Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Obedience School for the Tongue

The topic of the tongue is of great importance to James and can be seen in every chapter of his Epistle (1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:5, 6, 8; 4:11; and 5:12). His most direct comments about our speech are seen as he opens the third chapter with the command, “Let not many of you become teachers.” This was a word used speaking of Rabbis and those with official teaching roles. It may also have in mind the relative ease it was in that day for a Jewish man to speak in the assembly. Because Rabbis were held in such high esteem (as seen in Matthew 23:2-7), the opportunity for men to speak in the assembly may have begun to be abused resulting in inaccurate teaching occurring. In some circles, ones devotion to his Rabbi superceded their devotion to their own parents and family suggesting that if a man’s parents and his rabbi were taken hostage, the rabbi was to be ransomed first.

The description, “my brethren” is an indication that he is speaking of the teaching role in the church. This is not saying that we should avoid the role of being a pastor/teacher. Paul described this calling as a very good thing (1Timothy 3:1). James is teaching that we must take this role seriously. As James has already taught, the more we speak the more potential we have for error (James 1:19)

What is the cause of such a strong admonition? James gives dual reasons. First, it is because of our accountability (v1b-2). According to James, the role of the teacher will be held to a greater degree of accountability due to its position of influence. The word “judgment” is usually used in Scripture negatively as a warning against improper living. It is important to note that James includes himself (“we”) in the realization of this greater degree of accountability. Paul told young Timothy that the goal of Bible Study is to “rightly divide the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). This takes time and careful study. We who teach and preach the Word of God can not afford to take shortcuts when it comes to preparing our sermons and our lessons. If God will hold us accountable for every idle word, as taught in Matthew 12:36-37, then we as teachers of the Word need to be extra careful in what we say, especially as we teach and preach.

The other reason for this strong warning is because of our fallibility (v2). James makes it clear that no teacher is faultless. We all stumble in many ways, especially when it comes to our words. No wonder David asked God to put a guard over his mouth (Psalm 39:1). No one is exempt from the dangers of the limitless misuses of the tongue. According to James, our words are the hardest part of our life to master. If you can control your tongue, you show great maturity (“perfect”) and can control every part of your being.

Why do we need to send our tongue to obedience school? Because though small, our tongue is very dynamic (v3-4). James likens it to a horse’s bridle. We use small bits in the mouth of a horse to control the direction and movement of the horse. So the tongue, though small, can control the direction and movement of our lives. James also likens the tongue to a ship’s rudder. We use small rudders to control the direction a ship moves. In the same way, our small tongue can direct our very lives. Enroll your tongue in obedience school today!

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