James explains the idea that there needs to be a seamless unit of believing and doing. We cannot separate our profession of faith from the performance of our faith (our actions). They coexist - we show our faith by what we do, not by what we say. In the third chapter of James, he opens up with the statement that teaching is "highly accountable work". Then he goes on to describe the accountability that is expected of a teacher. He also makes it perfectly clear that absolutely no one is qualified for the work of a teacher! Why? Because no one is absolutely perfect. In this same chapter, he goes on to speak of the power of our words. Let's explore...
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell... (James 3:3-12)
James makes it perfectly clear that we need to learn the power of our words. This is especially true as it applies to teaching - we have a responsibility to choose wisely the words that will help and not hurt. Even as important as our words are, the way we live is even more important. The old adage, "Your actions speak louder than your words", holds true. When we live well, revealing wise choices and exhibiting a humble spirit, our actions speak volumes about the life change that has occurred within.
Ever find yourself "twisting the truth" just a little to make yourself look a little wiser than you really were in that particular moment? I have - but that is not wisdom - it is really pride in action. That is why James warns us of both the power of our words and the evidence of our actions.
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom... Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:13-18)
We build community by treating each other with dignity and honor. It is hard work to build community. Just consider how hard it is to be gentle and reasonable with others when they are neither being gentle or reasonable themselves. James describes the actions that build community as being free of competition and comparison.
Why does James begin with teachers, interject so much about our words, then end with community? Well, here is one thought you might consider. People all around us are looking carefully at our actions - they often look for the actions we exhibit to match our words. We "learn" from each other - by the words we speak and the actions we reveal. We either build or tear down based on the words we speak and the actions we take. Community is built or torn down by the teaching we embrace, the influence it has on our lives and the actions it produces in our relationships.
Today, let us begin the task of asking God to focus on our words, ensuring that they match up with our actions. We may not all be called to the ministry of being teachers, but the truth is that we all teach some lesson! As James says, "do the hard work" of building a strong community - it has great rewards.