Book of James – Bible Study – Part 8

Part 8 – Spiritual Maturity

This is part 8 of a 15 part Bible Study on the book of James .

Compiled and written by Norma Becker – a true woman of God and God’s word.

*The Index, with links, to all 15 parts is at the bottom of each page.

Spiritual Maturity

James 3:1-12

Now James gives another measure of spiritual maturity – a believer’s speech. He will talk about a controlled tongue and also for controlled thoughts. The mouth, after all, is connected to the mind.

First, let’s think about what Jesus said in Matthew 15:11, 18-20:

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean.”

We need to see that the heart and tongue are directly associated with each other. Every word reveals the condition of the heart.

Think Twice Before Teaching

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:1-2).

Verse 1 says,

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers because they will be judged more strictly” which is a little scary when that is what you are trying to do.

The Greek is literally “Stop becoming many teachers.”

In other words James was telling them not to run too quickly into the role of teaching. Here are a few reasons:

  • Because the teacher is responsible to teach the truth and not his or her own opinion.
  • Because what a teacher teaches affects many lives.
  • Because the teacher is expected to live the truth he or she teaches
  • The responsibilities are strict and heavy.

Since the tongue is so difficult to control – we all stumble in this area – if anyone controls it perfectly, he gains control of himself in all other areas of his life as well.

The Tongue has Tremendous Power….

James is great at illustrations. In verses 3-5 he shows what the tongue is like:

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

The first two examples show how the tongue, even though it is small, can do good. In verse 5 the NIV says, “likewise the tongue,” the NASB says, “so also the tongue.” This gives the application of the two preceding verses. Like bits and rudders the tongue also is a small item.

Yet also like them, it exerts a powerful influence. “It makes great boasts.” It can sway crowds, it can alter the destinies of nations, and it can preach great sermons. These can be great things but 5b and 6 show the destructive potential by picturing the forest fire. Thousands of acres of valuable timber may be devastated by a small spark.

We know what happened in the Okanagan this summer(in the summer of 2003 there was a very large forest fire in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada). In the first two illustrations, animals and ships are controlled by small objects. In this illustration, a huge forest is destroyed by a tiny spark. The tongue in the same way can either control or destroy.

The Tongue is a Fire

“The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8).

He doesn’t have much good to say about the tongue, does he? The tongue is a fire – what do you think it is saying? Fire probably represents all sin that the tongue expresses. Can a person be angry or bitter; be selfish or desire power without expressing it in some way with the tongue? The tongue can corrupt the whole body. He says the tongue is set on fire by hell. The word hell used here doesn’t refer to Hades, but to Gehenna, which at that time was the name of the garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem. The tongue is activated by garbage.

“The tongue is not only like an uncontrolled fire, it is also like an untamed beast. All the wild animals have been tamed but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and full of evil” (James 3:6 Application Bible).

You didn’t know you carried a lethal weapon. Maybe there should be legislation to register it. Then James goes on to apply what he said of the tongue to both humanity and nature in verse 9-12:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

At end of verse 10 he says, “this should not be.” From humanity, opposites shouldn’t be. Why is it especially horrible to curse or verbally abuse a human being? To what kinds of speech does 3:9 apply, besides actual swearing?

From nature, opposites cannot come from the same source. What would happen to fresh water if fresh water and salt water flowed from the same spring? How is this like what happens to our praises if curses or derogatory remarks also come from our mouths?

Is the Tongue Necessary or Dangerous?

Why can’t man tame his own tongue? How would you say it would be possible to control our tongues and become mature? Let’s look at some passages that deal with the tongue – Proverbs is a rich source of wisdom:

Proverbs 6:16:

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Proverbs 10:11:

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.”

Proverbs 10:14:

“Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.”

Proverbs 10:18-21:

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgement.”

Proverbs 12:1:

“A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.”

Proverbs 12:18:

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15:1-2:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of a fool gushes folly.”

Proverbs 15:4:

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Proverbs 16:27:

“A scoundrel plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.”

Proverbs 16:28:

“A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends.”

Proverbs 17:27-28:

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Proverbs 21:23:

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”

Proverbs 26:18-25:

”Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart. A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart.”

Proverbs 29:20:

“Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Psalm 34:12-13 says:

“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.”

There are many more but if we thought on these often, we would save others and ourselves a lot of pain. With some we would bring healing and comfort.

Part 9
: Spiritual Maturity continued…


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Index of James Bible Study

Part 1 Who is James?
Part 2 When and to Whom Was James Written?
Part 3 How to Welcome Trials with an Attitude of Joy?
Part 4 What Does ‘Tempt’ Mean?
Part 5 What is the Key to Responding to Trials?
Part 6 Those with True Religion Should Serve
Part 7 Expression of the Character and Will of God Himself
Part 8 Spiritual Maturity
Part 9 Spiritual Maturity continued…
Part 10 What Causes Fights and Quarrels Among You?
Part 11  Is This How We Are To Be?
Part 12 What About My Plans?
Part 13 Let God be the Judge
Part 14 The Power of Prayer & Praise
Part 15 Summary and last part

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