For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
Last week we looked at James 3:1, where the author encourages Christians to think twice (or three times…or a dozen times) before taking on the role of a teacher in the church. Teachers are, after all, accountable to God for what they teach.
But now in this verse James hones in on exactly why one should be reluctant to put himself in such a position. It has to do with a severe handicap that all of us possess.
I once had a debate with a man over whether people who could not carry a tune in a wooden bucket should participated in the praise and worship team at our church. This dear brother could not understand how lack of musical ability could possibly be a problem when it came to ministering…in music.
Now here’s the thing: according to James, all of us posses a weakness which can be fatal when it comes to proclaiming the Word of God to the people of God. The great irony is that this problem lies in the very tool we need in order to carry out the task – our words.
Obviously, we cannot verbally teach the word without words. The bad news is, we have a hard time teaching it with words. The right words, that is. James’s choice of…well…words here is interesting.
For we all stumble in many things.
We’re all sinners. If sin could keep us from teaching, nobody would teach. That’s not his point. He has a specific kind of sin in mind.
If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
In other words, our tongue (a metaphor he takes up in the following verses) has a malignant power all its own, that dwarfs the sinful impulses of the rest of the body. And when we stop to consider how much trouble some of our other members can get us into, this is a pretty impressive statement.
So James is telling us that our inability to control our words is an impediment which makes it very difficult for anybody to exercise the task of teaching. Obviously it is possible – necessary even – to overcome this barrier because, well, James was a teacher, and here he is…teaching. With words.
But this and the verses to come make it very plain that we should take our propensity to sin by our words very seriously as we seek to transmit the Word of God. As is his habit, James is going to make the consequences of not doing so crystal clear.
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