James 3:4

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. James 3:4

James just wrote about the majestic horse which can be brought into submission by a mere bit in its mouth. He now turns to a nautical theme, that of the ship. He says, “Look also at ships.” One can read the excitement in his words as he considers this, and as he places an emphasis (in the Greek) upon the first clause. It may be better translated as “Behold!” Whether James had seen larger ships along the Mediterranean Sea, or only smaller vessels on the Sea of Galilee, it hardly matters when considering the example he will give, which is that “although they are so large and driven by fierce winds.”

Even if James had only seen the smaller vessels at the Sea of Galilee, they would still be big enough to carry men and fishing equipment or passengers. And he would still have known of the amazingly fierce winds which would rush down through the Arbel Pass from the Mediterranean and then over the sea itself. The shallow nature of the sea, combined with these rushing winds, would cause waves to increase to great size. As the winds whipped around, there would be chaos in the waters. It is reminiscent of what is recorded in Luke 8:22-24 –

“Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.’ And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’”

James may have even taken a trip to the Mediterranean and seen the larger ships which conducted trading throughout the Middle East. In Acts, one that Paul traveled on carried 276 people. But even if James didn’t actually see such a ship, the Hebrew Scriptures refer to them on several occasions, such as in the book of Jonah, or as referred to in these words from the psalms –

“Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
30 Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:23-30

James, like Jonah and the psalms, speaks of the fierce winds which can toss a ship about. And yet, the ship is not left without its own means of harnessing and then directing even such winds. As he says, “they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.” Unless the winds are completely unmanageable, the ship is able to capture them in its sails, and then the boat – this massive home upon the seas – is directed by a rudder which is insignificant in comparison to the size of the ship. But despite its diminutive size, the pilot can choose his course and pursue it by turning this small device.

Here, in these words, James is comparing a ship to an individual. The winds are those things which impel us from within our minds, tossing us back and forth, and which need to be properly directed. And the rudder is compared to the tongue. Whichever way the tongue moves will impel the man in that direction – be it good or ill.

Life application: Imagine the massive size of modern ships – larger than football fields and able to carry loads of cargo more immense than most of us can actually imagine. And yet they can be steered by a rudder at the back of the ship which is minuscule in comparison to the size of the ship with its load. Add in strong winds which push against the gigantic sides of the ships and the waves which beat down the length of them, and it is astonishing that they can keep a true course all the way to their remote destinations. Now think on the even more immense direction of souls steered by a wayward preacher or leader. In 2 Peter 1:21, it says –

“…for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The words of prophecy which Peter refers to have come to be known as the Holy Bible. They were divinely inspired by God. In fact, this verse indicates that these men were “moved by the Holy Spirit,” even as a ship is carried along by the wind. Imagine now – even though these words were directed as if by a great wind moving the men as they received the words of God, it takes just a small rudder to distort it for one’s own evil purposes.

An effective distortion of God’s intent will direct the course of the lives of those who believe it – even onto the rocky shores of destruction. However, there is a lighthouse to direct us on the foaming seas; it is God’s Holy Spirit. How important then is it to check what we have been taught and ask for illumination of the word by God so that we don’t end in the depths of the ocean of deceitful instruction, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, or even cast upon the rocks of destruction.

Heavenly Father, as your word unfolds before us, it gives us light and understanding – even to the most simple of us. Help us to yearn for Your word, desiring it as we do the very water we need on a hot and dry day. Have mercy upon us, because we love Your name and because we desire to be true to You. And so, as we walk along life’s path, may Your word be our guide so that sin will not prevail among us. Amen.

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