"1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! "
God is taking us to perfection. His clear purpose is that we become His fully
mature children, fully able to participate in a relationship of love in and
with Him. All that we go through, all of our struggles here in our broken world
are to lead to a future so much more glorious than our present. James wants
to encourage his struggling readers in the midst of a variety of trials. One
of the ways he does this throughout his letter is to flesh out some of what
this perfection God is working in us looks like.
James says in 1:4 that the full effect of a steadfast faith is to be "perfect
and complete, lacking in nothing." So while we may feel or know that we
are incomplete now in so many ways, and we may at times sense our deep lack,
this is not where we are going to remain. God is taking us to a perfection
that is full and complete, where we will have a deep sense of satisfaction
in all of our life, we will have no sense of lack, loose ends, incompleteness.
Perfection is to know, in every way, our generous, loving, giving Father.
We are coming to draw closer with confidence to one who gives without reproaching.
In 1:12 James says we will receive "the crown of life"--life, life,
and more life--real life from the only source of life!
A perfect relationship with God overflows into perfection in our relationships
with one another and with ourselves. Trusting in God for our life and identity
frees us from trusting in wealth or in those who are wealthy. We are freed
to care for and receive from others, to allow ourselves to be blessed by and
be a blessing to those that God brings into our lives.
To trust in God, to participate in our own perfection, we need to recognize
and turn from all those things that encumber us, all those idols that we have,
and hand more and more of our lives over to Him. It is so easy to be deceived.
We can be deceived about God's character and thus wonder if He is the one who
tempts us to evil or be slow to turn to Him because we are unsure of His good
purposes and presence. We can be deceived into believing that others do not
go through trials, or that being wealthy will protect us from pain and struggles.
We can be deceived as to the nature of true faith and how our actions, our
works, flow from our faith rather than having no connection.
Now James turns to the subject of how we can be deceived about our tongues.
From what he writes, it seems that there was a lot of loose talk going on.
I would think that because they were under the stress of trials, they were
venting some of their feelings and thoughts through their talk. They may have
been gossiping about others, complaining, being critical, etc. It seems clear
that they were tempted to believe that this loose talk was "no big deal" because
it was not significant, it was "just talk." There was some envy of
teachers, I guess because they seemed to have either more freedom to talk or
more power because they had some influence over others. When we are feeling
that we are going through a period of distress, we may look to teachers as
having an enviable position because they are noticed and listened to. If we
feel powerless, we are tempted to believe that those who have some power, either
from wealth or position are better off, more blessed, than we are.
James deals with their envy of teachers by reminding them that "we who
teach shall be judged with greater strictness." To teach others is not
to have the freedom to say whatever you want or to enjoy using your influence
over others. Being a teacher has a price with it. It is precisely because their
words have the capacity to have so much influence over others that teachers
are more strictly judged by God.
James goes on to give them another picture of this perfection to which God
is leading us. A perfect person is the one who makes no mistakes in what he
says. And in making no mistakes with his words, he is "able to bridle
the whole body also." James wants his readers to understand the true relationship
between what we say and the rest of our lives. The words we speak are "a
big deal." How we use our tongues has an effect on how we live. We are
fooling ourselves if we believe we can say whatever we want and that it doesn't
make any real difference. They are never "just words!" James says
that it is true that we all make mistakes, but as we grow toward perfection,
one of the first places we need to begin to trust God whole heartedly is with
To underline his point about the close relationship of our tongues and our
behavior James gives two illustrations. The first one is about the bit in a
horse's mouth which enables the rider to guide the whole animal where she/he
wants it to go. In the second illustration, James emphasizes the contrast between
the largeness of the ship and the smallness of the rudder that is needed to
steer it. The rudder could seem so insignificant when considered merely by
its size. It is "no big deal." But actually it is essential to getting
this huge ship to go where you want.
The tongue, James goes on to say, like the bit and the rudder, is a little
member. But "it boasts of great things." This can be both positive
and negative. The tongue is capable of being involved in great things. The
teacher is judged more strictly because his/her words have such influence.
Bridling our tongue does help us to better control our lives. The tongue can
also be prideful. We can truly "boast" of the great things we do
or hope to do to others. However, James warns that the great things our tongues
often do are things that are greatly destructive. It only takes a small blaze
to set a whole forest on fire.
So James indicates here that we should not discriminate between those who
teach and those who don't. We all have tongues, whether we teach or not, and
so we all have a great responsibility for this little organ. We all can use
it to bless others or to bring damage and destruction. There is great potential
either way. The word of God and our words are powerful no matter who we are.
If we want to have a great effect upon the world, we all can--when we use our
tongues and speak only in a way that flows out of trusting and loving God--even
and especially in times of testing. What we say is the simplest and yet the
most powerful way to live our lives in line with God's own Word. According
to James, this is the place to begin our lives of following Jesus, for that
discipline will have a huge impact on the rest of our lives--and those of others
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