James 3:1-5 (NKJV)1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 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.
Having concluded his discourse on the importance of good works accompanying any profession of faith, James now addresses one species of good works that is of particular importance to him – the tongue.
Already James has admonished us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. He has warned us that if anyone thinks himself to be religious, and does not bridle his tongue, then his religion is worthless. And now James returns to this subject to instruct his audience about the nature of the tongue and its dangers.
He begins his discourse on the tongue by addressing teachers – those entrusted with the task of using their tongue to instruct others. James warns his audience from pursuing such a calling lightly – knowing that those who do pursue it shall receive a stricter judgment. It is no light thing, James tells all of us entrusted with the responsibility to teach, to carry out that function. It is a holy calling, a serious business, one of the most "extreme" of activities. Some may very well have been tempted to pursue the calling simply for the sake of the authority which teachers in the church possess – and so he warns his readers from jumping on the bandwagon just for the kudos that come along with the privilege. Teaching in the Church is a dangerous thing.
The warning that James gives is directly connected with his burden to address the power of the tongue. And so James follows up his warning against becoming teachers with a brief explanation. He notes that we all sin in various ways and that restraint of the tongue is one of the most critical virtues to possess – leading as it does to the control of the rest of our faculties. We’ll return to this observation next week – at this point let us simply remark that James’ warning is vivid because no one is more tempted to misuse his tongue than one who is commissioned to use it.
But lest you think that you are off the hook if you have not been called to the office of teacher in the church, let me remind you that many of us are called to teach in other settings. Parents, for example, are exhorted to teach God’s commandments diligently to their children and to talk of them when sitting at home, when walking along the road, when lying down, and when waking. Likewise, those in authority are commissioned to give wisdom and direction to those under their charge. And so James’ words apply to you – if you are called upon to teach, whether formally or informally, beware lest the use of your tongue cause others – or yourself – to stumble into sin. Speak wisely, speak sparingly, speak shrewdly.
Reminded that we often fail to consider carefully the words that we speak, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.