Today we return to the book of James and resume our study in chapter 3. Thus far we have seen that James is primarily concerned with explaining how true faith responds to the various trials we encounter in our lives. Authentic faith rejoices in trials, asking for wisdom to endure them, for in the endurance of trials, perseverance is produced (James 1:1–8). Genuine trust in the Lord manifests itself when the rich are not favored in the church but are encouraged, along with the poor, to boast in the Lord (1:9–10; 2:1–7).
True faith is revealed in that genuine believers not only hear the Word of God, but they also obey it (1:22–25). The good works done in obedience to our Lord and Savior do not in any way contribute to our justification. However, if we do not respond to our trials by producing good works, we must question ourselves as to whether we have actually trusted in Christ alone for salvation (2:14–26).
Having already emphasized the importance of good works as evidence of our salvation at the close of chapter 2, James again in chapter 3 gives us practical advice concerning the good work of bridling the tongue. In verses 1 and 2, he introduces this subject by telling us that not many of us should become teachers.
The warning concerning teachers is a particularly appropriate way to introduce this section since teachers generally use their tongues in their work far more than any other profession. The reason why not many should become teachers is that teachers will be judged with greater strictness (v. 1). If every idle word will be brought into judgment (Matt. 12:36), then how much more will the statements of teachers be judged since they so deeply influence our knowledge of God and development of Christian character?
James also notes that all of us stumble in many ways, especially in our speech (3:2). All of us have spoken maliciously at times, often without even thinking about it. But, as James says, if we can control the tongue we will also be able to control our whole body. Since it is so easy to have a sinful slip of the tongue, if we can avoid sinning when we speak, we will also be able to avoid sinning elsewhere.
Today’s passage warns us about taking up the task of teaching too casually. When we accept such a position of influence over others, whether in an official, ministerial capacity or not, God will judge the words we speak more strictly. If you are in a teaching position now, carefully prepare your lessons so that you teach only what the Bible teaches. If you are not currently serving as a teacher, spend much time in prayer and consideration before you volunteer to be one.