For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Man, in the Garden of Eden, was clearly given dominion over all of the animals of the world. Genesis 1:26.Even today, after the fall, we know that humankind is generally able to control the beasts of the world.
We need to look no further than the nearest circus to see that man is able to bring the largest, and most terrifying of animals under his control. Lion, tigers and the largest of land animals, the elephant can be controlled by one tiny human being.
However, our tongue is an “unruly evil.” In its natural state, our tongue is similar, if not worse, than any wild animal. It is wild, untamed and without discipline. Rather than tromping us or eating us, however, our tongues destroy by lies, gossip, slander and filthy language.
James tells us that no man can tame the tongue. In and of ourselves, we cannot even to the same to our mouths as we can do with a huge elephants; we cannot tame it our bring it under control.
Since James’ Epistle is about Christian living, the solution to our problem seems readily evident. Like any sin, sins of the tongue can be managed by the saved person through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do not have the power to do it, but God does!
David, back in the Old Testament, had something to say about how we actually take advantage of the strength of the Holy Spirit to control our tongues in Psalm 141:3:
Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It may be, that a more untrue statement was never written, or said actually since I can remember it vividly from my school days. Think back, when did we normally invoke that phrase way back then? Usually when the exact opposite was true was when we would recite that phrase. In other words, we usually made a point to say that to somebody who had just hurt us with their words.!
Here, James uses a great comparison to discuss the destructive power of our tongues, or our speech. Earlier he compared the small tongue’s ability to control our conduct to a bit in a horses mouth, or the small rudder piloting a giant ship. Here, he compares the destructive power of the small tongue with a tiny spark which ignites a huge fire.
One of the most notable examples of this, of course, is the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Although started by something so small as a lantern in a barn, this great fire eventually burned almost half of the city of Chicago to the ground.
Two of the greatest men in the Old Testament, recognized the power of the tongue and issued guidance about controlling it. David and his son Solomon both wrote about the destructive power of speech. As David was somewhat hot tempered, we should strongly consider his words in this matter.
Psalm 39:1-3 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Solomon had the following to say:
Proverbs 17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Proverbs 14:29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
The tongue and fire have other similarities as well. Few would dispute that a fire under control can have many benefits, and can be used for much good. On the other hand, few would dispute that a fire, like a mouth, out or control can cause massive devastation.
What do we do with our tongues? Do we use them for good, for edifying believers or telling the Gospel to unbelievers? Or do we use them for evil by teaching untruths, gossiping or pushing the non believing away from Jesus Christ?
As some may recall, I mentioned that I have a grandbaby coming next month, and am quite excited about it. I have already mentioned in the past that I have another granddaughter, and she just turned 13. Long story, but this is the first birthday we have spent together in years. Yes, there is a lesson here. God is a God of reconciliation. Jesus gave Himself so that we might be reconciled to His Father. If we are to be Christlike, then we also should always be seeking to reconcile with those we are separated from.
And as always….food!
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
We have just completed our study of James Chapter 2. I hope it has been as useful in the reading as it has been in the writing. Several of the commentators I have read have pointed out the James 2:14-26 is one of the harder passages in Scripture to interpret properly. I would have to agree with that assessment.
But there are some things we can easily take away from the study of James Chapter 2 that certainly do not take a degree in theology to learn.
Salvation is by grace, through faith. James never contradicts this clear teaching of other scripture.
On the other hand, genuine faith produces some sort of product. James does teach that faith without some product might not be genuine faith.
But, beyond that, we are left somewhat in the dark about where certain lines might need to be drawn. We need to always remember that God is the judge of man..not man. We do not know the state of any other persons heart. We may be able to state as fact the evidence, or fruit of a person’s spiritual life, but we can never state as fact the actual existence or non existence of their salvation.
So, what does this mean to us practically? Well, we should always share the Gospel and the path to salvation; we should talk about it and of it even among Christian company. If we are all believers, it will be edifying to the Body of Christ; if one among us is not truly a believer, they will hear truth. We should teach and disciple people. Even though salvation is likely to produce works, there may be those with no clue whatsoever how they should live. The truth is, the knowledge of God’s Word and law it takes to come to salvation is not extensive. The knowledge it takes to live a successful and fruitful Christian life is extensive. We need to teach, train and develop our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Next: James Chapter 3. We will begin with taming that old nemesis, the tongue!
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Well, here James gets right into something that might seem quite controversial. Is he really saying that we are justified by works? Well, yes and no. To really understand what is going on here, we just have to understand what the word translated justified means.
Translating one language into another is simply not an exact business sometimes. Often a word in one language doesn’t correlated precisely into an exact match in another. So, let’s just briefly look at what is going on here; understand also not that this is not intended to be a lesson in Greek grammar. I am not, and most of you are not, Greek scholars. Thus, we will keep this very simple.
Justified in the English can have two meanings. The first is the one most of us think about. In this meaning, justification is what happens to us at the moment our our salvation, by God’s grace through our faith. We are justified in the eyes of God by the payment Jesus made for our sins. We are declared to be righteous in God’s eyes. There is, however another use for word translated justified. That one translates “shown to be righteous.”
So, we are declared to be righteous, or justified in God’s eyes. Alternately, we are shown to be righteous in whose eyes? Well, the eyes of others, of course. In fact, some translations translate it that way, saying Abraham and Rahab were considered to be righteous by their actions, and not just their faith.
Note above the order of events in the life of Abraham described by James. Verse 23 refers to Genesis 15:6, and clearly shows us that Abraham had faith and believed God, and at that point righteousness was imputed to him by God. It was by the offering of his son Isaac, much later than the first event, that was the illustration of Abraham’s faith to the world.
Rahab the harlot was likewise saved by her faith and belief and subsequently put her faith in to action as she saved the Israelite spies. Read her story here.
We can summarize the thought by saying their faith made them righteous before God, and their works made them righteous before men. A person may say that they have faith, but only if they can show that they have works can the rest of the world see that claim is valid. Faith without works is dead.
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
Consider this your official rabbit trail warning! We have, of course, been working our way through the Book of James. I hope it has been useful in some way to you all. We are still in James, but we are taking a small detour along the way here. There will be relevance to our actual topic, but along the way, we are going to make a very wide turn. So, let the beatings begin I suppose!
Most of us are familiar with the story of Rahab the harlot. If readers want a refresher, read the story beginning Here. Jericho, where Rahab lived, was right in the path the Israelites were to take after crossing the Jordan River as they began their march into and conquest of the promised land. Joshua had sent two men into Jericho to spy and gather intelligence about the city prior to the arrival of the Israelite army. Rahab, a local prostitute, hid the spies from the authorities, protected them, and aided them in accomplishing their mission and escaping.
As we all know, Jericho was ultimately destroyed by the advancing Israelites, while Rahab and her family were spared. So, this is a good time to cover what, to some, is an offensive episode in the Bible. In fact, it is among the episodes described in Scripture often cited to justify non belief in God. After all, what kind of god could do such a thing? So, let’s take an honest look at what happened. In a nutshell, the city was completely destroyed by the Israelite armies, and every living person in it was killed.(With a few exceptions, as we will see.) This cannot really be sugarcoated, as those are the facts as presented in the Bible.
Was God just and fair? Of course He was, as God is always just and His ways are always fair. The truth is, Jericho was a hotbed of pagan idols worship, in particular the goddess Ashtaroth who was the moon Goddess. This was a pagan, evil city which had rejected God and was deserving of His judgment.
So, of course, the question arises: How is it fair to destroy all of those people who had never even had the chance to come to know God? After all, no missionary or preacher had ever come to them and told them, right? Let’s take a look at Rahab, then.
Rahab lived in the city also. Obviously ,the march of the Isralites was well known, as Rahab mentioned the citizens knowing of them since the crossing of the Red Sea 40 years previously. So, Rahab as well as everyone else knew all about them. Jericho was a thoroughly pagan city, coming to a different belief system than that was no doubt extremely difficult. Finally, Rahab had no first hand information from a believer concerning the One True God. Yet, she said the following to the spies in Joshua 2:11 “And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”
Notice something very important there; everyone was scared, but not all honestly sought and came to belief. Rahab didn’t know much, and she certainly had no proof. What she did have was a choice, and she made the choice to act by faith. Guess what? Her faith saved her, literally and spiritually.
Who all heard the news in that city? Everyone. Who chose to act in faith and believe? Rahab and her family. Here is another thought. God knew there was a woman and family in that town honestly seeking after Him. Remember how Jericho was destroyed? It just fell down. Those spies were not needed! Here is some food for thought: maybe those spies weren’t sent to spy, but to be witnesses to Rahab of the true God. She honestly sought Him, and He sent somebody to her.
God still does that today. I know of a missionary who answered a call from God to go to Mongolia and preach the gospel. Why Mongolia of all places? Maybe there was a Rahab there, maybe there was some single person who was honestly seeking the knowledge of God. Now guess what? There is a man there ready to tell that person all about Jesus.
Meanwhile, back to the Book of James. I terms of what we have learned so far during our study, what made Rahab notable; what made her worthy of mention here in James, as well as the “believers hall of fame” in the Book of Hebrews? It’s the same thing that separates the devils who believe and tremble from true believers. The people in the city of Jericho were much like those devils. They believed in what was about to happen to them; they may have even believed the God of Israel was real. Rahab, however, sprang into action. Rahab was not saved because she sprang into action. Rahab was able to spring into action because she had believed with a faith that was true.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Earlier, we discussed the rather shocking statement that James made in this letter; that statement was that even devils believe, and tremble. Now we are going to explore that some more to illustrate the fact that belief, even if based on truth, may not be saving belief.
Devils believe there is one true God; they even believe in the correct God. In Acts 16, beginning in verse 16, we can see the story of the demon-possessed woman following Paul and his fellow evangelists, likely Silas, Timothy, and Luke. What is key here is the fact that the demon recognized that the God in question was “the most high God.”
Demons even recognized the deity and sonship of Jesus Christ when they encountered him at different times. In the story of the Garasene demoniac in Mark 5:1-10 and Luke 8:26-33, we can clearly see that this demon understood that Jesus was the Son of God.
Not only do demons know God is God, and that Jesus was his son; they also have a clear understanding of Bible doctrines. They even know how scripture says the story will end for them. The demons Jesus cast into the herd of pigs in Matthew Chapter 8 asked Jesus if he had come to “torment us before the time.” They understood, obviously, the Biblical teaching concerning the eventual disposition of Satan and his demon angels.
We can see that devils believe in God, they understand who Jesus Christ is, and even understand Scripture as well as many Christians; we also know that Satan and his demons are certainly not saved(nor can they be, but that is another devotional all together.) What then, can we learn here?
This is merely a reinforcement of the same thing we have learned from James in the last several devotionals. An intellectual knowledge of who God is and even in the correct and only God is not enough. A mental assent to the reality and identity of Jesus Christ is not enough. Even a thorough and complete knowledge of the Word of God and Bible doctrine is not enough.
True faith, that being faith that saves, will always produce a change of heart and a change of character. There will be evidence on display of the transformation that has taken place within us if a transformation actually occurred.