James starts this section off with a sobering reminder of the importance and consequences of teaching the word of God. He uses Bible teaching as the basis for this section of waring us about our tongues and the words we speak with it.
Remember that in the early church it was more common for others in the congregation to speak up at different times made available in the service much like the in the Jewish Synagogues since the early church was for some time considered to be merely a branch or sect of Judaism.
Since you could have even a new believer stand up and and address the congregation who may not have enough maturity in Christ nor even the calling by Christ but just a desire to say something there was a great need to share this word of warning and exhortation.
You see a teacher of math, science, language, civics (oh how we need civics teachers in our day) history, law etc can say the wrong thing out of ignorance or because of some personal bias and that person can always say “oops I was wrong” or “after learning some new facts I have a different opinion on the subject and it’s not a big deal. But if I as a Bible teacher say something that is wrong out of ignorance or personal bias I could be guilty of something that has eternal consequences in the lives of those who listen to me.
Jesus gave the warning...
48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
That is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. The role of a spiritual teacher is one that has to be entered into after much prayer and study. I have to be given a word from the Lord to speak, not just want to say something to you all.
Unfortunately I have known men who just wanted to say something in church without having a calling or a word from God to say, and it always ends poorly for them and for their hearers.
But even beyond calling is the life that is lived before God privately and publicly. I also have known far too many (though just 1 is too many) who have a gifting from God and a calling from God to teach His word, but have disqualified themselves by the way they live their lives in an unrepentant state of sin.
So why is it such an important thing that the Bible teacher be called of God, equipped by God, and commited to God? Because of the purpose of God...
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Now James speaks about the tongue in general.
He as already given us some advice on how to use our tongues...
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Now James tells us that we are all in the same boat himself included when he says “we all stumble in many ways”, but remember that the context is the tongue.
Stumble - to sin, fail to keep the law of God, to fall
And since it is right after verse one the context is also Bible teachers. How much more seriously should any of us take the task of Bible teaching knowing that everyone stumbles?
In the broader context of this chapter which is the tongue James tells us that we all stumble/sin, and now he will give us some examples for us to consider in regards to our sinful tongues.
But please note that James doesn’t make any excuses for his own sin our ours. We are not to make excuses for our sins, but rather we are to take responsibility for our sin and mature in our walk with Christ.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
However if you happen to be the only person I have ever met that does not stumble in what he says (sin with your words) then you are perfect (mature) and able to control your whole body.
If you happen to be that person who is that perfectly mature please come and talk to me after service and teach me.
If you are perfectly mature in what you say then that says a lot about you since Jesus told us.
34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
So heres a fun question. How do you stumble in what you say?
Do you stumble more in what you do say or in what you don’t say and what are you going to do about that?
The point being that the tongue though small is a powerful part of our body’s.
We can tame wild animals, but taming the tongue is impossible.
The point that James is making here is that each of us who calls ourselves Christians need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct even our words.
The buildup of the chapter has led us to this truth. Our tongues display what’s going on in our constant struggle in the spiritual battle that is taking place over all of our lives. When we use our tongue to speak curses or spread bitterness it is evident that we are in the flesh, but when we use our tongue for blessing or fresh sweetness we are walking in the Spirit.
Since only a perfect person can control the tongue and we are certainly not perfect in our flesh, we need to constantly run to the Father of lights who will give us wisdom liberally and without reproach and bless us with every good and perfect gift so that not only our tongues but our whole being can be brought into submission to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since we know that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, James now deals with the heart after teaching us about our tongue.
When we began the chapter James showed the teacher how to speak, and in this last section he shows how the teacher or those who desire to teach should live their lives in Christ.