Words are Works!
We’re looking at what James has to say about the tongue, our speech, and the difficulty we all face in taming the tongue. He has just concluded a discussion on the relation between faith and works (James 2:14-26). Faith without works, said James, is dead and of no benefit to anyone. It would seem then that he now wants us to know that works are not limited to actions. Words are also works. Continue reading . . .
We’re looking at what James has to say about the tongue, our speech, and the difficulty we all face in taming the tongue. He has just concluded a discussion on the relation between faith and works (James 2:14-26). Faith without works, said James, is dead and of no benefit to anyone. It would seem then that he now wants us to know that works are not limited to actions. Words are also works. Just as our works reveal the quality or character of our faith, so also our words. Our speech is an index that reveals the condition of our souls. Jesus said this in Matthew 12:34-37,
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
Jesus is saying that words are so much a revelation of what is in our hearts, so clearly and unmistakably indicative of the state of our souls, that on the judgment day it won’t even be necessary to look at what we have done or have not done to determine if we are truly born again believers in Jesus. All that will be needed is that our words be disclosed and made known.
James’ first concern is with those who might aspire to be teachers or preachers in the local church. He says this in vv. 1-2.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 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 bod” (James 3:1-2).
There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to teach, especially if God has gifted and called you to such a ministry. But be absolutely certain on the front end that you know what you are in for. The sobering reality is that those of us who teach “will be judged with greater strictness” (v. 1b). Why?
The reason is that teachers are always in the business of articulating and defending truth, on the one hand, and identifying and refuting false teaching and heresy, on the other. Teaching unavoidably entails making moral and theological judgments that affect the lives of others in profoundly practical and even eternal ways. If you minister as a teacher you invariably end up instructing others on how to think and live. What, then, is the result if you yourself fail to live up to the standards to which you have called everyone else? Have you carefully considered the consequences should it turn out that, because of your instruction, others fall into sin or are led astray into false beliefs about God and what is right and good and true? That is a heavy burden to bear. So don’t take the task of teaching lightly.
But James also speaks to every Christian, as is clear from v. 2. By “stumbling” James doesn’t mean we stutter or make grammatical mistakes when we speak or that we fail to communicate with sufficient zeal and clarity. He has in mind verbal recklessness that damages other people. Misleading statements, careless and insensitive assertions, and abusive language are all in view. But the man or woman who controls their tongue and uses it only for good and godly ends is “perfect” (v. 2), not in the sense that they are free of all sin but in the sense that they are obviously mature and have learned how to exercise self-control over what they say, when they say it, and the tone in which it is said.
The logic here is clear, as James argues from the greater to the lesser. Since the tongue is the most difficult organ to master, victory over speech assures one that he is able to hold in check and to control all other activities as well. Simply put: the single greatest and clearest indication of spiritual growth and maturity is one’s ability to control and use for godly purposes one’s speech.
To be continued . . .