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Bible Commentaries

Box's Commentaries on Selected Books of the Bible

James 3




In James three we have a strong caution against the desire among many to be counted among the public teachers in the church. ( Jam_3:1 ) There was a desire on the part of many to teach without much regard at all for proper preparation. Public teachers of God's word must give a more solemn account than others. They also expose themselves to the danger of a greater condemnation

James sets forth both the duty and advantage of bridling the tongue. It has the power to do good, but it likewise has power to do much mischief. Those who claim to be Christians must be especially careful to govern their tongues. Just as a horse is controlled by the bit, and a ship is steered by the rudder, so our tongue must be controlled. The tongue even though a little member is capable of doing many harms if not controlled.

In James chapter three true wisdom is distinguished from a wisdom that is earthly and hypocritical. James said that a wise man would show his wisdom by his good works done in meekness. "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." ( Jam_3:13 ) True wisdom leads to a peaceful life of purity. In this life the "fruits of righteousness are sown in peace." ( Jam_3:17-18 )

Verse 1

Committed to teaching -- Jam_3:1 : James begins this chapter by saying, "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." ( Jam_3:1 ) It was not the wish of James to discourage any who might have been qualified to teach God's word and who had the desire to so do. It was only that he knew that a small number of well-qualified and faithful teachers could do more good, than many could do who are unqualified or unfaithful. He also knew that a much more severe judgment awaited those who would be teachers of Gods' word.

The teaching of Jam_3:1 is similar to the words of Jesus in Mat_23:7 . He said these Jews loved, "greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." Many who desire to be teachers lack the true wisdom to be a public teacher of God's word. Multitudes who claim to be teachers of the Law of Liberty are, in fact, the great corrupters of Christianity. Paul described those who, "desired to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." ( 1Ti_1:7 ) False teachers do untold damage. It is no wonder that they will receive a more severe judgment.

Verses 2-6

Careful about control -- Jam_3:2-6 : The fact that all teachers are prone to speak error is one of the main reason why men were cautioned about seeking to be a teacher. Mistakes in teaching not only damn the teacher, but his false teaching will lead other to damnation. What a terrible sin to answer for on the Day of Judgment!

Man must learn to bridle his tongue. The thought is that if one attains control or mastery over the tongue he is able to control the entire body. Our tongue is the most unruly and rebellious member of our body. James had in mind the challenge to avoid teaching error, or doing wrong with our tongue.

James sets forth three illustrations to help us understand the subject of controlling our tongue -- (1) bits in a horse's mouth, (2) the very small helm (rudder) of a ship, and (3) the tongue as a small fire. The "bit" and the "helm" stress the importance and power of such a small thing as the tongue. The fire stresses the astounding damage resulting from such a small beginning.

The bit is a small thing. Yet, with it you can control the entire horse, even as large as he may be. Likewise, a small thing, the tongue, controls our body. He who has proper control over his tongue can govern his entire body.

The second illustration is that a large ship being controlled by a small helm or rudder. The ship is very large, yet this small rudder easily manages it. He that has control of the helm has control of the ship itself. The rider controls the horse with the bit. The ship is managed by a small helm. A tongue, under control, is God's special mean for governing the whole man.

An uncontrolled tongue is compared to "fire” in regard to the damage that it can do. Just a spark turns a house to ashes or burns thousands of acres. A fiery, out of control tongue can destroy a family, corrupt a society, ruin a church, or wreck a kingdom. The origin of the destructive fire of the tongue came from hell itself. Let us remember the harm done by a tongue whose words have a hellish origin. Contentions, revilings, reproaches, and all kinds of false teachings come from such a tongue.

Verses 7-12

Constant in taming -- Jam_3:7-12 : Man has had success in taming or subduing all of creation, except the tongue. He has had no success in the effort to tame that one thing. The tongue is a restless evil that can only be managed with God's help. A wicked tongue is venomous and hurtful. Nothing or no one is secure against the evils of a satanic tongue.

The tongue should be used to bless and praise God. The tongue is often used to curse men that have the image of God upon them. The same tongue cannot bless God and curse men. To pray and to curse with the same tongue is shameful hypocrisy. Many times we put what could be used as the best member of our physical body to the worst of use. Sweet water and bitter from the same fountain, olives from a fig tree, or figs from a grape vine would all make as much sense as blessing and cursing from the same tongue.

Verses 13-18

Concern for true wisdom -- Jam_3:13-18 : If one is to be a teacher of God's word he must be a truly wise person. True wisdom is found only in those of Christ-like character. A correct, consistent, and godly life is the mark of the truly wise person. Men should only seek to be teachers, if the truth about their present life would allow them to be.

Earthly wisdom causes worldly people to want to be teachers. James gives a three point description of earthly wisdom: (1) earthly, (2) sensual, and (3) devilish. In contrast, James gives seven qualities of the faithful teacher who has true wisdom: (1) pure, (2) peaceable, (3) gentle, (4) easy to be intreated, (5) full of mercy and good fruits, (6) without partiality, and (7) without hypocrisy. The behavior desired in this chapter is the result of that true wisdom.

It is our Christian duty to guard our tongue and our life. As a Christian always be wise enough to do the will of God.

Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at Public Domain.
Bibliographical Information
Box, Charles. "Commentary on James 3". "Box's Commentaries on Selected books of the Bible". 2014.