And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 22, Number
In this issue:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (Jas. 3:1)
James sets his context for mature control over the tongue (Jas. 3:2-5). The teacher of God’s word will be judged for the teaching he does and the words he uses in that work. Every responsibility one has will be judged; James is not singling out teachers expect to emphasize that teaching comes with judgment – an incentive to be mature in the use and control of our tongues. 1) God will judge what a teacher teaches. We must teach the revealed word of God, not opinions, and the will of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Acts 20:20-27). Teachers must be careful to speak God’s word (2 Tim. 4:2; Gal. 1:8-9). Teach truth, not error. 2) God will judge how a teacher teaches. Paul explained this to Timothy: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Coupled with “rightly dividing the word of truth,” Timothy would know how to teach effectively. 3) God will judge why a teacher teaches. Paul continued, “if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We teach the gospel to save souls, not to commend ourselves before men (1 Cor. 1:23-24; Col. 1:28; Matt. 23:6-8). As teachers, may our tongues speak words that honor God and accomplish His will in the hearts and lives of men. Be careful teachers; judgment is coming.
2 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. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (Jas. 3:2-3)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
4 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. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (Jas. 3:4-5)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. 6 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. (Jas. 3:5-6)
Here, James drills down into the destructive power of the tongue. Great good results from using good words (note the preaching of the gospel that forever changed the world, Matt. 28:19-20). But the tongue given to evil is a fierce fire that engulfs a person and his world. Note the traits of the fiery, sinful tongue. 1) Its realm is iniquity. It operates in a system of injustice and unrighteousness. 2) It defiles the whole person. Food does not defile a person, but the words formed in the heart and communicated by the tongue do (Matt. 15:11, 18). When spoken, evil words stain one’s soul, and soil one’s reputation and influence for good. Everything becomes defiled through its scorched earth policy (Prov. 26:18-21). 3) It eventually destroys one’s entire life. We set our course in life in no small measure by the way we use our words. When left unchecked, the destructive tongue leaves in its wake a lifetime of misery. 4) Hell is at the heart of the fiery tongue. Whether its fire is gossip, flattery, profanity, or false teaching, hell is the source and accelerant of the sinful use of the tongue. Wicked words race through this world like a forest fire. Extinguish their devilish destruction by using just and pure words of truth and peace (Jas. 3:17-18).
For us to understand or have an understanding, we must rely on our God-given cognitive abilities to be able to reason. Without those abilities, not only is our capacity to reason limited, but also our ability to understand. In this article, I want to explore the concepts of cognitive reasoning, and the ability to understand, and how God’s word is a tool made available to us by the Holy Spirit in the scriptures.
When we think or ponder, we cogitate as described in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. We make choices, arrive at decisions using the gift of cognitive ability; Again relying upon the Webster Dictionary, being cognitive is an ability to be able of relating to, or being conscious intellectual activity (as thinking, remembering, reasoning, or using language). We are aware, or conscious of events that take place in our lives, and how we respond to them will be guided either by worldly thought and interpretation or by how God and Christ direct us to do so (in His word.) Our thought process goes from cognitive reasoning to a search for understanding things that may befall us in our lives – the “Why’s of why did this happen?” Cottage industries have been developed devoted to figuring this conundrum of “why this did happen, and why did it happen to my family or me?”
Philippians, Chapter 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” To those that believe and live according to God’s word are at once assured that His peace transcends all human understanding as they search for the “Why answers.”
We must not harden our hearts as we try to understand. Ephesians 4:18 tell us, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Then, just a chapter later, in Ephesians 5:17, we are reminded, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” How easy it is for people to turn away from God when something bad happens in their lives as their hearts become hardened. This is aptly pointed out in Romans 1:20-22 when the Apostle Paul taught, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
In Proverbs 4:7, we are instructed that, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Our only true wisdom and understanding are given to us by God, not man.
In Old Testament and now New Testament time, man has come to rely on what is thought to be wisdom and understanding that comes from himself and not God. The book of Proverbs, Chapter 3:5 instructs us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding.” And again, Proverbs 4:5, we are advised to “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them.”
We need to listen to God’s word, not men. Our correct understanding must be founded upon God’s revealed word and not ourselves. (See Jeremiah 10:23, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”) Also, Daniel 1:20 displays the power of God’s wisdom and His understanding compared to man’s wisdom as noted by the king of Babylon, “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”
When we follow God’s word, it will give us the understanding we are searching for, even though it may not agree with what we expect to think or hear.
(Current events in the light of Scripture)
I am writing this as news breaks about unmasking the identity of a U.S. citizen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn by government officials. The stench of political maneuvering (and of possible criminal activity) is too often the aroma arising from our nation’s capital. Everything is fair game in the blood sport of politics, including destroying truth, justice, honor, reputations, and lives. And the nation suffers (Prov. 14:34; 29:2).
This unmasking business reminds me of the warnings Scripture gives against being breaking confidences.
Talebearers unmask information designed to harm and manipulate others. “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Prov. 11:13). A trustworthy person does not use tidbits of information to manipulate people and situations. Revealing secrets is often about power and control, not about faithfully utilizing the information to advance holiness. No wonder Solomon said not to associate with the talebearer (Prov. 20:19).
Unmasking private information damages the reputation of others as well as your own. “Debate your case with your neighbor, and do not disclose the secret to another; Lest he who hears it expose your shame, and your reputation be ruined” (Prov. 25:9-10). Don’t broadcast every dispute you have with someone. Seek a godly resolution with the person instead of vindication from others (Matt. 5:21-26). The talebearer who discloses secrets forgets that his careless spreading of private information damages his reputation. When someone sins against you, settle it privately, don’t publicize it (Matt. 18:15). When someone seeks your counsel, do not betray their confidence by spreading their private problems to others. If you do, it won’t be long before people do not seek your counsel.
Christians are to be trustworthy with information about others – not to conceal sin, but to respectfully help them turn back to the truth and save their souls (Jas. 5:19-20). Honesty and discretion demand that we do not unmask someone to strengthen ourselves at their expense.
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 05/16/2020
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