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James 3:1-12 Notes

James 3:1-12 - Commentary

THE CONTEXT:  James seems to be moving in a very different direction after his discourse on works, which concluded, "faith apart from works is dead" (2:14-26).  But his emphasis on consistently speaking blessings rather than mixing blessings and cursings grows naturally out of his concern about works.  The words that come from our mouths constitute a form of works.

In chapter one, James twice mentioned the importance of our speech:

  • "So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger" (1:19).
  • "If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless" (1:26).


1 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. 2 For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn't stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.

"Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers" (v. 1a).  Teaching is a high-level office in the church.  In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul lists it third (after apostles and prophets) in a list of eight offices or gifts.  The office of teaching is important because:

  • Teaching requires diligence. There is much to learn about the Bible, theology, and ways to communicate those. A teacher must study carefully and relay information as reliably as possible.
  • A teacher can sway students' minds--can lead students rightly or wrongly. A student led wrongly might never recover.

But some people would be attracted to the teaching office for the wrong reasons.  In that day, a teacher had considerable status--but a person drawn to teaching for that reason might focus on selfish considerations rather than the student's welfare.  So James advises, "Let not many of you be teachers."

"knowing that we will receive heavier judgment" (v. 1b).  When we aspire to great responsibility, we must expect that we will be subject to great criticism (from people) and heavy judgment (from God).  Jesus warned:

      "To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted,       of him more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).

Regarding the possibility of leading someone astray, Jesus said:  "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:2).

Teachers lead by their personal conduct as well as their teaching.  A teacher can lead people astray by personal example as easily as by instruction.

Would this warning about heavy judgment apply to parents?  I think so.  Children learn much of what they know from their parents--for good or ill.  Won't God hold the parents responsible if they lead their children astray!

"For in many things we all stumble" (Greek: ptaio) (v. 2a).  The word ptaio is used in the New Testament to mean stumbling or falling into sin.

James' statement that we all stumble echoes Paul's, "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

"If anyone doesn't stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also" (v. 2b).  There are many ways to stumble, but James highlights one, stumbling in word:

  • Saying things that offend unnecessarily.
  • Saying things designed to wound another person.
  • Saying things intended to deceive.
  • Saying things that would lead another person astray.

Our tendency toward this sort of error is so common that James declares that the one who hasn't stumbled in word must be perfect.  Anyone able to thoroughly control his/her mouth is almost certain also to be in perfect control of his/her body.


3 Indeed, we put bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body. 4 Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires. 5 So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna.

"Indeed, we put bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body" (v. 3).   This is the first in a series of metaphors from common life that illustrate how little things can control large things.  In this case, a bit (a hand-sized piece of metal) inserted into a horse's mouth makes it possible to control the whole animal.

"Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires" (v. 4).  This is the second metaphor.  A ship's rudder is small when compared to the size of the ship, but the rudder permits the pilot to control the ship, even in the face of fierce winds.

"So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things" (v. 5a).  This is the point.  Just as a bit can control a horse and a rudder can control a ship, the tongue is small but "boasts great things."

The tongue has much about which to boast.  It has a profound effect on the person who speaks, for good or ill.  It can dramatically enhance the reputation of a gifted orator, but can also do irreparable damage to a person who is too quick to speak and too careless in what he says.  Our words can also have a profound effect on other people, for good or ill.

"See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! And the tongue is a fire" (vv. 5b-6a).  This is the third metaphor.  A small campfire that hasn't been completely extinguished--or a lighted cigarette--can burn down a forest.  The tiny cause (a cigarette) is completely out of proportion to the effect (a burned forest).

Just so, the words from a person's mouth can be unimaginably destructive.  Adolf Hitler comes to mind.  A

mesmerizing orator, he used oratory to sway crowds and to gain power.  He then used that power to start a war that ultimately cost the lives of fifty million people.

"The world of iniquity (Greek: ho kosmos tes adikias--the unrighteous world) among our members is the tongue" (v. 6b).  It seems too much to attribute this much unrighteousness to the tongue, but James is simply following Jesus' lead.  Jesus said:

      "That which enters into the mouth doesn't defile the man; but that which proceeds out of the mouth,       this defiles the man....        The things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart,       and they defile the man.  For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins,       thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies" (Matthew 15:11, 18-19).

"which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature" (v. 6c).  These are effects of an undisciplined tongue.  Even though small, such a tongue can poison the whole body and destroy lives, even as a small fire can destroy a great forest.

"and is set on fire by Gehenna" (v. 6d).  In the Old Testament, Gehenna was the place where the wicked were punished. The name Gehenna comes from the Hebrew, ge Hinnom, which means the Valley of Hinnom.  This was a valley near Jerusalem where human sacrifice was sometimes practiced (2 Kings 23:10) and where rubbish from Jerusalem was burned in fires that never cooled.  This valley, therefore, stands as a metaphor for a place of eternal, fiery damnation. It is this fire of hell that gives the tongue such destructive power. 


7 For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. 10 Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.

"For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind" (v. 7).  We think of certain animals as capable of being tamed:  Dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.  However, elephants are used for transport in some parts of the world.  Lions and tigers have been used in circus shows.  Poisonous reptiles serve as serum donors.  Porpoises and killer whales star in aquatic shows.  Homing pigeons serve deliver messages.

"But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless (Greek: akatastatos) evil, full of deadly poison" (v. 8).  It is one thing to tame a wild animal.  However, to tame the tongue is another thing entirely.  The word akatastatos means unstable or unsettled--the opposite of rock-solid.  We cannot predict when  and where our tongue is likely to betray us.

But James takes it one more step.  The tongue is not only restless, but is a restless evil.  It is almost as if James thinks of the tongue as a resident devil that has taken up residence within us and is prone to rise up at any moment to sully our reputation and our witness to Christ.

"full of deadly poison." A bit of deadly poison smeared on an arrow tip or spear tip can kill quickly and unobtrusively.  In like manner, the words of our mouths have the power to wound--sometimes mortally.

"With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God" (v. 9).  A blessing is intended to bring good to the recipient.  A curse is intended to bring ruin.  James presents us with a great irony.  We bless God with our tongues, and we curse people, made in God's image and beloved by God, with the same tongues.

"Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so" (v. 10).  This restates the great irony of verse 9, but with a different emphasis.  How can good and evil have a common source?

James doesn't say that blessing and curse can't come from the same source (the tongue), but says that such a thing ought not to be.

But our tongues simply give expression to the feelings of our hearts and the thoughts of our minds.  Our hearts and minds harbor both good and evil.  Even the Apostle Paul experienced that (Romans 7:15-20).  To gain control of our tongues, we need to seek God's help in eliminating the evil in our hearts and minds.

"Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water?" (v. 11).  This is the first of three contrasts that James uses to illustrate the inappropriateness of a tongue that pronounces both blessings and curses (v. 9).

"Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs?" (v. 12a).  This is the second contrast.  A fig tree doesn't yield olives, and a grapevine doesn't yield figs.  So also a tongue shouldn't pronounce both blessings and curses.

Of course, James lived before the advent of modern horticulture, where a branch from one kind of tree is grafted onto a different kind of tree, and the tree then produces both kinds of fruit.  Whether it is possible today to graft a fig branch onto an olive tree and get two kinds of fruit is something I don't know.  If not, things are surely moving in that direction.

But that's a side issue--not one that James could have foreseen.  The real issue is that nature causes trees and vines to produce fruit of their own kind.  They are consistent in their fruit-bearing.  The tongue ought likewise to be consistent--reliably producing good fruit rather than mixing bad and good--blessings and curses.

"Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water" (v. 12b).  This would be better translated, "Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water."  The point is that a bad spring (a saltwater spring) cannot produce good water.  This would be a matter of great interest to the people of James' time.  When traveling, their lives would often be dependent on finding a good spring with fresh water rather than a bad spring with salt water.  So also, the influence of the tongue should be of great interest to us--both for our own sakes and also for the sake of others.

BIBLE.ORG - James 3:1-12

Our subject is not new to James; he spoke of the tongue in chapter 1:

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God's righteousness. . . 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:19-20, 26-27, emphasis mine).27

In chapter 2, James once again deals with the tongue:

12 Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. . . 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm and eat well," but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? (James 2:12, 14-16, emphasis mine).

I had always thought that the expression "slow to speak" meant something like, "Think before you speak." My friend, Jon Hodges, suggested to me that in the light of James 3, it must mean, "Be reluctant to speak." I think Jon is right. James writes to us in chapter 1 about "bridling our tongues," and then goes on to instruct us to "speak . . . as those who will be judged. . ." in chapter 2 (verse 12). In James 2:14ff. he exposes the hypocrisy of speaking a word of blessing without doing anything to be a blessing. James has indeed been talking about the tongue, and he is going to take the matter even farther in chapter 3.

James 3:1-2a A Word of Warning to Would-Be Teachers

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. 2 For we all stumble in many ways.

As we can see from verse 1, James is aiming his words of warning toward those I would call "wanna-be teachers."28 His words of warning are usually softened in translation so that the force of the imperative is played down, as though he were giving a word of advice. The King James Version puts it as strongly as it should be, in my opinion:

My brethren, be not many masters,29 knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

I believe that James is speaking primarily to those who want to teach, who assert themselves as teachers, and yet should not be teachers at all. Let us consider why James would see this as a very serious problem, which he felt obliged to address.

First of all, adversity seems to attract many counselors and teachers who wish to instruct us as to why we are suffering. We see this in the Book of Job, where his three friends persist in trying to convince him that he is suffering because of some unconfessed sin, and not because of righteousness. In the end, God rebuked these men for not speaking what was true of Him (Job 42:7-9). Many are those with words of counsel and advice when we are suffering some kind of adversity. Many of these folks should give heed to these words of warning from James.30

Second, there will always be those who seek to be teachers in order to promote their own interests. In Acts 20, we find Paul warning the elders of the church at Ephesus that even some of them will become false teachers, in order to gain a following:

30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. 32 And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:30-32, emphasis mine).

Third, there was a particular problem with "wanna-be teachers" within Judaism:

6 "They [the scribes and Pharisees] love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them 'Rabbi'" (Matthew 23:6-7, emphasis mine).

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God 18 and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law, 19 and if you are convinced that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth . . . (Romans 2:17-20, emphasis mine).

5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently (1 Timothy 1:5-7, emphasis mine).

Jesus knew it and exposed it for what it was: The scribes and Pharisees were eager to be teachers because this was a place of status, and they were status-seekers. Paul points out the same problem. In Romans 1, Paul demonstrated why Gentiles are sinners, rightly under divine condemnation: they had the revelation of God in nature and they rejected it, choosing to worship creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-23f.). The Jews were probably saying "Amen" throughout chapter 1, assuming that they were not Gentile sinners (see Galatians 2:15). But Paul has a shockingly different assessment of the Jews. Because they had been privileged to be the custodians of the Law, they felt that they had mastered the Law. They considered themselves the scholars, the experts in the Law, who should teach the ignorant what the Law was all about (see John 7:47-49). Paul found them guilty of failing to practice that which they taught (not unlike our Lord did in Matthew 23).

It did not take long for false teachers to begin to emerge in the New Testament church. A good portion of this false teaching came from Jewish false teachers, who seemed to feel that they had a higher level of understanding. They did not abide within sound doctrine, but were constantly engaged in speculation and word wars (1 Timothy 1:4-7; see also 2 Corinthians 11:3-5, 13-15, 22; Titus 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; 4:4).

Among those Jews who were dispersed abroad were those who felt that they were superior in knowledge, especially knowledge of matters pertaining to the Law, and so they were inclined to teach the ignorant. James tells them - indeed, orders them - to be very hesitant to teach, knowing that the judgment of teachers is more severe (James 1:1). Why would it be a more severe judgment? There are at least two reasons that James does not give in his epistle that we find elsewhere:

First, those who are teachers should have a greater knowledge of the truth, and thus they become more accountable.

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked" (Luke 12:48b).

Second, we all will be judged according to our words, so teachers, whose work involves many words, will be more accountable.

36 "I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).

James 3:2b-4 Wishful Thinking: If the Tongue Could Only Be Tamed

If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. 3 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 4 Look at ships too: though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot's impulse directs.31

James has instructed "wanna-be teachers" that they should be hesitant to teach, because the judgment of teachers will be more severe. He has also indicated that all of us stumble in many ways (2a). James will now focus on a particular form of stumbling. He turns to the topic of stumbling in one's speech, a timely topic for teachers. If a man does not stumble in what he says, then that man is perfect. If a man can perfectly control his tongue, then he would also be able to control every other part of his body as well. What a glorious thought! I fear that some would-be teachers might actually believe that they have mastered their tongues because they are able to master others with their tongue.

James has said that if a man can control his tongue, he can control his entire body. He now sets out to illustrate this tongue/totality principle, first with a horse, and then with a ship. In 1:26, James has already used the term "bridle," and now he takes up the same term.32 Once the bit is in the horse's mouth, the rider can control the entire body of the horse. One controls the entire horse by controlling its mouth. Next, James turns to the illustration of a ship. A ship is very large, and strong winds propel it; but when the captain has control of its very small rudder (comparatively speaking), he has control of the entire ship. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the tongue could be controlled? If a man could bring his tongue under control, then he could bring his whole body under control. But this will never happen, as James is about to show.

James 3:5-8 The Tongue Is Powerful, But Deadly, and Out of Control

5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions.33 Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. 6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies, that pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 8 But no human can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

It took me a while to see the strong contrast James is making here. In the previous section (2b-4), James engaged in a little wishful thinking: If only the tongue could be tamed, then the whole body could be brought under control. Now, in verses 5-8, we see the ugly reality of the matter: The tongue cannot be controlled, and there is a devastating result for the whole body - it is corrupted by the tongue. The key to our body's control is also the key to our body's destruction.

Like the rudder of a ship, the tongue is a very small member of the body, and it is powerful, but not in the way we would like to think. The tongue, James tells us, does "talk big." It boasts, he says, of great things. The tongue is powerful, but often in a most destructive way. The tongue of man is like a fire, which sets a whole forest ablaze. My wife and I were driving through Montana this past summer, and we drove through one of the many forest fires which devastated that part of the country. A friend told us the story of how one of the many forest fires was started this summer. A grasshopper was somehow attached to the exhaust pipe of a car and caught on fire. The grasshopper sprung from the car and onto the ground, where this burning bug set a whole forest ablaze. A small flame can ignite a great fire.

The tongue, James tells us, is a fire, ignited by hell itself. The last part of verse 6 is very difficult for translators, but the sense of it is relatively simple. The tongue is a "world of evil," which adversely impacts the rest of our bodies. If the tongue could be controlled, we could control the whole body. But since the tongue is a deadly fire and out of control, it wreaks havoc with the rest of the body. The whole gamut of humanity and society is set ablaze by the tongue.

How ironic it is that man is able to harness the power of a raging river, to prevent flooding, and to produce hydroelectric power. Man has learned to harness the power of the atom, for destructive and productive ends. Man has been able to subdue every kind of creature, from a parrot to a killer whale, and yet with all his success in bringing things under his control, man is powerless to control his own tongue. In verse 8, James switches from the imagery of fire to that of poison. The tongue is a restless evil, and its poison is deadly.

If the tongue could be controlled, the whole body could be controlled. But the fact of the matter is that the tongue - like a raging forest fire - is totally out of control and uncontrollable. And its great power is the power to destroy and corrupt. Isn't it interesting that man can control the creatures of nature, but not himself? The one thing that distinguishes man from beast - the tongue - is the one thing that man cannot control. And if things are not bad enough, James goes on in verses 9-12 to give us even more bad news.

James 3:9-12 Worst of All, It Is Deceptive

9 With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse people made in God's image. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. 11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt-water spring produce fresh water.

Not only is the tongue destructive and completely out of control, the tongue is also deceptive. When I was growing up many years ago, I used to watch old-time western movies about "cowboys and Indians." The Indians would sometimes say of the white man, "He speaks with forked tongue." Today we would say, "He talks out of both sides of his mouth." Unfortunately, this assessment is true. Once again, James will show us how completely unlike nature man is. In nature, "what you see is what you get." A spring will either produce fresh water or bitter water, but it does not produce both. A fig tree produces figs, and not olives, and a vine does not produce figs. A salt-water spring does not produce fresh water. What something is by nature determines what it produces - and what it produces doesn't change.

Man's tongue is different. Sad as it may be, the tongue is capable of producing both blessing and cursing, as different as these things may be. At one moment, my tongue may speak words of truth and blessing, with absolute sincerity. Just moments later, it may speak something terrible, something corrupt. We can see this truth illustrated by the tongue of Peter:

13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 They answered, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on the earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven." 20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. 21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but on man's" (Matthew 16:13-23, emphasis mine).

Within the space of a few moments (and a few verses), Peter has changed from being a spokesman for God to speaking for Satan. This is exactly what James is saying; the same tongue can both bless and curse. We cannot trust the words of the tongue because they can so quickly change to something completely different.





BLB:  Study Guide for James 3 - Taming the Wild Tongue

A. The demonstration of a living faith in controlling what we say.

1. (Jas 3:1-2) Opening observations: the greater accountability of teachers and the difficulty of not stumbling.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

a. Let not many of you become teachers: James has a sober admonition for those who would become teachers in the church. They must take the responsibility seriously, because their accountability is greater, and they shall receive a stricter judgment. i. It is easy to take the position of teacher lightly in the church, without considering its cost in terms of accountability. Jesus warned to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much have been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:48). ii. "The comparative adjective greater implies degrees of treatment at the judgment seat." (Hiebert)

c. For we all stumble in many things: The greater accountability of teachers is especially sobering in light of our common weaknesses. After all, we all stumble in many things. The ancient Greek word translated stumble does not imply a fatal fall, but something that trips us up and hinders our progress with the Lord. i. We all stumble: James included himself among those who stumble. But he does not excuse his or our stumbling. We know that we all stumble, but we should all press on to a better walk with the Lord, marked by less stumbling.

d. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man: By this, James provides a measure of spiritual maturity for teachers and for all Christians. To not stumble in word shows true spiritual maturity. This is especially relevant to teachers, who have so much more opportunity to sin with their tongue.

2. (Jas 3:3-6) The power of the tongue.

Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 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. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

a. We put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us: A strong horse can be controlled by a small bit in its mouth. A large ship can be turned by a small rudder. Even so, if we have control over our tongue, it is an indication that we have control over our self. Whoever can control the tongue can bridle the whole body (James 3:2). i. The bit and the rudder are small, but extremely important. If they are not controlled, the entire horse is out of control, and the entire ship is out of control. Something as small as the tongue can have tremendous power, for either good or evil. ii. You don't solve the problem of an unruly horse by keeping it in the barn, or the problem of a hard-to-steer ship by keeping it tied to the dock. In the same way, even a vow of silence is not the ultimate answer for the misuse of our tongue.

b. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: The fire of the

tongue has been used to burn many. Children are told sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. But that child's rhyme isn't really true. The bitter pain of a word spoken against us can hurt us for a lifetime, long after a broken bone has healed.   i. What others say to us and what we say to others can last a long time, for good or for evil. The casual sarcastic or critical remark can inflict a lasting injury on another person. The well-timed encouragement or compliment can inspire someone for the rest of their life. ii. Proverbs speaks of the person who doesn't consider the destructive power of his words. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, "I was only joking!" (Proverbs 26:18-19)

c. James echoes the testimony of Proverbs regarding the tongue.

In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. (Proverbs 10:19-21)

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

3. (Jas 3:7-8) The difficulty of taming the tongue.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

a. Every kind of beast and bird ... has been tamed by mankind: A wild animal can be more easily tamed than the tongue. In fact, James tells us that no man can tame the tongue. i. The human spirit has incredible capacity for sacrifice and self-control. Sometimes we hear a desperate survival story of someone who cuts off their own leg to get free from a tree that has fallen on them, then they drive to a hospital for medical treatment. Yet that same man can't tame the tongue perfectly.

b. No man can tame the tongue: Yet it can be brought under the power and the control of the Holy Spirit. We might say that only God Himself is mightier than the human tongue!

c. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison: The untamable tongue is even more dangerous when we consider the deadly poison it can deliver. i. A woman once came to John Wesley and said she knew what her talent was, and she said "I think my talent from God is to speak my mind." Wesley replied, "I don't think God would mind if you buried that talent." Speaking forth everything that comes to mind is unwise, poisonous speech.

4. (Jas 3:9-12) The contradictory character of the tongue.

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

a. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men: The tongue can be used for the highest calling (to bless our God) and it can be used for the lowest evil (to curse men). But in those who are born again, it shouldn't be said that out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.

b. These things ought not to be so: Our speech should be consistently glorifying to God. We shouldn't use one vocabulary or one tone of speaking at church, and a different one at home or on the job. Like a spring of water, our mouths shouldn't send forth fresh ... and bitter from the same opening.

c. Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh: James points to the ultimate impossibility of such a contradiction. If bad fruit and bitter water continue to come forth, it means that there is no contradiction. The tree is bad and the spring is bad. i. Jesus taught in Matthew 12:34-37 that a man's words are a reliable

revelation of his inner character. What we say can indicate what we are.

B. The demonstration of a living faith in the presence of wisdom.

1. (Jas 3:13) Wisdom shows us how to do good works

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.

a. Who is wise ... Let him show by good conduct: Wisdom is not mere head knowledge. Real wisdom and understanding will show in our lives, by our good conduct.

b. His works are done in the meekness of wisdom: True wisdom is also evident by its meek manner. Those who do their good works in a way designed to bring attention to themselves show they lack true wisdom.

2. (Jas 3:14-16) The character of earthly wisdom.

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

a. Bitter envy and self-seeking: These are the opposite of the meekness of wisdom mentioned in James 3:13.

b. Do not boast and lie against the truth: Anyone who shows bitter envy and self-seeking should not deceive anyone - especially themselves - about how "wise" they are. They show a wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic. Their "wisdom" is more characteristic of the world, the flesh, and the devil than of God.

c. The fruit of this "wisdom" is plain: confusion and every evil thing. The wisdom of the world, the flesh, and the devil may be able to accomplish things, but always with the ultimate fruit of confusion and every evil thing.

3. (Jas 3:17-18) The character of heavenly wisdom.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

a. But the wisdom that is from above: God's wisdom also has fruit. James here is defining exactly what he meant by the meekness of wisdom in James 3:13.

b. First pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy: The character of this wisdom is wonderful. It is full of love and a giving heart, consistent with the holiness of God.

c. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace: This fruit is like a seed that will bear fruit as it is sown by those who make peace.