Jas 3:1-4 “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. 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. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 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.”
There is a simple truth about being in the position of a teacher: teachers will be scrutinized and judged more than others. This is true if we teach at an elementary school or at a college. It is true if we are looked to as a teacher at our workplace and it is certainly true if we stand in a pulpit or take some other role of leadership in our churches. Having the role of a teacher (master) leaves us open to giving offense to many by the things we say and the way we say them.
Many interpret James’ injunction of “be not many masters” to mean that not many of us should seek to be a teacher. When we stop to consider that our life journey requires most of us to be teachers at one time or another, this does not seem a reasonable conclusion. As parents and grandparents, we are expected to teach the next generation by word and deed. If we have younger siblings, we are going to teach them many things (whether good or bad). James’ instruction reminds me of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul states “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” When it comes to the things of God, we should not be many masters, each with his own agenda. We should not be a respecter of persons or give place to our vanity. Our words of honor and praise should be reserved for God and Him alone and presented in a manner that edifies His people.
As teachers, our words have a powerful force. It is not just our speech that is examined; the issue is whether our words and actions are in harmony. Whether we are teaching young people to be good citizens or preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, when our audience sees us acting contrary to our teaching, we offend (trip, sin, stumble, fall – see Strong’s). We ourselves stumble, but even worse, we cause those that we teach to stumble. Jesus said it is better for us to have a millstone tied around our neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend (to entrap, that is, trip up [figuratively stumble or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure] – see Strong’s) one of His little ones (Mat 18:6, Mar 9:42, Luk 17:2).
Looking to Jesus to learn to bridle our tongue is vital to our ability to teach God’s children without offending (causing to err). We realize that there are those who are intellectually offended by the truth of Jesus Christ, but His word does not offend in the sense of causing error or sin. His word is truth and light; it lays bare the faults of the first man Adam and the righteousness of the second man Adam. Bridling our tongue is not only about knowing when to be silent but also in knowing when to speak, what to say, and how to say it.
The tongue, like a horse’s bit, is a small thing but it has the ability to direct great matters. Jesus, being verily man, lived a sinless life. He used the words of His Father to counter temptation and suited His deeds to His words (Mat 4:1-11). A horse is not capable of putting a bridle on itself, and we are not capable of bridling our body on our own. We serve One who is both able and faithful to do all He has promised, including providing us a sufficiency of His grace to be not many masters, but to trust in one Lord and Master. When we (by His grace) look to Him, He will put His bit in our mouths and turn us to His service.
Like a great ship, there is a lot of “cargo” in our lives. Sometimes we are driven before fierce storms and we may fear that we will suffer loss. We are tempted at times to refrain from saying what needs to be said because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or because we acknowledge within ourselves that we are guilty of the same things. Rest assured that our “ship” has a governor at the helm that is capable of seeing us through the storms, both those without and those within. He directs our words so that they honor Him and edify His people and gives us grace to live according to our words.
May we be complete (perfect) in Him, declaring the wonderful truth of salvation by God’s grace alone, speaking the Truth in love to His people, and be moved by the Spirit to walk according to our speech!