Obstacle to Victory

James 3:1-9

James => Pursuit of Holiness

Pathway to Holiness => Trials/Temptations + the Word (1:2-27)

Principles of Holiness => Substance (Law) + Dynamic (Faith) (2:1-26)

Procurement of Holiness => Obstacle to Victory / Nature of Victory / Requirements for Victory (3:1-4:10)

Panorama of Holiness => Your world / Your self / Your circumstances (4:11-5:18)

Chapter 3 begins new phase in James’ argument – issue is how to procure holiness on personal level. Like other places in Bible (and also human experience), author first demolishes and then rebuilds. James first demonstrated how trials/temptations coupled with God’s Word form two rails of railway to holiness. God’s Law defines the right direction for travel, faith is fuel that powers the engine resulting in forward motion – moving individual toward Christ-likeness, holiness demonstrated in daily life.

Even this far into what James has written, still possible for someone to say/think they can have their version of faith, perform works to their own standard, make the grade on their own. James disagrees, chooses particular sphere of responsibility/authority structure in which to make his point. In that sphere, quickly becomes obvious even regenerate man is unable to bring about his own holiness (3:1-9). Any holiness he does achieve/procure must come from above (3:10-18). Means to procure it: acknowledge man’s “nothingness” and F.R.O.G. (fully rely on God) to supply all needs (4:1-10).

A. spheres v.1

no sigh of relief yet!

we’ll get to who’s a teacher and how it fits but first – spheres and authority structures

in general

what they encompass

all of life beginning with three God-ordained institutions: family, church, state

within institutions, various authority structures

participation not optional – part of created fabric of life

some voluntary: husband-wife; employer-employee; elder-member

some involuntary: parent-child; government-subject

the divine model

order in society reflects order in Trinity; same also of relationships

Son does will of Father (John 6:38); Father gives all authority to Son (John 17:2); Holy Spirit doesn’t speak on own authority (John 16:13)

Son denies himself (John 17:5), sacrifices himself (John 10:17-18); Father denies himself (John 10:36) sending and sacrificing the Son

human responsibility

emulate the divine model in all our spheres: starts with self-denial

followed by practical godliness – sacrificial submission and service to others

starting with that standard, model – is it surprising James makes case it is impossible in human strength to achieve??

teaching in particular


risk of associated trials

riches and poverty both; knowledge God supplies, what is lacking but desired

essential to weather both riches and poverty in way pleasing to God

requirement to be a “hearer” and “doer”

practical godliness in teaching mandates teachability – must hear the lesson first

hearing must be followed by doing – teaching is as much (maybe more) by example as instruction


teaching intrinsic in various spheres – both involuntary and voluntary exercise

comes with territory of being a parent; experienced; older

relationship presumes a teaching function

special circumstances – particular office

teaching office within the church sphere

carries great risk/responsibility

should only be entered in strict dependence on God’s help

B. the problem v.2-5


two prongs: who and how

“we all” – original audience, the church, plus the inspired author James; now, any who can claim fellowship with 1st century church

stumble/sin “in many things” – no one is free from sin, tendency to live by sight not faith

e.g., speech/the tongue (2)

tongue presented as pivotal issue – if that is under control, everything else is, hence a perfect individual

makes sense – who we are underneath all the wraps eventually finds expression; Jesus’ words: “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

well-regulated speech a sign of well-regulated person; not implying we should begin with speech control, swapping chap stick for super glue. Speech is the symptom, not cause.

two views of problem


bit and bridle (3)

small piece of “equipment”, horse’s mouth, governs direction of entire horse

rudder and ship (4)

30′ rudder can control direction of 1200′ iron ore carrier (Berge Stahl)

out-of-control (5)


Wallow Fire, Arizona, 2011 – abandoned campfire, burned 538,000 acres

but wait

seems like there might be a chance – the bit/horse’s mouth, the rudder, they can be controlled; means we can control tongue, right?

think a minute: does the horse hold the bridle? does the ship turn the wheel? there’s another force at work there, just as with bringing wildfire under control. Problem is internal, solution must be external. Tongue has power of life and death; which one results from its use depends on who is governing it.

C. the root – the enemy within v.6-9

its nature (6)

is a fire

not like, but is; by nature destructive and consuming, nearly impossible to stop so long as there is fuel

defiling – a world of wrongdoing; indwelling sin concentrated and focused

“The tongue is a one member wrecking crew that leaves a mind-boggling devastation in its wake. It turns the whole body into a garbage dump!” Krabbendam

pipeline to hell

capped landfill torches – methane gas; James gives similar picture of the tongue

hellish poison comes up the pipe, permeates rest of body and life

only hope for relief comes from Christ and divinely installed/maintained blowout preventer

its power (7-8)

just in case you thought you might be able to get it under control…. all different kinds of animals can be tamed, so…NOT. tongue not only a fire, more ferocious than wild animal. Remember, too, tongue is just an example, given by James to demonstrate our utter helplessness, total inability in human strength to subdue indwelling sin.

untameable – just as demon-possessed man (Mark 5:4) could not be restrained/subdued (tamed)

unruly (ακατασχετον) or restless (ακαταστατον) – lawless, always on the move, impossible humanly to restrain or steer

full of poison – death-dealing, worse than snakes that can be tamed; wrong use kills speaker, listener and object

all this expressed as reality, not potentiality; the way it is, not might be or could be or will be if…

its effectiveness (9)

melt-down with all its consequences

fine upstanding Christian, saying all right things in genuine praise and worship of God

something triggers melt-down, speaks in condemning way about neighbor

bless God but curse his image

doesn’t have to be ongoing condition to be a problem

that it happens at all in Christian life shows power of sin, depth of even regenerate man’s inability to overcome power of sin

So where’s the hope? If in the Fall mankind was stripped of knowledge, righteousness and true holiness, what hope do we have? God expects us to grow in holiness but how? That which was lost will be restored as God uses trials/temptations and his Word to conform us to image of God in Christ. As we recognize our dependence on God for all things, we must cast ourselves completely on him, relying on him moment by moment to enable us to please him in all things.


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