Focus Scripture: James 3:1-12
In the third chapter of James, the Apostle provides advice about standards to be observed by those who presume to teach. The early church highly esteemed the office of the teacher (Matt. 5:19; 18:6). James points out that teachers exert great influence over others, who trust that what is being said is accurate and helpful. The words of teachers have an impact on others in the community and sometimes set the tone for the character of the community. The Apostle uses the tongue as a metaphor signifying that a small part of the body has the capability of inflicting great harm if it is used inappropriately.
The tongue is a small part of the body that is capable of creating great disasters. Therefore, teachers have to be aware of the consequences of careless words. In a local congregational setting, death and life may be linked to “the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 8:21). This applies to teachers and others responsible for interpreting the Word of God to people inside and outside of the community. At least one commentator cautions teachers not to make their own beliefs and feelings a standard by which to judge everyone else: “While we are severe against what we count offensive in others, we do not consider how much there is in us which is justly offensive to them” (Matthew Henry Bible Commentary).
According to Fowl and Jones (1991) “If and when a community becomes unable to hear the word of the Lord rightly because of deeply embedded character distortions, it gets caught in the downward spiral of mutually reinforcing failures of character and interpretation.” As teachers communicate with others outside the organization, they influence shaping the character of the listeners through the way they interpret and apply the scripture. When the church ventures into the community as a partner, it assumes the role of teacher and must pay heed to the cautions expressed in this scriptural text.