Possibly the first NT book writtenAuthor: Jesus’ brother, JamesUnbeliever during Gospels, but became a leader in Jerusalem church: Acts 15 & Galatians 1:19Likely due to a resurrection appearance: 1 Corinthians 15:7Not the James who was brother of John and was martyred in Acts 12.
Many discredit James because they perceive a conflict between Paul’s theology:Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.And James’ insistancethat:James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
* Paul: * Justification by faith, not works. Not something you do; not something you earn.* “Works” seems to be a bad word. * James: * Justification leads to holy living. * “Works” are a good thing.If you read Paul, then switch to James it can be confusing. James emphasizes the works that flow out of faith: James 2:24, You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.James 2:17 … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Paul and James are saying the same thing – they’re just using different language. You cannot earn salvation by works; but saving faith does work – it grows towards holiness.
* James states his thesis most clearly in James 2:14Greek has an amazing ability to indicate the expected answer in the question. If this verse had been fully translated we would have said, “That kind of faith can’t save him, can it?” The answer “no” is embedded in the question. * To those who think faith need not affect your conduct – James 2:19In other words, if you believe in God and believe in Jesus but it doesn’t change your life, big deal! You’re no better than the demons. * About Abraham James 2:22 * James 2:24, 26
One way to say it: “The faith that saves is faith alone. But the faith that saves is never alone.” Another way to say it: “I will not work my soul to save. That work, my Lord has done. But I will work like any slave for love of God’s dear Son.Saving faith ALWAYS works. If it doesn’t work, it isn’t faith!This is the basic theological framework for the entire book of James. He uses a lot of illustrations and examples to drive the point home. None of the illustrations are more powerful than his discussion of the tongue. His discussion of the tongue is one example of this basic premise, that a justified life will show itself in a movement towards holiness. And that movement towards holiness includes our tongue.
James introduces the topic of our tongue back in:If someone thinks he is a disciple of Christ but doesn’t bridle his tongue, James says that your heart is deceived and your Christianity is worthless. He goes on to say in chapter 2 if it’s useless, it is in fact dead. But if that weren’t enough James is just warming up for chapter 3 because his main discussion in chapter 3 is about the tongue. I’d like to read the first 12 verses:
The tongue is truly an amazing member of our body. Look at how James describes it! It’s a world of unrighteousness. It’s set on fire by hell. It cannot be tamed. It’s a restless evil full of deadly poison. The tongue is a small fire, but can ignite a great blaze a blaze that destroys forests as well as lives. It stains the whole body. It sets on fire the entire course of life. Wow!
How can the tongue be so powerful? Why such extreme language? Hint in verse 4: “[T]ake ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.Just as the pilot directs the rudder of the ship, so our heart directs our tongue. Tongue is a traitor – a snitch because the tongue proclaims to everyone who will listen what we really think; what we really believe. It tells the world what’s going on inside our hearts. Verse 12: James says when you see olives you know they can’t come from a fig tree; figs can’t come from grapevine; fresh water can’t come from a salt pond. Jesus: “by their fruit you will know them.” Later on in Matthew 12:34 For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.The tongue is a traitor because it broadcasts to all who will listen what you really believe & think. That’s why it’s so powerful.
James 1:26 is a frightening verse to me. Does this REALLY mean what it says? “If anyone thinks he is religious [a disciple of Jesus Christ] and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” We must work to bridle the tongue; as well as visiting orphans and widows and keeping ourselves unstained from the world (verse 27). We must do this, mustn’t we?
And yet there are so many ways in which we can rationalize not controlling our tongue. Ways in which we say it’s okay to gossip; ways in which we say it’s okay to slander; ways in which we say it’s okay to destroy a person, to destroy that person and his reputation; to destroy a church’s reputation. You’d think that in light of 1:26 and chapter 3 we would be frightened to do this kind of rationalization. I can think of at least four ways in which I think people in general can rationalize not bridling our tongues. I’m speaking to myself as well as to you – so, if I’m stepping on your toes, I’m stomping on mine!
1. It is true – I can say whatever I want as long as it is true.Something in us says, “I can say whatever I want about you as long as it’s true.” Many times, we don’t KNOW whether it is true or not, because we don’t have first-hand knowledge.Truth can start destructive fires just as easily as a lie, can’t it? Innuendo doesn’t have to be false to be destructive and sinful. Just think about it. Is it okay for me to come up to you in public and say:“Are you still emotionally abusing your spouse?” “Are you still cheating on your taxes?” “Are you still surfing porn on the internet?”In the words of Malachi, “Hey, are you still cheating God in your contribution?” Anyone here want truth to be the sole criterion of whether we say it or not? Gossip can be true and it can still destroy and rip the heart out of a person and out of a church.
2. He/she hurt me, so I have the right to say whatever I want.We’ve all been hurt by someone – maybe a brother, an elder, a preacher, a long-time friend, your spouse, your parent. Does that mean we have a right to say anything we want to destroy that person’s reputation; to destroy a church’s ability to minister? Does being hurt give us the “right” to say anything we want? What about Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.We may have been hurt but none has been hurt the way that we hurt God. In The Passion of the Christ, it was Mel Gibson’s hand that held the stake that was pounded into Jesus’ hand. His point: who killed Jesus? You did. I did. Our sins killed the Son of God – and God forgave us for that.We are called to do something insignificant in comparison – to forgive those who have hurt us. We need to forgive, understanding that God has forgiven us in Christ for what we did to him.
3. Feigned pietyWe love to be fakes. How many times have you heard, “I probably should tell you this, but…” Or, “I shouldn’t say anything,but I have a problem with that person.” And we fake piety by somehow being vague & general as we lacerate that person. What about: “I’m just going to tell you, but you need to keep it a secret.” This is all fake. It’s fake piety. If you shouldn’t say something – then DON’T!. If it’s a secret – then DON’T tell it!Someone asked the preacher what he was preaching on. “The tongue.” “What’s the point?” “Keep your mouth shut!” “I’m not coming.” “I’ll send you the tape.” When we listen to slander,gossip & secretsvoluntarily we’re just as guilty as the person who’s speaking. We feign piety and then we’re all ears!
4. Cloak innuendo, gossip & slander in religious language. If raised in a church you know how to do this: “Well, let me just tell you a little about this person so you will know how to pray better.” Yeah, right! It’s an act & God’s not fooled. Jim Cymbala, pastor at Brooklyn Tabernacle (megachurch), wrote a book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. In it, he writes: “One Sunday about 20 years ago, back in our days in YWCA I said something impromptu while receiving new members into the church that has stuck with us ever since. People were standing in a row across the front before me and as I spoke the Holy Spirit seemed to prompt me to add ‘And now I charge you as pastor of this church that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word, a criticism or slander against anyone, myself, another pastor, an usher, a choir member or anyone else, you have the authority to stop that person in mid-sentence and say, ‘Excuse me, who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it Pastor Cymbala? Let’s go to his office right now. He will get on his knees and apologize to you. And then we’ll pray together so God can restore peace to this body. But we will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves.’ New members please understand that I am entirely serious about this. I want you to help resolve this kind of thing immediately and meanwhile know this, if you are ever the one doing the loose talking, we will confront you.’ To this very day every time we receive new members I say much the same thing. It is always a solemn moment. That is because I know what most easily destroys churches; it is not crack and cocaine; it is not government oppression; it is not even lack of funds, rather it is gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.” Gossip and slander, a judgmental and critical spirit are fires of the heart that ignite the tongue and destroy lives and destroy churches.
So what are we going to do about it? Keep our mouths shut? No, that’s not the answer. Let me suggest three things that we can do about this issue.
Start with our heart - because it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) If in our hearts there is arrogance then the tongue will put the other person down in order to elevate ourselves. If there is sin living in our hearts then our tongues will seek to destroy. But if there is humility in our hearts then we will put the needs and the reputation of others ahead of ourselves. If there’s forgiveness in our hearts then our mouths will be full of tender words seasoned with kindness, with extra servings of grace and thanksgiving. This is one example where legalism fails. When legalism puts all it’s emphasis on external conformity it’s answer to the tongue is then just keep your mouth shut. We’ve got to start with our hearts. When we say critical things; when we gossip and we destroy we’ve got to stop and say, “Why did I say that? What is it inside me that drove me to say that?” It starts in the heart, doesn’t it?
2. Take every thought (and word) captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) I run off the mouth all the time. That’s just me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to engage my brain before I start my mouth.It just flows out of my mouth. It’s natural. And I had to learn, and I am learning and I fail, but I’m working on it by the power of God’s Spirit to think before I talk; to take every word, to take every thought captive. And I pray that God’s Spirit will, “Please whisper in my ear. Yell if you need to, that before the words leave, I need to hear, “Is what you are about to say going to bring glory to God?’ Is the word you’re about to say full of grace and thanksgiving or is it going to destroy a person’s reputation? Will it edify or will it criticize?” I’ve never gotten in trouble for things I didn’t say! And on the other side of the tongue I think we need to ask the same thing. We have to as we listen to words and as we listen to thoughts we need to have the sensitivity and the strength to say, “You know what, I don’t need to hear this. Go and poison someone else’s life.” How’s that? Does that sound harsh? It’s Biblical. James 3 says that our tongues are full of deadly poison. What does deadly poison do? It kills. It poisons, not only the person speaking but also it poisons the person hearing.
3. There is a time and a place to talk about issues. The Bible is not saying to ignore problems. It’s the last thing the Bible is saying. There is a time to confront as well as a time to comfort. But the Bible is clear that the time and the place to talk about difficult issues of when you’ve been hurt is when you are talking to the person (singular) who has hurt you. If you’re the offended:Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.If you’re the offender:Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.There’s a time and a place to talk about issues; when your heart is to reconcile, to forgive and be forgiven. There’s a time and a place to talk about difficult issues when our words are an expression of grace and thanksgiving; when the motivating forces are love, and humility and gentleness. There is never a time, ever a time, to gossip and to slander. Ever.
This is certainly one of the central struggles of the Christian walk. I could not cover the highlights of the NT and not talk about this thing in my mouth. We are called to rise to the challenge. If we as individuals and we as a church do not rise to the challenge our tongues will stain the entire body. They will stain our body. They will stain the body of Christ that meets in this building. If we do not rise to the challenge then our tongues, individually and collectively will set on fire the entire course of the life of this church.
Faith without works is dead. That doesn’t mean you get a smaller house in heaven. That means you’re dead. And a justified person will most certainly show it in a life lived towards holiness.Part of that holiness is learning to control our tongues.
We’re never going to be fully successful this side of heaven. It’s ultimately impossible to completely bridle the tongue because it’s impossible to completely have a pure heart. But we can move significantly in the right direction as we fill our hearts with tenderness and kindness, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us. And we can become, continue to become, the kind of people James applauds in chapter 4:8 when he says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
It all begins with a proper view of God – and of ourselves.James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” Let’s covenant together to continue on this difficult journey of a heart cleansed from sin and bridled tongues saying only which extends grace and thankfulness to one another.
Paul’s theology James’ theology Justification by Justification leads faith to holy living “Works” seems “Works” are a to be a bad word good thing
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claimsto have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good!Even the demons believe that –and shudder.James 2:22 You see that his faith and his actions wereworking together, and his faith was made complete bywhat he did.James 2:24,26 You see that a person is justified by whathe does and not by faith alone. … 26 As the bodywithout the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
“I will not work, my soul to save.“The faith that saves is That work, my Lord faith, alone. has done. But the faith that But I will work like any saves is never alone.” slave, For love of God’s dear Son.”
James 1:26 If anyoneconsiders himself religious and yet does not keep atight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
James 3:1-121 Not many of you should presume to beteachers, my brothers, because you know thatwe who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Weall stumble in many ways. If anyone is never atfault in what he says, he is a perfect man, ableto keep his whole body in check.
James 3:1-123 When we put bits into the mouths of horses tomake them obey us, we can turn the wholeanimal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Althoughthey are so large and are driven by strongwinds, they are steered by a very small rudderwherever the pilot wants to go.
James 3:1-125 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body,but it makes great boasts. Consider what a greatforest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 Thetongue also is a fire, a world of evil among theparts of the body. It corrupts the whole person,sets the whole course of his life on fire, and isitself set on fire by hell.
James 3:1-127 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles andcreatures of the sea are being tamed and havebeen tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame thetongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James 3:1-129 With the tongue we praise our Lord andFather, and with it we curse men, who havebeen made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the samemouth come praise and cursing. My brothers,this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water andsalt water flow from the same spring? 12 Mybrothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or agrapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt springproduce fresh water.