JAMES CHAPTER 3.
Caution against False Activity in Teaching and the Use of the Tongue. Jas.
danger of teaching and much speaking: V.1. My
brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater
condemnation. V.2. For
in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a
perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. V.3.
Behold, we put bits in the
horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. V.4.
Behold also the ships, which, though they be so great and are driven of
fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever
the governor listeth. V.5. Even
so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a
matter a little fire kindleth! V.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. It seems that in many of the congregations, which were composed largely of
Jewish Christians, the custom of permitting almost any man to speak that so
desired had been taken over. This was a dangerous practice in more than one
respect, and therefore the apostle writes: Become not many teachers, my
brethren, knowing that we (as such) shall receive the more severe condemnation.
In the Jewish synagogs, especially in the Dispersion, in the cities outside of
Palestine, there was little restriction in the matter of teachers; almost any
one would be listened to that desired to be heard. But whereas all believers are
kings and priests before God and the Lord Jesus, they are not all teachers of
the congregation, they may not all arrogate to themselves the office of
preacher. But there was not only danger under such circumstances that the
Gospel-message would not receive its proper attention, but the speakers were
also inclined to let personal matters sway them, the result being that the
discourses in the common assemblies were anything but edifying at times. It was
necessary, therefore, to remind the unauthorized teachers of the fact that the
responsibility resting upon the office and the account which the teachers must
give on the last day, Heb. 13, 17, would make the sentence passed upon them all
the more severe.
apostle now gives reasons for the sternness of his rebuke: For manifoldly we
offend, all of us. If a man does not offend in word, that man is a perfect man,
able to keep under the restraint of the bridle also the whole body. The general
course of life may well be called a way and each individual action a step;
therefore any offense or lapse or transgression may well be termed a stumble.
All men without exception become guilty of such stumbling, even the best of
Christians are subject to sins of weakness. And now James, in applying this
general truth to the case in hand, states that a man who can control his speech
at all times, never offending by so much as a single word, may well be
considered a perfect man, since the ability to control the tongue argues at
least for the probability of controlling the entire body and keeping all the
members from sinning. If a man is able to perform the more difficult task, he
will have little trouble with that which is comparatively easy.
the difficulty of controlling the tongue is now shown by two examples. The
apostle writes, in the first place: But if we put bits into the mouths of the
horses to make them obey us, and we direct their entire bodies. This was an
example with which his readers were familiar, which they understood. Horses are
driven and kept in control by means of the bits placed into their mouths, the
driver merely pulling the reins in order to have the horses’ head in any
direction that he chooses. In another case the ease of control is still more
apparent and also wonderful: Behold also the ships, although they are so great
and, moreover, tossed about with fierce winds, yet are guided with a very small
rudder, whithersoever the mind of the steersman wills. This fact is apparent in
our days even more than in the times of small vessels. Ships of many thousands
of tons displacement obey the slightest pressure of the helmsman, or slight turn
of the wheel on the bridge. Even when the sea is agitated, the pilot or officer
has little trouble in directing the course of the vessel as he chooses, as he
thinks best, so long as the steering apparatus is in order and the rudder does
not break. It is a marvel of human ingenuity to be able to keep a large vessel
in control with such tiny devices as compared with its great size.
apostle now makes the application: So also the tongue is a small member, and yet
boasts of great exploits. The writer speaks of the tongue as though it had a
personality of its own and made use of its power by deliberate action. As small
as it is among the members of the body, yet it can boast of performing great
deeds. By way of comparison the apostle again calls out: Behold how small a
fire, what a forest it does kindle! or: What an immense fire, what an immense
forest the tongue does kindle! It takes only a small fire, a burning match
carelessly thrown aside, to start a fire which may consume many square miles of
forest. And such is also the destructive power of the tongue: The tongue also is
a fire, a world of unrighteousness; the tongue steps forth among our members,
and it stains the entire body and inflames the wheel of nature, and itself is
inflamed by hell. Like the small firebrand that causes the devastating forest
fire, so also is the tongue in its unbridled state. It is a world of
unrighteousness, it works a world of mischief, its entire sphere becomes that of
iniquity when it begins its transgressions. The tongue steps forth among the
members, it assumes the leadership, among them, it rules them, it makes them do
its bidding. Thus it happens that it succeeds in staining the whole body, in
polluting all the members; it sets in motion and inflames the wheel of nature,
the whole circle of innate passions, jealousy, backbiting, slander, blasphemy,
and every vile deed. Truly the tongue, if permitted to pursue its course
unhindered, is inflamed of hell, is in the control of Satan himself.
against the abuse of the tongue: V.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; v.8. but the tongue can no
man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. V.9.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men,
which are made after the similitude of God. V.10. Out of the same mouth
proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. V.11.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? V.12.
Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries? either a vine, figs?
So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. It may seem, perhaps, that the orator is here carried away by his subject;
but any one that has observed the terrible effect of slandering and defaming
which is done in our days, as it was hundreds of years ago, will say only that
the apostle speaks by way of comparison. In holy indignation he cries out: For
every kind of beast and bird, of reptiles and of marine animals, is tamed and
has been tamed by mankind, but the tongue can no one of men tame; that restless
evil, full of death-bringing poison. The patience and the ingenuity of man has
worked effects approaching the miraculous in taming and in training animals of
every description, mammals, birds, reptiles, and various animals that live in
the sea. Though the divine promise of the dominion of man, Gen. 1, 28, has
suffered somewhat in consequence of sin, yet the mastery of human beings over
the animals cannot be questioned, the latter being kept in subjection both by
subtlety and by force. But the tongue seems to be beyond the ability of man, to
keep in subjection and to tame; all the immeasurable evil that it has caused
since the fall of Adam, all the innumerable warnings that have been uttered by
the servants of God since that time, have not yet succeeded in curbing its
pernicious activity. An unruly, a restless evil, the apostle calls it, one that
causes restlessness and disorder, that, upsets all established rules for its
control. It is full of death-bringing poison, Rom. 3, 13; the evil which it
causes has the same effect as the venom of asps, corroding and killing.
what way this is true, the apostle shows by citing one single instance: With it
we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the
likeness of God; out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. Matters
are here represented as they are found in the world and, sad to say, also in the
midst of those that bear the name of Christ and confess His holy name. The
tongue being the instrument of speech, it is used by believers and even by
others for the praise of God, who is our Lord and Father in Christ Jesus. That
is as it should be; for we can never adequately sing the praises of Him who has
brought us out of the darkness of spiritual death into the marvelous light of
His grace. But the sad side of the picture is this, that the same mouth is also
used in personal abuse, in cursing a fellow-man, who was created originally in
the likeness of God. For God made Adam in His image, and although the spiritual
part of this likeness has been lost as a consequence of the Fall, certain
external characteristics still proclaim that man is the crown of created beings.
Thus the tongue is made an instrument of evil in calling down God's wrath and
punishment upon a fellow-man. There is no excuse for this, neither loss of
temper nor heated controversy. It is a vile transgression, an evil habit,
aggravated by the fact that blessing and cursing come forth out of the same
mouth. Surely the contradiction should at once strike every man that is guilty
of such behavior; he ought to feel that such a condition of affairs cannot
possibly be reconciled even with common decency. Solemnly, therefore, the
apostle adds: It should not be, my brethren, that these things happen; the mouth
which blesses God in fervent prayer should not heap curses upon men at other
times; such behavior cannot be reconciled with the Christian profession.
utterly unreasonable and contradictory the attitude of men is that still are
guilty in the manner described, the apostle shows by a few examples: Surely a
spring out of the same opening does not send forth sweet and bitter water! A
fig-tree, my brethren, surely cannot bring forth olives, or a grape-vine, figs!
Neither can salt water yield fresh. Nature itself teaches that the behavior of
men as just characterized by the apostle is unnatural, unreasonable. For the
same fissure, the same opening of a spring or fountain, cannot bubble up sweet,
fresh water, and bitter, brackish water at the same time. A fig-tree will not
bear olives, nor a vine, figs, neither can a sweet-water fountain yield salt
water and a saltwater spring, or the salty sea, sweet water. How much more does
it behoove Christians to watch over their tongues, lest the good and the evil,
the wholesome and the foul, be poured forth from the same mouth!
against strife: V.13. Who is a
wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good
conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. V.14.
But if ye have bitter envying and
strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. V.15.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual,
devilish. V.16. For
where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. V.17.
But the wisdom that is from above
is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy
and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. V.18.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
The apostle now makes a direct
application of the lessons contained in the first part of the chapter: Who is
wise and intelligent among you? Let him show his works out of an excellent
conduct in the meekness of wisdom. Christians should make use of proper wisdom,
prudence, and common sense; they should show that their intelligence, controlled
by their obedience to the Word of God, is well able to direct their actions in
life. Such wisdom is not boastful and proud, vaunting itself at the expense of
others, hut it is modest, humble, meek. It does the right thing, it behaves
itself in a conduct which agrees with the will of God, not with the purpose of
seeking its own glory, but only that of serving the Lord, this in itself being a
sufficient reward for the believer. In this spirit he performs the works which
the Word of God teaches him as pleasing the heavenly Father.
opposite conduct may be expected in the case of a man that is full of carnal
pride: But if you have bitter zeal and quarrelsomeness in your hearts, do not
boast-and thus lie against the truth. If people calling themselves Christians
cherish emulation and party-strife, jealousy and rivalry, if they are so puffed
up with pride and self-satisfaction that they insist always upon being in the
right and ever claim that the one disagreeing with them is wrong, they are doing
so at the expense of love. Should they under such circumstances gain an
advantage over the other and boast in triumphant glee of their having been
proved in the right, this will almost invariably be a lying against the truth,
since most victories gained under such circumstances are gained at the expense
of truth and love, and will not aid in furthering the harmony which should be
found in a Christian community.
such an exhibition of pride the apostle says: This wisdom is not that which is
coming down from above, but earthly, sensual, devilish; for wherever jealousy
and rivalry exist, there is disorder and every evil deed. People that make use
of such schemes in overcoming their opponents, that always insist upon being
right and want their ideas carried out, may think themselves exceptionally wise,
as, indeed, their self-sufficient air would cause the uninitiated to believe.
But the wisdom which they boast has nothing in common with true wisdom, such as
is given by God, whenever the Church is in need of intelligent management. It is
a wisdom, rather, which is of this earth only; it is sensual, in the domain of
the senses, which is as far as human beings will ever proceed; it is devilish,
it succeeds only in bringing about such conditions as are particularly pleasing
to the devil, who is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. This, in fact, is
the only fruit that can be expected where emulation and party-strife, jealousy
and rivalry, exist, where every one insists upon having his own ideas accepted,
regardless of the views of others. Naturally, there will be disturbances,
disorders, everything will be upset in such a congregation, a condition will
result which will give rise to every evil deed, the passions finally having free
and full sway.
different is the situation where true meekness and kindness are ever in
evidence: But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable,
lenient, yielding, full of mercy and good fruits, not critically inclined, not
hypocritical. This wisdom is from above, it is given by God and should be
required of Him in prayer, chap. 1, 5. If any man thinks that he is not in need
of it, he will surely find himself in a position where he will make one mistake
after the other. The wisdom which God gives, and which should at all times rule
in the Church, is pure, chaste, holy, it guards against sin in every form; it is
peaceable, wherever this can be done without denial of the truth, it maintains
peaceful relations; it is lenient, forbearing, even under severe provocation; it
is yielding, conciliatory, ready to enter upon a compromise or accept the
opponent's views if this can be done without harm to the work of the Lord; it is
full of mercy, compassion, and good, wholesome fruits, eager to be of service to
the cause; not critically inclined, but generous, even when the discussion tends
to become bitter; not hypocritical, but genuine, the Christian does not make use
of tricks and devices to trap his opponent.
this condition of affairs obtains in a Christian congregation, in a Christian
community, then it will follow: But the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
to them that are peacemakers. Wherever the virtues are practiced as outlined by
the apostle in the previous verse, there the people that practice them are sure
to reap the fruit of their work. Where the peace of God rules the heart, there
all the virtues that make for true righteousness of life will grow and flourish
abundantly. Peace and righteousness are thus the result of the wisdom which is
given from above, truly a splendid harvest to those that have shown the
disposition which should always characterize the professed followers of Jesus.
In cautioning the Christians against false activity in teaching and the use of
the tongue, the apostle shows them the dangers which attend much speaking,
especially when the tongue is fanatically excited; he warns against the abuse of
the tongue and against the disposition of mind which engenders strife.