God’s Word for You
James 3:4-5a The rudder
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 3, 2020
4 Oh, and ships! They are terribly large and are driven along by very strong winds, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the helmsman directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
It is a marvel of human ingenuity that man is able to harness two forces which appear so wild and untamable, the wind and the sea, and bring them under his subjugation to use for his purposes. This is not human arrogance, but human genius combined with obedience to God’s command: “Fill the world and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). By building a vessel large enough that its keel and rudder will ‘bite’ or take hold of the current or tide water, and then by offsetting this by means of stretched canvas sails which catch the wind and drive the ship forward even when the wind isn’t blowing in the direction one wants to go. It is the rudder under the water that turns the whole vessel whether sails are employed or not.
The comparison James makes is once again with the tongue. The tongue may be small, like a ship’s rudder, but it makes vast changes in our lives. Always the good coach, James tosses in the pregnant term “boasts” into verse 5 to make us understand that the tongue might boast proudly of what it has accomplished or it might make an empty boast of a futile accomplishment that does nothing but damage. An example of the second boast is perhaps Haman’s advice to King Xerxes when he told the king what should be done for the man who delighted the king without realizing it was all about his enemy Mordecai (Esther 6:7-11). Another example might be the claim made to David by the young Amalekite who lied about killing King Saul (his story conflicted with another account of Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31:3-6). Expecting to be rewarded by David for his supposed action, he paid for his lie with his life (2 Samuel 1:6-15). David also wrote about the tongue: “May the Lord cut off flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?” (Psalm 12:3-4).
An example of the first boast, the sort we might take genuine pride in, is if we are able to use our words to comfort or console a friend. The words “I forgive you” can be like pouring a can of Coca Cola down a clogged sink. All of the gook and whatever else was getting in the way is soon cleared up, and everything is smooth once again.
Paul teaches us that a godly boast is only possible when it gives glory to God for whatever has been achieved. Quoting Jeremiah 9:24, Paul says, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31). Our true boast is in the cross of Jesus (Galatians 6:14) and in sharing the glory of God through our temporary sufferings (Romans 5:2-3). If these are the things that James is talking about, then the tongue truly has something to boast about. This is what we should focus our attention on: Do I give glory to God and to our Lord Jesus through the things that I say and do? Do I accept whatever suffering comes my way because this is something that gives me training for further godly living and gives me a platform on which to praise my God? This is what we should desire, that we can stand on the ramparts like the prophet to keep watch “and see what the Lord will say to me” (Habakkuk 2:1). What he says is my delight. What he would have me do is my only task, whether at any given moment it is looking after my children, my congregation, the dishes I wash, or the lesson I teach. May God be with me and watch over me (Genesis 28:20), and over you as well.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown? (Christian Worship 125:2-3)
Pastor Timothy Smith