James 3:1-6 Devotional Commentary

The aspiring teacher: Devotional Commentary for June 28-July 4

James 3:1-6 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

1Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
2For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

Having completed a broad and extensive teaching on suffering, patience, providence, wisdom, religion, faith and the like, James now shifts his focus to specific areas of Christian living, service, and relationships; in the following three chapters of his epistle. He begins by challenging the ambition to be a teacher of God's Word. He does not discourage anyone called into a teaching ministry but issues a stern warning against a casual perspective toward teaching.

Teaching, says James, is a serious undertaking. It requires a Spirit-driven, godly, and responsible self-control. While teaching skills are significant in the delivery of what is taught, capabilities alone do not suffice to make one a godly and Spirit-controlled teacher. Anyone with an ambition to teach must be extremely cautious because to whom much is given, much is expected. What is taught must also be practiced.

The teacher is under a more stringent scrutiny than those who are instructed by him or her. Certainly, he or she must be knowledgeable and exemplary in behavior so that their lives would not contradict what they teach. After all, teaching is God's calling. It is a divine appointment, a sacred anointing. Therefore, those with aspirations to teach must take their own shortcomings and imperfections into consideration before chasing their dream to teach. Teaching should not be taken lightly as we all are less than perfect in many ways. The ministry of teaching must never be casually assumed. It must be accepted with the certainty of God’s calling.

3Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
6And 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.

Using two practical illustrations, James emphatically addresses the pressing need for controlling the tongue before anyone launches into a teaching ministry. He laments how we effectively control the horse with a bit and a large ship with a similarly small rudder. We exercise total control over both, using a proportionately smaller device.

We insert a bit into the horse's mouth to control its movement. The horse responds to the promptings of the bit in its mouth. However small, we use the bit to impose our will on the horse. The horse is subject to our will because of the bit we put in its mouth.

Likewise, James contrasts the size of the ship with that of the rudder which guides it in the direction determined by the pilot. He describes the ship as a massive object moved by forceful winds and seas. Nevertheless, its movement is determined by a small rudder controlled by the pilot.

The size of the ship and the manner of its motion have no impact on the direction of its voyage. Instead, the captain’s will is imposed upon the large seafaring vessel through a small controlling device at the rear of the ship. Like the bit in the horse’s mouth, the rudder causes the ship to fulfill its purpose as determined by the captain.

James' third illustration on the subject of control is somewhat different from the first two examples. Whereas the discourse on the horse and the ship portrays the difference in size between the main object and the controlling device, the tongue is depicted as a small organ with enormous aftermath. He likens the tongue to the destructive potential of a small flame in a large forest.

The tongue is one of the smallest organs of the human body. But it controls nothing unlike the bit or the rudder. Despite its size however, the tongue is capable of setting the world on fire through the facility of the spoken word. Unless it is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the tongue can serve as the agent of hell. And as such, it can defile the entire body by promoting evil.

Being the outlet for the heart, the tongue disseminates the evil that flows out of the sin-nature and corrupts the human body and the surrounding world. It is the agent of fiery destruction. The spoken word at its tip, the tongue has incendiary power with staggering consequences. As the trusted agent of the sin-nature, the tongue is set on fire from hell.

With what it is able to bring out of the heart, the tongue sets the course of nature on fire by polluting the human environment with confusion and strife. With its ability to deceive and sow seeds of discord, it can disturb the peace among believers and disrupt order. Therefore, James exhorts those with aspirations to teach, to subject the tongue to the Authority of the Holy Spirit so that it would be consecrated for the sacred purpose of declaring the Gospel. If one is called to teach, one's body, spirit, and soul must be consecrated to the service of God.


Once again, James' teaching is simple, firm, and direct. If a believer is commissioned to teach God's Word, then the called must be completely surrendered to the Authority of the sovereign God by Whose Grace one is called to teach. Teaching entails serious responsibilities relating to one's life, service, and relationships.

A teacher is one who has received the truth. A teacher is one who understands the truth. A teacher is one who acknowledges the truth and surrenders to its precepts. A teacher is one who has been instructed by the truth having been led into all truths by the Holy Spirit. A teacher is one who consistently looks to God for wisdom and to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

As Christians, we know that we are sinners saved by Grace. We are quite familiar how the sin-nature uses our faculties to pursue its ungodly passions. We also know from the Scriptures that our body is now to be the instrument of righteousness, having been repossessed by the original owner, God the Almighty Creator and our Redeemer.

Therefore, it must be clear to all of us that a divine commission to service is not the result of mere aspiration. To be sure, all aspirations are not bad. But godly aspirations come from God as He reveals the call He places on His servants. That is especially true of a teaching ministry. So James warns us to beware of the sin-nature and its cohort—the tongue—when we sense the strong urges of an overwhelming aspiration to teach.

To be a teacher is to stand before God's people as a messenger of God. Therefore, the teacher must mature in the knowledge of the truth, in the understanding of the precepts of God's Word, and in the wisdom of God. The teacher must decrease so that God might increase in all things, at all times, at all places. The tongue must be controlled. The spirit of the teacher must be meek and penitent.

Teaching is a noble ministry and a most honorable line of service. But it cannot be executed with an inflated ego, an eager aspiration, or an uncontrolled tongue. A teacher is strictly held accountable by the Author of the Word one intends to teach. Therefore, it behooves us to pray before we succumb to our own aspirations, because a teacher is one who feeds the Lord's flock.

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

We encourage you to frequently visit our website where you can find weekly devotional readings and helpful blogs.

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