Having taught that faith without works is dead, James recognizes that in learning to do good works, we might become a bit bossy, moving from church mouse to church master, ordering people to do things:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (Jam 3:1-5).
While guiding a horse and steering a ship are noble things requiring great skill, they also have the potential to lead to disaster through lack of judgment. It is natural and good for believers in Jesus to desire to teach and share a growing faith. But James is saying that a teacher should be selected and observed carefully to avoid errors that lead to a stumbling horse or imminent shipwreck:
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (Jam 3:5-6).
So then who among us is qualified to teach?
“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (Jam 3:7-12).
It turns out that we are all conflicted by being human. So who then can teach?
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jam 3:13-18).
James believes that the top qualification for teaching is good conduct characterized by good works in the “meekness of wisdom. And wisdom is:
- Pure (literally “chaste”)
- Peaceable (undefiled by the world)
- Gentle (forbearing and lenient)
- Open to Reason
- Full of Mercy and Good Fruits (good works)
- Impartial, and
This is called the “Wisdom From Above.”
Is my pond of our teaching full of fresh water for quenching thirst?
Or is it salt water that will only make someone spit it out?