The Tiniest Troublemaker (James 3:1-12)
James is a very practical book. No where is it more practical than in the third chapter when it discusses the tongue. While the rest of the book discusses things that many of us struggle with, this chapter deals with a tiny troublemaker with which we all struggle. In simple, picturesque language, James gives warning about the size and strength of the tongue.
The Size of the Tongue
James wrote, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! “ (James 3:1-5). James begins by warning his brethren about being teachers. It was not that James didn’t want them to teach. If they had that talent, he wanted them and expected them to use it. In fact, they would have been condemned otherwise (Heb. 5:12). James was simply warning them of the tremendous responsibility connected with the tongue. The tongue’s size can be deceiving. It is small, but powerful. James makes three comparisons to picture the strength of this little member. The tongue is like a bit in a horses’ mouth, a rudder on a ship, and a match in a forest.
The Strength of the Tongue
James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh” (James 3:6-12). The tongue is extremely strong. Sadly, its strength is often exhibited in negative ways. James describes it as more destructive than fire, more dangerous than a wild animal, and more deadly than poison. Perhaps, James’ brethren were discounting the tongue’s destructive power. They may have been minimizing the occasional curse word or lie. They evidently saw this as no big deal. Yet, it was. James compared it to fire or poison. A little of either of these will kill you. James’ brethren also clearly didn’t see their lapses with their tongues as inconsistent with their faith. They were blessing God and at the same time cursing men made in the image of God. These things were as contradictory as a spring giving fresh water and bitter, a fig bearing olives, or a vine bearing figs.
James gives the longest, single discourse on the tongue in Scripture. It is a wealth of information on the tiniest troublemaker in the world.
That Which Costs Me Nothing
When David foolishly numbered Israel, God brought a severe pestilence into the land as a punishment. Seventy thousand men died before the punishment was finally stayed at the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam. 24:16). At the command of Gad the prophet, David determined to build an altar at that very spot (2 Sam. 24:18-19). When David spoke to Araunah about buying his threshingfloor (2 Sam. 24:21), Araunah offered to give it to David (2 Sam. 24:22-23). Perhaps, Araunah did this out of loyalty to the king. Better yet, he might have done it out of gratitude since the Lord had stopped the plague at His doorstep. Whatever the reason for Araunah's offer, David refused, saying, "Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24).
I love David's attitude, don't you? I believe that David had the right attitude concerning worship. Someone has suggested that David's words can be be broken in four parts to show four common attitudes toward worship.
The first attitude is: "I will not offer." There are some individuals who will not offer or give anything. They are very stingy with their time and money. If you invite them to worship on Sunday, they will tell you that Sunday is their day. They will tell you that Sunday is the only day that they have to rest and relax. They are just as stingy with their money. Like the foolish farmer, they store up what they have so that they can eat, drink, and be merry for many years (Lk. 12:16-21). They hoard everything that they have so that they can spend it on themselves.
The second attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord." These individuals are not Scrooges with their time and money as were those we noticed in the first group. These individuals are willing to volunteer for various causes and to give money to certain things. For example, they might volunteer at a local animal shelter. They might give money to support cancer research. They do some good things for good causes. It seems that they can give time and money to almost everything except for the Lord. Their affections are on earthly things, and not on things above (Col. 3:2). Their priorities are on the wrong things. God and His kingdom are not first in their lives (Mt. 6:33). While it is certainly acceptable to give time and money to good secular causes, we must never forget that the greatest cause of all is the Lord's cause.
The third attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord that which costs me." Unlike those in the first group, these folks will give their time and money. Unlike those in the second group, these folks are not completely secular in their thinking. They will give to the Lord. However, they will not give sacrificially. They will give as long as it doesn't cost them anything. No doubt, you remember those of Malachi's day who were giving the lame, the sick, and the blind to God (Mal. 1). They were giving, but they weren't giving their best. The best would have cost them something. They were giving that which didn't really cost them anything. The lame, the sick, and the blind were of little or no value in the marketplace. Some of these animals were probably going to die any anyway. God was highly upset with their offerings (Mal. 1:8-11).
The fourth attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord that which costs me nothing." David understood that in order to be acceptable, worship must cost us something. This principle is taught throughout the Old Testament. Repeatedly, God's people were instructed to give the first fruits of the land (Prov. 3:9). They were instructed to give the best of the flocks and the herds (Deut. 12:6). These offerings cost them something. With these sacrifices, God was well pleased. He remains pleased with sacrifices like this today. In Hebrews, we read, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:15-16). No doubt, the Bible student is reminded of the poor widow who cast in her whole living (Mk. 12:41-44). Like David, this poor widow understood the cost of true worship. This widow's offering cost her everything. With her sacrifice, Jesus was well pleased. Mark records that Jesus called His own disciples over to make sure that they didn't miss the lesson (Mk. 12:43-44).
As we get ready to worship this week, let's make sure that our attitudes are right. Let's make sure that we do not offer to God that which costs us nothing!
(The major points of this outline are from a class taught by Jim Dearman in the Memphis School of Preaching while I was a student there).
Faith With And Without Works
The whole second chapter of James is about faith. It begins with the faith of Jesus and ends with the faith of Abraham and Rahab. In the first half of the chapter, James discusses faith with and without respect of persons. I n the last half of the chapter, James discusses faith with and without works. Our focus will be on the second part of the chapter. First, we will discuss faith without works. Then, we will see faith with works.
Faith Without Works - Dead & Demonic
Three times James describes faith without works as dead (Jam. 2:17, 20, 26). You might say that faith without works is dead, dead, dead. It is “twice dead, pulled up by the roots” dead (Jude 12). It is body without the spirit dead. James wrote, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jam. 2:26). It is Eutychus falling out of a third-story window dead (Acts 20:9). James calls it dead because it doesn’t do anything. It just lies there. There isn’t any breath or life in it. There isn’t a heartbeat. The cold aren’t made warmer and the hungry aren’t made any fuller. It talks, but it doesn’t do (Jam. 2:15-16; Lk. 6:46). Just when you think that faith without works couldn’t get any worse, James calls it demonic. We read, “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:18-19). Like the demons, this faith trembles, but it doesn’t do anything (Mt. 8:28-29). There aren’t any works to show. Like the demons, this faith knows and acknowledges whoJesus is, but won’t obey Him as Lord.
Faith With Works - Dynamic
In contrast to a dead and demonic faith that doesn’t do anything but talk and tremble, James discusses a dynamic faith that is full of activity. It toils or works. It travels for days, climbs mountains, builds altars, and draws back the knife of sacrifice. It hides spies, lowers ropes, and keeps promises. To illustrate this kind of faith, James gives two examples - Abraham and Rahab. We read, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (Jam. 2:21-25). Two more opposite examples could not have been given. Abraham was a man and Rahab was a woman. Abraham was a patriarch and Rahab was a prostitute. Abraham was a heir according to promise and Rahab was spared from among the Canaanites. However, they had the most important thing in common - a dynamic faith. Abraham’s faith didn’t just talk. It toiled. It offered his son (Gen. 22:1-19; Heb. 11:17-19). Rahab’s faith didn’t just tremble. It toiled. It hid the spies (Josh. 2:1-21; Heb. 11:31).
Faith without works is dead and demonic. This faith talks and trembles. Faith with works is dynamic. It toils. Which faith do we have?
The Inconsistencies of Prejudice (Jam. 2:1-13)
Prejudice is ugly anywhere. It is especially hideous in the church. We are supposed to be the light. We are supposed to be showing the world that the church is different. In our text, James points out four glaring inconsistencies with prejudice.
Prejudice is Inconsistent with the Faith: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jam. 2:1-4). The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ refers to the faith of which He is the author and the finisher (Heb. 12:2). It refers to the one faith that we must endeavor to keep in order to be united (Eph. 4:1-6). It is the gospel. As you know, the gospel is for all men (Tit. 2:11). It is for all nations (Mt. 28:18-20). It is for every creature (Mk. 16:15-16). It is for the Jew and the Greek (Rom. 1:16-17). Therefore, prejudice is inconsistent with the gospel. Prejudice excludes those who are included in the gospel. Telling the poor man to stand or to sit under someone’s feet was a violation of the Golden Rule that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:12). It was also a violation of what Jesus taught in the sermon about judging (Mt. 7:1-5). Prejudice is unrighteous judgment (John 7:24). The Greek word translated as respect of persons means to receive face. It is to judge by appearance.
Prejudice is Inconsistent with the Father: “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (Jam. 2:5). Repeatedly, the Bible emphasizes that there is no respect of persons with God (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11). God accepts all who fear Him and work righteousness. He allows all who love Him to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. It doesn’t matter if they are Jew or Gentile, rich or poor. Although, the poor tend to love and obey Him more readily than the rich (Mk. 12:37; 1 Cor. 1:26). In the illustration that James used in the opening verses of the chapter, the brethren were prejudiced against the poor man that God loved. Their treatment of the poor man was inconsistent with how the Father thought of him and treated him (1 Tim. 2:3-4). We should strive to be like our Father in how we treat people (Mt. 5:43-48).
Prejudice is Inconsistent with the Facts: “But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” (Jam. 2:6-7). The book of James is not called the Gospel of Common Sense for nothing. James pointed out that it was the rich and not the poor who oppressed them and spoke against them as Christians. It made no sense that they would show favoritism to them. Evidently, they were courting the favor of the rich hoping for something in return. Their actions were both selfish and senseless. Since the poor had nothing to offer them, they disregarded and dishonored them. Their actions were not only inconsistent with the faith and the Father, they were inconsistent with the facts.
Prejudice is Inconsistent with the Future: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jam. 2:8-13). James’ brethren, like all men, were headed to the judgment (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10). No doubt, when James’ brethren got to the Judgment, they would need and want mercy. Yet, they were not showing mercy. They were not loving their poor neighbor as they loved themselves. They were not showing pity or mercy to the poor. They were breaking the law and would be condemned accordingly. Their prejudice was inconsistent with the future.
The prejudice of these brethren was inconsistent with the faith, the Father, the facts, and the future. Let’s guard ourselves against these same inconsistencies.
Three Marks of True Religion
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jam. 1:26-27). James concluded his discussion of hearing and doing with a discussion of true religion (Jam. 1:20-25). James’ point was simple - true religion hears and does. True religion is not convincing ourselves or others that we are religious. Both can be, and often are, deceived. The Pharisees are a good example of this dual-deception (Mt. 23:27-36). True religion is showing that we are religious by hearing and doing. In the final two verses of the first chapter, James gives three marks of true religion.
Conversation - True Religion Bridles The Tongue
The first mark of true religion is conversation (Jam. 1:26). For good or bad, our speech often gives us away (Mt. 26:73; Judg. 12:6). It reveals what is within our hearts (Mt. 12:33-37). Angry words, unkind words, untrue words, and impure words are an indicator of heart problems. They are an indicator that our heart hasn’t been cleansed or changed. The man who thinks that his religion is true, but doesn’t control his tongue, is just deceiving himself. His religion will profit him nothing. It is empty. A religion that doesn’t control the tongue can’t possibly save the soul. If our religion is true, it will be revealed in our speech. It will be revealed by a tongue under control (Jam. 3:1-12; cf. Psa. 34:13; Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).
Consideration - True Religion Visits Orphans And Widows
The second mark of true religion is consideration (Jam. 1:27). How we care for the widows, the fatherless, and the poor are indicators of the genuineness of our faith (Jam. 2). To visit the fatherless and the widows is more than a social call. It is seeing their need and supplying it (Lk. 1:68). It is more than words. It is not just saying, “Be warmed and filled,” it is giving them the things that they need (Jam. 2:16). It is not just supplying their needs once, but again and again, if necessary. The Greek word translated as visit is present tense. Present tense in the Greek denotes ongoing action. The man who thinks that he is religious but doesn’t care for those in need is deceiving himself. The religion that doesn’t provide for others cannot possibly save the soul. It is empty. It profits nothing (Jam. 2:14-17). If our religion is true, pure and undefiled before God and the Father, it will care for widows and orphans as the Father does (Psa. 68:4-5; 146:9; Isa. 1:16-17; Mk. 14:7).
Consecration - True Religion Keeps Itself Unspotted From The World
The third mark of true religion is consecration (Jam. 1:27). If our religion is true, then it will be revealed by our relationship to the world. True religion involves separation (2 Cor. 6:17-18) and transformation from the world (Rom. 12:2). In the fourth chapter, James strongly rebuked his brethren for their involvement with the world (Jam. 4:4; cf. Mt. 6:24). They needed to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts (Jam. 4:8). The man who thinks that he is religious, but doesn’t keep himself unspotted from the world is deceiving himself. His religion is neither pure nor undefiled. It is empty and it will profit him nothing. Our God is a holy God. If we are His people, then we must be holy (1 Pet. 1:13-16).
Three marks of true religion are conversation, consideration, and consecration. How would your religion fare if judged by these three things? Would it be pure or impure? Would it be full or empty? Would it justify or condemn?