others. His wisdom comes from himself (sensual, James 3:15) and even from demons (verse 15). It is deeply sobering to consider that a man could be a teacher in the church, think himself wise, be thought of as wise, and his counsel be demonic.

How will we know that a man’s teaching is a casting of the seed that will bear the fruit of righteousness (James 3:18a)? Because he is a peacemaking man, who speaks in peace (verse 18b). Men are drawn, sometimes, to teachers who are brash and ungentle, who make habit of denouncing and despising others. Men even think it honoring to God and helpful to others to speak in this way. So, let us be instructed by this chapter and let it guide us about what we believe or teach as wisdom.

How are you showing a respect for the power of the tongue? How has your use of the tongue demonstrated that it was made for the praising of God? What is your speech to others like? What is your speech about others like? How does your life demonstrate humility, gentleness, and peace?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us! For, we all stumble in many ways. We neither control our tongues, nor our whole bodies. Forgive us, for we have been hypocrites who bless You in one moment and then revile Your image-bearers the next. Forgive us, for we have been envious and self-seeking, while thinking ourselves wise and understanding. Forgive us, for we have not been impartial, and we have been hypocrites. We thank you that Christ has been without partiality and without hypocrisy. Indeed, He did not stumble in a single thing. So, grant that we might be forgiven, and sanctified, for His sake, through Whom also we ask it, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent Who Will Reside?” or TPH461 “Blessed Are the Sons of God” 

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