2019-9-15 On Taming the Tongue

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          September 15, 2019

“On Taming the Tongue”2
James 3:1-5a

We arrive today at chapter three in James’s Spirit-led letter.  We come both just past a major break (a one-line gap) in the Greek text and to a new topic: a new facet of life for us to consider as we would life the wise life in Christ.  Our topic for this week—and next, God willing—is the tongue and its control.  Help from God’s Word for this issue is always in season—for controlling the tongue is problematic for many no matter the season.  Happily, we have help for this issue today in these verses from James.  Let us hear these words today—and, in hearing them, let’s us hear the Lord, Scripture’s ultimate Author.


Our text, chiefly concerning the tongue and its control, opens, to my mind, curiously, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teacher will be judged with greater strictness.”  Not many believers should become teachers.  Though this certainly applies to teachers of various groups in the church (Sunday School, small groups, youth/men’s/women’s ministries, and the like), it applies principally to pastors—and, as such, I find myself thinking hard about this and convicted by it.  Paul, writing to the Ephesian Christian households, notes—among other office gifts to the Church—the gifts of pastors (or shepherds, Greek poimen [poimhn]) and teachers (Ephesians iv.11).  These two gifts, pastor and teacher, form one office in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition.  In fact, the English Standard Version’s margin lists shepherd-teacher as a possible translation in that verse.  Hence, in our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the ordained pastors are called teaching elders.

We who serve in the teaching office, especially in the pastoral office, are judged with the greater strictness—and this because of the greater visible opportunity to sin.  This is true generally.  If we be not careful, then we will judge others more severely than self.  Again, if not careful, then we will live contrary to our own teaching—a practice of the scribes and Pharisees roundly condemned by Jesus (cf. Matthew 23:2-4).  Particularly, we who serve in the teaching office are prone to sin with the tongue.  We do this by erroneous teaching, and we do this by erroneous speech—whether indiscreet, or inadvisable, or downright foul, as the case may apply.  With such a warning as this, who wants to teach in God’s church?  Few, if any, remain undaunted by what we hear in verse one today.

Yet we need some teachers in the Church, and, happily, God calls some.  He works by His Spirit via an internal call to the prospective pastor-teacher.  He works concurrently by moving a church to call that man to serve them as pastor-teacher—and, under our order, moves a presbytery to receive him into membership.  Throughout this process, the man’s internal sense of call is tested and confirmed, and his external call is verified by a calling church and a church court of his peers.  We need pastor-teachers—and we need more of them, for we have about one pastor for every one thousand Americans—but we need not folks who run where God has not sent, particularly in view of the speech dangers inherent in the Christian ministry.

We move from the foregoing to note that one bridling his tongue—teacher or not—bridles his entire body.  James, led by the Spirit, notes a number of small things that control the course of a larger thing.  A bit in the mouth of a horse—a relatively small things—controls the horse’s entire course.  A rudder, a small thing at the bottom rear of the boat, controls the course of the entire boat—even though it be large and buffeted by wind and waves.  Similarly, the tongue dictates the course of a human being.  Indeed, the tongue is small.  Yet it boasts of great things—sometimes righteously, in God’s being and deeds, but more often unrighteously in things that glorify self or demean others.

Hence, should we bridle (or closely control, Greek chalinagogeo [calinagwgew]) the tongue, we will avoid sinning (or stumbling: Greek ptaio [ptaiw]) in our speech.  This leads to us being perfect (Greek teleios [teleioV]) beings.  Let us be careful.  We must not understand perfect in the sense of freedom from sin.  This is not possible, save in Glory.  Let us understand perfect in the sense of being mature ones, or complete ones, or genuine ones.  These we shall be if, by God’s powerful grace, we control closely our tongue, our speech, our language.

We see today, in verse one, what we should look for—and what I am to shoot for—in our pastor-teachers.  There are many qualities elsewhere in Scripture that pastor-teachers must possess and embody (in 1 Timothy 3, e. g.), but today we note that those who would shape our souls must have a tongue generally bridled.[1]  We see also today that God would have the rest of us bridle, or control closely, our tongues.  We’ll investigate this further, God willing, in all too vivid detail, next week.


[1] This full list of qualities in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 is worth noting here: life above reproach, husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, a good manager of his household, not a recent convert, well thought of by those outside the Church.