In James 3:1-12 the Holy Spirit inspired a warning (vs. 1) that actually introduces a lesson on the profound power of what we say! The commandment to “let not many of you become teachers,” along with the warning that those who do teach will be held liable for a “larger degree” of responsibility in judgement is NOT meant to discourage any Christian from sharing the gospel OR from ever becoming a “teacher” (one who shares knowledge of the gospel with others). James’ words here form a warning against taking on this kind of responsibility without understanding the potential to cause harm instead of eternal benefit! No (Christian) teacher will ever flawlessly execute every “lesson” he or she attempts to share because no Christian is “flawless” (vs. 2). James goes on to illustrate the immense power and influence of our words and examples by comparing the power of what we say to the “small” things that affect the directions of horses, ships, and great conflagrations (vv. 3-6). The practical point in these verses is NOT “don’t ever risk a more severe judgement by becoming a teacher,” but recognize and take seriously BOTH the powerful influence a teacher wields AND the profound responsibility the teacher accepts. Verses 7-12 reinforce this basic thought by highlighting the very real potential for hypocrisy in our speech, and implying that a determined commitment to consistency (with the gospel’s principles) is the “antidote” to this challenge!
At verse 13 James presents a very practical “definition” of true wisdom, which he then illustrates by comparing the effects of earthly versus heavenly wisdom in verses 14-18. True wisdom is defined by a manner of life and activities that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus – it was Jesus Himself who had declared in the sermon on the mount that, “by their fruits you shall know [recognize] them” (Matthew 7:16 & 20). James emphasizes this same point by contrasting the “fruits” of human “wisdom” – bitterness, envy, strife, confusion, and evil works (vv. 14-16) – with the results of heavenly wisdom (vv. 17-18) – purity, peace, gentleness, willingness to cooperate, mercy, “fairness” (impartiality), and the absence of hypocrisy! James is effectively telling Christians to look beyond the emotions of a particular moment or situation to the effects their feelings could produce, and choose to act according to Christ’s teaching instead of their own worldly inclinations.
In the first ten verses of James 4, the Holy Spirit offers us a very blunt assessment of what could very well be “the” issue that hurts and holds back the maturing and growth of Christians more than any other challenge or temptation we face: The tendency of every individual to excuse selfwill, even to the point of “masquerading” it as if what we want is godly simply because we want it. (It is worth noting that this was basically what the Pharisees had done, in elevating the “traditions” of the “fathers” – their own applications of God’s law – above the law itself. This was the root of many of their objections to and criticisms of Jesus’ teaching and the practices of His disciples, as in Mark 7:1-5) In the context of James 4, it is clear that some of the original readers were involved in conflicts and contentions among themselves because they were substituting what they wanted for what God’s word had commanded, and needed to repent (vv. 6-10)