“Faith Discredited” – James 3:1-12

June 30th, 2013

James 3:1-12

“Faith Discredited”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. — Luke 6:45


Background Information:

  • The sin of the tongue is one among many, though a very significant one.  When Paul lists five different organs of the body that are vehicles of sin–throat, tongue, lips, mouth, and feet (Rom 3:13-15)–it is informative that four of the five relate to speech.  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 76)
  • The tongue and its use is important to James.  And as such it occurs in every chapter of his letter.
  • In New Testament times, many teachers failed and misused their positions of responsibility.  Some of the teachers:


–      Introduced Judaism, Mosaic laws, and circumcision (Acts 15:24), weakening        the gospel truth that we are saved by grace alone.

–      Lived in contradiction to what they taught (Rom 2:17-29)

–      Taught before they knew anything themselves (1 Tm1:6-7)

–      Catered to people’s “itching ears” (2 Tm 4:3) (Bruce B. Barton, Life       Application Bible Commentary–James, 74)

  • (v. 1) In the NT itself we get glimpses of teachers who failed in their responsibility and became false teachers.  There were teachers who tried to turn Christianity into another kind of Judaism and tried to introduce circumcision and the keeping of the law (Acts 15:24).  There were teachers who lived out nothing of the truth which they taught, whose life was a contradiction of their instruction and who did nothing but bring dishonor on the faith they represented (Rom 2:17-29).  There were some who tried to teach before they themselves knew anything (1 Tm 1:6, 7); and others who pandered to the false desires of the crowd (2 Tm 4:3).  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 80)
  • (v. 1) The Christian teacher entered into a perilous heritage.  In the Church he took the place of the Rabbi in Judaism.  There were many great and saintly Rabbis, but the Rabbi was treated in a way that was liable to ruin the character of any man.  His very name means, “My great one.”  Everywhere he went he was treated with the utmost respect.  It was actually held that a man’s duty to his Rabbi exceeded his duty to his parents because his parents only brought him into the life of this world but his teacher brought him into the life of the world to come.  It was actually said that if a man’s parents and a man’s teacher were captured by an enemy, the Rabbi must be ransomed first.  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 80)
  • (v. 2) By perfect he means (as in 1:4) the completeness and maturity that will mark us when God has fully wrought in us all that he intends for us in Christ–in a word, the holiness of those who see him and are like him (1 Jn 3:2).  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 119)
  • (v. 5) The tongue is a small (mikron) member (melos) but boasts of great things (megala).  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 177)
  • (v. 7) The backdrop to verse 7 is the creation account.  Man was to “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gn 1:26; cf. v. 28).  James in customary biblical style divides the creation kingdom into four groups: those that walk, fly, crawl, and swim (cf. Ps 8:7-8; 1 Cor 15:39).  The term translated “tame” does not mean “domesticate,” but rather “subdue, subjugate,” or “restrain.”  The word is used in the account of the demoniac: “No one was strong enough to subdue [tame] him” (Mk 5:4).  Both the present and perfect tenses are used, indicating that both now and in the past creatures are being and have been brought under the control of man (Gn 9:2; Ps 8:6-8).  To have dominion is still man’s God-given mandate.  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 81)
  • (v. 7) The domesticating of wild animals is a sign of the Messianic Age (Isa 11:6, 9).  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 145)
  • (v. 8) “Restless” is the adjective used in 1:8, translated “unstable.”  It portrays an untamed animal restlessly pacing back and forth in its cage ready to pounce on anyone who dares come near.  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 81)
  • (v. 8) The word restless has been well represented by J.B. Phillips as ‘always liable to break out’, as if it were an untamed, half-tamed or poorly tamed beast accepting for a time the imposed restrictions and then suddenly turning savage.  Sadly we acknowledge–within the bounds of personal experience–how well James knows human nature and the tongue.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 124)
  • (v. 9) To curse man is to curse God’s image, just as to murder man is to strike out against His image (Gn 9:6).  No matter how one might define total depravity, it is evident that, though in the Fall the image of God was greatly impaired, it was not annihilated.  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 82)
  • (v. 11) The word byrei (“flow”) is a poetic term describing water that pours out, almost as being under pressure.  The water is sweet (glyky; NIV, “fresh”) and bitter (pikron; NIV, “salt”).  “Sweet” describes fresh water that is good for drinking; “bitter” refers to water so backish or even salty as to be unfit for drinking.  James may have had the Dead Sea in mind.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 188-89)
  • Before we move deeper into our passage, let’s pause to be sure we understand two important points.  First, James is not condemning teaching; he’s only warning against rushing into the profession without weighing the responsibility.  And second, James is not promoting silence; he’s proposing control.  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 102)
  • The tongue is neither friend nor foe.  It’s merely a messenger that delivers the dictates of a desperately sick heart.  So every time James uses the word tongue in our passage today, think heart.  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 101)


The question to be answered is . . . Why does James make such a big deal about the tongue?


Answer: Because the words we say and the intent behind those words is the clearest and most objective method we have of gaining insight into the status and spiritual maturity of our hearts.


Can you name the muscle in your body that receives more exercise and less control than any other?

Medically, they say it’s only a two-ounce slab of muscle, mucous membrane, and nerves that enables us to chew, taste, swallow food, and articulate words.  Redefined in nontechnical, relational terms–it’s a two-ounce beast, sometimes.

Sometimes it frames deceit (Ps 50:19), devises destruction (Ps 52:2), devours (Ps 52:4), is a sharp sword (Ps 57:4), breaks bones (Prv 25:15), backbites (Prv 25:23), flatters (Prv 28:23), and poisons (Rom 3:13).  You know this protean lump simply as the tongue.  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 101)


The Word for the Day is . . . restraint


It only takes a spark to get a fire going.


What is James trying to tell us in James 3:1-12?:

I.  The maturity of your faith is confirmed to the extent you understand that God takes our words seriously . . . and so must we! (Jas 3:1-5; see also: Prv 15:1-4; 18:21; Mt 12:37)


The tongue inflicts greater wounds than the sword. — St. Augustine


Words create reality.  More lasting and significant than the physical reality. — Tim Keller


It is fatally easy for a teacher to distort the truth and to teach, not God’s version, but his own.  He must have every care that he does not contradict his teaching by his life, continually, as it were, not, “Do as I do,” but, “Do as I say.”  He must never get into the position when his scholars and students cannot hear what he says for listening to what he is.  As the Jewish Rabbis themselves said, “Not learning but doing is the foundation, and he who multiplies words multiplies sin” (Sayings of the Fathers 1:18).  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 81)


Paul warned Timothy about being too hasty in ordaining anyone to church leadership because of the grave responsibilities which went with it (1 Tm 5:22).  Judgment at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) will be on the principle that if the greater the influence, the greater the responsibility.  If every person will give account on the day of judgment for every careless word spoken (Mt 12:36), how much more for the teacher, whose implement of trade is the tongue (cf. Hebrews 13:17)!  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 75)


Becoming a rabbi or teacher was the highest calling of a Jewish child.  Teachers had great influence and status in the early church (Eph 4:11).  Because teachers were rare, each teacher had much work to do, and teaching was central to the work of the church.  Because teachers taught primarily through verbal communication, it was vital for them to control what they said.  Through their positions, teachers could present wrong doctrine.  They could also create divisions in the church by promoting themselves rather than the message of Christ.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 73-74)


Coming hard on the heels of chapter 2, one of the most honorable “works” that would immediately come to the Jewish mind would be the position of teaching.  James has in mind a greater emphasis on spiritual growth and self-control before someone assumed the role of a teacher.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 74)


Idle words are damaging because they quickly spread destruction.  We dare not be careless with our words, thinking that we can apologize later, because even when we do, the damage remains.  A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.  Remember that words are like fire; they can neither control nor reverse the damage they do.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 78)


James’ point is that no believer should begin any form of teaching God’s Word without a deep sense of the seriousness of this responsibility.  To sin with the tongue when alone or with one or two other persons is bad enough; but to sin with the tongue in public, especially while acting as a speaker for God, is immeasurably worse.  Speaking for God carries with it great implications, both for good and ill.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 148)


The poisonous lies of Laban’s sons against Jacob drove him and his family out of the land and devastated Laban’s own home and family life (Gn 31).  The venomous tongue of Doeg the Edomite lying to King Saul about David and Ahimelech the priest resulted in the brutal massacre of 85 priests as well as the entire priestly city of Nob (1 Sm 22:9-19).  The deceitful princes of Ammon also lied about David, accusing him of hypocrisy in honoring Nahash their king and Hanun, his son of his own soldiers, along with Aramean mercenaries, for which some 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen and their commander were needlessly slaughtered by David’s forces–all because of a lie!  (2 Sm 10).  When Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to King Ahab, Queen Jezebel conspired to have two men falsely accuse Naboth of blasphemy, which resulted in his being stoned to death (1 Kgs 21:1-13).  As recorded in the book of Esther, Satan attempted to use the lies of Haman to exterminate exiled Jews in Medo-Persia, but was thwarted by Esther and her cousin, Mordecai.  Our Lord Himself was put to death because of lies (Mt 26:57-60).  Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death because he was falsely accused of blaspheming Moses and God (Acts 6:8-7:60).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 159)


Usually, teachers reproduce themselves in the lives of their students.  A false teacher could do great harm by creating mediocrity in the lives of the people of God and by actually leading them astray.  Much is written in the NT as a warning against false teachers, including the epistles of Jude and 2 Peter.

A false teacher or an inept teacher would be “tearing down” the lives of the believers.  A teacher who is called of God and gifted of God and who is properly equipped will have the joyous privilege of building the lives of God’s people and of building the Body of Christ.  The Biblical model for this style of teaching leadership is found in Eph 4:11-13.  Such an act of teaching results in the Body of Christ being built up, becoming unified in faith, having the knowledge of Christ, and ultimately growing to become more and more like Jesus.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 68)


At first blush the text can be read (and rightly so) in a straightforward fashion–it is about the danger of the tongue, a small part of the body that can do great damage.  But we soon realize that we are in the presence of a writer of great facility, for James deftly points to a second level of meaning via his double use of the word “body,” referring to both individuals and the Christian church.  On this level we see that teachers (and leaders), although a small percentage of the entire body of a Christian community, are able to guide the whole church, just as a rudder guides a ship; with the tongue, leaders can poison the whole community.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 173)


It should not be lost on us that teachers (and other leaders) in the church fit this image nicely.  The same small member can either guide the larger whole to safety or condemn it to the ravages of rancor and falsehood.  When the tongue is out of control, it can destroy much good that has already been done; a leader whose teaching is errant can in short order devastate years of careful and healthy growth in the life of a congregation.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 176)


God takes words seriously — Tim Keller


(Prv 6:16-19).  We should take careful note of the fact that God has a particular loathing of anything that divides Christians from each other, and few things do that more cruelly than barren, negative, unjust criticism.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 79)


A careless word may kindle strife.

A cruel word may wreck a life,

A bitter word may hate instill;

A brutal word may smite and kill,


A gracious word may smooth the way;

A joyous word may light the day.

A timely word may lessen stress;

A loving word may heal and bless  – Anonymous


Lies deny people the information to live wisely. — Tim Keller


Words are also God’s means to rescue people from hell.  A sermon, a Bible study, a catechism lesson, or an evangelism visit over coffee all look tame and ineffectual.  But God’s power to save people, to create and sustain saving faith, rides with words.  And so the believability of the church’s word–its people and teachers–will have an enormous impact on the believability of the church’s message.  It is vitally important for all Christians, and especially for those who speak in the church’s name, to let their faith control their words.  People hate hypocrisy.  “Double-minded” Christians with “forked tongues,” praising God and cursing one another, drive people away from the Savior.  James will not let Christians get comfortable with that double standard.  (Mark A. Jeske, James Peter John Jude, 34)


Mary Queen of Scots once said that she was more afraid of the tongue of John Knox than of 10,000 fighting men!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 190)


Some years ago, Morgan Blake, a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal, wrote the following satire: “I am more deadly than the screaming shell from the howitzer.  I win without killing.  I tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck lives.  I travel on the wings of the wind.  No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me.  I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless.  My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea, and often as innocent.  I never forget and seldom forgive.  My name is Gossip.  (George Sweeting, Faith That Works, 76-77)


It is the source of unrighteous, ungodly behavior within sinful man.  It breeds and gives vent to every sort of sinful passion and desire.  One commentator describes it as the microcosm of evil among our members.  It is a vile, wretched, and wicked scheme of fleshly humanness.  No other bodily part has such far-reaching potential for disaster and destruction as the tongue.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 156)


II.  The maturity of your faith is confirmed if you are aware of the uncontrollable nature of the carnal tongue (Jas 3:6-9; 1:19; see also: Ps 34:13; Rom 3:10-23)

He who has a sharp tongue soon cuts his own throat.


The tongue is the only tool that grow sharper with use.  — Washington Irving


It is the tongue of the Christian that destroys the fellowship.  (Chuck Swindoll, messageThe Perils of Playing God)


Examples of an untamed tongue include: gossiping, belittling, cursing, bragging, manipulating, false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, flattering, and lying.  Before speaking we should ask, “Is this what I really want to say?  Is it true?  Is it necessary?  It it kind?”  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 77)


This slender portion of flesh contains the whole world of iniquity.  –John Calvin  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 79)


Restless means unstable and incapable of restraint.  The tongue is always capable of evil; it remains untamed throughout life.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 80)


James means that the whole world of evil finds its expression through the tongue.  Boastful pride, destructive anger, cutting bitterness, flattering lust–the tongue communicates them all.  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 104)


The tongue is you in a unique way.  It is a tattletale that tells on the heart and discloses the real person.  Not only that, but misuse of the tongue is perhaps the easiest way to sin.  There are some sins that an individual may not be able to commit simply because he does not have the opportunity.  But there are no limits to what one can say, no built-in restraints or boundaries.  In Scripture, the tongue is variously described as wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual and vile.  And that list is not exhaustive.  No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth!  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 144)


In describing man’s total depravity, Paul says, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom 3:13-14; cf. Ps 5:9, 140:3).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 145)


For centuries, the major attraction of circuses has been the wild animal acts, in which lions, tigers, and other powerful and dangerous animals do tricks at the command of a human trainer.  In that regard they are less primitive and more civilized and controllable than the unregenerate, unsanctified tongues of their masters.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 158)


Restless translates akatastatos, the same word rendered “unstable” in 1:8.  In this context, the meaning goes well beyond that of restless, suggesting the idea of a wild animal fighting fiercely against the restraints of captivity.  This evil chafes at confinement, always seeking a way to escape and to spread its deadly poison.  Its “venom” is more deadly than a snake’s because it can destroy morally, socially, economically, and spiritually.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 158)


The logic of the passage is better preserved if we take James to be saying that teachers, all teachers, are prone, very prone, to sin; for the tongue is preeminently uncontrollable and a “treacherous” “source of evil; only an ideal man would never sin with his tongue.  Then, admittedly, James seems to think it needless to say why the tongue, a menace in every man’s life, is particularly so to teachers: obviously among them it has particularly many opportunities for its sinister work, since, as we need not be told, it is one of the chief tools of their trade.  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 140)


The uncontrolled tongue has a direct pipeline to Hell!  This pipeline is reciprocal.  Fueled by Hell, it burns our lives with its filthy fires.  But it is also, as Calvin says, an “…instrument for catching, encouraging, and increasing the fires of hell.”  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 139)


“We all stumble in many ways.”  That is, we all make mistakes, err, and come to grief.  In a sense, we are like a one-year-old child who stumbles repeatedly, gets up, and continues to walk.  But our stumbling, although not immediately fatal, is serious.  All of us fall into sin and cannot escape its power.  Sin robs us of our maturity, and the sin we most often commit is that of speaking carelessly.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 107)


The tongue as the “small part of the body” is as a world of iniquity “among the parts of the body.”  The tongue, then, is identified with–and in a sense is the vehicle of–a complete world of evil that resides among the members of man’s body.  It tells lies, slanders someone’s name, kindles hate, creates discord, incites lust, and, in brief, gives rise to numerous sins.  “There are few sins people commit in which the tongue is not involved.”  Because of this inclination to evil, the tongue corrupts man’s total being.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 111)


The word corrupts actually means “stains” but must be taken symbolically.  An evil tongue blemishes one’s personality.  “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mk 7:20-23).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 111)


Thomas Manton suggests that ‘Most of a man’s sins are in his words’!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 193)


Sir Winston Churchill once said, ‘The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself.’  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 195)


As we shall yet hear James say in greater detail (3:7-8), our tongues possess in themselves all the untamed vigor of a wild beast and, left to themselves, all their savage instincts will be given full play.  They need, like wild horses, to be broken in and harnessed.  (J. A. Motyer, The Message of James, 75)


III.  The maturity of your faith is confirmed if you are battling to destroy the duplicitous nature of the tongue (Jas 3:9-12; 1:26; see also: Prv 11:11-13; 12:18; 15:1-4; Eccl 10:12-14)


The Christians that James wrote to were apparently having serious problems with their tongues.  James had warned them to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19).  The believer who does not bridle his tongue is not truly religious (1:26).  We must speak and act as though we were already facing Christ in judgment (2:12).  When you read passages like Jas 4:1 and 4:11-12, you get the impression that this assembly must have had some interesting meetings!  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Mature, 90)


If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart.  I heard about a professing Christian who got angry on the job and let loose with some oaths.  Embarrassed, he turned to his partner and said, “I don’t know why I said that.  It really isn’t in me.”  His partner wisely replied, “It had to be in you or it couldn’t have come out of you.”  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Mature, 99)


James is not for a moment saying that silence is better than speech.  He is not pleading for a Trappist life where speech is forbidden.  He is pleading for the control of the tongue.  Aristippus the Greek had a wise saying, “The conqueror of pleasure is not the man who never uses it.  He is the man who uses pleasure as a rider guides a horse or a steersman directs a ship, and so directs them wherever he wishes.”  Abstention from anything is never a complete substitute for control in its use.  James is not pleading for a cowardly silence but for a wise use of speech.  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 84)


We know only too well from experience that there is a cleavage in human nature.  In man there is something of the ape and something of the angel, something of the hero and something of the villain, something of the saint and much of the sinner.  It is James’ conviction that nowhere is the contradiction more evident than in the tongue.  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 89)


Peter could say, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mt 26:35), and that very same tongue of his denied Jesus with oaths and curses (Mt 26:69-75).  The John who said, “Little children, love one another,” was the same who had once wished to call down fire from heaven in order to blast a Samaritan village out of existence (Lk 9:51-56).  Even the tongues of the apostles could say very different things.  (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 90)


We ask ourselves how we are to control the powerful forces within us that drive us into sin, and James replies by talking about something we never considered–do we control our tongues?  Are we the masters of the master-key?  The tongue is the key-factor in consistent living.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 120)


In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes the character Talkative as “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”  Sometimes we show great courtesy to strangers, but then are impatient and irritable with our families.  We may be compliant at work but then be verbally abusive to our spouse or children.  We may gladly repeat spiritual insights on Sunday but then pass on suggestive stories during the week.  We may be sweet and gracious at a Bible study, but then immediately afterwards destroy someone’s reputation with our gossip.  We may praise our Lord and curse people.  How easily we tolerate slander and backbiting.  We benefit from worship yet we may excuse destructive talk and gossiping.  And we may hesitate to correct others who gossip, tear others down, or criticize destructively.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 81)


The deceitful, dual use of the tongue is the result of double-mindedness, fickleness, and the instability of a life that is ruled by impulse rather than by the love of God.  The tongue reveals either maturity or immaturity.  It gives a picture of our basic human nature, made in God’s image but fallen into sin.  God works to change us from the inside out.  As the Holy Spirit purifies our heart, he gives us self-control so that we will speak words that please God.  Instead of fighting, we need to be helpful, positive, and encouraging toward others.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 82)


James reminds his readers of the creation account:  God created man in his own image and likeness (Gn 1:26).  In distinction from the rest of creation, man has a special relationship to God.  Therefore, if we curse men, we indirectly curse God.  Moreover, if we curse men, we act contrary to the explicit command of Jesus, “Bless those who curse you” (Lk 6:28; also see Rom 12:14).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 115)


Peter’s tongue was guided and empowered by the fire of the Holy Spirit when he confessed Jesus’ messiahship in Mt 16:16 and preached in tongues in Acts 2.  But Peter’s tongue was guided and empowered by the fire of the Devil when he resisted Jesus’ mission to go to Jerusalem and die on the cross (Mt 16:21-23).


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and me?:

A-  Christ demonstrated perfect control over his tongue, therefore perfect control over his entire self. (Jn 6:63; 1 Pt 2:21-22)


Just as the bit determines the direction of the horse and the rudder the ship, so the tongue can determine the destiny of the individual.  When the believer exercises careful control of the tongue, it can be presumed that he also is able to direct his whole life in its proper, divinely charted course: he is a ‘perfect man’ (v. 2).  (Douglas J. Moo, James, 122)


B-  The Spirit that controlled Jesus is available to all those who have faith in Jesus. (Ps 19:14; 141:3; Prv 4:23; 10:11, 19; 13:3; 15:28; 21:23; Mt 10:19-20; 16:17-20; Mk 7:20-23; 13:11; Lk 11:13; 12:12)


The Spirit is working to complete the work begun in you . . . to be conformed into the image of God, the image of Christ, to once again be sons and daughters of the Living God.


James does not simply say that the tongue is untamable, but that it cannot be subdued by any power resident in mere human nature or possessed by a mere human being.  Beyond this he does not go, but he may feel that the hint is plain enough.  On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4) a different fire from that which ascends from Gehenna descended from heaven to kindle new powers and give new speech to the human tongue.  If we must say that the outworking of sin first appeared in the abuse of speech (Gn 3:12), we must also say that the first act in the new creation was the renewal of the power of speech, a tongue intelligibly declaring the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11).  Maybe this is what James wants us to learn from verses 7-8a.  Would not this be a marvelous display of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, if our tongues were as his: ‘No man ever spoke like this man!’ (Jn 7:46)?  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 124-25)


No person can tame the tongue, but Christ can.  To do it, he goes straight for the heart (Mk 7:14-15; Ps 51:10) and the mind (Rom 12:1-2).  We should not try to control our tongue with our own strength; we should rely on the Holy Spirit.  He will give us increasing power to monitor and control what we say.  For when we feel offended or unjustly criticized, the Spirit will remind us of God’s love and keep us from reacting.  The Holy Spirit will heal the hurt and keep us from lashing out.  We can make sure we are in the Spirit’s control by incorporating Scripture into our life and by asking the Spirit to direct our thoughts and actions each day.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 80)


In 3:1-12 he uses the tongue as still another test of living faith, because the genuineness of a person’s faith inevitably will be demonstrated by his speech.  James personifies the tongue and the mouth as representatives of the depravity and wretchedness of the inner person.  The tongue only produces what it is told to produce by the heart, where sin originates (cf. 1:14-15).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 144)


It might be said that a person’s speech is a reliable measure of his spiritual temperature, a monitor of the inner human condition.  The rabbis spoke of the tongue as an arrow rather than a dagger or sword, because it can wound and kill from a great distance.  It can wreak great damage even when far from its victim.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 144)


When a person’s speech is Christ-exalting, God-honoring, and edifying, one can be sure the rest of his life is spiritually healthy–and vice versa.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 152)


In order for the tongue to control our lives in the right way, we must resist the ever-present inclination and temptation to boast and brag.  We should speak only gracious words, kind words, words that build up rather than tear down, that edify, comfort, bless, and encourage.  They should be words of humility, gratitude, peace, holiness, and wisdom.  Such words, of course, can only come from a heart that not only is indwelt by the Holy Spirit but is also wholly submitted to His control.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 154)


The tongue is likened to an unruly horse that needs a bit and bridle to bring it under control.  The tongue is an exceedingly powerful instrument that can be used for good or ill.  The Christian is challenged to control the tongue, using it for good.  His speech is to be “with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt” (Col 4:6).  Solomon wrote, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles” (Prv 21:23).  To claim a true form of religion yet not control the tongue is to have a “worthless” religion.  Worthless, sometimes translated “vain,” means “unprofitable” (cf. 1 Cor 15:17; Ti 3:9).  Outward forms of religion are useless without the inner dynamic of the Holy Spirit.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 48)


The control of the tongue is evidence of extraordinary spiritual maturity.  In fact, the “perfect man” is “able to keep his whole body in check,” says James.  It is so natural to gossip and criticize and slander that the person who can control his tongue can easily rule the rest of his body.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 131)


He who controls the rudder controls the ship.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 137)


C-  To the extent you are able to control your tongue is a confirmation of the extent you have yielded your life to the Spirit of Christ the Holy Spirit of God. (Prv 13:3; Mt 12:33-37; Lk 6:43-45; Col 3:5-11; 1 Pt 2:1)


The tongue is so much more than what we actually say out loud.  In fact actual speech is probably only a small percentage of the use of the tongue.  We cannot think without formulating thoughts in words; we cannot plan without describing to ourselves step by step what we intend to do; we cannot imagine without painting a word-picture before our inward eyes; we cannot write a letter or a book without ‘talking it through’ our minds on to the paper; we cannot resent without fueling the fires of resentment in words addressed to ourselves; we cannot feel sorry for ourselves without listening to the self-pitying voice which tells us how hard done by we are.  But if our tongue were so well under control that it refused to formulate the words of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these things are cut down before they have a chance to live: the master-switch has deprived them of any power to ‘switch on’ that side of our lives.  It is in this way that if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man (2).  The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity; it is the means to it.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 121)


All believers should take this chapter to heart, not just leaders and teachers; all Christians need to control what they say.  And all types of speech, private and public, need to be brought under Christ’s control.  The only sure cure for selfishly motivated teaching and speaking is true repentance.  This involves being honest and humble before God and admitting our sins (4:6-10).  Only then will we be able to avoid sinful speech and bring healing to the Christian community.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 73)


Although the believer has in the indwelling Holy Spirit the potential for controlling the tongue, he may not be appropriating this potential.  Hence, James insists that “this should not be.”  The mouth should be used consistently to praise God and to express love and kindness to men.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 188)


If a cup is filled only with good water, it cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how badly it is jarred.  –Oswald Chambers


Only Christ can change us as God changed the bitter water for the people of Israel at Marah (Ex 15:23-25).  This event is used repeatedly in Scripture as an illustration of the danger of complaining.  If the source of our thoughts and actions is the love of God in our life, then we will not be able to generate the kind of negative speech that James warns us against.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 83)


A person who fails to control his tongue deceives his heart about the reality of his religion.  He is a mere ‘hearer’ of the Word, and by failing to put what he hears into practice, he shows that his religion is vain.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 85-86)


Jack Miller’s Tongue Assignment:


• Do not complain or grumble about anything.

• Do not boast about anything.

• Do not gossip or repeat a matter.

• Do not run someone down – even a little bit.

• Do not defend or excuse yourself – no matter what.

• Do affirm one another.


Worship point:  Your worship will only be worship in spirit and in truth to the extent that your worship is not tainted by a mouth that runs both pure and bitter.


Spiritual Challenge:  Watch what you say.  Make a direct connection between your words and the intent of those words and the condition of your heart.   Endeavor each and every day to yield more and more of your heart to Jesus.


All of us may learn a cultural lesson from the Chinese people.  They have the custom of not answering a speaker until he is completely finished speaking.  They think that it is discourteous to reply immediately, for a rash reply indicates a lack of thinking and poor judgment.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 113)



Quotes to Note:

The closer the relationship between the speaker and the receiver the more power there lies within the words spoken.


To help bring our speech under God’s control we can:

  • Count our blessings.  By focusing on the positive, we will take away the anger and bitterness from our spirit that leads us to make negative comments or accusations towards others.
  • Get in touch with the love of God.  As we allow God to satisfy our spiritual needs, we will have less of a need to strike out at others.
  • Write our thoughts in a letter instead of lashing out.  We can pour out our inner feelings, and then not send the letter.  Instead, we should pray over the letter and ask God to give us a change of attitude and spirit.
  • Wait before responding to a comment, criticism, or piece of gossip.
  • Make five positive comments to every negative one that we make about someone else.
  • Treat everything we say as a gift to another person.  We should ask: “Are my words a gift that I truly want to leave in their hands?”  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–James, 83)


Not only false teachers, but also those who ignorantly and carelessly interpret the Word in order to impress others with their knowledge and understanding are a great danger to the church–and are in danger themselves from God.  Many teachers in the church today are poorly grounded in Scripture and ill-equipped to teach it.  Such teachers who misrepresent God’s Word can do more spiritual and moral damage to God’s people than a hundred atheists or secularists attacking from outside.  That is why it is so foolish and spiritually dangerous to have newly converted celebrities, or any other new convert, as well as untrained and unaccountable preachers, speaking and teaching.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 149)


To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 150)



Loose lips sink ships




the perfect word




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