Modern Bible Commentary on James 3

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

What a sobering message here. The apostle James tells his audience that not many of them should become teachers because those who teach will be judged more strictly.

It is unfortunate that many people throughout human history have become disqualified due to their grievous sins. They will receive a harsher judgment before the Lord. Even while there is always grace and forgiveness, it’s of utmost importance to be above reproach when you lead the flock of God

Moreover, James would heartily agree with 1 Timothy 3:1, which states that whoever aspires to be a church leader desires a noble task. The desire to be a leader comes from the Holy Spirit. He knows that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

Therefore, He wants to equip and embolden as many people as He can to share the wonderful message that God loves us the world and sent His Son Jesus to die for their sins.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Incredible how such small pieces can move and control great things: bits into the mouth of a horse can turn this behemoth creature, a large ship is steered by a small rudder, and of course, the tongue speaks the thoughts of mankind. These visual representations help the reader understand how important miniscule parts are to the whole.

Furthermore, James further elaborates on how the tongue, such a small part of the body, can make great boasts. We can use it to discourage and harm others or use the tongue to encourage and help strengthen people in a positive direction. Either way, the tongue is a powerful tool and must be used with caution. As believers, we have the capacity and ability to tame the tongue. God has given us His Holy Spirit and therefore we are without excuse.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

It’s interesting how humans have the power and authority to tame wild beasts and animals. For instance, there are zoos all around the world that give society the ability to train and be in control of the most powerful animals in the world–such as the lion or elephant. However, despite man’s ability to have “dominion” over creation, they aren’t able to tame a small tongue inside their mouth.

The apostle James says the tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

The old adage goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But this is simply not true. Words do hurt. They have a tremendously powerful effect on our emotions.

As believers, we must use our tongue to praise God and love unconditionally.

In fact, James tells us that if we truly love the Lord, there will be no cursing coming from our mouths. For how can a spiritually minded person allow deceit, lies, and foul language exit their mouths? He uses an analogy, saying how can both fresh water and salt water arise from the same spring? Of course, the answer is that it’s impossible. The two come from different sources and they definitely don’t mix well together.

Same way with a fig tree and a grapevine. They are of a different nature. A fig tree will not bear olives and a grapevine will not bear figs. Therefore, when we are born again, we become a “new creation.” The old has passed and all things are new. We no longer should be spewing hatred and violence from the tongue. This is not the nature of one who is trusting in Jesus for their salvation. Believers will be full of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:23).

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Once again, James focuses on the interconnection between faith and works. When one has true saving faith, they will demonstrate that faith by their works. By their “good life” and deeds done in humility, they will show to the world the wisdom they have received from God. This is the saving faith James is articulating throughout the letter.

He continues by addressing the vices of envy and selfish ambition. These have no place in the heart of a born-again believer. In reality, these vices are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic. This powerful statement shows that there is absolutely no room for this type of behavior from a Christian. For envy and selfish ambition leads to disorder and evil.

However, God is orderly and good. He will not allow bitterness and humility to dwell in harmony. They are antagonistic, opposed, and not able to cohabitate. Therefore, let’s put away the carnal man and work out our salvation with fear and trembling so we can be the spiritual person God created us to be.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

In conclusion, James discusses the wisdom that comes from heaven. It is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, and many other attributes that are virtuous. These attributes are a direct reflection of God’s nature. As humans created in the image of God, we ought to mirror the goodness of God in the way we interact with the world. Jesus told us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.” In the same way, when we live a virtuous life, we will sow peace and reap a righteous harvest for the glory of God.

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)

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