James Chapter Three, Fighting The Flesh

In our study of James chapter three, we look at the struggles we all face in dealing with our human struggles in the flesh. We will look at the source of the struggles and how to win the fight.

James 3:1

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

James opens up this section of his letter with a warning. We should not be teachers of the Word because of our own desire to do so as it must be a gift and calling from God. James warns us that, as teachers, God will judge our actions more strictly. This is not talking about a judgment of salvation but it speaks of the judgment of the saints and their works. It is much the same as what God said in Malachi 2. There, we see how seriously God takes someone leading His people astray. (The same is true today as James is saying here.) We must also say that, if God calls you to be a teacher (or to do anything else), He expects us to be obedient. That is not presuming; that is listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and being obedient.

James 3:2

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 goes from the introductory warning to look at the first act of fighting the flesh. He tells us that the words of a man are the greatest struggle. That is why a teacher is judged more strictly as they use words to instruct God's people. They must be careful to ensure that the words are words from God and that can only happen through a knowledge of God's Word and by listening to the Spirit. We are also told that, if we keep our words of God, then are bodies will follow in the will of God. (We must also note that this does not only apply to teachers but to all Christians.)

James 3:3

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

James gives us an example here of how something small can have a huge impact. A bit goes into the mouth of a horse and is attached to reins. Those reins are then used to turn the head of the horse and the body of the horse will go in the direction that the head goes. You could try to get behind a horse and push it to get it to go in a certain direction but the most effective way is to control the head by controlling the mouth.

James 3:4

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.

The second example (remember that two is the number of witnessing) is of a ship. With a small part under the water, the pilot can determine the direction of the ship no matter which way the wind tries to send it. The pilot must make a choice of which way to turn the rudder and take the whole ship.

James 3:5 & 6

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.

This passage reminds me of a wildfire which can be easily started when the conditions are right. When it is dry and windy, a small spark can start a massive roaring fire that consumes everything in its path for thousands of miles. Satan knows that the tongue can do the same thing in the lives of people and he is more than willing to help to create that little spark. That is why James is urging us to control our tongues.

James 3:7 & 8

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.

We have a contrast here to let us see how hard it is to tame the tongue. We all have seen various pets but all of the pets we see came from a wild animal at some time in history. People have all sorts of exotic pets even lions these days but rare is the man who has control of his words. This passage may seem like there is no hope to do this but we can remember that our hope is in Jesus and, through the Holy Spirit, we can control our words most of the time.

James 3:9 & 10

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.

When we praise, we are led by the Holy Spirit but, when we curse, we are not. We are called to walk with Jesus every second of our lives and that is done by letting the Spirit have control at all times.

James 3:11 & 12

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.

Now, James uses two examples from the natural world to help us to see what he is saying. First, he uses water and the fact that a single source does not produce two opposite types of water. The second examples are from plants and we see that it does not make sense for a tree/plant to produce any other fruit than the kind that God designed it to produce. Our source of life is Jesus Christ and, in keeping with the nature of that source, we should only have good things coming from us and that includes our words.

James 3:13

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

James talks of wisdom here so we need to understand what wisdom and knowledge are and that there is a difference. Both wisdom and knowledge are from God and therefore nothing can be fully known unless it is in relation to Jesus Christ. Knowledge is an awareness of facts while wisdom is an awareness of how to use the facts for good goals. (That goal is making Jesus Christ known to all people.) In this verse, James is saying that, the knowledge of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us should be demonstrated in our lives in order to make Christ known to the world. The ability to put that knowledge into action is wisdom.

James 3:14

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

James reminds us here that God knows our hearts and therefore the reasons we do things. If we are doing the good deeds mentioned in verse 13 for the wrong reasons, God knows it and it doesn't do any good for us to deny the truth as we will only be fooling ourselves.

James 3:15 & 16

Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Any gift from God has the purpose of glorifying Him and building up His followers. If you have "wisdom" and it is being used for any other purpose, it is not a gift from God but is in fact "of the devil". Selfish ambition and envy are not of God and are not to be a part of His children.

James 3:17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James now compares the "wisdom" of the flesh which is of the devil with true wisdom which comes from God. Wisdom from God is first of all "pure" meaning it is not diluted by the things and thoughts of this world. It does not depend on the situation or who you are with as God is constant so is the wisdom that is from Him. The other words that are used here to describe that wisdom all point to the fact that God is love. Therefore, wisdom from God is used in love and not used as a weapon to beat people down. As with all gifts from God, this wisdom is for building each other up in the faith.

James 3:18

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Those who tell others of how they can find peace through Jesus Christ will have a harvest. They do not beat anyone down with the Word of God but simply proclaim the Word in love. In this way, there will be a harvest of righteousness. We must inform the world that the only way to have lasting peace of any kind is through the Prince of Peace that is Jesus Christ.

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