The Book of James Bible Study

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James 3

Be Slow to Speak James 3:1-2

Test of Speech

The Wisdom Test - James 3:13-18

Godly Wisdom


Be Slow to Speak

The third chapter is a piece of literary art. James has masterfully woven metaphor
after metaphor together to from a common strand that full develops the speech test of genuine faith. James introduces three subordinate themes in James 1:19 in order to develop his overall theme of testing genuine faith; the second is the basis of this chapter: “slow to speak.”

Communicating with words is one of the distinguishing marks of human life. God Himself has communicated with man, whether by written words of Scripture or by His son, who is the unique Word of God (John 1:1). Like so many aspects of life that provide great advantages, however, communication
through speech has its darker side. Sometimes speech can injure. It can do more harm than good. It can convey wrong information that can lead to disaster. It can be used irresponsibly, without concern for consequences. The solution is not to avoid it but to use it as God intended.

The key to this test of faith in the third chapter is making an inward evaluation based upon outward manifestations. James supplies the data needed for this evaluation through diverse metaphors from the imagery of nature.

Though there were formal offices in the early church, such as elder (James 5:14), there was no ordination process or schooling needed to teach and preach. As a result it was relatively easy for people with some ability, but worldly motivation, to put themselves forward as teachers. These uncalled teachers criticized others and formed cliques in the church; other church members followed suit in speaking harshly of them. James' response is to call for control of the tongue, citing the danger of the tongue, giving the marks of God's Spirit, and finally exposing the worldly motivation of many in the church.

Teachers were important for the church (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-13), but the church was also plagued by false teachers (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:1). The gift of teaching was easy to counterfeit, if someone were eloquent enough. But as surely as a person had "volunteered" to teach rather than having been impelled by the Spirit, so surely would his worldly motives become manifest in jealously, strife, or heresy. James values the ministry, but he realizes that its social attractiveness and power make it dangerous and that one should be reluctant to enter it.

The danger of the ministry is first personal: We who teach will be judged more strictly. Since every casual word would be judged, how much more the words of those who dealt in words? (Matthew 12:36-37). Since the Jewish teachers will be judged severely, how much more, Christian teachers? (Matthew 23:1-33; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).

An examination of the condemnations of false teaching both in the Gospels and in 1 and 2 Peter and Jude show that, as with elders (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), the lifestyle of the teacher was as important as the words he spoke. Teachers were primarily models, secondarily intellectual and theological instructors. By claiming this status the teacher put both life and words under God's scrutiny, and He would hold them responsible for misleading the flock in word or deed. The danger is compounded by the fact that all people stumble in many ways and none escape the scrutinizing of God. Therefore, a teacher’s condemnation is greater because of of his having a greater influence and impact on the lives of others. Therefore, teachers are held to a greater accountability by God.

James is not prohibiting everyone from becoming teachers, but rather he is limiting the number of those who seek to become teachers. He does not want many within the church to become teachers. A teacher was a position of some social rank in the first century. Interestingly, the term didakalov (“teacher”) occurs 59 times in the NT and 41 of those occurrences refer to Jesus. It is also used of John the Baptist (Luke 3:12), Nicodemus (John 3:10), Jewish teachers (Luke 2:46), Paul (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11) and teachers of the church (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). A comparison of the usages of didakalov reveals that not once is the term used so loosely as to refer to just anyone who would speak out in a church service. This term is best understood by its Jewish and early Christian usage as expositors of the Law. Clearly, James refers to himself as a teacher in his usage of the first person plural “we” in the
first verse.

Next Section - Test of Speech

Bible Studies by Bob Conway

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Life of the Apostle Paul

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