James 3 (AD 48)
James 2: you claim to be a Christian? Show it by what you do.
James 3: you claim to be a Christian? Show it by what you don’t do and by what you do.
Speaking your mind used to be frowned upon. Nowadays, at least in western societies, saying what you think – no matter how unpleasant – is viewed as a moral good. ‘I’m just being honest’ has become the justification for rudeness, insults, and slanderous behaviour. The link between brain and mouth – bricked up for too many people for too long – has been turned into a frictionless superhighway.
But it’s ungodly and in many cases rampagingly anti-gospel, to the extent that what we say when we’re ‘just being honest’ may prove our claims at Christ-following to be empty words. We all say bad things, but if our way of life includes a perceived right to insult and demean because we think we’re right, or because we think we’re entitled to air our views, then we don’t understand the concept that “a salt spring [cannot] produce fresh water” (v.12).
James warned people who thought they could say anything, so long as they thought it was true, that someone with real faith doesn’t live like that. Doesn’t live, either, with “harbour[ing] bitter envy and selfish ambition” (v .14). That’s not living for God, that’s ‘unspiritual’ and ‘demonic’ (v.15).
References to Jesus overturning tables and Paul’s robust defence of his ministry, are not a justification for verbally slamming someone, and neither are they references to the importance of truth. The way the Son of God spoke to the people who were plotting his death and the way the apostle Paul spoke to anti-God missionaries infecting an entire region, are not comparable situations to anything you or I are going through.
Instead, our mandate is to be “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (v.17-18).
The presence of good works and the absence of boastfulness, envy, selfish ambition and cursing, all show us to be like Christ. No matter how much we are provoked, and regardless of how right we think we are.