Letter of James 5

James 3 Amplified Bible (AMP)

j. Qualities required in teachers (3:1–18)

(i) Control of speech
Not many [of you] should become teachers [serving in an official teaching capacity], my brothers and sisters, for you know that we [who are teachers] will be judged by a higher standard [because we have assumed greater accountability and more condemnation if we teach incorrectly]. 2 For we all stumble and sin in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says [never saying the wrong thing], he is a perfect man [fully developed in character, without serious flaws], able to bridle his whole body and rein in his entire nature [taming his human faults and weaknesses]. 3 Now if we put bits into the horses’ mouths to make them obey us, we guide their whole body as well. 4 And look at the ships. Even though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the helmsman determines. 5 In the same sense, the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See [by comparison] how great a forest is set on fire by a small spark! 6 And the tongue is [in a sense] a fire, the very world of injustice and unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our members as that which contaminates the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life [the cycle of man’s existence], and is itself set on fire by hell (Gehenna). 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and sea creatures, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the human tongue; it is a restless evil [undisciplined, unstable], full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. 10 Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. These things, my brothers, should not be this way [for we have a moral obligation to speak in a manner that reflects our fear of God and profound respect for His precepts]. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

(ii) True wisdom
13 Who among you is wise and intelligent? Let him by his good conduct show his [good] deeds with the gentleness and humility of true wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant, and [as a result] be in defiance of the truth. 15 This [superficial] wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly (secular), natural (unspiritual), even demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder [unrest, rebellion] and every evil thing and morally degrading practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure [morally and spiritually undefiled], then peace-loving [courteous, considerate], gentle, reasonable [and willing to listen], full of compassion and good fruits. It is unwavering, without [self-righteous] hypocrisy [and self-serving guile]. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness (spiritual maturity) is sown in peace by those who make peace [by actively encouraging goodwill between individuals].
James 3:1–18: Qualities required in teachers

Words Reveal Character: James3, 1-12
1. The Importance of Words (3:1, 2)
2. The Power of Words (3:3–8)
3. The Potential of Words (3:9–12)
After emphatically exhorting his audience to treat all people impartially and to live a life of obedience proving this way their faith to be a real one, James focused his attention on the relationship between wisdom and peace among followers of Christ. And he begins by addressing the issue of communication [the control of what we say, the rule of our tongue], although he puts the focus on the teachers, because certainly their importance and influence in the Christian community cannot be underestimated, their words are true for all the followers of Christ. What he teaches us in this little sermon can be traced without problem in all Jewish wisdom literature and we can also find it in the teaching of Jesus. Let us look at these verses more closely and in a spirit of prayer.

The ethics outlined in the Epistle of James encompasses both humankind's relationship with God and man's relationship with man. Both human doing and human speaking about God must be in harmony with the ethics of their Creator. Chapter 2 of this epistle emphasizes doing, while Chapter 3 emphasizes man's speaking of God. Speaking which, at its heart, is nothing but a 'concrete way of doing'.

Let us begin by comparing James' warning about the tongue's capacity for evil with what we find in the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs also deals with the dangers associated with the tongue, or speech, several times. For example, in Proverbs 10:31; 11:12; 15:4; and many other verses. Both James and Proverbs point out that words can create all kinds of problems. To avoid conflict and live in peace, we must control our tongues. Words, what we say, can be a wall, but they can also be a bridge.

The mouth of the righteous flows with [skillful and godly] wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out. [Proverbs 10,31]
By the blessing [of the influence] of the upright the city is exalted, But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down. He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent. [Proverbs 11,11-12]

A soothing tongue [speaking words that build up and encourage] is a tree of life, but a perversive tongue [speaking words that overwhelm and depress] crushes the spirit. [Proverbs 15,4].
Also, in the teaching of Jesus we can find this exhortation to control our words, what we say and how we say it. From Jesus' words we can clearly see that our speech is a fruit of what is inside us, a reflection of who we are.

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is recognized and judged by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man, from his [inner] good treasure, brings out good things; and the evil man, from his [inner] evil treasure, brings out evil things. 36 But I tell you, on the day of judgment people will have to give an accounting for every careless or useless word they speak. 37 For by your words [reflecting your spiritual condition] you will be justified and acquitted of the guilt of sin; and by your words [rejecting Me] you will be condemned and sentenced.” [Matthew 12, 33-37]

As we can see, James' teachings on the importance of control of tongue are a reflection of Jewish traditional teachings in the matter and, above all, of that of Jesus. James provides the Church with a practical set of instructions on how to live in expectation of the coming of Christ and the judgment to come, and one of the ways he offers us to know the reality of what is in our heart is to pay attention to our words.

There is no doubt that language occupies a fundamental place in the life of the human being. We are linguistic beings and it is this capacity for language that enables us to think and act. Unfortunately, this gift created to unite, console, guide, and instruct can also be used for evil purposes to manipulate and destroy. Language is a powerful tool for good and evil. With it God created the world and we have been made in his image and likeness. Thus, too, our language, on another level of course, creates realities. Hence the importance God places on controlling what we say. James does not ignore this reality, which has been part of Jewish teaching since ancient times, and warns his readers, then and now, of the responsibility that falls on us every time we speak.

Many of the great battles in history have been in the field of speech control. Drowning out some truths, allowing others, using certain words that convey nuances in a sense that is conducive to the one who is emitting them. This has always happened throughout history. Discourse has been one of the most effective tools of power to control people. First, through literature and the writings of historians, then through the control and manipulation of the written press. Today, through social media and social networks. Behind all these media there are interests that seek to maintain or increase their privileges, creating currents of opinion, changing the way we think and see the world. Many times, it is not even a question of frontal attacks, but rather more subtle attacks using 'soft' words to designate realities that would be difficult for most people to digest. Certainly, in the end, when something has been repeated many times and has been presented as something just, it ends up being accepted as such without questioning the reality itself.

Let me illustrate what I'm saying: we have the language of politicians ‘designed to make lies sound truthful and murder acceptable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’ [George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)]. Vinoth Ramachandra [Subverting Global Myths (London: SPCK, 2008), 34, 37 ] highlights similar deception, when he says the media talk about smart bombs, surgical strikes, holy terror, . . . the conflict is always a “war” not an “invasion,” a “liberation” not an “occupation,” and cities are “secured” not “captured.” More examples of euphemisms, "termination of pregnancy" when in fact they mean 'abortion'. Fetus instead of unborn, and so on…

The problem of speech ethics was one of the great concerns and a recurrent topic in secular moralists, in the Old Testament and in Jewish wisdom literature. However, today one hardly finds discussions or studies on this subject in contemporary authors. We seem to have reached a point where we assume as ethical what those who control the world tell us. Could it be that the reality depicted by Orwell in his novel 1984 has come true? Orwell portrays a regime that has developed a new language [newspeak] whose aim is to prevent thoughts that are contrary to the principles of government.

We could continue but what has been said is enough to make clear the importance of language and the importance that what we say is true and that the way in which we say it is the appropriate one for each case without masking or, even worse, twisting the truth. So, what can we learn from this letter?
For James, speech is of central concern in his call to Christians to live coherent lives, lives that reflect God’s character and concerns. What we say is a key indicator of whether or not we are living with integrity. James has referred to this topic of speech before [1:19] when he writes: “Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]”. and again in 1, 26 where in an even more direct way he writes the following: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren)”. And again we will find this topic later in the epistle at 4, 11: “Believers, do not speak against or slander one another. He who speaks [self-righteously] against a brother or [a]judges his brother [hypocritically], speaks against the Law and judges the Law. If you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge of it”, and 5,12: “But above all, my fellow believers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be [a truthful] yes, and your no be [a truthful] no, so that you may not fall under judgment”.

Teachers and the control of the tongue
The teacher, in those days, had the task of exposing the truth of the Gospel [cf. 2 Timothy 2:2: The things [the doctrine, the precepts, the admonitions, the sum of my ministry] which you have heard me teach in the presence of many witnesses, entrust [as a treasure] to reliable and faithful men who will also be capable and qualified to teach others]. The teacher was the equivalent of the rabbi, which means that the teachers of the early Jewish-Christian community had considerable prestige and influence, so it is not at all strange that James chooses them as an example in this very important matter of the dangers of tongue.

On the subject of the dangers to which teachers are exposed, James certainly takes into account the words of Jesus: Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble and sin [by leading him away from My teaching], it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone [as large as one turned by a donkey] hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe (judgment is coming) to the world because of stumbling blocks and temptations to sin! It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the person on whose account or through whom the stumbling block comes! [Matthew 18,6-7]. Since teachers have a power and influence not possessed by other believers, their words can build up the community, but they can also destroy it. They can bring believers closer to God or they can lead them away from Him. Their teaching can be healthy or degenerate into empty talk. The constant use of the word means that they can fall into sin more easily than others and can drag many down with them [there is enough evidence in the history of the Church of this].

Given that teachers have a direct responsibility for the spiritual health of those they teach, in the judgment their words and the consequences of those words on the lives of their disciples will be analyzed in a very special way. [Luke 12,48: but the one who did not know it and did things worthy of a beating, will receive only a few [lashes]. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.]. God has entrusted teachers with the deposit of faith and expects them to be good, efficient, and loyal stewards of the treasury entrusted to them.
With great knowledge comes great responsibility. The responsibility to live faithfully according to that which is known and to hand it down in its pristine purity to the next generations, just as it has been handed down to us.

Questions to think about
1. The tongue can be used for building up or for tearing down. What circumstances most tempt you to use your words for tearing down? How can you overcome those temptations?
2. James specifically mentions teachers as those with the most responsibility when using the word, because of their influence in the community. Who are the people who have the most influence in the community and society today? Who would James choose today as the main target of his warning? Do you think they would still be the teachers?
3. Think about those areas of life where what you say is especially significant – perhaps as a parent, or with a friend, or as…. How do you think your words stand up to the scrutiny that James is calling for?
4. According to a study by Oxford University over the course of a day we say about 16,000 words, if you go over the day carefully what have you done with those words, hurt or heal, build or destroy? When you hurt with your words do you ask for forgiveness?

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