True Religion

This will be the final post in this series. In the last post, we briefly examined the destruction that the tongue is capable of. While James does not limit destructive speech solely to that which is spoken in unrighteous anger, we must see that all that is said in unrighteous anger is destructive. Our words have power to build up the church or to lay waste to it. We shall either love our brethren, or we shall tear them to pieces and consume them. For those within the church – we have no excuse to remain indignant toward one another, nor to exhibit a lack of self control. Remember, our actions and words will build the testimony of our faith. Can we say, “Come follow me as I follow Jesus?”

Even if the angry man can recite sound doctrine, he still lacks the necessary self-control to protect the church, his family, and his own soul. As James puts it, he lacks “true religion”. As Proverbs 25:28 shows, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” The sheer lack of protection from invading forces leaves all those within his wake to be devoured, not only by the angry man – but Satan, as he is a lion constantly seeking whom he may devour. The wise man continually builds up those around him, hedging protection through the proclamation of the Word of God – yet also abiding in the Fruit of the Spirit in order to evidence “true religion”.

While it is natural for the carnal man to abide in sin, it is not natural for the one following Christ. He is no longer dead in his sins due to the redemption found in Christ. Not only this, but through the power of the Spirit, we are able to put sin to death in our lives. For the sake of unity within the body of Christ, we ought to pursue peace. This is not some psycho-therapeutic ritual in which we count to ten, go for a walk, or perform any other outlet in order to calm down. No. We strive to walk in the Spirit because the law of the flesh no longer binds us.

Quite simply, it is a matter of obedience to do what we are called to do.

Obedience may not always be easy, for we know that it does not come naturally. We are sown in sin and inclined to perform sinful deeds. However, we are new creations in Christ if we have called upon Him for salvation and submitted to His Lordship. We know that He is faithful. We know that He alone gives power where we are weak. We know that it is His will that we repent from our sins and turn to Him each day for fresh mercies.

If you are an angry person, you cannot do it alone. This is specifically why we gather with the elect: that we might know our sin and come to repentance, having faced rebuke and correction. Where there is a broken and contrite heart; where there is remorse and godly sorrow, there is pleasure in Him to forgive us in Christ.

Lay aside all pride and come to the One who can make the crooked straight. Lay aside all pride and receive the correction of the saints who desire earnestly for your repentance and continued faith, hating even the garments tainted with sin.

 

Closing Prayer: Father, forgive us this day for our sins. We thank You that You were so utterly pleased to crush your Son for us – that as a church we may stand before You, pure and blameless through Christ alone. Father, our hearts know greed, envy, strife, maliciousness, backbiting, slander, and lust. Father, our hearts know hatred, deception, lies, murder, and covetousness – for we once practiced these things. Your word says that those who make a practice of such things cannot inherit the kingdom of God; that we cannot obtain the crown of righteousness.

Remind us of the sacrifice that Christ has made, that we not act as the Pharisees who sat and boasted of their cleanness, but may we beat our breasts as sinners. Cause us to draw near through Your Son, by Your Spirit, that we might be sanctified in truth and know graciousness, patience, kindness, forbearance, and longsuffering – for against such things there is no law. Fulfill in us Your promises in Christ that we might walk in an upright manner representing the gospel and the fullness of the deity of Christ – that He has come and conquered sin; that He has come to set the captive free. Cause us to rejoice in the cross of Christ and the everlasting hope we have in His resurrection, and by this, put the sin of anger to death. It is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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Loose Lips Do More Than Sink Ships

forest-fire-62971In my last post, we took a look at whom James is addressing in verses 5-12 in chapter 3. In respect to the context, this next section does not apply solely to teachers – but to the whole congregation. As we continue in the series, we will now take a look at the destruction the tongue is capable of rendering.

“See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (James 3: 5b-12).

In nature, the tongue is seemingly uncontrollable. Man has brought many animals under dominion, yet the tongue eludes capture. The purpose in this though is not to instill a fear that man cannot tame the tongue, but rather, in its own right, the tongue is a more formidable beast to subdue than any other on the planet.

Dr. Constable notes of the tongue: “Apart from the Holy Spirit’s help no human being has ever been able to subdue his or her own tongue. It is much more dangerous than any deadly animal because it never rests, and it can destroy simply with words. Fire, animals, and the tongue all have power to destroy.

While James does not limit the destructive power of speech to anger, we can see the applicatory results thereof. Similarly, Paul lists “outbursts of anger” among other sins, which if habitually practiced, will disqualify one from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). Note specifically the context around these verses though; we see Paul use bookends.

First, he explains the reason why we ought to avoid the deeds of the flesh in verses 13-18. The immediate context of these verses builds off of the “Judiazers” whom demanded that new converts be circumcised per the Abrahamic covenant. The point Paul draws after this though is that through the freedom presented in Christ, we are no longer bound to observe the fullness of the law. Rather, the law is fulfilled through “one word, in the statement, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

It is interesting to note hereafter that in Galatians 5:15, Paul uses a reflexive pronoun to show that the ones being consumed by one another are those whom are devouring one another. In other words, we see the proverb played out that the fool who lays his trap is caught in it himself. The intense imagery used is that of wild animals ripping flesh from the bone – and ingesting it. In clear candor – those claiming to love Christ are not loving the brethren, but ripping them to pieces.

This would clearly coincide with the admonition in 1 John to abide in true love, not separating love for Christ with love for the brethren. Paul also uses this illustration as he quotes the “golden rule” of loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. In other words, with the entirety of your being, you are commanded to love the Lord, and thus, commanded to love your brethren in similar manner.

So, how does one abide in the love of the Lord and of the brethren? We walk by the Spirit so that we will not carry out the desires of the flesh (v. 16), for if we walk by the Spirit, the Law does not bind us. A new law binds us: the law of love.

The second bookend to contrast the fruit of the flesh is given in exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit. Hence, we were told why in verses 13-18; we were shown what to flee from in verses 19-21; and now, we are shown how in verses 22-26. The most prominent reason as to how we might accomplish our task is set in verse 24 in saying, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Immediately, the locus is found within the gospel. There is hope for those walking in the flesh, but only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is hope found for those who are now a new creation in relying upon the forgiveness extended through Christ’s sacrifice, His defeat of sin, and our helper, the Holy Spirit.

Within this framework, we can now turn back to addressing the fool in his folly. The main purpose why we ought to address an angry man, in short, is that his actions prove to be devastating to the life of the church, the life of his family, his own soul, and most importantly – the reputation of God. We saw earlier that the fool speaks error against the Lord (Isaiah 32:6), thus, it is imperative that we turn to correct this.

Corporate, True Religion

In the last post of this series, we took a brief look at the implications of a “slippery tongue” as James would define it. The implication being that having controlled speech indicates and further illustrates what James is speaking of in chapter 1 by referring to “true religion”. Though I took time to speak about the one who desires to teach, in this post, we will focus on whether or not the following verses (vv. 5-12) apply directly to the teacher or the general, corporate body to whom James was writing.

Though the applicatory aspects of the passage would remain rather similar, it is an important distinction to make simply because this chapter sets precedence to the imperative commands given in chapter 4. If the focus is upon teachers, then the remaining verses only have application to the congregation – however, if it is a general admonition to all, then we must see that the command is given to all believers to control the tongue for the sake of unity among God’s people.

Though many views are held on the context of the remaining verses of James 3:3-12, two are the most common; the first being that the vv. 3-12 speak specifically to the teacher. While these commentators do not ignore that there are applicatory aspects to the general problem of controlling one’s speech, they argue that the focus is directed specifically to leaders who are using the office improperly.

They couple this with interpreting “whole body” in verse 2 as a reference to the church, as we would find in Paul’s notion of “the body” being representative of the church. Thus, the argument would be made that the “perfect” teacher who does not stumble is the one able to guide the church well.

McCartney suggests several problems with this interpretation. In addition to suggesting that the readers would have had a hard time being clued in on “the body” as being representative of the church from the immediate context, he writes, “in 3:7-8 the tongue is said to be untamable and an unstable evil. If the tongue simply signifies an individual’s speech, then this is comprehensible (if hyperbolic), but it is unlikely that James, who classifies himself as a teacher (3:1), would say that teachers as a class are untamable and an unstable evil, even if he were speaking hyperbolically” (BEC James, 182).

Though in Pauline literature, “the body” is often seen as a metonymy representative of the church, this does not necessarily indicate that James uses this same device (especially since James is likely the first N.T. writing circulated in the early church). The only questionable proof that this could be what James is referring to in 3:1 is found in 4:1, using the expression “in your members”. However, given the context of chapter 3, we see a singular focus upon the individual desiring to become a teacher.

The second, and more favorable approach, then, would be the view that this warning to those who would desire to teach is a jumping off point to a more broad application. Note specifically that the focus of v. 1 is on those who would become teachers, not those already in this office. At this point, the application becomes one of general admonition to all, yet especially to those who would desire the office of teaching.

Furthermore, the remaining verses (vv.13-18) and chapter 4 seem geared specifically toward the singular individual as a member of the corporate church. Specifically, we see a general address to the collective gathering, for individual application in each member’s interaction with the collective gathering of God’s people. The church is taught in mind of corporate welfare, yet strikes at each individual who is in sin.

While all of these apply to the teacher, as they ought, the context does not seem to fit the bill that James is writing solely to teachers already in this office. Beyond this, those who would be in the office of teaching would already have been tested, proved, and instituted by the apostles who planted the church. This does not mean that such men could not creep in unawares in leadership, but to assume that this passage deals solely with teachers seems to supplant focus off of the corporate, yet general admonition to flee hypocrisy.

Beyond this, if we simply let the remaining context dictate application rather than set the tone for the imperatives given later, it can free one of certain obligations, and as we saw in the last post, the implications of being a man marked with uncontrolled speech. Namely, we are speaking of the genuine mark of one’s faith being exhibited through controlling that which speaks forth both blessing and curse. As James retorts, “My brothers and sisters! This should not be!” An interesting aside: if women were forbidden to teach in the early church, it would also seem odd for James to address them in this particular way if verses 5-12 applied only to the teacher.

During the next post, we will examine the importance upon the sin in speech drawn within James 3:5b-12.

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?