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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
James 3

 

 

Introduction

1. Outline:

1. The Use And Misuse Of The Tongue:

2. Earthly And Heavenly Wisdom:

1. Introductory Comments:

From this chapter we will learn that words also fit into the category of works. In fact, evil words can at times wreck more havoc than some evil deeds. Barclay notes, "A man can ward off a blow with the hand, for the striker must be in his presence to strike him. But a man can drop a malicious word, or repeat a scandalous and untrue story, about someone whom he does not even know, and about someone who stays hundreds of miles away, and can cause infinite damage and harm. The very range the tongue can reach is the tongue"s greatest peril….Once a word is spoken there is no getting it back. There is nothing which it is so impossible to kill as a rumor; there is nothing which it is so impossible to obliterate as an idle and a malignant story. Let a man, before he speaks, remember that once a word is spoken it is gone from his control" (p. 100).


Verse 1

"Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment".

"Let not many of you"-"The verb "be not"…a present middle imperative…signifies "stop becoming many teachers"(Woods p. 154).

"become teachers"-"Like so many aspects of life that provide great advantages, however, communication through speech has its darker side. Sometimes speech can injure. It can do more harm than good. It can convey wrong information that can lead to disaster" (Kent p. 113).

Points To Note:

1. Teachers in the early church were viewed as a very important group of people, listed along with apostles and prophets (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). 2. It would appear from the above warning, that some were becoming teachers without due consideration of the responsibility involved in such a work. 3. There were people who wanted to teach, before they had really learned the concepts themselves (1 Timothy 1:7). Others taught, but failed to live the lessons that they were teaching others (Romans 2:17-29). In addition, in teaching there is always the danger of becoming arrogant. "the profession is more liable to beget spiritual and intellectual pride…He must, therefore, all his life struggle to avoid two things. He must always have every care that he is teaching the truth, and not his own opinions, or even his own prejudices…He must have every care that he does not contradict his teaching by his life" (Barclay pp. 94-95). The Pharisees had allowed the thought of being an instructor of the blind, to go to their heads, to the point that they became blind themselves (Matthew Chapter 23). 4. James is not trying to discourage competent and qualified individuals from teaching (2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 5:12). Rather, he is warning those who might be tempted to view teaching is an easy and effortless task, or those who start teaching from ulterior motives, prestige, the public spotlight, etc…

Unfortunately, we tend to make the same mistake. It is easy to view teaching as an easy job. It is also easy to encourage people to teach, before they are in fact ready to do so. The same mistakes can also be made in reference to preaching. We can in fact encourage men to preach, who shouldn"t be preachers. James makes it clear that while the teacher or preacher simply uses words---words are very powerful! Adam and Eve fell into sin because they believed the wrong words, wars have started over words, whole nations have been destroyed because of a certain ideology. While the teacher or preacher simply uses words in their trade, let us remember that the course of history and the eternal destiny of individuals has been altered by "words". Jesus said, "every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).

"my brethren"-"There is no caste system in Christ. Inasmuch as we are all brethren, it behooves us to conduct ourselves as brethren should" (Woods p. 157).

"knowing that as such"-That is, as such teachers. James places himself in the same category as all other teachers. He wasn"t exempt from his own admonitions. The following information should keep the teacher humble and on his toes.

"we shall incur a stricter judgment"-"judged with special strictness" (Mof); "by a more severe standard" (TCNT).

Points To Note:

1. The above judgment could be either divine or human, or both. 2. "to assume the role of teacher is a most serious undertaking because of its potential for directing the actions of others. If God is going to judge men for every idle word they speak (Matthew 12:36-37), how great is the responsibility of teachers, whose words are intended by them to be taken as directives for the lives of their hearers" (Kent p. 115). 3. James isn"t saying that teachers are going to be judged by a higher moral standard, for the same standard applies to all (John 12:48). Rather, like other passages, those who are given more opportunities and talents are going to be held accountable for the use of such privileges (Matthew 23:14; Matthew 25:15; Matthew 25:29; Luke 12:47); to whom much is given from him much is required (Luke 12:48). 4. The judgment here may also include human scrutiny. Those who teach will be put on the spot, challenged concerning the truthfulness of what they are teaching and so on. 5. The teacher must constantly check himself to make sure that what he is teaching is the Word of God and not his version of the truth (Matthew 5:19; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Peter 4:11).


Verse 2

"For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well."

"For"-The second reason for viewing the teachers role most seriously, is that no teacher is faultless. Even inspired teachers could set the wrong example or fail to live up to what they were teaching (Galatians 2:11-13). And non-inspired teachers are clearly not infallible.

"we all stumble in many ways"-"We" includes all teachers, but also probably meant to include all Christians. "Stumble"-to err, go astray, sin (2 Peter 1:10). "In many ways"-"in a number of things" (Bas). There are many areas in which teachers can sin. We can set the wrong example, our motivation can we selfish (1 Corinthians 13:1-4), we can exaggerate, needlessly offend, gossip and so on. Note that James includes himself as one who could stumble. It is clear that Christians, even Christian teachers are not sinless (1 John 1:8-10). In addition, since all Christians sin, those who become teachers (a task which has its own pitfalls and temptations), must be individuals who take upon themselves that task from the noblest of motives. Woods makes a good point when he says: "The fact that James includes himself among those who trip in this manner is no reflection on the inspiration which guarded his writings from all error. We must ever remember to distinguish between what the inspired penmen wrote under the direction of the Holy Spirit and their own personal and individual activity as a Christian. They had no more protection against the possibility of sinning---as Christians-than do we" (p. 159). Draper notes, "If we err once a day, that amounts to 20,000 times in fifty years" (p. 97).

"If anyone does not stumble in what he says"-Note, James isn"t saying, "If anyone does not stumble", rather, he is talking about a specific area, i.e., "in what he says". "If any one sins not in word" (ABUV).

"he is a perfect man"-Not sinlessly perfect. The word perfect means, in a ethical and moral sense, mature, full grown, a well-rounded person (Matthew 5:48; James 1:4). Kent notes, "Anyone who can master the use of his tongue, so as not to fall into sin through angry words, misrepresentation, or falsehood, shows himself to be a mature man….In the spiritual life there is always room for further growth, and no one in this life reaches a state of sinlessness. Nevertheless, Scripture does speak of a level of maturity that is attainable and is expected of each believer (Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 5:12; 2 Peter 1:5-11)" (p. 116). Carefully note that God"s measuring stick for spiritual maturity INCLUDES the use of our tongues. People can memorize a good amount of Scripture and have a good grasp of many Biblical truths, and yet have an unbridled tongue (James 1:26).

Points To Note:

What James says here couldn"t be more relevant for the church on the verge of the 21st Century. The effectiveness of a local congregation can be brought to a stand still by the misuse of the tongue. We can needlessly turn people off from the truth by an arrogant presentation. We can be careless in our examination of certain subjects and create more confusion than understanding. And we can all be involved in fighting rumors and chasing gossip instead of converting the lost. We desperately need Christians who are dedicated to a wise and controlled use of the tongue.

"able to bridle the whole body as well"-"bridle"-"hold in check, restrain" (Thayer p. 664). "Thus the person who knows how to keep his speech under control reveals that he has sufficient maturity to control his other activities also" (Kent p. 116).

Points To Note:

1. We often tend to downplay the seriousness of evil speech. But controlling the tongue is just as important as controlling any other aspect of our lives. God has come down hard on verbal sins, just as any other sin (Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 21:8). 2. Barclay notes, "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. What he is pleading for is the control of the tongue….Abstention from anything is never a complete substitute for control in the use of it. And James is not pleading for a cowardly silence, but for a wise use of speech" (p. 99). Before we move on, let"s remember the advantages of being a teacher: Great personal growth, the teacher always learns more than the student. The great task of saving others (1 Timothy 4:16) of continuing the work of spreading the gospel (2 Timothy 2:2). Guiding others to God (Acts 8:31). Fulfilling a great responsibility (Hebrews 5:12); using your talents (Matthew 25:1-46), following in the footsteps of Jesus (Luke 19:10; 1 Corinthians 11:1).


Verse 3

Illustrations

"Now if we put the bits into the horses" mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well".

"bits into the horses" mouths"-"In both illustrations the analogy is between the small size of the controlling device and the much larger entity that it controls…Although the horse was well known to James" readers, it was not an animal possessed by the average man…The average reader of James would not have thought of a humble plow-horse but a prancing war-horse, vigorous and high-spirited. This most spirited of beasts, far larger than a man and with a will of its own, could nevertheless be controlled through the use of a bit and bridle" (Kent pp. 117-118).

"we direct their entire body as well"-The whole body of this powerful and spirited animal can be directed by a very small device. The illustration, far from being depressing points out: 1. We can control what we say, this isn"t an impossible task, but it does take maturity! I cannot control my tongue and remain spiritually immature at the same time. 2. Controlling what we say and how we say it can eliminate a good number of future problems. Trying to live the Christian life or trying to convince others that they should investigate Christianity is going to be to no avail as long as we manifest lack of control in our speech. Bridling the tongue is a concept which is also found in the O.T. (Psalms 39:1).


Verse 4

"Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires."

"Behold"-There is valuable lesson here to be learned, "as a call to closer attention, consideration and contemplation, remember, consider" (Arndt p. 371).

"the ships also, though they are so great"-"turning next to the largest inanimate object that James"s contemporaries might attempt to steer….Some of them were indeed very large. The Egyptian grain ship on which Paul was shipwrecked carried 276 passengers in addition to its cargo (Acts 27:37)" (Kent p. 118)

"still directed by a very small rudder"-Again, the point is made that something very small can control something very powerful. Such large ships, even when in rough weather, could still be steered with precision by a small rudder.

Points To Note:

1. "How are we going to make it through the storms of life, with fierce winds seeking to destroy us? What will keep us safe in the storm? What we say in the midst of our problems determines whether we will have victory or not…It is easy to praise God when the sun is shining" (Draper p. 101). 2. The tongue is like the bit and the rudder, "Each is comparatively small, but each produces great effect" (Adamson pp. 142-143). 3. "The tongue is little, like the rudder of the ship; but, just as the rudder can determine the course of the large ship, so the tongue was the power to influence a man"s whole course and destiny" (Roberts p. 128).


Verse 5

Dangers Of The Tongue

"So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!"

"So also the tongue"-Small, but very powerful and influential, just like a bit or a rudder.

"yet it boasts of great things"-"but it can make huge claims" (NEB). Solomon said, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). The tongue can boast that there is no God (Psalms 14:1), that man is the measure of all things. The Humanist Manifesto is a great example of the arrogance that can be displayed by the human tongue. "But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves" The same could be said of the boasts and claims of those who support the theory of Evolution. I remember a statement made by a famous personality who said that they would rather go to hell than heaven, because heaven doesn"t present any challenges and in hell they can make things better!

"Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire?"

"These people would have understood this analogy because the barren, arid land of the desert was covered with scrub trees and brush. If a fire started, it would sweep across a whole mountainside before it could be stopped" (Draper p. 102). Forest fires were frequently mentioned by ancient writers. The tongue can start a small spark which can inflame and destroy families and entire congregations. In a matter of days or weeks, a tremendous amount of good can be destroyed by the misuse of the tongue. "Its capability of catastrophic destruction far outstrips its size" (Kent p. 120). See Galatians 5:15. "One has only to envision a small match, a spark…lighting a fire which may burn over a whole forest of possibly millions of acres to grasp the vividness of the illustration" (Roberts p. 128). Once again, we need to make the point that once we have said something, we can"t control the extent of the comment, we can"t control the damage. Like a forest fire, a bit of gossip or slander can get completely out of control.

The Old Testament often spoke of the damage caused by the tongue (Psalms 52:2; Psalms 64:3; Psalms 140:3; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 16:27-28 "a slanderer separates intimate friends"; 26:20 "where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down"; 26:28).


Verse 6

"And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defies the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell".

"the tongue is a fire"-That is, when misused, the tongue is, "his words are as a scorching fire" (Proverbs 16:27; Proverbs 26:18-22). The misuse of the tongue is like a forest fire. It can cause a tremendous amount of damage in a short period of time, it can start from a very small spark, just a little piece of gossip. And it can very quickly get completely out of control.

"the very world of iniquity"-"world" in the sense of the widespread power of evil. "proves itself a very world of mischief" (TCNT). "because of the incalculable harm which it produces; it is utterly impossible to measure, in this life, the harm which grows out of the slander, the profanity, the falsehood, the blasphemy and the scandal of which it is capable" (Woods p. 164). "The world of iniquity" is very expressive. Just as we say, "There is a world of wisdom in that statement"…It voices every evil feeling and every kind of sinful thought; it sets in motion and gives concreteness to every kind of sinful act" (Roberts p. 129). "With the tongue we can profane, blaspheme, and curse God. With the tongue we can steal, for we can taken from our neighbor reputation and honor. With the tongue we can inflict great injury and suffering on those about us. With our tongue we can reveal infinite passion and lust" (Draper pp. 102-103). "it curses, rails, teaches false doctrine and speaks evil of God and man;….it entices, commands, terrifies and persuades to commit murder, adulteries, and every evil work" (Macknight p. 376). (See Romans 1:32 "but also give hearty approval to those who practice them").

But how often do we try to downplay sins of the tongue? Especially, our own!

"the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body"-we can be condemned for the misuse of our tongue (Matthew 12:37; Matthew 15:18). This one member, when abused, is able to bring one"s whole being, soul and body into hell.

"and sets on fire the course of our life"-"the whole round of human life and activity" (Vine p. 103). "In some way he is saying that everything around man seems affected by the tongue" (Roberts p. 131). The above phrase rendered "course of our life" means literally, "wheel of the existence", which depicts life as a continuous round of activity. Woods notes, "So potent is it in its effects that it can, and often does, influence man"s entire round (period) of existence. An inflamed speech, intolerant words, a false rumor may set on fire an individual, a city and even a nation. We recall only too well the rabble-rousing speeches of Hitler, and the overwhelming wave of the war spirit which swept over the German nation as a result" (p. 165).

An uncontrolled tongue can bring misery into every area of our lives. Such can destroy the happiness in our marriages, alienate us from our children, get us fired at work and so on. There is a warning here: An unbridled tongue will wreck havoc in our life. And unless it is brought in subjection to Christ, it will touch every area of our lives.

"and is set on fire by hell"-"with a flame fed from hell" (Mof). "continually set on fire by hell" (Woods p. 165).

Points To Note:

1. One explanation could be, "The fire which results from the tongue is comparable only to that which arises in hell" (Woods p. 165). But I believe that much more is being presented here. 2. What is the real source of gossip, slander, blasphemy and other abuses of the tongue? Is such merely a weakness in man? Is it genetic? Are some people just born hotheads? 3. James gets at the root of the problem. When we are exercising an unbridled tongue, we are doing the devil"s work. We aren"t merely displaying a character flaw, we are now actively promoting the agenda of hell. Unkind words, cutting comments are not simply cruel, but they are the language of hell. The man yelling at his wife isn"t merely being insensitive, he is being demonic. Compare with Paul"s comments concerning the factious individual (Titus 3:10-11). Carefully note that James believed that "hell" was a real place.


Verse 7

"For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race"

"every species"-Note that James doesn"t lump all animals into the same category. He realizes that the animals fit into various classifications or categories.

"is tamed, and has been tamed"-James isn"t teaching that man has been able to make every wild animal into a household pet. Rather, "Even though man has not been able to make a pet out of every wild beast or sea creature, he has been able to capture, cage, leash, or otherwise control any creature he wishes. Even the wildest of beasts can be put under man"s control in a zoo" (Kent p. 122). In addition, mankind has been able to "tame" some very powerful creatures, "Every year men see in the circuses lions that are more gently disposed toward their keepers than some men are toward their benefactors, and bears rolling and wrestling and imitating our skills" (Adamson p. 145). This power over the animals was given to man by God at the beginning (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:2).


Verse 8

"But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and fully of deadly poison."

"no one can tame the tongue"-"A literal translation of the Greek word order yields this rendering: "But the tongue no one is able to subdue-of men"…implying that there is one who can control the tongue…No one can subdue man"s tongue except God…it does mean that man unaided does not have constant and permanent mastery of his tongue" (Kent p. 122). With God"s help, with the Scriptures, we are expected to tame our tongues (James 1:26; James 1:19; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 3:10). The verse is also probably saying, that while the Christian may control his own tongue, it is impossible to control the tongues of men and women at large.

"it is a restless evil"-the word "restless" means something which cannot be restrained or controlled. "Restless" is an ideal word to label the activity of the gossip, the skeptic, the false teacher, the slanderer, the blasphemer, the liar and the angry individual. Such individuals cannot just drop an issue, they can"t let go, they just have to keep on spreading their poison. "Evil" includes that which injures, is dangerous, destructive and troublesome. James is here talking about a tongue which hasn"t been subjected to the will of God. "Like a loose cannon, its danger is increased because one cannot predict where it will next unleash its venom. It can ruin character, break friendships, blacken reputations, and even send people to their graves" (Kent p. 122). The word "evil" reminds us that an uncontrolled tongue does much more than just cause trouble, it also brings sin.

"full of deadly poison"-lit., bringing death. Romans 3:13 "The poison of asps is under their lips"; Psalms 140:3; Psalms 58:3-4. Which reminds us that when James is talking about the tongue, he is talking about the individual, from whose heart such poison emerges (Matthew 15:19). Here should be tremendous motivation to get the hate, bitterness, envy, jealousy and every other evil attitude out of our lives. An uncontrolled tongue is the product of a uncontrolled mind and heart. And eventually, such a heart will lash out with the tongue and spread it"s poison. James isn"t exaggerating! Look at how angry individuals and prejudiced individuals have "poisoned" their own children and others!


Verse 9

"With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God";

"bless"-to speak well of, praise, extol. "John Bunyan tells us of Talkative: "He is a saint abroad and a devil at home". Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with ungracious and impatient anger and irritability at his own family at home. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on the Sunday, and to curse a squad of workmen on the Monday…It has not been unknown for a woman to speak with sweet graciousness at a religious meeting, and then to go outside to murder someone"s reputation with a malicious and a gossiping tongue" (Barclay p. 105).

"we curse men"-"It is grossly inconsistent to pronounce blessings and praise upon God and then curse those who are patterned after His likeness" (Kent p. 123). "God despises inconsistency, and nowhere is our inconsistency more readily seen than in the use of our tongues. Some of the most graciously uttered prayers, some of the most skillfully delivered sermons have been spoken by people who later used their words to destroy someone" (Draper p. 104).

"who have been made in the likeness of God"-The Greek here echoes the exact wording of Genesis 1:26 in the Greek Old Testament.

Points To Note:

1. Adam and Eve were not the first and the last to be created in the likeness of God (Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6). 2. Even after the fall, this likeness was still present or still possible (1 Corinthians 11:7). 3. This is one of the reasons we are not to mistreat our fellowman, for every man and woman is created in the likeness of God (Proverbs 14:31 "He who reproaches the poor reproaches his Maker"). Carefully note that James did not believe in the doctrine of total depravity. Despite his or her sins, even the sinner still retains the image of God. This is one reason why killing a man is far different than killing an animal. We know that we don"t resemble God in a physical sense (compare John 4:24 with Luke 24:39). Hence, this must be an inward image. God is an eternal spirit, and we are composed of a created spirit (Zechariah 12:1). This image would include such attributes as reason, conscience, knowledge, the power of dominion, the ability to understand and apply moral and spiritual truths, and the ability to pattern ourselves after the character of God (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 1:14). 4. But it is only through the gospel message and our obedience to it that we can fully manifest the image of God and live up to what God intended for mankind to be (Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:10).


Verse 10

"from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way."

"from the same mouth"-Which reveals something is seriously wrong with a heart that pours out both blessings and curses. The mixture of cursing with blessing proves the unreality or insincerity of the good that is said.

"things ought not to be this way"-"In the strongest possible Greek---only here in the New Testament…..His phrase is rather like our "It"s not right!" spoken with all the force of protesting condemnation" (Adamson pp. 146-147). In addition, how can mere humans call down any evil upon another person? God isn"t influenced or impressed by our curses. Such language is useless, pointless, profitless, ungodly and hypocritical if we claim to love God at the same time we are saying such things. Numbers 23:8 "How shall I curse, whom God has not cursed?".

"ought not to be"-the present tense is here used, thus "these things shouldn"t keep on happening".


Verse 11

Illustrations

Let the reader be impressed with the type of illustrations which James presents to illustrate the previous point. They are very simple, easy to understand, and within the knowledge of most people. God isn"t trying to keep us from understanding His word, rather He is doing everything He can to make His communication to us easy to grasp.

"Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?"

The above fountain would be a spring, a source of water springing forth from the ground. Many springs in the ancient world were unfit for human consumption. "travelers in the Holy Land have discovered that most of the springs on the eastern side of Judah and Benjamin are hardly fit for use; and water tasting of sulphur or salt is commonly found there" (Woods p. 177). Again we are brought back to the source of the above curses. How can such things come from a good heart? The truth is, they don"t (Matthew 15:18-19). But how we rationalize and protest that while we can say mean and hurtful things, at the same time we didn"t mean to say such things. How we claim to love those whom we abuse!


Verse 12

"Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh."

Once again God selects illustrations that everyone can follow. "From the plant life James mentions three of the commonest agricultural products native to his part of the world-the fig tree, the olive, and the grapevine…..The reader can draw his own application. An inconsistent tongue is contrary to nature. It indicates something wrong with the heart, which expresses itself by the tongue. With such inconsistency even the admirable things we might express from time to time are rendered suspicious because of the contradictory uses to which our tongues are often put" (Kent p. 125-126). If we misuse our tongue, we shouldn"t be shocked when our loved ones and others fail to believe our apologies or attempts at being sincere. Jesus taught the same basic truth in Matthew 7:16.


Verse 13

The Challenge To Live Wisely

At this point it appears that James goes back to and admonishes the teacher or the person who wants to be a teacher to live up to what they believe, to practice the wisdom they are imparting to others. In addition, the connection is also that a misuse of the tongue is a proof that one is living by earthly wisdom, not divine wisdom.

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom".

"Who among you is wise and understanding?"-"But suppose some teacher says, "Such advice is good for those not qualified to teach; but, I do not need it, inasmuch as I am a wise and understanding man"" (Woods p. 180). James issues the challenge, who really is the wise and skillful teacher? Who really is the qualified teacher? "In an era of specialization and emphasis on methods of effective communication, it is easy to ignore James"s message. If the concentration is upon speech techniques, group dynamics, and motivational skills, the truth James was insisting upon can be overlooked" (Kent p. 128). "Which one of you is a wise and well-instructed man" (Wey).

"Let him show by his good behavior his deeds"-"True wisdom is the ability to live a beautiful life, to put into practice what we say we believe and teach" (Draper p. 105).

Points To Note:

1. This isn"t some abstract warning. There have always arisen individuals among the people of God who insisted that they were leadership material, and have only done harm instead of good (1 Corinthians 14:37; 3 John 1:9). 2. The truly qualified and skillful teacher is the person with the life that matches the word of God. 3. Note, every believer is expected to live a life which manifests wisdom (Ephesians 5:15). The word "good" means, praiseworthy, noble, morally good. Our conduct preaches a very loud sermon (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 1:15).

"in the gentleness of wisdom"-"guided by a wise gentleness" (Wey); "done in humility which wisdom prompts" (Wms). "Gentleness" means, humility, courtesy, consideration toward others, the opposite of a rough, egotistical and unyielding attitude.

Points To Note:

1. The above is a very interesting expression. Here we learn that humility always accompanies true wisdom. The gentleness under consideration, "is not passivity, or weakness, but strength under control. It is the opposite of arrogance, which demands that superiority be recognized…..It is the humble recognition that even one"s superiority in some area does not need to overstep the bounds of courtesy, considerateness, and kindness….a meek and gentle attitude is certainly appropriate in any teacher" (Kent p. 130). 2. If a person is truly wise, then good works, good fruits will naturally be seen in that individual"s life. "One"s wisdom is evidenced, not by argument or assertion, but by a godly life garnished with good deeds. It is interesting to note that here, as often elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 20:20-28), the world"s standard and rule or measurement differs greatly from that of inspiration. We are disposed to regard men as wise as they are able to impress us with their learned oratory, or wit" (Woods p. 181).


Verse 14

"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth."

"But if you have"-Which infers that a Christian could fall into this trap.

"bitter jealousy"-"habour envy" (TCNT). A harsh, embittered envy and contentious rivalry. "Apparently some in James"s day were misusing their knowledge, letting it become the basis for self-glorification" (Kent p. 130). This is a zeal that has become selfish, "the person sees himself as jealous for the truth, but God and others see the bitterness, rigidity, and personal pride which are far from the truth" (Davids p. 151). Paul encountered professed Christians whose motive for teaching and preaching was to make a name for themselves (Philippians 1:15). "This pictures a spirit of harsh resentment, someone who cannot bear to see someone else succeed. Some will do anything they can to hurt or humiliate someone else who receives a degree of success" (Draper p. 106). Carefully note that selfish anger fuels envy and jealousy. Zeal which springs from impure motives can quickly degenerate into bitter jealousy.

"selfish ambition"-"party spirit" (ABUV); "spirit of rivalry" (TCNT). "denotes ambition, self-seeking rivalry, self-will being an underlying idea in the word" (Vine p. 68). (Philippians 1:17). The ambition which is out for self and nothing else, "and which is ready to intrigue and to plot and to use any means to gain its ends" (Barclay p. 107). The picture is, "canvassing, solicit support for themselves or their faction while advancing their own glory, pride, profit, pleasure, personal interest or ambition" (Adamson p. 151). Paul makes it clear that the party-spirit is an attitude which is carnal (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Woods notes, "We are not to overlook the fact that these words were penned primarily with teachers in view, whose activities afford frequent occasion for the temptations against which he warns. Teachers, preachers, writers…..are all in a position where humility is often difficult and were selfish ambition is a constant temptation" (p. 184).

"in your heart"-This is the source (Matthew 15:18-19). The teacher who is really going to be a help to the people of God, must be the teacher who has cleansed their own heart (James 1:21; Matthew 23:26). Knowledge without the proper motives is useless (1 Corinthians 13:1-4).

"do not be arrogant"-"do not boast in defiance of the truth…..those full of party spirit and bitter zeal ought at least to be honest and stop claiming to be inspired by God"s heavenly wisdom" (Davids p. 151). Those who try to preach the truth, but do so from wrong motives, are denying the very truth that they are proclaiming. Their arrogance was being displayed in the manner in which they were trying to put themselves forward-rather the message they were proclaiming. Selfish ambition and bitter envy are rooted in human pride.

"so lie against the truth"-because the truth condemns arrogance, selfish ambition and envy (Galatians 5:19 ff).

Barclay makes the following observations: "We may find in this passage four characteristics of the wrong kind of teaching: 1. It is fanatical. The truth it holds is held with unbalanced violence rather than with reasoned conviction. 2. It is bitter. It regards its opponents as enemies to be annihilated rather than as friends to be persuaded. 3. It is selfishly ambitious. It is, in the end, more eager to display itself than to display the truth. 4. It is arrogant. Its whole attitude is pride in its own knowledge rather than humility in its own ignorance. The real scholar will be far more aware of what he does not know than of what he knows" (p. 108).


Verse 15

Earthly And Heavenly Wisdom

"This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic."

"This wisdom"-That is the wisdom that some among James"s readers were manifesting. The wisdom that included arrogance, bitter envy and selfish ambition. James makes it very clear that there is nothing Divine or godly concerning such attitudes. Paul also talks about a wisdom which isn"t godly, a wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:4-6; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12).

"but is earthly"-"Its standards are earthly standards; its sources are earthly sources. It measures success in worldly terms; and its aims are worldly aims" (Barclay p. 109). (Philippians 3:18-19 "…who set their minds on earthly things".) That is, a wisdom that doesn"t take into account eternal and spiritual values or truths. A wisdom that arises no higher than this physical existence, an under-the-sun view of life. "it is earth-bound" (NEB). Carefully note, when God and the truths from God are not factored into our thinking processes, we are destined to manifest a mere earthly wisdom-which is very short-sighted. "false wisdom is based upon earthly standards, earthly sources, earthly aims---and measures itself by earthly success" (Draper p. 107). Macknight says, "mere worldly policy" (p. 380). Every human philosophy is nothing more than earthly wisdom.

"natural"-unspiritual, the person who lives, acts and thinks purely at a material level of existence (1 Corinthians 2:14; Jude 1:19). Natural wisdom opposes the things of God, refuses to accept the supernatural claims in Scripture. Refuses to factor God into the solution to any problem or the answer to any question. Evolution is a classic example of "natural wisdom". Those who claim that the Bible contains myth or error, are practicing natural wisdom. The atheist is a practitioner of natural wisdom. The attitude is, "our reality is the only true reality". The same word can be translated "sensual". The type of wisdom which is often based on physical impulses and desires, rather than higher considerations. The claim that homosexuality isn"t a sin, is based on "natural wisdom", where selfish and twisted physical desires become the standard for what is true. This is the philosophy which says if I find myself wanting to do something, then what I want to do must be right.

"demonic"-"demonic in origin" (Arndt p. 169); demonic or devil-like. The type of wisdom, rationalization and thinking practiced by the devil and his demons. Which means that the devil himself is filled with bitter envy, arrogance and selfish ambition. Whenever we start manifesting such qualities, we are acting like the devil himself. The devil tries to convince us that his path, the path of selfishness, putting yourself first, looking out only for yourself, and being completely unsatisfied unless you can have it all constitutes the way to gain happiness. This also reveals that false wisdom isn"t neutral or merely useless, rather is it positively evil and will generate more sins.


Verse 16

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing."

"there is"-and not, there might be or could be. One cannot practice such earthly wisdom without harming self, loved ones and others.

"disorder"-"instability, a state of disorder, disturbance" (Thayer p. 21); "unruliness" (Arndt p. 30); "anarchy, restless disturbance" (Alford p. 1614). This would include disorder in the home, in a marriage and in the congregation. "There is a kind of person who is undoubtedly clever; he has an acute brain and a skilful tongue; but his effect in any committee, in any Church, in any group, is to cause trouble, to drive people apart, to foment strife, to make trouble" (Barclay p. 110). (1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Corinthians 12:20).

"and every evil thing"-that"s quite an assertion! Every worthless, vile, wicked, base and good-for-nothing thing. The wisdom from above is full of good fruits, the wisdom of this world is full of trouble and evil. "disharmony and all other kinds of evil" (Phi). "All sorts of confusion, from public squabbles in the church to personal tensions and frustrations, are sure to result when Christians employ earthly wisdom" (Kent p. 134). Such verses cry out for a complete dependence upon God and His truth. For apart from such things, human wisdom can very quickly degenerate into jealousy, personal ambition…and human leadership can very quickly become tainted by human pride. God seems to be telling us here that the damage done by earthly wisdom is immeasurable, it just never has a stopping point concerning the evil and harm that it can generate. "Such an attitude…leads to every conceivable kind of evil: immorality, dishonestly, discord. Nothing good can grow in such an atmosphere as that" (Draper p. 107).

Point To Note:

Before we move on, let us seriously reflect upon the above verses. Do such things characterize our lives? What about our relationships with other people and especially our brethren? What about our marriage? If our human relationships are always in turmoil, something is seriously wrong. Too many professed Christians are trying to live by earthly wisdom---and this is seen in marital conflicts and strife in too many local congregations. But God never simply leaves us with the negative, hence the next section.


Verse 17

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy".

"But the wisdom from above"-Such wisdom cannot be found outside of a relationship with God. People try to be all the following things without God, but all such attempts will end in failure (Jeremiah 10:23).

"is"-God doesn"t beat around the bush. This is what it is, this is what such wisdom looks like in daily life. This is the wisdom that God gives to those who faithfully serve and ask Him (James 1:5; James 1:17). A healthy respect for God is the first step in acquiring this wisdom (Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 15:33; Psalms 111:10).

"first pure"-"first"-first in rank and time, "first essentially" (Vincent p. 754). Purity of heart, sincerity, a good and honest heart is a foundation stone for this wisdom (Luke 8:15). The insincere, the doubters and the manipulators can"t gain this wisdom, until they change their motives. "Pure"-Barclay says that the word pure in Greek meant, "pure enough to approach the gods"---"The true wisdom is the wisdom which is so cleansed of all ulterior motives, so cleansed of self….The true wisdom is able to bear the very scrutiny of God" (p. 111). This wisdom doesn"t argue that the end justifies the means or "whatever it takes to get the job done". This wisdom is concerned with motives, with integrity and honesty. This is the person who wants God to inspect every aspect of their lives (John 3:21; Psalms 139:23-24 "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me"; 2 Corinthians 7:1.

"peaceable"-"loving peace" (Thayer p. 183). Here is the exact opposite of self ambition which so often results in strife. This is the wisdom which attempts to settle disputes rather than provoke them. Barclay notes, "The true wisdom is the wisdom which produces right relationships. There is a kind of clever and arrogant wisdom which separates man from man, and which makes a man look with superior contempt on his fellow-men. There is a kind of cruel wisdom which takes a delight in hurting others with clever, but cutting words" (p. 111). This isn"t peace at the expense of the truth, but it is the person who works hard at reconciling men with men and man with God. This wisdom will sacrifice pride, fame, and other worldly considerations for such peace. This person is big enough to admit when they are wrong and ask for forgiveness (Colossians 3:15; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 4:7; Romans 12:18 "so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men").

"gentle"-"equitable, fair, mild" (Thayer p. 238), "sweet reasonableness" (Matthew Arnold). The same word is rendered forbearance (Philippians 4:5). People who listen to reason, those who don"t insist upon their rights, the person who is willing to forgive, rather than rigid and exacting in his relations with others. "being considerate of others and making allowance for their feelings, weaknesses, and needs. Such qualities as being equitable, fair, reasonable, and forbearing" (Kent p. 135). Which means that the truly wise man does not get angry, combative, or defensive even under provocation. Woods notes, "Some assume they are strong in argument only if they are violent in argument" (p. 193). This wisdom believes the truth and stands for the truth, but it does so with patience, reason, and fairness. Godly wisdom is careful to properly represent those who have opposing views, and to take the time to really understand what the other person is saying.

"reasonable"-"ready to obey" (Vine p. 269); "approachable" (Robertson p. 47). The truly wise teacher, must himself be teachable (Proverbs 9:8-9). "in the sense of not being stubborn, and of being willing to listen to reason and to appeal…The true wisdom is not rigid and austere and beyond all appeal. It is willing to listen, willing to be persuaded, skilled in knowing when to wisely yield" (Barclay pp. 112-113). This is also the person who is easy to talk to, who will intently listen to what you are saying. "does not indicate a person without convictions who agrees with everyone and sways with the wind (1:5-8; Ephesians 4:14), but the person who gladly submits to true teaching and listens carefully to the other instead of attacking him" (Davids p. 154). "It is a poor teacher who does not learn from his pupils" (Roberts p. 147).

"full of mercy and good fruits"-"rich in compassion and good deeds" (TCNT); "kind actions" (Wey). "Full of"-not just a few or some. This is mercy and good fruits demonstrated on a consistent basis. "Mercy"-mercy which issues in practical help. Unfortunately, it is so easy to see someone in need and then say, "Well, I bet it was their own fault". It is so easy to find a reason for not helping people, that we end up sinning by failing to do something (James 1:27; James 2:13; Luke 10:37).

"good fruits"-This passage clearly contradicts those who would argue that Christianity is the cause of many of the world"s problems. Real wisdom is a merciful wisdom. True wisdom is not found in the attitude, "What is the least that I have to do to end up saved". This type of wisdom doesn"t resent responsibilities, and neither does it have the attitude, "Let someone else do that". Christians are to be people who manifest a life full of good works (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:1; 14).

"unwavering"-"without uncertainty" (Thayer p. 11); "unhesitating, not doubting, this wisdom does not put a premium on doubt" (Robertson p. 47). A wisdom that concerning the truth is unwavering and uncompromising. In contrast, the wisdom of the world often believes in an ethic which is situational and would consider it foolish to sacrifice self-advancement for the sake of principle. Barclay hits the nail on the head when he notes, "There are those who think that it is clever never to make one"s mind up about anything" (p. 113). God isn"t impressed with the skeptic. "Here the word seems to mean "not vacillating", "not acting one way in one circumstance and another in a different one"" (Roberts p. 148). Godly wisdom is single-minded, it is focused on serving God. "Those thus directed follow a compass which is not deflected by worldly acclaim or selfish interests, nor by current views announced by favorite preachers" (Woods p. 195).

"without hypocrisy"-"unfeigned, undisguised" (Thayer p. 52). The Bible often exhorts and commends a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5) and love (Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 1:22). This wisdom doesn"t play-act. "It does not deal in deception….It is not the wisdom which is clever at putting on disguises and concealing its real aims and motives" (Barclay p. 114). This wisdom doesn"t pretend. This wisdom is straightforward, the person manifesting this wisdom doesn"t put on an act. While intrigue, scheming and plotting are essential elements of human wisdom, the wisdom from above is offended by such tactics.


Verse 18

"And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace".

"the seed whose fruit is righteousness"-the seed that produces righteousness. The fruit which consists of righteousness includes the wonderful qualities mentioned in the previous verse. "Righteousness" is integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, the condition of being in a right relationship with God. Definite fruit or fruits are seen in the life of someone who is truly righteous (Philippians 1:11; Hebrews 12:11).

"the seed"-We have access to this seed! The seed which can produce righteousness in the lives of individuals is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, righteous fruit can arise out of any family or congregation, when people in that relationship take the Word of God to heart.

"is sown"-This seed must be sown! The qualities in don"t just happen or naturally arise. Such wonderful traits must be taught and nurtured.

"in peace"-Teaching or preaching the truth from impure motives won"t bring about righteousness in your life. "betokening the spirit and mode in which the sowing takes place, as opposed to "where envy and rivalry are"" (Alford p. 1614). Too many professed Christians try to cultivate righteousness, while at the same time of insisting upon remaining selfish in their motivation. Too often people follow the Bible from the motive of looking for an instant reward.

"by those who make peace"-"by peacemakers" (Gspd); "by those who work for peace" (TCNT).

Points To Note:

1. Again we are brought back to motive. The best personal worker, the best teacher will be the individual who is intent upon bringing men and women into a peaceful relationship with God and with each other. The person who wants others to enjoy the quality relationship with God and their brethren that they are presently experiencing. 2. Jesus praised the peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). 3. Righteousness can really only be sown by those who are presently practicing it. This isn"t theoretical righteousness, but the real thing, in practice. 4. Many passages stress the idea of making peace (Romans 12:18; Romans 14:19; Colossians 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11). 5. The wisdom of this world cannot achieve such peace (Romans 3:17). 6. Peace is a reward for those who actively pursue what is good (Romans 2:10).

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on James 3:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/james-3.html. 1999-2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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