Every morning in February my students read a passage about a famous African American as part of their morning work. The other day, as I was getting ready to go over the work with them, I said, “Take out your passages on Arthur Haley.” The students looked confused. I said, with much condescension, “Yes, Alex Haley. You read about him this morning. His name is at the top of the paper.” One bold soul said, “You said Arthur Haley.” My response was, “Well, I have Arthur Mitchell in my desk, I got confused.”
I didn’t laugh. I didn’t apologize. I defended myself and moved on. The reason why is simple: I needed to keep the upper hand in my classroom. If I admitted I was wrong, I might have lost control. At least, that’s what my pride tells me when I find myself in situations like these every day.
It’s easy for teachers to become proud. They are the center of attention. The expectation is that everyone will listen to them (and woe to those who don’t!). Ideally, teachers have all the answers—they have authority. What an ego trip!
And so James begins chapter 3, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
James recognized the dangerous way teachers dance with pride. His readers would want to be teachers—they were respected and admired—but James warns that teachers are subject to stricter judgment. As it should be. If I can get an attitude about Alex Haley, imagine the pride that would come with being an "expert" in the faith!
The opening verses of chapter three lay a foundation for one of James’s major themes: humility. We should be humble, because we all make mistakes. A lot of these mistakes are caused by a tiny part of our bodies, our tongues.
James goes on listing small things that have big influences, culminating in verse 8, when he calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” But we don’t even need to read as far as verse 8 to be overwhelmed—verse 2 does a fine job, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man…” All those in favor of giving up and being imperfect say “Aye.”
Why should we try to tame this uncontrollable little beast? The answer is in verses 11 and 12. Salt springs cannot produce fresh water; grapevines can’t bear figs—unless something miraculous happens, unless the One who created them steps in. Our tongues are restless evils, but sometimes, we say the right thing. When this happens, it is a tiny miracle, a reminder that we have Supernatural help dwelling inside us.
Have you had a tiny miracle recently, wherein you were able to say the right thing at the right time? Describe.
Why is gossip such a common sin for women? What are some practical ways we can “tame our tongues” and avoid gossip?
In Matthew 15, Jesus says, “What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'” If our unclean talking comes from our unclean hearts, how can we clean them up?