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Wed, Jun 23, 1999

51 - Slow to Speak

James 3:1 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:56 mins 41 secs

Slow to Speak; James 3:1ff


James is writing to teach us what to do in order to handle the tests of doctrine. The theme is set forth in the first chapter, verses 2-4. James is addressing the believer's response to tests in life. He organizes his material around three basic points which are covered in 1:19: "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak {and} slow to anger." This forms the three-point outline for this epistle. We have been analysing the section beginning in 1:21 and going down to the end of chapter two which focuses on the theme, being quick to hear—not just hearing anything but listening to doctrine, making doctrine a priority in our life. We are to become appliers of the Word. True hearing implies application.


That section concluded with the section on faith and works at the end of chapter two, and now we move to the second division, being slow to speak. So the subject of chapter three from 3;1 down through 3:18 is going to revolve around self-discipline in the arena of speech and the use of the tongue, and avoidance of sins of the tongue. The first subject of this epistle, being quick to hear, was a positive command but the second two, being slow to speak and slow to anger, are negative and deal with self-control in the believer's life in relation to the sin nature.


James 3:1 NASB "Let not many {of you} become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." This begins with a prohibition in the Greek, a compound of the negative ME [mh] plus the verb GINOMAI [ginomai] in the present passive imperative. GINOMAI by form does not have an active voice form, it is what is called a deponent verb, which means that it is passive in form but is active in meaning. So it is an active verb in the sense that an individual makes the decision as to whether he is going to teach or not. The negative ME indicates that this is a prohibition. GINOMAI with the negative means not to become something. A better translation here would be, "Do not let many of you become." We need to understand what it means when it is a present imperative. The present tense normally emphasizes continual action; the imperative means that this is a mandate for the spiritual life. As an imperative it is addressed to the volition of James' readers and by application it is addressed to every believer in the church age. When it includes the negative ME it means it is a prohibition. Now we have to ask the question: What is the sense of this prohibition? A present imperative or prohibition has two meanings. First of all, it can mean to stop doing something already in progress. Secondly, it can refer to just a general prohibition which makes no comment at all about whether the action is presently going on. What we have here is the second, a general prohibition for the spiritual life. It does not necessarily imply that this was taking place, that they needed to stop this, although that definitely could be, but James is pointing out one of the problems that comes up in handling testing. The subject is many teachers. The word there is DIDASKALOI [didaskaloi] which is the main word in the Greek for a teacher or for an instructor.


James is the first epistle written in the New Testament. It is written between 40-44 AD, before Paul writes any of his epistles. Therefore it is written before the mystery doctrine is revealed, before any of the mandates are revealed concerning the structure and organization of the local church, before any information has been revealed about spiritual gifts. It is written very early, so it is a mistake to read technical meanings from the later pastoral epistles back into James, because James is still writing in the context of a very Jewish situation. He is still operating within a very Jewish context where the Christians were beginning to separate out from the synagogue but were still conducting their worship services in a manner that was very similar to a synagogue. There would be a main teacher who would come and present whatever it was that he was studying, but then there was a time of informal teaching within the congregation where different people could stand up and teach on whatever subject they wanted to. This was the standard operating procedure and they just carried this over in this early stage of the church. This was before there was full revelation given regarding the spiritual gifts and the role and function of the pastor-teacher and so many people would just stand up because they thought they had something to say. This happens in a lot of churches and it happens for a lot of different reasons, and part of the corrective is given right here in James chapter three. It is a warning for those who think that they have something to say and want to get involved in teaching the Scriptures when they really don't have any training for it. The warning is: "Do not let many of you become teachers."   


We have to ask the question here as to why James includes this? Why does he put this shift in here in the middle of this discussion on how to handle testing and trial? In the previous section we have seen that there is a tendency in the hearers to emphasize the accumulation of academic knowledge instead of application of that knowledge. They stopped short of application, so that when the pastor-teacher communicated doctrine it went through the Holy Spirit who makes it understandable as PNEUMATIKOS [pneumatikoj] doctrine, the hearer exercised volition and it came into the outer lobe of the mentality of the soul, the NOUS [nouj] where it became GNOSIS. That is as far as it went, it became academic knowledge. And, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1, knowledge—GNOSIS, not EPIGNOSIS—puffs up, makes arrogant. This was the typical response of young immature believers who start accumulating a lot of knowledge of Scripture. They understand doctrines academically but they don't transfer them into the inner lobe of the soul as EPIGNOSIS. they have no maturity, and like immature people are wont to do they begin to want to show everybody how much they know and start butting into everybody else's business and telling everybody else how they ought to be handling trials when they haven't gone through the maturing process themselves, and they have not converted this into EPIGNOSIS. This is one way that people tend to assert their own self-importance and build themselves up. They are impressed with what they have learned and so they want to impress others with what they have learned and how well they can help other people handle the adversities in their life. They immediately get into the sin of judging other people and they want to stand up and tell others how they ought to run their life. This operates from a position of weakness because it flows from arrogance.


So James warns them off. He says it is very dangerous to put yourself in the position of being a teacher, whether it is a formal position as a pastor-teacher or whether it is a more informal position such as a Sunday school teacher or lay teacher or just wanting to put yourself in the position of teaching someone else how they ought to run their life. James says that doing that is going to involve a lot more divine discipline. So the first part of the verse should be translated: "Do not let many of you become teachers." Why? James understands because of the revelation that has been given to him that the gift of teaching is going to be restricted to a few people; it is not something that just anybody can do.


"My brethren" emphasizes the fact that he is talking to believers. Then we have a perfect active participle of the verb OIDA [o)ida] which means to know. This isn't the word we usually run across, GINOSKO [ginwskw], and it is important to take a moment to analyse the difference between these two words. GINOSKO means to come to know something, it emphasizes the process, especially when there is a distinction with OIDA. OIDA indicates a fullness of knowledge, so here it is roughly comparable to the noun EPIGNOSIS. For example, we see the contrast in John 8:55 where Jesus says in a response to the Pharisees: "and you have not come to know [GINOSKO]Him, but I know [OIDA] Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word." This indicates that the Pharisees have not come to know God, they have not been involved in the process of learning about God, but in contrast Jesus claimed that He had intimate full knowledge of God. So here in James we have a shift, the verb is OIDA; it is a perfect active participle. OIDA is always found in the perfect tense but it has a present tense meaning, and as a participle we have to define whether it is an adverbial or adjectival participle, and because it lacks the article it is adverbial. It is an adverbial participle of cause. It is going to modify the main verb, "do not become," in the sense of cause. It should be translated: "Do not let many of you become teachers, my brethren, because you know something." Then we have the English translation "that," in the Greek it is HOTI [o(ti], which indicates that we are getting ready to see a principle: "as such we shall incur"—literally in the Greek it is LAMBANO [lambanw] which means to receive something—"we shall receive judgment"—KRIMA [krima], which indicates a sentence handed down from the Supreme Court of heaven, and this is divine discipline to the believer—"greater judgment." This is the comparative from MEIZON [meizon], meaning the larger or greater judgment. So this isn't just standard divine discipline but it indicates an increased level of divine discipline on someone who gets involved teaching and starts getting involved in other people's business, trying to straighten people out, operating from a position of arrogance.

The doctrine of triple-compound divine discipline for sins of the tongue: Matthew 7:1, 2 NASB "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." This is the worst level of divine discipline and self-induced punishment that the believer can get involved with. It starts off with the believer getting involved with mental attitude sins. Almost every sin begins with some attitude rooted in arrogance. As soon as we commit a sin and are out of fellowship we begin to operate on self-absorption. So this starts with these mental attitude sins of arrogance and because this immature believer is caught up with how wonderful he is, how much doctrine he has learned and how much smarter he is than everybody else, then he begins to judge other people. He starts making decisions about their life and about their life and how well they are applying doctrine and how ignorant they are. So he is motivated by arrogance. There may be some other elements of jealousy or bitterness, other types of mental attitude sins can enter in such as self-pity, guilt or whatever it may be. In this case we are just talking about somebody who thinks he has the answers to all of life's problems, so he starts evaluating everybody else. And this is the same word KRIMA, forming a judgment, trying to operate in the place of God in this person's life.

As we start off with this we see somebody judging somebody else, and they move from mental attitude sins of arrogance into sins of the tongue—slander, malice, gossip, telling a lie about somebody else, misrepresenting somebody else; all of these things are very destructive. We just need to keep our mouth shut from judging somebody else. So that is level one and we are going to accumulate divine discipline for that. Level two: we are going to get divine discipline for the mental attitude sins that motivated the judging. Third, we will receive the discipline for the sin that you are judging: "for in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured out to you." Then we will receive discipline for every sin that we mention, whether true or not, and it will be brought back on our head. This doesn't mean the other person gets of free, but now we have intensified our discipline threefold and receive triple-compound divine discipline.

This is a major problem that we should avoid, and that is why James says: "Let not many {of you} become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." Because he uses the word OIDA it indicates that those he is writing to have been taught this principle and James assumes that by this time this has been assimilated into their souls and should be able to apply this particular doctrine.

The doctrine of spiritual authority in the local church

1)  Spiritual authority resides ultimately in the Word of God and it is only derivatively in the communicator, the pastor-teacher or the evangelist, the two communication gifts that are still operational in the church age. They derive their authority not because of who and what they are but because of their message and the inherent authority in the Word of God. Remember, authority is always inherent in the very function of teaching, whether you are a piano teacher, a school teacher, a workshop teacher, whatever it is. This is something that should be taught kids from the time they start school. Whether the teacher is right or wrong they are responsible to obey the teacher.

2)  Ultimately authority is derived from the Word of God. That is where authority resides, it is simply delegated to the communicator.

3)  The pastor-teacher's authority is limited to his own congregation.

4)  The limitation of the pastor's authority: the extent of the pastor's authority extends to the communication of doctrine. That is his job. It is not the pastor's job to make sure that people are converting the teaching from GNOSIS to EPIGNOSIS; it is not the pastor's job to make sure that you are applying the things that are taught.

5)  The royal family honor code, the protocol that governs the life of the believer, demands authority orientation in the form of academic discipline whenever the pastor is teaching Bible doctrine. This means the people need to be courteous, quiet, have good manners and thoughtfulness of others and showing respect for the teaching of the Word of God.

6)  Ultimately the issue in the local church is that the pastor is communicating the mystery doctrine of the church age so that the individuals in the congregation can understand it, metabolise it into their souls, and advance to spiritual maturity. This means that just as individuals in the congregation are growing the pastor is also growing. The pastor has to be advancing spiritually because the congregation can never advance beyond the spiritual maturity of the pastor.

7)  The pastors authority is documented throughout Scripture. One of the clearest is in Hebrews 13:17 NASB "Obey your leaders [pastors] and submit {to them,} for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." So the congregation is responsible to submit to the authority of the pastor and to submit to his teaching.

James 3:2 NASB "For we all stumble in many {ways.} If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." This begins with the introductory phrase in the Greek, GAR [gar] and it always indicates an inference or a conclusion from what has already been stated. Sometimes it indicates a reason, so now he is going to explain why he has just given this mandate in verse 1. One of the reasons we shouldn't go around trying to straighten everybody else out is because "we all stumble in many ways." What does it mean to stumble? Here we have the Greek word PTAIO [ptaiw],  and it means to trip, to stumble, to fall. But it is a synonym for HAMARTIA  [a(martia], the basic word for sin, and it means to miss the mark. So when James says we all stumble in many ways he is saying we all sin. Everybody is going to blow it when we go through various tests and so it is not up to those who think they have figured it all out and have bloated themselves up with academic knowledge to make teachers out of themselves, and to run around and try to straighten everybody else out. We are all going to fall in many different ways. One of the things we will see in this entire chapter is the emphasis on the fact that we are not all perfect, we are all going to fail. Then James goes on to show that this involves even the sins of the tongue. "If [1st class condition] anyone does not stumble in what he says" – assuming that there is a case where there is this one person who does not sin. There is probably no such case but this is a person who is minus sins of the tongue. He has complete control over his tongue and there is no sin – "he is a perfect [TELEIOS/teleioj] man." Perfect implies sinless perfection, and that is not the sense in the Scriptures. We never reach sinless perfection. TELEIOS refers to completion or maturity. What James is saying is that if someone has complete mastery over the tongue then they indeed have reached spiritual maturity. He is a spiritually mature individual able to control the whole body as well. That is the emphasis in "bridle"; he is able to bridle the entire body as well. So the greatest example of self-discipline is a person who is able to control his tongue and not get involved in various sins of the tongue.