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Message Text

James 3:1-12 ESV

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.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.

Message Notes

Last week we looked at James’ argument that faith should produce good works, and a faith that doesn’t produce anything might not be faith at all. We compared it to what Paul wrote to the Ephesian church and realized they were actually more in line than it first appeared.

James is now picking up a topic that he has mentioned already: Taming the tongue. In the first chapter of James, we find that he is already dealing with what we say and taming our tongues. You can go back and listen or watch the second sermon in this series and get a feel for what James was saying in chapter 1. In the start of chapter 3, James digs in to how the church talks.

Not many should do it.

v1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Many in the church wanted to rise to the level of teacher for the prestige and position, but James warned against it because there was a responsibility that went with teaching. He was convinced by what they said that they were not ready to navigate the responsibility.

1Timothy 1:5-7 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

We should be aware of the weight of having followers.

To be a teacher, it requires 2 things: Someone teaching and someone listening. In James’ day, those 2 people would be together - one listening and one talking. That’s why he focuses on the tongue and what comes from it.

The problem with today is our thumbs are just as dangerous as our tongues. There is no weight associated with those following you because you never see them. They are digital followers that never seem to carry any weight. We can say whatever we want and never seem to feel the brunt of the consequences. James said if you are going to act like you know what you are talking about and desire people to listen, there is a judgement with greater strictness. You will be critiqued by a higher standard.

Little things can affect big things.

James gives two examples of how small things control big things: bits in horses’ mouths and rudders on ships. Something small and seemingly insignificant can steer a large animal or a huge ship. Equally, the tongue is relatively small compared to other body parts but can overwhelm them all by its power. You could do something great with your hand and then ruin it with your tongue.

James is measuring discipline in a person by first listening to what they say. If they can control what they say, they can control everything else. We have to remember why this is important. James is talking about teachers and students. It only takes a small word or sentence to ruin or destroy.

Proverbs 15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

The responsibility of teaching is knowing that one word can change a student’s course. You literally have the power of life and death. James compares this to a small fire setting a forest on fire. It is always started by a spark.

James compares an undisciplined tongue with a fire from hell:

1. It’s destructive.

2. It’s fast moving.

3. It’s all consuming.

4. It’s inconsiderate.

James is making the case that we must consider the ramifications of what we say and how it effects others.

Paul instructs us to put the value of others above ourselves:

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

You can’t do it by yourself.

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 illustrates that humans can tame any animal on the planet without any help but no one left to themselves has ever been disciplined enough not to sin with their mouth. He then gives examples that he is seeing in the church.

9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

The next statements are designed to deal with where the words are originating from:

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.

When we cannot discipline what comes out of us to other people, we are revealing that we are drawing from the wrong source. If the Holy Spirit is our source, then what comes out will be pure. You cannot get fresh water and salt water from the same spring.

Our tongues and thumbs give us away. Sooner or later the source is revealed.

Matthew 12:33 - 37 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Jesus had already pointed this out with the Pharisees. If good is going to consistently come from us, the source has to be good. You need the Holy Spirit.

Connect Group Discussion Questions

​1. What stood out to you most from this week’s message?

2. Why is a prestigious position so attractive to most people?

3. What is the danger involved when people attain a high position but fail to recognize the responsibility that comes with it?

4. James says that those who become teachers will be judged with grater strictness. How does this compare to our culture’s idea of whether others have the right to judge them?

5. What is an example of a time when something you or someone else said might have seemed insignificant at the time, but turned out to have a big negative impact?

7. When we speak, why is it hard to remember sometimes how it might affect the other person?

8. How can we remember to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and avoid causing damage with our words?

9. What would you like to do differently because of this week’s message?