Study Notes

James 3:1-12


James has been talking about the importance of works in demonstrating our faith. Although works can not and do not save us, they are proof that we have been truly saved. Now, as we begin chapter three, James picks up a new subject - the topic of teachers - which will quickly take us into an exhortation for all of us.

3:1 Becoming Teachers

Jesus has established His church with diverse leadership, with a wide variety of job descriptions. Ephesians 4 tells us,

Eph. 4:11-13 And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God...

Apostles are sent out by the Lord to go to an area to establish a work. They are the ground-breakers.

Prophets speak God's heart and mind to people. They are the edifiers, the exhorters, the consolers.

Evangelists bring the gospel to the unsaved and lead them to Christ. They are the preachers.

Pastor/teachers educate the believers in what the Bible says. They are the teachers, the interpreters.

God puts people in these places to build up the church, to equip people to serve, and to help people become mature in the faith.

Now, if people aren't doing their job, what happens? If apostles don't do their jobs well, no new works are established. If prophets don't do their jobs well, the heart of God is not known. If evangelists don't do their jobs well, then there are no new converts. But if teachers don't do their jobs well, then the believers - God's children - are deceived. They are led astray by false teaching or wrong ideas.

So, teachers must take their jobs super-seriously. To teach poorly is to rob God. To teach wrongly is to misrepresent God.

As a teacher, you are telling God's people what God's Word says. That is a huge responsibility. You must always be careful to have your information right, to have your theology correct. I have no respect for teachers that simply slap together a sermon on a Sunday morning and hope it does the job. Paul instructed Timothy,

2Tim. 2:2 And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

Those who would be teachers must be faithful to first learn.

Stricter judgment

Those who teach in the kingdom of God will one day be accountable to God for their teachings and their behavior. Jesus taught a parable in Luke 12, saying,

Luke 12:42-46 ..."Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, {both} men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect {him,} and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

A servant of the Master is assigned a task - the job of giving his fellow servants their rations, to feed them. But instead of feeding them, he is slothful and unfaithful. He gets drunk and beats the others. When the Master returned, he was punished horribly.

I believe this is a parable that speaks of the stricter judgment which teachers shall incur. As teachers of the Word, we are simply servants of God who have been given the job of feeding others with the Word of God.

Notice that the servant was beating his fellow slaves instead of feeding them. In John 21, Jesus told Peter, "Feed My sheep." Unfortunately, many today put that into practice as if Jesus had said, "Beat My sheep."

Many people here this morning have come to Calvary Chapel because they used to be under the authority of pastors that were beating them instead of feeding them. These pastors will someday stand before God and give an account for this behavior.

But whether we're talking about pastors, Bible study leaders, or even the children's Sunday School teachers, teachers in the kingdom of God are accountable for what they know, what they've heard, what they've learned, and what they've taught. We who teach shall incur a stricter judgment.

3:2-10 The Tongue Directing

James points out to us that it is not just teachers who need to watch their tongues. He gives us word pictures to illustrate how this small part of our body directs our whole person. Like a ship's rudder or a horse's bridle, it is a tiny part that guides the large whole.

He talks about stumbling in what we say. He does not mean to stammer or to say something incorrectly. He is talking about entering into sin by what we say. He points out that the tongue starts fires, poisons people, and brings bitterness.

What are sins that our tongues commit? I've come up with a quick list of four that will probably apply to all of us.


Gossip continues to be, I believe, the most insidious sin in any given church. Although we disguise our statements under the guise of "prayer requests" and "seeking counsel," it is gossip all the same.

No other sin that I know of is committed so regularly and "innocently" by Christians, yet hurts so deeply and permanently as gossip.

Paul warned Timothy and Titus about gossipers in the church. He used the term "malicious gossips" to describe them. This is a word that may surprise you with its true meaning. The word in Greek is "dee-AB-ol-os," the name given to the devil himself. It comes from a word that means, "to throw over, to toss." When we're gossiping, we're just throwing out this bit of information, just tossing over a juicy piece of news. But in reality, we are doing the work of the devil.

Folks, we've got to become sensitive to this sin of the tongue. It destroys people. And every one of us continues to be guilty of it.

Tearing Down/Insulting

The second thing on my list is insulting others or tearing them down. We are so quick to point out faults in people, so liable to point out their shortcomings to others - especially when they deserve it, right? But Peter wrote,

1Pet. 3:8-9 ...not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead...

We tear down politicians and neighbors, family members and coworkers. We need to repent of this, for it is sin.


Thirdly, something that many Christians are guilty of is profanity. Now, before you say, "that's not a problem for me," listen to what the Scripture tells us.

Eph. 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such {a word} as is good for edification according to the need {of the moment,} that it may give grace to those who hear.

The word "unwholesome" means "rotten, putrefied, corrupt, no longer fit for use." This doesn't just apply to the "really bad" four-letter words. They are words that sound slightly funny, tame by most standards. Since our society has deemed many of them to be acceptable on TV, we think they must be okay. But they are unwholesome, unfit for our use.


Fourth and last on the list this morning is complaining. This is something that we are all guilty of, in spite of the fact that it is so often forbidden in Scripture.

Col. 3:12-13 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

James 5:9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

Phil. 2:14-15 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent...

People who are innocent in the eyes of God, who forgive as Christ forgave, do not complain against others.

No One Can Tame The Tongue

These are sins we commit with our tongues, and it would seem that keeping our mouths shut would be best. Indeed, the Bible says,

Prov. 10:19 When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

However, you can't take a vow of silence to avoid sin. How can you keep from sinning with the tongue when James says,

James 3:8 one can tame the tongue...

The answer is that you cannot control your tongue. You've got to go to the source. Jesus said,

Matt. 12:34-35 "...the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of {his} good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of {his} evil treasure brings forth what is evil."

3:11-12 What To Do?

If you're trying to quit gossiping, complaining, using improper language, or tearing people down, you will fail if you try to stop it at your mouth.

The way to keep from sinning with your tongue is to stop it in your heart. As Paul told the Corinthians,

2Cor. 10:5 ...we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

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