The Teachable Life! – James 3:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 15, 2014
Are you teachable or do you only like to teach? They say the best teachers are those who are willing to learn themselves. While I am a conservative evangelical pastor, I still spend time reading what other faiths believe or what other viewpoints are concerning the world around me. In our world today it has become increasingly more difficult to try and have ongoing conversations with those whom one disagrees with; especially if you are a Christian. While we live in a world that says it is tolerant of differing views, I dare say what they really means is that they are accepting as long as the views agree with theirs! Often times one can become the enemy simply because you relate the truth. As Paul wrote, “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.” (Galatians 4:17 NIV) They are not very teachable.
The teachable life is not only one of accountability but also one of responsibility! We are accountable for what we know and how we relate it to others, and we are responsible to get it right the first time. James understood that those who desire to teach others about faith in Christ are going to be judged more harshly than those who did not. As Paul would write, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NIV) Let’s discover what James teaches about the teachable life…
From pills to hypnosis there are thousands of ways to lose weight, gain weight, or exercise. We often look at such things as self-help or self-improvement. I know that in order to lose weight I have to be disciplined in what I eat or don’t eat. I have to have discipline in order to exercise or to grow spiritually as well! In fact, James teaches us that…
I. A teachable life disciplines itself! (Vv. 1-2)
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 NIV)
1. James was addressing those who said they already had or that wanted the mantle of “teacher.” In Hebraic society it was an honorable profession to be seen as a teacher. However, Jewish teachers back then did not just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, they taught spirituality as well. They were known as “rabbis.” Evidently there were a lot of folks who wanted to teach, but perhaps they were not very teachable. Again, James addresses his “brothers” in Christ and tells them, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers” and his reasoning was “because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” We forget that teachers, whether parents, public school, or Sunday School are held accountable by not just what they teach. They are held accountable by how they act while they teach! A teacher simply can’t say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say!” James knew “We all stumble in many ways.” No one is perfect and “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” Herein lays the key to what James was getting to. If you wanted to be seen as a teacher, you had better be able to keep your body in check; the body being the total person. What thing in your life controls you so that others have a hard time seeing you as a teacher? Too many forget that whether we like it or not, the world sees believers as instructors of Jesus’ gospel; and rightly so. A Christian’s condemnation is greater because, having professed to have a clear knowledge of the gospel; he is all the more bound to obey it! We should be judged more strictly because we are holding out the words of eternal life! James knew that a teachable life disciplines itself!
EXAMPLE: One of the hardest things to do is to learn how to be disciplined. Whether it is for a sport, exercise, creating something like a novel or painting, it takes discipline. The same is true for the mature spiritual life. If you want to learn the deep things of God, one must be willing to discipline themselves in order to learn them. Paul told Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)” James knew that the teachable life disciplines itself!
We live in a society that falsely thinks it has the right to say anything to anyone at anytime and declare it “freedom of speech.” A society that thinks it can say anything at anytime must be willing to be responsible with the words it uses. Believers do not have such a luxury; we must be willing to speak as if it were Jesus speaking through us. This is why James continues by telling us that…
II. A teachable life keeps its mouth in check! (Vv. 3-6)
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 tongue also is 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. (James 3:3-6 NIV)
1. James knew that control was the key to a disciplined life. He related that “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.” A small implement like a bit could be used to turn a great big horse! “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.” Such small things in comparison to a large animal or a larger ship could be steered by a very small thing like a rudder or bit. Why is it then that people, who have the ability to make rudders and bits for steering other things, cannot keep their mouths in check? James continues, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” If we see James using this example in a good sense, (as Gill writes) “the bridled and sanctified tongue, that is influenced by the grace of God, and directed by the Spirit of God, as it speaks great and good things, has great power, weight, and influence”! However, on the negative side there are those who “mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. (2 Peter 2:18 NIV)” James would have us to “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Living in the Northwest we know what it means for a forest to be set on fire and James equates this kind of conflagration with a person’s misused mouth! “The tongue also is 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.” Wow! Just imagine how an unmanageable mouth is used for the fires of hell, yet, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 NIV)” James knew that a teachable life keeps its mouth in check!
EXAMPLE: My father hated it when we would ‘talk back” after being disciplined. He saw it for what it was, disrespect. We live in such a sarcastic age whereby we feel we should be able to express ourselves however we want whenever we want. This includes our speech. Crass and crude words have sadly become the norm for a lot of people, and then they wonder why folks treat one another so badly. Even elementary age children have mouths my Mom would have cleansed with soap. Sadly, even believers think they should be able to say whatever they want whenever they want without being “judged.” This is why Jesus related, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37 NIV)” and Paul reminds us, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NIV)” However, James knew that a teachable life keeps its mouth in check!
We recently watched the newer version of King Kong and Andrew kept asking us if Kong was “good or bad.” (He likes to get the bad guys, so this information is important to him.) We told him that Kong was neither good nor bad, just a wild animal. Some think they can act anyway they want because they are just evolved animals. The Bible says this is faulty thinking. Jude, James’ other brother by the same mother, related that this is why “men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them. (Jude 1:10 NIV)” James agrees and relates that…
III. A teachable life tames itself! (Vv. 7-12)
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. 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. (James 3:7-12 NIV)
1. We live in a world whereby folks actually think that human beings are just a higher form of animal, so consequently they see no problem when they act like animals. In fact, there are those who actually glorify it and they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:23 NIV)” However, the Bible teaches us something quite different. It teaches that God considers us as “sons of God” and his children when we come to faith in his Son Jesus. We are in fact created in his image, capable of love, holiness, creating, faith, and service. Yet, James declares that “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 hard task to do. Those who use their mouths to slice and dice others are like deadly adders. Their tongues are a slithering “restless evil, full of deadly poison”! James knew that in fact if we begin to think of ourselves as animals we will treat one another like animals. We will say whatever comes into our mind not considering the consequences of our speech! Freedom of speech does not give one the right to say whatever they want whenever they want. In fact, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” One moment we will be in worship praising God and the next we will be on the highway of life cursing those who dare cut in front of us! “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Paul would accuse, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3 NIV)” Words mean things. This is why James would rhetorically ask, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” The answer is of course, “NO!” “My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” James knew a teachable life tames itself!
EXAMPLE: I get tired of hearing folks use the excuse that they simply could not help themselves. Of course they could. At some point the choice was made to follow your ungodly impulse or not. It sickened me to hear over and over how it was the availability of guns or the guns themselves that was the problem when the shooting recently occurred at Reynolds High School. This is simply not true. It was the poor choices a young man made who decided he was going to murder as many of his fellow students as he could. The problem is we no longer discipline ourselves. We support violent TV, movies, rampant sexuality, revenge, pornography, and disdain human life. Christians should live differently from the world. James knew a teachable life tames itself.
A teachable life disciplines itself, it keeps its mouth in check, and it tames itself!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.