The Implications of a Slippery Tongue

In my last post, we took a closer look at the man who resides in habitual anger. Scripture declares him to be a fool, unable to abide in anything but conflict. The angry man commits many sins, among which, would simply be through the lack of control in what spews from his lips. In this post, we will take a closer look at the implications of that, especially in regard to teachers.

In moments of reactionary anger, thoughtlessness, and carelessness, the tongue is capable of remarkably devastating and long-lasting consequences. However, as it must be admitted that though no man is perfectly able to control the tongue, we cannot escape the logical ramifications of unguarded speech (Pro. 18:6-7).

Douglas Moo notes on James 3:1-12, “This section relates to the preceding discussion in the letter in two ways. First, the concern about ‘words’ in this paragraph is loosely connected to the concern about ‘works’ in 2:14-26…Jesus claims that one’s words will be the basis for God’s eschatological judgment (Matt. 12:37)…Second, this long section on the problem of the tongue picks up James’s identification of the control of the tongue as one of the clearest examples of ‘true religion’” (PNTC James, 147).

The implications of this reach far beyond a simple “slip of the tongue” as we recall specifically what James writes in regard to the relationship between works and faith. Beyond this, in identifying the marks of “true religion” in chap. 1, James now sets equal precedence on the control of our tongues. If then, a controlled tongue is a signet of genuine faith – we must ask if the one who does not have control of his tongue has exhibited genuine, salvific repentance. However, that is a topic for a later post.

Rather than engaging primarily on the general potential of a destructive tongue, James engages teachers first. The implications reach far into the hearts of those who would desire to teach, as the mark of a godly leader would be one who exhibits self-control, especially since his livelihood is through speaking.

Evidently, there are numerous reasons to this. We see that Paul places the office of teaching in precedence to many other gifts (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). As we can also note within the Pastoral Epistles, the office of teaching (as an elder would hold) requires many moral and intellectual qualifications.

In a clear effort to squash over-eagerness to teach, James offers a warning in the second half of verse one in saying, “…there will be greater judgment.”

Moo correctly comments, “Teachers, because they bear so much responsibility for the spiritual welfare of those to whom they minister, will be scrutinized by the Lord more carefully than others” (PNTC James, 150).

In other words, the ministry of a teacher consists solely of speech, being, as James notes, the most difficult part of the body to control. For this reason, they stand in much greater danger of incurring judgment, for they are more apt to lead others astray by route of this sin.

Dan McCartney writes in his commentary, “James…is dealing with the specific issue that, since all verbal activity is potentially dangerous, teaching is especially so, for the teaching of error has the potential not only to destroy the teacher, but also harm the students” (BEC James, 179).

While some may put too much emphasis on the power of words, such as those within the Word of Faith movement, others do not quite understand the depth of damage that our tongues are capable of doing. For those who teach, there is great potential for their tongues to do more damage, as those whom sit under their teaching may be swayed one particular way or another. We see this most evidently within the realm of false teachers because they carry so much sway over the hearts of those who follow them.

In the next post, we will take a look at a couple of popular interpretations to James 3:3-12, especially in regard to it’s application. Does this passage directly apply to teachers – or – does it apply to a broader context of each member in the body? Furthermore, when James uses the word “body” in V. 2, does he refer to the general body under the headship of Christ – or – is he referring to the literal body of the one whom is directed by his tongue?

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One thought on “The Implications of a Slippery Tongue

  1. Pingback: Corporate, True Religion | Thr3 Times Denied

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