J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 3:1-5

Family Devotion

Big Idea:  It is the small things that make a difference

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

  • Why does James warn against many people being teachers?
  • In what areas do you imagine teachers will be judged?

 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

  • James lets us know that perfection is not required to be a teacher.  What area of obedience does he use to show us how hard obedience is?

 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!

  • How does the way we speak affect other areas of our lives?
  • What are ways in which our speech can help?
  • What are ways in which our speech can hurt?

Sermon Notes

Many of you have heard this story before, but I swore I would never be a pastor.  In fact when Amy and I got married we made a deal.  I literally said, “Sweetie, I am never going to be a pastor,” and she said, “Good, because I’m never going to be a pastor’s wife.”  And jokingly I have said, “We should have said we will never be millionaires.”

Gradually, our hearts were worn down by the Gospel.  Amy and I saw that the beauty of Jesus and the incredible joys of sitting under the affection of the Father won by Jesus and they called us to say, “Whatever you want for us God, we are willing.”  Our hesitancy wasn’t the weight of teaching or being accountable for my words up here, Amy and I just didn’t want to entrust our lives to you folks.  We saw both of our Fathers be pretty abused a couple of times by congregations, and both of their ministries ended pretty bitterly, and we wanted none of it.

But as we gave away our will to God to accept His, a new reality faced me.  There are strict and severe warnings about being a teacher.  You see the scriptures are of two minds here yet entirely consistent.

Let me give you a few examples.  In Numbers 11, Moses says “Are you jealous for my sake? I would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  And of course, the Great Commission, under which every Christian sits, commands this:  Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  And 1 Timothy tells each of you, “Study to show yourself approved of God, a workman rightly dividing the word of truth.”

So what we get in those verses is a clear desire from both from the leaders of scripture and more so from God Himself that it is not only good but commanded to teach and proclaim the truths of God.  But as I walked further into seminary and study, I stumbled upon the truths of the book of James this week.  There and this week, James going to tell us that not many of should strive to be a teacher and he is going to issue an incredible warning and consequence surrounding teaching error.  And I thought, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that I am accountable for every single word I say?  Who can do that?  You mean every little word?  Even the jokes, even the phone calls, even the texts?”

So now as I stand here each week teaching and as many of you teach in Sunday School or you teach your children or teach your spouses, what do we do?  Do we teach or not?  Do we desire to teach or not?  So to figure this out, this week we are going to pursue this:  Big Idea:  It is the small things that make a difference

Now we have been away from the book of James for the past 3 weeks.  What we need to give ourselves is a refresher, especially as we move into this new section of the book.  The last two chapters have really had one primary emphasis with two applications.  The primary emphasis of James so far says that when you have faith in Jesus, that the work that happens as you cast your life onto Jesus is that you are guaranteed to be transformed.  You have absolutely no choice but to be transformed as Jesus takes you from dead to sin to alive to Jesus.  James makes this point so strongly that he tells us that if you say you have faith in Jesus but you are not transformed and not being transformed, then your faith is dead or non-existent.  This is both hopeful knowing that Jesus is going to do this, and it is also a call to examine our hearts to see if we can find that transforming work of God occurring.  James says that we can really see this transformation take place in two areas.

The first area that we should see transformation is in the area of our speech.  James tells us that we should be slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen.  And if we are not doing that, if we are not bridling our tongue, if we are not exercising self-control in what we say, then our religion is worthless.  The second area that we should see transformation is in the area of showing mercy to others.  James tells us that perfect religion, undefiled worship of God is showing mercy to those in need.  If you have known the mercy of God, you will have no choice whatsoever but to show mercy to others.  So if your primary MO is to judge people in need, then what you know is judgment not mercy.  But if your heart has been transformed by the mercy of Jesus, then you will show mercy to others.  So with that recap, we find ourselves at the beginning of James 3.

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!

Now what does verse 1 say again?  That not many of you should be teachers.  Can you imagine me ever saying this to you guys?  I cannot ever imagine me telling you guys not to go teach and preach Jesus to anyone.  I mean, I’m doing everything I can to get you to share the Gospel, to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel.  Why in the world would James tell us that not many of us should become teachers?  His simple answer is this:  be careful if you want to be a teacher of the things of God because the teachers of God will be judged with greater strictness.  What does all this mean?  Well, let’s give it a shot.

Well, remember every single Christian is commanded to proclaim Jesus, and if you are proclaiming Jesus, then you are teaching and instructing.  No person who has faith in Jesus gets to opt out on teaching.  If you are part of a family, Dads teaching their families, Moms are teaching their kids.  If you are a boss, you are teaching your employees.  If you are older, you are teaching the younger.  And if you are a Christian, you are to do all of those things by teaching of Jesus.

So again, I ask with that, what does he mean “to become a teacher,” what kind of teacher is he talking about?  The word for teacher here is didaskaloi and because of that, many of your translations will say, “many of you should not be masters.”  That was a common term for a recognized teacher of God’s people.  Here that would include myself, the ruling elders, and anyone else that has been appointed and approved to teach God’s people.  That word is the same word that Rabbi’s would use among the Jewish community.

As one author pointed out, “James is not restraining the genuinely gifted.  He is not restraining the genuinely qualified.  He is not restraining the genuinely called.  He is not restraining the sincere and knowledgeable.  But he is saying take very great pains to ascertain the seriousness of the role of teaching before you…to put it in the vernacular…shoot off your mouth.” John MacArthur.

Bruce Theilman said, “There’s no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain.  The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors.  And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest.   To preach, to really preach is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.”

It is wise for each and every teacher of scripture, and at this point, I’m speaking to all of you but specifically to our ruling elders to listen well to these warnings.  Elders, you are to be a shepherd who shepherds by being a teacher of scripture.  You shepherded people yes by what you say here each Sunday, but if that is the limit of your shepherding instruction to these people, you are in danger, just as I would be.  To think that you and I have fulfilled our shepherding teaching of these folks by teaching a Sunday School class and writing a time or repentance or prayer for the kingdom is foolish.  That would be like a parent saying they fulfilled their duties to their kids they feed them once a week on Sunday mornings.  Not many of you should be teachers James says because not many can actually fulfill the office.  I don’t say that to scare off our elders to remind their hearts and my hearts of what we are called to do.

I remember in an officer training program (not for elders here at SK or anything) that I took part in a long time ago, there was a candidate who heard the requirements and expectations of office.  And at the moment he said, “That isn’t me.  I can’t do that.  I don’t think I can give myself away such as the Bible describes,” and he stepped down and didn’t seek the office.  I have much respect for that man.

At the same time, there were others in that group that heard the call and requirements of being an officer.   They said, “Yes, it is my heart’s desire and I want to make that sacrifice for God and make that sacrifice for my family.”  Praise God for both those who took the office and those who walked away.

But in case you think these words don’t have anything to do with all of you out there, know that the words of James are a warning to both teachers and the students.  First of all, it is a warning to me to speak correctly and rightly about Jesus and the words of life.  It is a warning to each and every one of us who do so.  But it is also a warning to you as well.  Ask yourself:  who do you listen to, whose teaching do you put yourself under?  I amazed sometimes that some of the smartest, brightest people I know listen to some of the most heretical and unbiblical teaching.  Weigh well the teaching of Jesus.  And one more for free?  Remember James tells us all in chapter 1, “Be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.”  We are commanded to teach Biblically, listen Biblically, and obey Biblically.

Now why James tell us few should seek to be a teacher?  James simple says that teachers will face stricter judgment.  What in the world does that mean?  And I’ll be honest, anyone who can say exactly what that means is pushing the boundaries of what the scriptures teach because the scriptures don’t teach much on this.  I mean we know that every believer in Jesus will sit at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as coronate Jesus as king and us as His children.  We will all enjoy the unwavering affection of Jesus because we will stand before God on Jesus’ righteousness and not ours.  There won’t be the heavenly ghetto where the Christians who barely make in live.  There isn’t a nose bleed section for the folks whose clothes are still smoldering because they barely escaped hell.  There isn’t a front row VIP section for Billy Graham and John Calvin either.

So what does this mean?  Well, I will walk gently here while at the same time trying to give as much of a warning as James does.    For the teachers of scripture who are unbelievers, and oh yeah, there are many teachers of the scriptures who have no faith in Jesus, their future judgment is when Christ returns, separates the sheep from the goats and Jesus casts every non-believers into the lake of fire where they are judged for their unforgiven sins.  For the believer in Jesus who is a teacher, I guess that judgment would be as we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  As one author says, “First Corinthians 4 says at that time the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, make manifest the counsels of the heart and then shall every man have praise of God.  And Paul basically says, “Look, I’m going to wait till that time to have my ministry evaluated.  It’s a small thing what you think.  It’s a small thing what I think.  It’s a big thing what God thinks and I minister in view of what is coming ahead.”   John Mac Arthur

Now when we hear these commands of James, we should take the Bible more seriously.  We are accountable for whether we teach or not as we are all command to proclaim Jesus.  We are accountable if we are a teacher of God’s people.  And James say, “You better be careful if that is what you are shooting for.”  I had one seminary professor who tried to empty a classroom one day.  He looked at us and said, “If there is anything else you can do this world other than be a pastor, go do it.  But if this is all you can do, if this is the one thing that will give your heart peace and satisfaction before God, walk lightly, gently, and in humility as you undertake being a teacher.”  Now having said that, James goes on to show all of us the challenge of living before God

2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

James says, “Listen we all stumble in many ways.  We all sin.  None of us are going to be perfect.”  This is James ways of giving us the warning but not keeping us from actually walking in obedience from God.  He is saying, “Listen, it is not that God is not gracious.  He is.  But He is also holy and calls you to a holy life, specifically in how you handle the word of God.

Now for any who might argue and say, “Well, I’m not that bad; I’ve got nothing to worry about,” James offers the second half of verse 2.  It is like James says, “If you think sin is not a struggle, give it a shot.  I’ve got a test for you.  If you don’t stumble in what you say, then you are perfect.  You can exercise self-control over your whole body.”  James is a gambling man which is easy because is playing with house money.

He is saying, “We are going to sin.  Even the most Godly among us.  We are forgiven but we have not left this sinful world and a sin nature remains in us.  And if you think differently, if you think either our problem is not bad or if you think you can conquer it, take on this challenge.  Speak perfectly.  Never utter a mean or harsh or sarcastic or hurtful word.  If you can do that, then I imagine you can be perfect and control yourself every other way.”

And when we hear that, you should say, “No sadly, I can’t do that.”  So James is saying, “Be careful as a teacher.  We are sinful, and the tongue is too powerful to conquer but it can be tamed.”  Since James has made this illustration he decides to broaden it to remind all of us how important it is to speak in Godly fashion with our words and this is a commandment that we each need to weigh carefully and well.   He says in verse 3.

3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

James’ words are simple but profound illustrations for us all to follow.  A tiny bit in the mouth of a horse will control the entire body of the horse.  A tiny rudder can control the direction of a ship even if it faces strong winds.   So in the same way, your tongue, though very small, can control your whole life.  “Nowhere is the union of faith and works more visible than in your speech…and my speech.”  John MacArthur.

This is how the Bible describes the speech of a person who has been transformed by the forgiveness of Jesus.

o    Proverbs 10:32 – Godly speech knows Biblically what God calls good.
o    Proverbs 15:7 – Godly speech only says what is wise.
o    Ephesians 4:24 – Godly speech only says the truth and not lies.
o    Ephesians 5:4 – Godly speech doesn’t speak foolishly, doesn’t joke coarsely, and speaks always with thanks to God.
o    Proverbs 25:15 – Godly speech is gentle and patient.
o    Colossians 4:6 – Godly speech is always sprinkled with grace.
o    Proverbs 15:23 – Godly speech is timed and given at the right moment.
o    Ecclesiastes 3:7 – Godly speech is as much about knowing when to be quiet as it is about knowing when to speak.
o    Colossians 3:17 – Godly speech is always done to the glory of Jesus.

And gang, this is nowhere near close to all the commands of scripture.  James is telling us, “Hey you don’t have to be a teacher to be accountable for your words.  Teachers are doubly accountable, but we are all accountable for what we say.”  And it doesn’t take much to either build up or destroy, to either encourage or crush.

You know Psalm 64:3 describes the use of the tongue as being an arrow.  Because of that rabbis always described the tongue in that way and they explained that the tongue is an arrow because kills from a distance.  The tongue can kill without being anywhere near its victim.  It can be said from far away.  It can be said in an email.  And it doesn’t even have to be present to kill because words stick in our minds and hearts.

Parents, please hear me on this.  I know that it is hard to raise children.  I know that within a family, it is easier to use words to hurt than pretty much any arena of our life.  Spouses, I know it is easy to say things that immediately come to our minds when we are mad.  Siblings, it is so easy to destroy your brother or your sister with a word.  But we hold so much of our children’s lives, our spouse’s lives, and our brothers and sister’s lives in our hands when we speak.

I overheard this conversation one time, and even now I regret not speaking to this stranger when I heard it.  A teenage girl was speaking with her father, and she was struggling.  They were having a conversation about the girl’s acne.  The girl said to her father, “But Dad, I’m just so ugly with all these pimples on my face.”  Now right now, I can think of a few things to say that might be encouraging, and unfortunately, I easily think 50 things not to say.

But sadly, I didn’t use my words correctly that day either.  What was the dad’s response?  What did this dad say to the girl who thought she was ugly because of her acne?  He said, “Well if you had enough, God would heal you of those pimples.”  I still to this day regret not saying anything.  The dad had a chance to let his daughter know that she was beautiful.  He had a chance to let her know that beauty is not defined by her appearance.  And he also had a chance to give her a correct view of God.

Unfortunately, he failed in every area; he got all of those wrong.  By the way his daughter shrank when he said those things, you could tell she was crushed.  He didn’t affirm her beauty, and he didn’t affirm what real beauty should be.  And He didn’t affirm much right about God either.  There is no way in the world that he or anyone else could know whether that girls acne was attached to her faith and claiming so was arrogant and ignorant.

Simple words folks.  Husbands, give you wives a break.  Whatever is on the table is the greatest meal you have ever eaten.  Wives, however your husbands help, you must be appreciative.  Siblings, be the one person your brother or sister can count on to defend them, not defeat them.  Tiny bits control the horse.  Tiny rudders control the ship.  That’s the point of verse 5.

5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

The tongue, every tongue is going to boast of something.  The words may be few or they may be great, but the tongue boasts.  If you are constantly criticizing, then your tongue boasts of superiority.  If you are constantly referring to yourself, then your tongue boasts of self-righteousness.  If you constantly provoking, then your tongue boasts of a selfish joy that loves to bathe in other people’s misery.  If you are constantly quiet, then your tongue boasts that Jesus is not worthy of being mentioned.

However, your tongue can boast as well of good things.  If you are constantly speaking of Christ, then your tongue boasts of a true faith and beauty found in Jesus.  If you are constantly speaking of others and not yourself, then your tongue boasts of humility and seeing others as better than yourself.  That might be the only time the phrase, “boasting in humility” is used today.  If you are constantly speaking of lessons learned from your own mistakes, then your tongues boasts of gratitude for God’s grace.  If you are constantly speaking of the forgiveness of God, then your tongue boasts in your only hope, Jesus.

1 Timothy 4 tells us these simple commands about how the small things matter.  Verse 6 says to train your tongue in “Trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.”  Verse 7 says that we should, “Not speak about “Irrelevant, silly myths.”  Verse 12 says to set an example, “In speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”  Gang, as we wrap up this section of James, let’s try to take this teaching away in a few very specific areas.

One:  Teaching the word of God is not something to be entered into lightly.  No Christian gets the option to opt out of proclaiming Jesus, so each of should seek to know Him from scripture as well as we possibly can because are called to go.  We are called to share the Gospel with spouses, our children, each other, and the entire world – no options.  But if you are an officer or seek to be a teacher in some official capacity, know that James instructs you to enter into and weigh that commitment heavily because in one or another, teachers are judged more strictly before the throne of Jesus.  Parents, spouses, elders, Christian, I wish like Moses you were all prophets and you are commanded to study the scriptures so you can rightly explain them, but walk carefully when you speak of understanding the Bible.

Second:  the reason we should be careful in how we handle the scriptures is because we are commanded to be wise with our words.  I don’t care what your personality type is.  I don’t care if you are an introvert or an extrovert.  I don’t care if you are a no-nonsense kind of guy or gal.  We are commanded in this way.

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.  5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

We can only about these things wisely in prayer giving thanks to God always.  Knowing that these prayers should be prayers for whatever God calls us to and also to enable other people’s ministries as well.  What we should hope for in every single conversation we have is something very simple, something very small.  In each conversation, we should hope for that one small thing that will make a difference in people’s lives.  We should pray that God opens a door for you and me to speak about the beauty and mystery of Jesus Christ

When we pray for that opportunity to speak of Jesus, verse 4 tells us that God makes it very clear to us what we should have to say.  It makes us open to speak to people who don’t know Jesus, and it even teaches us how to use our time wisely.  Then we pray that God would enable us to make our speech always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Always speaking graciously means that no matter the topic, no matter the gravity of the situation, essentially no matter what, we are calling people to know of and get to know Jesus Christ and His grace and mercy better and when we do that, we will find ourselves being more gracious and forgiving with our words.  All we have to do is add the one simple thing to our conversations:  Jesus Christ.



April 30, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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