There are a lot of things to say about James 3 and the tongue, but to keep context, I need to emphasize that, whatever we learn, this relates to wisdom and knowledge. We can gather that from James 3:13-18. Those verses may seem to begin a new thought, but they actually continue the thought of the previous verses.
In fact, James 3:13 tells us,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
Compare that language with James 1:5.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him.
Recall the context of James 1:5. When we face temptations, wisdom guides us through the process so that we come out of it stronger and more mature. Of course, we learn to choose those paths that lead away from sin, and to do that we accept the word of God without being angry and without being “swift to speak”.
James tells us that our ability to accept the word of God and use it to make correct decisions when facing temptation relies, in part, upon our ability to control our tongues.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath… Therefore lay aside all filthiness… and receive with meekness the implanted word…
Therefore, consider James 3:2 and notice the point.
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
Yesterday I noted that I had interpreted James 3:1 incorrectly.
In summary, the command was that the Christians should stop heaping up “many teachers” for the church. That is, they should be more selective and cautious, testing them thoroughly. That certainly includes doctrinal testing, but in this context the point relates to their ability to overcome sin.
Test: Are they mature Christians?
The natural question emerges, “How do we determine maturity?”
Hebrews 5:12-14 is a great place to look for that answer. Those who are able to handle the “meat” of the word are mature. The basis of that maturity lies in their ability to handle the Bible correctly. That is one aspect of maturity that is important to consider; however, James 3:2 points out the moral excellence required in that determination.
“For we all stumble in many things…”
The admission applies to all of us. We all stumble and make mistakes, so that should not disqualify anyone from being called “perfect”, or “mature”. But the second half of the verse states,
“If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
Everyone stumbles in many things, but the perfect man is one who can control his tongue. If he can do that, he can control the rest of his body. Without that ability, he cannot be trusted to avoid the many other areas in which he may stumble.
Everyone will make mistakes given enough time, but the test is to see how they use their tongues. If we think of it within the context of using our tongues as a way of rejecting the word of God instead of accepting it, this is significant. The stories and ideas we tell ourselves can lead us away from God. We easily talk ourselves into wrong paths. We also talk ourselves out of doing things we should do. Our tongues determine our behavior. We either quiet our own tongues (quiet our own words, the things the tell ourselves) and accept the word, or we reject the word by being “quick to speak”.
But a man who knows how to control the things he says to himself and others can be trusted to control the rest of his body. That’s because he will not be talking himself into rejecting the word of God and using his body parts to participate in sin.
Obviously, there is more in this section than this idea. We need to consider how our tongues can harm us and we need to be careful how we use our language to impact others. But I cannot deny the connection to wisdom and the danger of rejecting the word of God by our words. I cannot deny how our words impact our own behavior and the choices we make in order to meet our needs and desires.
So, in application of James 3:2, consider the idea of perfection or spiritual maturity. Do you want to be spiritually mature? Decide to tame your tongue. Stay “slow to speak” and instead listen to and accept the word of God, and use it to make decisions that will make you more godly.
Do you want to test a man to see if he is capable of teaching others? Get to know him and learn what information he uses to choose the pathway to meeting his needs. That pathway will either be God’s word, or their own words. This is the measure of a perfect man.
Whose words are you listening to?
See you tomorrow!