Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Comparing James & Paul on the tongue

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Galatians 5:12 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Scripture is truly its own best interpreter.  The Bible teachers of old used to quote a principle in Bible interpretation that went something like this: "When trying to understand a more difficult scripture, interpret it in light of a clearer scripture."  I have found this principle to be so helpful in over 20 years of studying scripture.1 In today's blog I want to illustrate to you how two scriptures, speaking on the same topic, can function by aid of the Holy Spirit to make plain what He is trying to say to us.  The topic is going to be on controlling your tongue as a Christian.  My test case is going to be James 3 and Galatians 5.  I'll first of all give you a very brief summary of each text, and then trace out some key points of comparison between both, with a final set of applications.

Summarizing James 3 and Galatians 5
James, as we noted yesterday, was the first and earliest book written in the New Testament.  Paul's letter to the Galatian church was the earliest of his 13 letters written (14 if you consider Hebrews to be his as well).  With James and Galatians we see examples of the earliest forms of Christian thinking and doctrine following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  James 3 is dealing with the issue of controlling the tongue, referring to it almost 10 times and illustrating the need to control it several different ways.  Galatians 5 is contrasting the difference between being led or controlled by the flesh versus being led or controlled by the Holy Spirit, as seen at least four times in that chapter. (Galatians 5:16,18,22,25) .  With that brief comparison, we can note that the common link between the two chapters is on the subject of "controlling influence."

James 3 and Galatians 5 in comparison
James is written to a Jewish audience, meaning that in a letter written primarily to Jews, the style of thinking and teaching is going to proceed more like a spiral staircase.  When you go up the "spiral staircase" of a Jewish writing like James, you'll encounter a "truth" and then later on encounter the same truth again, only in a much  deeper way.  James will often introduce a thought and then leave it, only to pick it up once again.  Galatians on the other hand was written to a more Gentile audience.  Gentiles (non Jewish people) tend to think and write in a "straight line" or "linear fashion", meaning they will introduce a subject, explain it, move onto the next subject, explain it, and so on until a conclusion is reached.  If you want to see this illustrated, look at the footnotes below to see a visualization of the two ways of thinking.2   With that in mind, we can now compare James 3 and Galatians 5:

James 3:1-12                                                   Galatians 5

James 3:1 Warnings to teachers        Galatians 5:1-14 Warnings  about mishandling God's word           about false teachers who did
through their speech                          mishandle and misguide
                                                           God's people by their speech
                                                           & teaching

James 3:2-4 The Spirit led tongue     Gal 5:16,18 22-25 The
                                                           Spirit-led believer

James 3:5-8 The Carnal, unbelieving   Gal 5:15, 19-21 The Carnal,
tongue                                                   unbeliever

James 3:9-12 The Compromising      Gal 5:15, 26 The
tongue                                                Compromising believer
                                                           (carnally minded Christian)

Defining key biblical terms such as "carnal", "flesh", "self", "the human spirit" & "carnal Christian" can greatly aid in seeing the connections between the two passages as you glean the interpetation and application.3 

Applying the truth derived from our study of James 3 and Galatians 5
First and foremost, Galatians 5 gives us an overview of three spiritual conditions that are defined throughout the Bible: Carnal unbelievers, Spirit led Christians and Compromising Christians.  James 3 gives us a more specific picture of these three, noting how each will sound when they use their tongues. 

Secondly, James tells us that a Spirit-led Christian's tongue will be self controlled, functioning like reigns on a horse or a rudder on a ship. (James 3:1-4)  Though the presence of sin remains in a Christian following conversion, they do not have to be subject to the self-life's cries for saying whatever first comes to mind.  Galatians 5:16 plainly tells us that when we are led by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:22 also)  Only the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the natural, carnal desires that otherwise cannot be tamed by human means.

Thirdly, James moves onto the tongue of the carnal unbeliever.  None can tame the tongue whether by behaviorial reform or coercion.  Nature teaches that animals can be tamed, however the tongue in its natural setting is untamable. (James 3:5-8)  In Galatians 5, Paul describes the out of control tongues of the unbelieving false teachers (Galatians 5:1-6) as well as the nature of the unbeliever's heart that is producing the destructive speech. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Then finally, James describes the sad case of the compromising Christian who tries to talk both ways: out of his human spirit and out of his soul or carnal nature.  Sadly he is a living contradiction.  Paul too warns those try to sit on both sides of the fence so to speak, noting that a Christian who is careless with his speech will tear down others in the process. (Galatians 5:15,26)

May this brief study today prove to not only be instructive but useful in equaipping you with another tool for study God's Word. 

End Notes__________
1 For those interested, the Latin term for this principle is analogia scriptorum,  meaning "the analogy of the scriptures" or in our modern language: "let scripture interpret scripture".  Cross referencing is perhaps the greatest tool availaablee to the Bible Student, since it uses this principle in its practice.

2 Think of Jewish and Gentile (Greek) styles of writing, learning, teaching in the following ways by using simple letters of the alphabet:

Greek Style of teaching/learning: A,  B,  C,  D ---> Conclusion

Jewish Style of teaching/learning: A,       B,  C,D
                                                           A,  B,  C,D-->Conclusion
                                                               A,B,C,D-->Conclusion again

3 For the reader who is interested, I have briefly defined the terms mentioned above with the blog with verse references.  

Flesh - A similar meaning term referred to in scripture as "the flesh", refers to the overall location of activity that is carried out by the "carnal" attitude. The flesh can refer to the physical body or human soul. This is Paul's emphasis in Galatians 5.

Carnal - First, to be "carnal" refers to an attitude of unbelief operating out of the fallen presence of sin in our soul. I see James touching more on this aspect of the "natural" unredeemed human being. Admittedly this category is borrowed from Paul's letter to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2-3, but that in itself only serve to prove how one scripture aids in interpreting another.

Self- A third term, "the self" refers to that power or principle that wants what it wants, when it wants and how it wants. The self is the sinful me, utilizing my soul's mind, emotions, will and conscience to carry out the carnal attitude through the activities of the flesh. Non-Christian people are 100% carnal, operating and interpreting life out of their soul's mind, emotions and will. Their spirit, which is their innermost part, is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, rendering them uninterested in God or the things of God. (1 Corinthians 2)Jew
is, B,  

The human spirit - The "spirit" is that innermost part of me wherein the Spirit of God indwells. To be "spiritual" means I am operating out of my "human spirit" that is indwelled and informed by God the Holy Spirit.
The Carnally minded Christian (carnal Christian) A "carnal Christian" is a Christian who, though indwelt by the Holy Spirit in their human spirit, has nevertheless chosen to rely on the left over remnants of sin in their human soul. Thus they will live a "reverse hypocrisy" - meaning that they willfully act opposite of what they truly are (a new creation in Jesus Christ). A carnally minded Christian will be more influenced by the self operating in his soul than the Holy Spirit operating in his human spirit.