1217 L11-A Disciplined Faith

A Disciplined Faith

February 11 • Bible Study Guide 11

Bible Background • JAMES 3:1–12
Printed Text • JAMES 3:1–12 | Devotional Reading • PSALM 34:1–14

Aim for Change

By the end of the lesson, we will: AGREE with James’ analogies regarding the use of the tongue; VALUE the ability to exercise control over the tongue; and PRAY for God’s help to speak in ways that result in blessings.

In Focus

Ramon and Yvette were attending their first city council meeting since becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. The school board budget was on the agenda, and as new residents of the city, they were excited to help make decisions affecting the education of their three children. But because of a substantial shortfall in city revenues, the council was proposing not only to close some of the schools, but also to curtail some city services.
Council president Mr. Williams opened the meeting by confirming the city’s dire financial plight. He remarked that “all these immigrants are causing the budget strain. I wish all these new people had never come here.”
Mr. Williams was also the Chairman of the Deacon Board at his church, and noting that many of the new residents had settled in the neighborhood where his church was located, he said, “Even though these people come to church, they don’t contribute much.” As a result, he said the church was also having financial problems.
Becoming extremely upset, Ramon and Yvette felt they were being held responsible for the city’s financial problems. They too, wished that they had never come.
Words have the power to hurt or heal. What we say reflects who we are in the Lord. How do you show God’s love and wisdom when you hold your tongue?

Keep in Mind

“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Words You Should Know
A. Masters (James 3:1) didaskalos (Gk.)—Teachers.
B. Governor (v. 4) euthuno (Gk.)—That which steers or directs; steersman.

Teacher Preparation
Unifying Principle—Taming the Tongue. Everyone knows the pain and destruction that results from hurtful words. How do we keep from causing such distress? James says that we should control our tongue so that only blessings come from it.
A. Pray for your students, that they will watch their words.
B. Read the passage in various translations.
C. Find media examples of leaders using language that either blesses or curses others for discussion.

O—Open the Lesson
A. Ask a volunteer to lead the class in prayer.
B. Introduce the subject of today’s lesson and have the students read the Keep in Mind verse.
C. Ask a volunteer to read the In Focus story.

P—Present the Scriptures
A. Ask for volunteers to read the Focal Verses.
B. Read and discuss The People, Places, and Times; Background; and In Depth sections to clarify the meaning of the verses.

E—Explore the Meaning
A. Have the class answer questions from the Search the Scriptures and Discuss the Meaning sections.
B. Have the class read the Lesson in Our Society section.

N—Next Steps for Application
A. Read the Make It Happen section and discuss ways the students can apply it to their lives.
B. Close with prayer, asking God to help the students use the power of their words in ways that heal and don’t hurt.

 

Worship Guide

For the Superintendent or Teacher
Theme: A Disciplined Faith
Song: “Speak to My Heart” by Donnie McClurkin
Devotional Reading: Psalm 34:1–14

Daily Bible Readings

MONDAY
People Live by God’s Word
(Deuteronomy 8:1–3)

TUESDAY
Set a Guard over My Mouth
(Psalm 141:1–4)

WEDNESDAY
Judged by Your Words
(Matthew 12:33–37)

THURSDAY
From the Heart the Mouth Speaks
(Luke 6:43–45)

FRIDAY
Infants and Babies Speak
(Matthew 21:14–16)

SATURDAY
Say Only “Yes” or “No
(Matthew 5:33–37)

SUNDAY
Control Your Tongue
(James 3:1–12)

KJV

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
7 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:
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

NLT

James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.
5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

The People, Places, and Times

James. The New Testament identifies five men named James. Although there is no general consensus among scholars, the author of this letter is believed to be James, the younger half-brother of Jesus. Although James did not accept Jesus as the Messiah until after the Resurrection, he became a leader in the church at Jerusalem at a time when persecution of Jewish believers was increasing, thus scattering Christians throughout the Roman Empire. This forced many of the displaced Jewish Christians to settle in nations of unbelievers. Most scholars believe that the book of James was written between AD 48 and 62, before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), making it possibly the first New Testament book to be written.
Hell. For those in the Jewish context, hell was a real place and considered the final abode of the wicked. In the New Testament, the word for hell is Gehenna. This was the name of a garbage dump outside of the city in the Valley of Hinnom where garbage and dead animals were taken out of the city and burned.
What would cause James to write to Jewish believers concerning the wise use of the tongue?

Background
In the first century, Jewish culture was rich in oral traditions, much of which was advanced by itinerant religious teachers who frequently traveled to provide instruction on how to live a godly life. Unfortunately, a number of these instructors were false prophets who spoke more in their own interests than to present the Good News of Jesus Christ. The early Christians were confronted with the challenges of false teachings from those who claimed to represent the Word of the Lord.
Consequently, James teaches Jewish Christians how to live practically in the way of Jesus. This includes the area of controlling the tongue. James’ world was bombarded with speech, both good and bad. His writings emphasized that what came out of the mouth was a reflection of what was in the heart, and he used examples from everyday life in the ancient Near East. James preached against using contradictory speech. Controlling the tongue was important to a fulfilled life in Christ.
How can our words give others a personal distaste for God?

At-A-Glance

1. Sobering Warnings (James 3:1–2)
2. Sobering Challenges (vv. 3–6)
3. Sobering Realities (vv. 7–8)
4. Sobering Contradictions (vv. 9–12)

In Depth

1. Sobering Warnings (James 3:1–2)
This sobering warning is aimed at those who would teach the Word of the Lord. Teachers are in a position to inform and misinform others. James cautions that this highly valued and respected position should not be taken lightly.
James warns those who aspire to teach, informing them they would receive harsher judgment and greater condemnation. James is certainly aware of the power teachers hold in shaping the spiritual lives of others. He warns teachers to examine their motives and not be self-serving. Teachers are tasked with stronger speech ethics as a way of achieving the maturity needed to keep the “whole body” in check.
Why do teachers need to select their words carefully and weigh the affect of their words on those they lead?

2. Sobering Challenges (vv. 3–6)
James demonstrates the challenges of taming the tongue using images of things that affected Jewish life and survival. Horses were a common form of land transportation, but wild horses had to be tamed in order to use them. James describes the tongue similarly. Using a bit, a skillful rider can control the horse’s every move. An experienced captain will successfully guide a ship of any size by controlling the rudder. Particularly if a ship is experiencing severe sea conditions, mastery of the rudder makes the difference between death and deliverance.
James challenged believers to control their speech to avoid self-destruction. Describing the tongue as a fire, James cautions against allowing Satan to use the tongue to “setteth on fire the course of nature.” The tongue has the power to ignite the fire of hell.
How can we learn to control and modify the words that come out of our mouths?

3. Sobering Realities (vv. 7–8)
James issues another startling revelation. Animals can be tamed, but the tongue cannot. Trained animals were known to be an amazing sight in the first century Greco-Roman culture. However, James says the skills do not exist that can tame the tongue.
His shocking comparisons continue. Since the Fall of humanity, snakes have been considered repulsive and deadly. James similarly characterizes the untamed tongue. James’ description recalls David’s prayer to be delivered from evil men who “have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips” (Psalm 140:3). James issues this sobering reality—words kill. Without God, James warned, believers would not only destroy other Christians, but also be consumed by the deadly poison that resides within the power of the tongue.
What are some examples of how your words can produce negative impacts on someone’s life?

4. Sobering Contradictions (vv. 9–12)
The contradictions James describes are reflective of our human nature. James addresses these double-minded, double-talking contradictions by using the example of believers who speak out of both sides of their mouths—blessing God, yet cursing people. God is consistent, and Christian speech must consistently reflect the heart of God. Words from the mouth speak the content of the heart.
James says blessings can neither come from a heart filled with venom, nor can curses come from a heart of love. In much the same way that olives cannot come from a fig tree nor can a spring produce both fresh and salt water, James punctuates the need for believers to think, say, and do those things that reflect who they are in Christ. The reality of the heart will flow through the consistency of ethical speech.
When people irritate you, how difficult is it to stop and pray before speaking?

Search the Scriptures
1. What does James say humans have the ability to tame (James 3:7)?
2. What action does James describe as wrong (v. 10)?

Discuss the Meaning
In these verses, James points out the dangers of an unbridled tongue. How has the wisdom of restraining one’s speech in a difficult situation made a difference in the outcome?

Lesson in Our Society
The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain freedoms, among them speech. As such, we live in a society where people feel free to say anything, to anybody, at any time, and in any place. Especially if what is said has the guise of truth, people feel justified in not holding their tongue for any reason, no matter who is hurt or offended. Even our politicians and leaders can lack integrity in their speech through demeaning words and half-truths. Not only that, but through social media we now have the ability to spread venomous words to the masses.
What you have to say might be important, but just as important is what you don’t say. Proverbs 18:21 points out that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” How will you use that power—as a sword or a shield? The ability to control the tongue demonstrates spiritual growth and maturity. When we allow our words to be guided by God’s wisdom, the tongue will be used not as a curse in destroying His people, but as a blessing which builds them up.
How can our words be used to build up others in the body of Christ and formulate more loving relationships?

Make It Happen
• Use the “4-Way Test” developed by Rotary International as a guide for how to direct your speech. Ask: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
• Make a point to encourage someone every day this week as a way to counter negative speech.
• Spend a day in silence as a way to discipline the tongue.

Follow the Spirit
What God wants me to do:
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Remember Your Thoughts
Special insights I have learned:
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More Light on the Text

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
The Greek word didaskaloi (did-AS-kal- oy), translated in the King James Version as “masters,” also means “teachers.” The teachers in this context were Jewish men, including the author, James, with expert training in the Scripture. As such, they were authority figures held in high esteem. Some people wanted to become teachers to attain higher social status. However, those trained in the Scripture were also charged with imparting to the community how to live according to God’s will, so they were held to a higher standard. If they led the believers astray, they would be judged more harshly than others.

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
The Greek word for “offend” is ptaio (PTIE-oh) and means to stumble. James acknowledges that as human beings, we too often get tripped up and do or say things we don’t intend. But the person who has the ability to guard his or her speech achieves perfection in disciplining his or her entire body.
The Greek word for “perfect” (teleios, TEH-lee-oce), when referring to human beings, does not mean without sin. Rather, it symbolizes the attainment of a virtue in a moral sense. For example, we often hear that “patience is a virtue.” Anyone who has worked with children knows that they can test patience, but a person who can deal with them without complaining or losing control of his or her temper is considered perfect in this sense.
A bridle is a harness that fits over a horse’s head. It has a bit that fits into the horse’s mouth and reins that guide the animal in the direction it should go. Figuratively, to “bridle” one’s speech means to show restraint.

3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Horses were a common mode of transportation in the first century. Roman soldiers also used them in battles. People who ride horses use a bridle to control or guide the horse’s movement. The horse responds to the tugging on the bit in its mouth by turning its whole body in the direction its rider wants it to go. Likewise, when we demonstrate the ability to control our speech, we display the discipline to govern other members of our body and guide them in the direction they should go.

4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
James furthers his argument on the importance of selecting teachers who have mastered the ability to guard their speech (and therefore their whole bodies) by using the example of a ship at sea being steered by something as small as a rudder. The Greek verb metago (meh-TAH-go) means to guide, turn about, or direct. Similar to the horse, a large ship, which needs the power of strong winds in order to move it, is able to be steered by such a small thing as the rudder.

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
James finally gets to the heart of his sermon: something as small as the tongue can wield great power for good or evil. The forest fire metaphor is a good example of how a single spark can start a fire that can quickly burn out of control. If the right person is in control of speech, then he or she can guide others in the right way to go. Likewise, a single word by a person with no self-control can do damage that can take months or even years to repair.

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
James returned again to the metaphor of the tongue represented by the teacher within the community whose speech could bring good or evil to bear. This verse is obscure and many scholars have found it difficult to interpret. The world of first-century Rome was far removed from our contemporary society, and many of the metaphors and images used in ancient writings such as the Bible are unfamiliar to today’s readers.
The Greek word for “iniquity,” also translated unrighteousness, is adikia (ah-dee-KEE-ah) and means a deed violating law and justice, as in an unfair judge. A biased judge who hands down an unjust ruling negatively impacts the individual, his or her family, and the whole community. Likewise the tongue, with its potential for sin, represents a smaller version of the potential for all of humanity to sin.

7 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.
James likens the tongue to a living being. However, in contrast to all the creatures of the land and sea, which human beings are capable of restraining, people appear to be incapable of taming their tongue.

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
We might believe that James exaggerated the power of the tongue by comparing it to fires raging out of control. However, he took very seriously the power of someone in the authoritative position of a teacher to do great harm if he or she does not have the ability to control his or her speech.
James refers to the tongue as “an unruly evil.” In the Greco-Roman context of the first century, the word “evil” (Gk. kakon, kah-CONE) meant to be foul or rotten down to the bone. It was an inward decay, like a cancer developing and spreading through one’s body. Anyone who has ever been the victim of slander knows how lies left unchallenged can destroy careers and lives.

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
The very same tongue we use to bless God can also be used to curse others. The Greek word for “bless,” eulogeo (ew-low-GEH-oh), is from the same root as the English word “eulogy” and means to speak well. To bless someone is to speak well of them or praise them. In contrast, “to curse” (Gk. kataraomai, kah-tah-RAH-oh-my) someone means to doom or call down evil upon him or her. As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we should have only good words for one another.

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
The Greek word for “mouth,” stoma (STO-ma), refers both to a physical opening and also to speech, especially eloquent speech. It can also mean the edge of a sword. Metaphorically, the tongue can be a sharp sword cutting down people with insults and imprecations, or it can offer words of praise that lift up people. The notion that both virtuous and vile speech can come from the same source was anathema to James.

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Fresh or living (Gk. glukus, GLOO-koos, literally “sweet”) water is from a new or previously unused source. Bitter or brackish water is fresh water mixed with salt water, such as in river estuaries in Louisiana. Living water is uncontaminated and refreshing; you wouldn’t want to drink from brackish water that has not been treated to remove the saltiness.
Those of us who grew up in urban areas have probably never encountered brackish water. However, people from rural areas likely learned as children not to drink such water. James rhetorically asked whether fresh and brackish water can come from the same source, knowing that his audience, who had come in contact with both types, would answer no.

12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Being an effective preacher requires delivering a message using illustrations your audience is familiar with. James did a commendable job demonstrating his point using metaphors, images, and illustrations from the world around his audience, such as the modes of travel and the methods of husbandry.
Anyone who has ever cultivated or produced crops for food knows that a fig tree cannot yield olives any more than a grapevine can produce figs. This would be an aberration of nature. The fig tree can only produce figs and the olive tree only olives, as is their nature. Likewise, salt water cannot yield sweet (fresh) water. James was making the point that a person with an evil disposition is not likely to be virtuous, as it is not in them to do so.

Say It Correctly

similitude (sih·MIL·i·tude)
eulogeo (ew-low-GEH-oh)

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