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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

James 3

Verses 1-12

  1. INTRO:
    1. James still helping us to discover a “genuine faith” or a Functioning Faith (Active Faith; Intentional; Authentic; Real; Expressive; Demonstrative; Gushing; Friendly; Affectionate Faith)
      1. He now adds a more specific manifestation of faith expressed through the self-control of our speech & the origin of our wisdom.
    2. Q: Can you name the muscle in your body that receives more exercise & less control than any other? [The tongue weighs only 2 oz.; it has 8 muscles to change its position; aprox 4” long]
      1. It helps us to chew, taste, swallow, & articulate words.
      2. It also is used for deceit, destruction, it devours, it is sharp sword, it breaks bones(Prov.25:15), backbites, flatters, & poisons.
      3. So it also is known as, “The 2 oz. Beast!” (Title)
      4. It’s this beastly nature that James address in this passage.
    3. But is it our literal tongues that are the real problem?
      1. Read Mt.15:11;17-19
      2. The tongue is neither friend nor foe. It’s merely a messenger that delivers the dictates of a desperately sick heart.
      3. So when James uses tongue, think heart.
    4. Quaker Proverb, “Of your unspoken words, you are the master; of your spoken words, the servant; of your written words, the slave.”
    1. TEACHERS & TONGUE DISEASE! (1,2) [Outline taken from Charles Swindoll]
    2. (1) Don’t be too eager to teach the Scriptures, as teachers use their tongues often.
      1. They have more opportunities to misrepresent the Scriptures & thus incur a stricter judgment.
      2. The tongue is powerful, for good or evil.
    3. So is James condemning teaching? No,…
      1. First, James is only warning against rushing into the profession w/o carefully weighing the cost & responsibility.
        1. The words teachers sow will affect many lives.
        2. Their tongue is the tool of their trade, and teachers must master this tool!
      2. Second, James is not promoting silence; he’s proposing control!
    4. (2) We all have a hard time controlling our tongues! If you disagree with that statement then you are a liar or at least in disagreement with Scripture.
    5. SMALL BUT POWERFUL! (3-5)
    6. The power of the tongue in 3 Illustrations:
      1. A bit - With a length of rope, or a few strips of leather & a small piece of metal in a horse’s mouth, a rider can control the horse’s whole body.
        1. The tongue is a bit, a small, 2 ounce bit nestled in our mouths that controls the direction of our lives.
      2. A small rudder - Ships have grown larger & heavier but still proportionately they still have their course determined by a comparatively small slab of metal called a rudder.
        1. The rudder of the human body is that small slab of muscle called the tongue.
      3. A little fire - A tiny spark holds the power to destroy 1000’s of acres of forest.
        1. Such is the power of the tongue. Held in check such power for great good. Out of control what havoc both can cause.
    7. So, have you ever seen (if not picture): a horse running out of control; a ship out of control; A fire out of control; someone’s mouth out of control.
    9. (6) A world of iniquity(sin)? - James means that the whole world of evil can find its expression through the tongue.
      1. i.e. Boastful, destructive anger, cutting bitterness, flattering lust...the tongue communicates them all.
    10. (6b) It’s set on fire by Gehenna - Gehenna, that actual valley outside Jerusalem used as a garbage dump.
      1. All the filth of the city accumulated there, just as the evil of our sinful hearts seems to accumulate on our tongues.
    11. (7,8a) James changes image one more time.
      1. You see this truth at any Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus.
      2. Over the years we’ve been able to train Gentle Ben, Lassie, Flipper, Shamu, even Barney!
        1. But there’s one beast not even PT Barnum could tame...the tongue!
    12. (8b) Click the shutter one more time for our last is an unruly/restless evil & full of deadly poison.
      1. Our tongues are like the forked menace of a poisonous snake. We strike & poison those around us.
      2. Remember Hitler’s words when he bared his fangs against Christianity? "Nothing will prevent me from tearing up Christianity, root and branch… We are not out against a hundred-to-one different kinds of Christianity, but against Christianity itself. All people who profess creeds...are traitors to the people. Even those Christians who really want to serve the people...we have to suppress. I myself am a heathen to the core."
        1. This same venomous hatred later resulted in Zyclon B, the poisonous gas used to kill millions at Auschwitz & other concentration camps.
    14. The tongue is a powerful, dangerous beats, but remember that we said only sometimes.
      1. Sometimes it helps mend bones instead of breaking them; Sometimes it builds up people instead of tearing them down; Sometimes it brings life instead of death.
    15. (9,10) In these verses James illustrates the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde tongues tendency.
      1. The 1931 horror film where a man who takes a potion which turns him from a mild-mannered man of science into a crude homicidal maniac.
      2. Illustration: A large family sat around the breakfast table one morning. As the custom, the father returned thanks, blessing God for the food.

        Immediately after, however, as was his bad habit, he began to grumble about hard times, the poor quality of the food he was forced to eat, the way it was cooked, and much more. His little daughter interrupted him, “Dad, do you suppose God heard what you said a little while ago when you were giving thanks?” “Yes,” the father replied with the confident air of an instructor.” “And did He hear what you said about the bacon and the coffee?" "Of course,” replied the father with a note of caution in his voice.” Then his daughter asked, “Dad, which did God believe?”
        1. Of course the answer is both, because both reveal the real condition of the heart.
    16. (11,12) Lastly, James shows how the nature of the human heart is like nothing in nature!
      1. Unlike human kind, nature is consistent. Peach trees don’t produce poisonous mushrooms. Only the human heart is capable of producing such inconsistencies.
    17. Streams produce 1 kind of water; Trees produce 1 kind of fruit.
      1. The speech of the believer should be consistent with his/her new life in Christ.
    18. “Open your mouth & say ahhh!” - a doctor often looks behind the tongue.
      1. We need to look all the way down to the heart!
    19. Again, the tongue isn’t the real problem; it is the heart. (Mt.12:34-37)
    20. Who is in control?
      1. If your tongue is under God’s control, you will take what you say seriously(1), & your whole body will be under His discipline(2).
        1. Just as a horse needs a rider holding its reigns, & a ship needs a pilot at the rudder, so your tongue needs a master; & God is the only one who can do the job.
      2. Ps.141:3,4 Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.
      3. More people have been slain by the tongue than the sword.
        1. Bridle our tongues today & we’ll be able to handle the rest of the horse.A short intellect usually has a long tongue.
        2. Mt.5:21,22
      4. Murders Root & Fruit (beg. & ending)...are Anger! 3 degrees of Anger:
        1. [1] Anger, as a non-verbal concealed emotion (Yet it’s not really concealed; w/God it’s a heart Revealed!)
        2. [2] Raca, Anger as a verbal outburst. Now it’s directed to the person! (raka - Raca) = fool, empty headed. Not Latin or Greek hard to interp (It’s Aramaic).
          1. Chrysostom(& Augustine) say the word means nothing, but rather express “the emotion of an angry mind”.
          2. [A word that can’t be translated into another language, like Aahh! Ssss! Tsic(tongue on teeth sound)! So, the writer puts down the word itself!]
        3. [3] You Fool, Anger as an outburst, but now w/intent.
          1. Like: “Your a fool!”, “Your a real Jerk!”, “I wish you were dead!”, “Lets’ get a Divorce then!”, “I wish we never even had you!”, “I wish you weren’t my parents!”
      5. Raca deals w/contempt for a mans head - “You Stupid”!
      6. Fool expresses contempt for his heart & character, “You Scoundrel”

Verses 13-18

  1. INTRO:
    1. If you did a cross section of Solomon’s life it would reveal he was: an author, poet, songwriter, artist, king, diplomat, theologian, teacher, zoologist, psychologist, philosopher, financier, engineer, & architect.
      1. How could Solomon’s success grow to such unparalleled heights?
        1. Read 1 Chron.1:6-10
        2. Solomon asked for 2 things: wisdom & knowledge.
          1. Not the theoretical kind of knowledge that could grasp abstract matters, but the ability to apply divine truth to daily life!
          2. Although Solomon was an intelligent well-educated king, he recognized that he lacked the wisdom which only God could provide. (11,12)
      2. A 1000 years later James is writing on this same subject. He counseled his listeners, follow Solomon’s lead...Ask for it! (1:5)
    2. Remember from vs.1 there are 2 basic tools all “teachers” use to communicate...their tongue & their lives!
      1. Last week we dealt with the tongue see Slides #2-5.
      2. This week we deal with Wisdom Slide #6.
        1. Wisdom in the life of the teacher: not human but divine wisdom.
  2. WISDOM!
    1. ​​​​​​​As is true of all valuable possessions, wisdom has its counterfeits.
      1. Genuine vs.13; Counterfeit vs.14a
    3. 2 specific tests to see if someone is wise:
      1. Good Conduct/Behavior - to return or turn back. (root idea to change, return to the truth)
        1. A wise person is someone whose life is changing in accordance with the truth of God’s word.
      2. Works done in meekness/Gentle deeds - Gentleness, not like some see that word today (i.e. jellyfish, spineless, spiritless).
        1. In James day it meant “bringing a high-spirited horse under control. The spirit & strength of the horse weren’t lost, simply harnessed.”
        2. Gentleness also referred to a brilliant teacher who could debate others w/o getting angry. It also referred to a soothing medicine that brought comfort to a painful wound.
      3. Wisdom so far then doesn’t mean a high I.Q.; or your ability to pack away facts; or your impressive eloquence.
        1. The test of wisdom is a life that is patterned after the truth & is under control! (Charles Swindoll; James.)
    4. The story often goes w/new believers...that they immediately try to set the world straight.
      1. Often 1st stop is home - where they declare spiritual martial law & billy-club family members w/Bible verses whenever they step out of line.
      2. Then they wonder why they are standing in line to get saved like you!
        1. What’s lacking? Wisdom (i.e. A balance of gentleness & control that Paul described to Timothy, and a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition)
    6. 2 specific tests to see if someone is unwise: bitter envy & self-seeking/selfish ambition.
    7. Note: In your heart - 2 motives deeply embedded in the unwise heart.
      1. Envy - most confuse w/jealousy.
        1. Envy begins w/empty hands & mourns for what it does not have; Jealousy begins w/full hands but is threatened by the thought of losing what it possesses.
        2. So James is saying an unwise person is one who tends to be suspicious, resistant, & given to rivalry.
      2. Self-seeking(selfish ambition) - is the desire to be seen, quoted, & respected.
    9. So if these things are deep inside your heart, root em out, don’t just act like they’re not.
      1. Boast/arrogant - The 1st ugly face of false wisdom is arrogance.
        1. Rationalizing or even boasting that the end justifies the means; or the bad done wasn’t that bad; or everybody's doin it!
      2. Lie against the truth - How do we as Christians justify our arrogance? By lying against the truth, or dodging it, or trying to ignore it.
        1. The result self-deception! It’s like if you built something, & your measurements were off. But instead of admitting the mistake, you design a new ruler to fit the inaccurate measurements. Then the whole thing ends up a crooked disaster.
      3. Earthly - false wisdom has an earthly origin.
        1. It views everything from a strictly horizontal perspective: earthly success, earthly standards, earthly motives, earthly attitudes, earthly methods, earthly everything!
      4. Sensual/natural - “soulish, fleshly, not related to the Spirit of God”.
        1. A wisdom whose vision is limited to things temporal, not eternal.
      5. Demonic - the mindset is characteristic of demons.
        1. Demons are brilliant by the way. They know a great deal, even about God! But there is no change, no obedience, & no yielding of self to God.
        2. Thats how it is demonic - & yours is the same if it fits in this category.
    11. Here the roots of false wisdom(already mentioned in vs.14) leads to the fruit here.
      1. Confusion/disorder - So not just confusion but “disorder, disharmony, antagonism, the absence of unity & stability.”
      2. Every evil thing - when human wisdom is taught it lifts the lid on all sorts of worthless, petty, evil things.
        1. Like Pandora’s Box the human heart is home to a haunting array of sinful thoughts.
          1. Pandora was according to Greek mythology the 1st woman on earth. She was given a jar/box that she was ordered not to open under any circumstances. Despite this warning, overcome by curiosity Pandora opened the jar. Upon doing so, the evils contained within escaped into the world. Scared, Pandora immediately closed the jar, only to trap Hope inside, as was Zeus' will.
    12. Inventory: What are the fruits of your life? Do people see good behavior & gentleness, or disorder & every evil thing?
    13. After reading about Solomon’s request & how God reacted to what he choose...What do you think is God’s main purpose for you? (touching others? generosity?)
      1. Remember He gives wisdom to all who ask & He gives it liberally!
    14. Intro to next section:
      1. Explain: Driving through the Negev, or the “wilderness” in Jordan. Dry, parched, arid, nothing but sand; then all of a sudden a little town all green. How? A commodity very unnatural to the desert had to be piped in...water!
      2. For divine wisdom to take root in our lives something very unnatural to our hearts must be piped in by faith...the living water of the H.S.
        1. Under the Holy Spirit’s supervision, our lives can blossom w/a divine wisdom we could never produce on our own.
    16. When the seeds of good conduct & works done in meekness(13) are sown they produce a unnatural, even supernatural bumper crop.
    17. Check out at least 7 fruits of divine wisdom on display: [Fruit Inspection time]
      1. Pure - First pure (not just 1st in a list but 1st in importance!)
        1. The primary fruit of divine wisdom is purity.
        2. Which means freedom from defilement, w/o contamination, clean.
        3. Not only moral cleanliness, but also purity of motive.
        4. Jesus said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!
          1. He meant, the pure in heart will so intimately know God that they will see Him come to their rescue when tempted or see Him come alongside as their closet friend when facing trials.
          2. Purity then clears our vision to see him at work in everything we do!!!
      2. Peaceable - when wisdom from above fill sour hearts a peaceable nature blossoms, one that helps heal relationships rather than tear them apart.
        1. Some will say, I’m not by nature a calm & peaceable person! That’s the point! None of us are by nature. We are like that desert. But when God’s wisdom rains gently upon that desert, a peaceable attitude springs to life!!!
      3. Gentle - Tolerant would be a good word here.
        1. William Barclay explained it, “The man who is epieikes is the man who knows when it is actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law. He knows how to forgive when strict justice gives him a perfect right to condemn. He knows how to make allowances, when not to stand upon his rights, how to temper injustice with mercy, always remembers that there are greater things in the world than rules and regulations.”
      4. Willing to yield/reasonable - speaks to those who are under someone elses authority
        1. So Gentle & willing to yield go together like 2 puzzle pieces: Gentle = for those in places of authority over others; willing to yield = for those under authority.
        2. It is someone who is open, conciliatory, easy to work with.
        3. Abraham showed this with Lot - Abraham took the initiative to create a compromise: “the land can’t sustain us both, you choose, I’ll take the other.”
          1. Now that’s reasonable/willing to yield.
        4. Does this describe you? Can you give a serious thought to an opinion that differs from yours w/o feeling threatened or getting angry?
      5. Full of mercy & good fruits - wisdom from above helps us show mercy which is a compassionate attitude & good fruits which are actions that naturally flow from mercy.
        1. Often Mercy was used to be shown toward someone who had suffered unjustly; in NT often used to describe an attitude towards those who suffer due to problems they have caused themselves. (so even if you think someone who is homeless, or in prison, or down & out brought this on what!)
        2. Barclay, We can never say that we have truly pitied anyone until we have helped him.
      6. W/o Partiality/Unwavering - a person of fixed principles.
        1. They adhere to the principles in God’s Word regardless of the circumstances.
        2. Others might say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” But we live under the precept, “When in Rome, do as the believer should do.”
      7. W/o hypocrisy - from the Greek theaters, those who played multiple roles by just switching masks for each character.
        1. Today we use it, anyone who wears masks, who is a pretender, a poser.
        2. True wisdom is not 2-faced.
    18. We are finished w/our fruit inspection. We move to the results.
    20. In James peace means being rightly related to one another(not vertical peace w/God; but horizontal peace between human beings)
      1. Disturb this peace & you will not enjoy a righteous lifestyle before God.
    21. As God brings life to the desert, so He can cultivate a garden of divine wisdom I us through the living water of His Holy Spirit.
      1. Francis Assisi gave us this prayer maybe you grew up with: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon: where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope where there is darkness, light where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on James 3". "Bell's Commentary". 2017.