A couple of days ago, I began a series on reimagining James's epistle as a letter directly from God, which it is. With influences from Eugene Peterson's Message Translation and Larry Crabb's 66 Love Letters, as I read through James, I asked, "what is God saying here?" Here is what I think God is saying in chapter 3.
(1) I want you to think hard about whether you want to teach My Word. This isn’t a calling for everyone. When you look around, you may see people teaching my word and think to yourself, “yeah, I could do that,” but beware. My servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” I have higher expectations for those who teach my word; it is not an easy life.
(2-5a) I know that you will say things you regret sometimes. Everyone does. If there was a man who never made mistakes in what he said, you would think he was perfect. Unfortunately, that little tiny organ can cause big trouble! Just like a rudder on a ship or a bit in a horse’s mouth, your tongue can lead your whole body to places you don’t want to go.
(5b-6) Little things you say might blow up in your face. All that is vile within you can flow out of your mouth and create a huge circle of damage. Yes, I gave you words, but when you speak poorly about me or others, it can ruin you. It is not too much to say that an uncontrolled tongue can wreck your career, your family, or your marriage. These death words come straight from the pit of hell.
(7-8) I have created you with the intelligence to do amazing things. You can train all kinds of animals, you can create cities, you can develop governments—but you cannot keep your tongue under wraps for very long. When you lose control, you spew poison from your mouth and damage others.
(9-12) My son, one minute you are praying about how much you love me and the next minute you are telling your kids how stupid they are. One minute you are singing “I love you Lord” and the next minute you are grumbling about how the person in the express lane has more than 15 items. One minute you say “thank you for your grace” and the next you yell at one of my kids, “get out of my face!” Like a snake, you have a split tongue—deadly poison and living water. This isn’t the way I made you. You cannot speak both life and death.
(13-16) My child, do you want to be wise and understanding? Then, seek to be humble. Practice loving. Consider others worthy of honor. Fight the temptation to make yourself look better. Your flesh tells you that what is best is to put yourself forward, even if it means putting others down. Your sinful nature encourages you to fudge the details to make yourself appear just a little bit smarter, wiser, or more kind. But your self-centeredness runs in the opposite direction of my will for you. I am a God of order and love, but when you act that way, you create chaos and evil. This is not who I am and it is not who you are.
(17-18) My child, I want you to ponder this: my wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by your own selfishness and worldliness. I want you to strive for peace in your relationships even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough; I want you to seek gentleness. I have made you rational and capable of reason. I want to think carefully, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you and sharpens your thought. Listen to others with interest. Rather than beating others down with your arguments, how about you build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be long on mercy, just as I am with you. Don’t just act like you are loving, be sincere. Don’t simply pretend to be fair, judge with impartiality. You will be amazed how much righteousness and peace flows from your willingness to treat others with peace and gentleness.