Sometimes we struggle with having a bad attitude and spirit. Either we are angry and argumentative, or we are critical and judgmental. James and John were that way. They were naturally strong-willed, full of passion and aggressive. Once this strength was tamed and brought under Christ’s control, the Lord used them in a powerful way. But until that time came, they were simply known as the Sons of Thunder.
Oftentimes a critical and judgmental spirit is revealed through the words we speak. James (not the brother of John, but the ½ brother of Jesus) wrote these words:
James 3:5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
James tells us two important truths about the tongue:
- Though it is small, it is extremely powerful.
- It is often deadly and out of control
If all we read were these words from James, we might conclude that there is nothing that we can do to overcome a harsh and critical spirit. We might tell ourselves that this is just the way we were born and therefore we have to live with it. But this is not all that scripture teaches us about the tongue. Consider what our Lord said about this matter.
Luke 6:43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
Harsh and critical words are only the ‘fruit’ of the problem. We need to get down to the ‘root’ of the problem. What causes us to speak harsh and unkind words? Jesus said – “For of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” We speak what’s in our heart.
When James and John suggested destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” In other words, “Your heart is all wrong. Your heart is full of anger, hatred, pride, and self-righteousness. Your heart needs to be filled with the love of God.’”
I’m sure those words of rebuke must have stung the two ambitious disciples that day. But being two men who truly loved God, they took their Master’s rebuke to heart. Perhaps you will remember that it was John who turned out to be the disciple who focused much on the importance of love.
1John 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?