It is Wednesday morning again and I am getting ready to teach my staff this afternoon. We are continuing to walk through Saint James’ epistle on the differences between dead/useless faith and living/saving faith. Here are the previous lessons that we have covered. If you have been following along, you already know them. If you are new to this series, it would be helpful to read through them to get some context for this lesson.
- Living faith vs. Dead faith
- Living faith vs. Dead faith part II
- Trials and Temptations; what’s the difference?
- Genuine faith in action
- Two spiritual births; death and life
- Living faith in action
- Living faith revealed
- Living faith produces good works
Today, we are turning the page on chapter 2 of James’ epistle and moving on to chapter 3. In James 3, the author uses something that we can all relate to, our tongues, to explain the differences between living faith and dead faith.
I. The Tongue; our enemy
Most of us do not realize the weapon that we carry with us on a daily basis. This weapon is our tongue. It is a small member of our bodies but, it can do lots of damage. In fact, it can do more damage than we even realize. Proverbs 18:21 teaches us that the power of life and death are in our tongues. We may never have physically murdered someone but I guarantee we have all cut someone very deeply with our words. Physical wounds can heal fairly quickly. Many wounds caused by words never heal. Let’s take a look at what James teaches us about the tongue.
- Although small, it can control our entire bodies and the course of our lives. How many times have you heard of people getting in trouble because they could not keep their mouth shut? How many times have people been in trouble with authority figures because they could not control what they said? How many people have lost jobs because they lost control of their tongues? It really can change the course of your life. It can lead to divorce, the loss of income, even jail time. Those are some pretty significant life changing events. James compares the tongue controlling the body to a bit placed in a horses mouth. The bit is small yet with it, you can lead a powerful horse wherever you want it to go. The same goes for a large ship. That large and powerful ship is controlled by a small rudder.
- The tongue is small yet it boasts of great things. To help explain this, James uses the example of a great forest fire that is started by a small flame. The tongue is small and works. As it works, the results of the work grow rapidly. If the tongue is untamed, it has the power to destroy.
- The tongue, in its natural state, is unjust. It is bent toward harming others. It is hurtful and harmful. Not only does the tongue naturally hurt others, it also defiles the host. It makes others look bad and it also makes the host look bad. In its natural state, it is hellish. It is in opposition to God.
- The tongue cannot be tamed by its host. I cannot control my tongue and you cannot control yours. We need help. There are two sources of help. The help is wisdom. The sources are earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom.
Let’s take a look at what earthly wisdom does in “helping” us control our tongues.
II. Earthy wisdom; our companion
Earthly wisdom is described in verses 14-16. This “wisdom” is our tongue’s companion because it does not control the tongue. It actually encourages the tongue in its destruction. It encourages our sin nature to be sinful. Here is how earthly wisdom is described.
- Jealousy to the point of bitterness – Bitterness here has the idea of being pieced by something and that which pierces also irritates. The thing that pierces you is your jealousy. Jealousy is being angered to the point of boiling over based on the good that has happened to someone else. Earthly wisdom encourages your tongue to destroy others. As we have already seen, our tongues do not need encouragement in this area.
- selfish ambition – Our sin nature is already selfish and earthly wisdom just encourages us to be even more selfish. The above bitterness and jealousy stem from selfish ambition.
- natural – this wisdom is going to encourage you in your natural state of depravity. Again, it does not change you. It encourages you to remain as you are, and actually get worse.
- demonic – This wisdom has spiritual roots. It is evil, stemming from the evil one himself. It is anti-God. It is going to lead you away from God.
- disorderly – this type of wisdom leads to a lifestyle that is unstable. It loves to shift to extremes. We have seen that dead faith tends to lead us to extremes.
- evil – the idea seen here is being worthless. When you are led by this type of wisdom, your life is worthless, especially in the eyes of God. You are not useful to God and you are not useful to the people around you. You end up harming them and yourself by your words and deeds.
If you try to control your tongue with earthly wisdom, this will be evident by the way that you harm the people around you, and yourself with your words. What are your words like? Are you eaten up by bitterness? Are you jealous of the people around you? Are you led by selfish ambition? Do you live a disorderly life? Are you unstable, moving to extremes? What does all of this tell you about your faith? Is it living or dead?
We have seen that we have a problem and that God’s enemy, Satan, offers us a “solution”. What does God’s solution look like?
III. Heavenly wisdom; God’s solution
Do you remember James’ earlier examples of a horse and a ship? They both are large and powerful but can be controlled by a small object, a bit and a rudder. Who controls the bit and who controls the rudder? This is where the wisdom from above comes in to our picture. The rider of the horse and the captain of the ship are compared to heavenly wisdom. This wisdom is far different and far superior to earthly wisdom. This is God’s wisdom that He gives to us via His Word. This wisdom leads to living faith that produces genuine salvation. It changes you and allows you to be able to control your tongue. Let’s examine this wisdom.
- Pure – It is unmixed by earthly wisdom. What you see and expect is what you get. It does not disappoint or deceive.
- Peaceable – It produces peace in you and moves you to use your words to produce peace with others, instead of harming them.
- Gentle – It changes you from being selfish to be submissive to God and His will.
- Reasonable – Since it is not lead by selfish ambition, it causes you to be reasonable with others.
- Full of mercy – This wisdom causes us to be full of mercy, not giving others around us what they actually deserve. They deserve being cut down by our words because they do the same to us. Instead of cutting with my words, I now use my tongue to seek peace.
- Full of good fruit
- Unwavering – Earthly wisdom is unstable, shifting to extremes. This wisdom leads to stability.
- without hypocrisy – there is nothing to hide. This wisdom does not lead you to do things that you have to cover up or sneak around to do.
This wisdom comes from the Lord and is found in His Word. It leads to living faith, producing genuine salvation. We are changed from the inside out. We are able to overcome our sin nature and it is seen by the fact that we can tame our tongues. Our words no longer hurt but are now used to help.
Of these two kinds of wisdom, which one is dominate in your life? Are you able to control your tongue and use your words for good? May the Lord help us seek out the wisdom from above and allow it to lead us to living faith and genuine salvation for His honor and glory and our own good.