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James 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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The wise man said, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise" (Proverbs 10:19 NIV). These words form a fitting introduction to the third chapter of James. While there are many other scriptures that deal with the danger of the tongue, there is none more graphic and timely than those penned by James. The two themes discussed in this chapter deal with potential dangers that come from our speech. The first theme is taming the tongue (James 3:1-12). James warns that teachers will be judged more strictly (verses 1-2). He illustrates the great power that comes from the small tongue through the bridle, rudder, and forest fire (verses 3-6). He then addresses the problems caused by man’s inability to control the tongue (verses 7-8). He concludes this section by discussing the inconsistency of the tongue (verses 9-12).

The second theme is wisdom (James 3:13-18). James discusses two kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the earth that is unspiritual and is from the devil (verses 13-16) and the wisdom from heaven that brings peace (verses 17-18).

Verse 1

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

My brethren: James uses the familiar "my brethren" to open this new section. He often begins new thoughts with this phrase (James 1:2; James 1:19; James 2:1; James 2:14).

be not many masters: "Be not" is from me ginesthe, which is a present imperative with a negative, indicating that they should stop an act that is already in progress. James here admonishes those who were unqualified to be teachers not to continue in the teaching role as many currently were doing.

"Masters" is from didaskaloi and is better rendered "teachers." The warning that James is sounding is that not everyone should presume to be teachers. The work of teachers is not a work that every member is capable of performing. Paul asks, "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?" (1 Corinthians 1:29). In that passage, Paul illustrates the importance of each member by asking a series of questions that demand negative answers. Everyone does not have the talent to teach, and some teach for the wrong reasons. Teachers occupy a very important role in the work of the church. They are listed in the same verse with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and elders (Ephesians 4:11). The prophets and teachers are mentioned together when Paul and Barnabas are sent on their first missionary journey from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). It is the responsibility of the teacher to explain the scriptures and instruct the brethren concerning their duties as Christians. The words of Nehemiah sum up the work of the teacher: "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:8). Teachers must be faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2) who are willing to spend the necessary time in study to prepare for their work. When a man is a faithful teacher and edifies the body, he should be respected. While James does not specifically mention this respect of teachers, the thought is taught in other passages. Paul writes, "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This respect that is to be shown to church leaders surely would not be limited to elders.

Knowing: "Knowing" (eidotes) is a perfect participle but is used in the sense of a present. Its linear sense indicates that teachers are to be continually mindful of their duties. These teachers knew of their greater responsibilities (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 205).

We shall receive: "We shall receive" (lempsometha) is a future tense verb referring to the future reward of the teacher. James includes himself among the teachers with his use of the first person plural "We," and he looks forward to the final day of judgment when all of mankind, including teachers, will be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10).

the greater condemnation: "Condemnation" (krima) means "condemnatory sentence, penal judgment, sentence" (Thayer 360). The thought James is conveying to those teachers is that they must be willing to accept a stricter judgment if they want to assume the work of a teacher. God expects more of those who teach than those who do not teach. This teaching reinforces the principle of Jesus that more will be expected of the man who has more responsibility (Luke 12:47-48).

Conditions in the first century help explain the serious tone of this warning. The Jews called their teachers "Rabbi," which originally meant "Great One." Many of these Jewish teachers were held in such high respect among the people that their names were honored long after their death. It was inevitable that since many of the first Christians were Jews, their teachers in the church would also be held in similar high respect. Because of the high honor that went with being a teacher, there was the danger that some would assume this work without considering the responsibility that goes with it.

These words should not be taken as an effort to frighten or discourage everyone from teaching, but, rather, they should serve as a reminder that if one is going to teach he should do it in the right way and with the right motivation. If an individual receives a promotion at his job or if he starts a new job with a new employer, he expects to be told what his new position will require of him. Likewise, the teacher must be told of his requirements. The teacher should "count the cost" involved in fulfilling these requirements. He should ask himself questions such as these:

1. Am I willing to take the necessary time to study?

2. Am I willing to work to improve my speaking ability and study habits?

3. Can I take advice and constructive criticism from others?

4. Am I willing to bear the consequences of my actions?

James’ words should be sobering to those who teach. In fact, as teachers we need constantly to examine our motivation for teaching. Do we teach to please God or men? Do we like the power we feel when we stand before the church? Do we use the position as a teacher to air personal feelings? Do we use the pulpit to attack brethren when we should go privately to them (Matthew 18:15), or do we approach the pulpit with "an axe to grind"? Do we "water down" the truth so as to tickle the ears of those who won’t accept it in its true form (2 Timothy 4:3-4)? The teacher’s work will be judged to a great degree according to the way he answers those questions.

James also points out in this chapter that the teacher communicates to his audience in two ways: by what he says (verses 2-12) and by what he does (verses 13-18). Why are the words of the teacher so important, and why must he guard them so carefully? His words are important because he is to teach God’s word accurately. Peter indicates that when a man speaks he should speak "as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). The teacher’s audience naturally assumes that what he is saying is correct. When he teaches error, he leads not only himself astray, but also those who hear him. Paul warns Timothy, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16).

Why is the behavior of the teacher so important? It is important because people are influenced as much by behavior as they are by words. The adage "actions speak louder than words" remains true. The teacher may speak correct words; but if his life is not consistent with his speech, his words are not seen as important. Those who say one thing and act in a different way are viewed as hypocrites. The teacher who wants to be an effective servant, therefore, must control both his speech and his actions.

Verse 2

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

For in many things we offend all: "We offend" (ptaiomen) is a present tense verb meaning to stumble or transgress. Hiebert says, "In its literal sense the term conveys the picture of the foot striking against some obstacle so as to cause the individual to trip or stumble; metaphorically it denotes the fact of a failure in duty, a mistake that is blameworthy, or a sin" (The Epistle of James 206). James is pointing out that all men sin in different ways. The NIV renders the thought, "we all stumble in many ways." Other scriptures teach the same point. All have sinned and have fallen short of what God expects (Romans 3:23). Speaking to Christians, John mentions, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Christians may sin, but they do not make it a practice or a habit (1 John 3:9). What is true of Christians in general is also true of teachers, and James again includes himself with those who offend. One might ask, "How could an inspired man sin?" Would the fact he was capable of sinning negate the importance and accuracy of his words? We should remember that while these inspired men were guided by the Holy Spirit in their writing, their personal lives, just as ours, were dependent upon obedience to the commands of God. The inspired man was still a free moral agent and sometimes mistakenly disobeyed God as evidenced by Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Their occasional failures, however, do not detract from their inspired teaching.

If any man offend not in word: James now considers one common sin many commit--the sin of the tongue. The statement "If any man offend not in word" in the verse is a conditional one (condition of first class), which assumes the statement is true. "Any man" is from tis, the indefinite pronoun, referring to "anyone." "Offend" is the same word as in the previous phrase and means "to stumble." It is present tense, indicating the individual does not make it a practice to stumble in his speech. "In word" (en logoi) means in speech.

the same is a perfect man: There are two benefits that come from not stumbling in speech. The first is that the individual is "perfect" (teleios). The perfection described here is not sinlessness, as we have already seen, but, rather, completeness and maturity. The Christian who controls his speech should be considered mature and full grown. Self-control in speech is a goal for which every Christian must aim.

and able also to bridle the whole body: The second result that comes from not stumbling in speech is that the individual is able "to bridle the whole body." "To bridle" (chalinagogesai) is an aorist infinitive meaning "to lead by a bridle, to guide" (Thayer 664). This word is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in James 1:26. The metaphor is based on the practice of controlling horses through the use of a bridle. Just as the rider puts a bridle on a horse to control and guide the animal, so do we control and guide our "whole body" (entire being) when we master our speech. The man who has dominion over his tongue is able to control the other areas of his life as well.

The importance of sound speech is seen in that the Bible emphasizes it throughout. Perhaps no one book emphasizes the value of sound speech more than Proverbs. Solomon alludes several times in Proverbs to the power of the tongue to accomplish good. For example, the one who holds his tongue is wise (Proverbs 10:19), the one who guards his lips guards his life (Proverbs 13:3), the tongue that brings healing is a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4), and the one who guards his tongue keeps himself from troubles (Proverbs 21:23). Solomon, however, also points out that the uncontrolled tongue brings great misery. For example, the Lord hates lying lips (Proverbs 12:22), a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1), the gossip separates good friends (Proverbs 16:28), and a fool’s lips are a snare to his soul (Proverbs 18:7). A quick glance at these scriptures and others reveal that sinful speech includes backbiting, gossip, slander, lying, and rash statements.

James also points out the importance of speech throughout his epistle. For example, we are to be slow to speak and swift to hear (James 1:19). He shows that the religion that does not lead its adherents to control the tongue is worthless (James 1:26). We should speak, he says later, as ones who would be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12). He further teaches that brethren should stop slandering one another (James 4:11), that boasting is evil (James 4:16), and that oaths are forbidden (James 5:12).

Verse 3

Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

While these words and the ones that follow (verses 3-12) appear in a context dealing with teachers, they should not be limited just to teachers. What is true for one group will be true for all. The tongue can be very dangerous and must be controlled whether one is a teacher or not.

James now presents a series of illustrations to contrast the small size of the tongue to the rest of the body. His illustrations include the following: the small bit in the horse’s mouth (verse 3), the small rudder on a large ship (verse 4), and the small flame that starts a large forest fire (verse 5). But the illustrations deal with more than just the size. MacGorman asks,

What are the requirements for an apt illustration of the tongue’s power? Since the tongue is a small member of the body in comparison to other members or to the body as a whole, it is evident that the comparison must be to something relatively small in size. But smallness is not enough. The comparison must also be with something all out of proportion to the meager size it commands (32).

Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths: The sentence in this verse is another of the first class conditional sentences, being assumed as true. James’ illustration is not a hypothetical one but is based on actual occurrences. "Behold" may be better translated "when" or "if." The Greek text for the KJV uses idou (behold) whereas the older Greek texts seem to indicate that ei de (when, if) should have been used (Metzger 681-682). "Put" (ballomen) is a present tense verb meaning "to insert." It is an iterative present depicting an action that is repeated at various intervals (Brooks and Winberry 77). By performing the act repeatedly (bridling the horse), one obtains the same result (control). "Bits" may also be translated "bridle." The bridle must be placed in the horse’s mouth or else it will not do the rider any good.

that they may obey us: This statement is a purpose clause in the Greek text, meaning the purpose of bridling the horse is for control of the animal.

and we turn about their whole body: "Turn about" (metagomen) means to lead or direct. It is also an iterative present showing the customary result of using the bridle. While the bridle is very small when compared to the horse, if used properly, it allows the rider to guide the much larger horse wherever he desires to go. The bridle wields a power much greater than the small size it possesses. The same is true of the tongue. When compared to the body, it is a very small part; but when controlled, it controls the entire body.

Verse 4

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great: In this second illustration, James moves from the horse to the water where ships are found. Though he changes illustrations, he presents the same truth. "Behold" (idou) is a demonstrative particle calling attention to what he is about to say. The picture that James paints is that of a large ship, being driven by strong winds, yet still being controlled by a small rudder.

While the ships of James’ day were not nearly as large as our super tankers or battleships, they were still large enough to carry many people or much grain. In Acts, Luke records an account of 276 people on the ship carrying Paul to Rome along with a cargo of grain (Acts 27:37-38). Other sources indicate there were ships large enough to carry corn to feed Antioch for a year (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 210).

and are driven of fierce winds: "Are driven" (elaunomena) is a present passive participle referring to the action of the ship. It is another present iterative, showing the customary result of the wind. It is passive, indicating that an outside force is working upon it. The forces working on the ship are "fierce winds." The word "fierce" (skleron) means hard or stiff. In the case of the horse, the power was within the animal; in the case of the ship, the power to move comes from these strong winds. In both cases this power must be controlled.

yet are they turned about with a very small helm: "Turned" (metagetai) is a present passive verb meaning "to lead or direct" as in verse 3. It is again an iterative present, and the passive mood indicates that an outside source is doing the directing. That outside source is the "small helm." "Helm" (pedaliou) actually refers to a rudder, and in James’ day it was somewhat like an oar attached to the stern (back) of the ship. With the use of the small rudder, the large ship could successfully be directed even in the strongest of winds.

whithersoever the governor listeth: "Whithersoever the governor listeth" describes the actual force behind the rudder. "Governor" (euthunontos) is a present participle used as a substantive (noun). It literally means "the one who is guiding straight" and so refers to the steersman or helmsman. It does not refer so much to the captain of the ship but, rather, to the one who controls the rudder. "Listeth" (bouletai) means "to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded" (Thayer 105). The helmsman decides the path the ship should take and uses the rudder to steer its course.

This illustration is very similar to the one found in verse 3. When compared to the ship, the rudder is a very small instrument. Yet the small rudder, when used properly, controls the entire ship. It exhibits a power much greater than its size. Without the rudder, however, the large ship would be uncontrollable in the strong winds. An uncontrolled ship can suffer great damage. On May 27, 1941, the British navy sunk the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Bismarck was a state-of-the art warship sent to the North Atlantic to sink British supply ships coming from America. The British feared this great ship so much they sent their Home Fleet after it. After several days of a cat and mouse chase, a torpedo plane hit the German ship with a torpedo in the rudder, damaging the ship so that it could only steam into the wind--directly toward the British fleet. When damaged, the small rudder that controlled this massive ship sent the ship out of control and caused it to be destroyed. So it is with the tongue. When it is under control, the rest of man is also under control. When it is not controlled, great damage can be done to a man and to all of those he influences.

Verse 5

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

Even so the tongue is a little member: "Even so" (houtos) is an adverb meaning "in this manner." The tongue compares favorably with the bridle and the rudder in size and importance. "Member" (melos) is a term that was commonly used of the human body (Romans 6:13; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:22). When compared to the head, chest, arm, or the leg, the tongue is a very small thing. Yet the importance of a member should not be based upon size.

and boasteth great things: Aware of its great power, the tongue "boasteth great things." "Boasteth" (auchei) means "to lift up the neck, hence to boast" (Thayer 87). This term occurs only here in the New Testament. The tongue is personified as one who swaggers around with his chest out, pretending to be big, and arrogantly making boastful claims. The verb is present tense, indicating this is the continual practice of the tongue. The danger of boasting is not an occasional one but one that may constantly be present. The phrase "I am the greatest," while made popular by Muhammed Ali, may actually be an old designation for the importance the tongue places on itself.

Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth: At this point, James inserts a third illustration by mentioning that the great forest fire comes from a tiny spark. "Behold" (idou) again calls attention to what will be said. "Matter" (hulen) refers to "a forest, a wood; felled wood, fuel" (Thayer 636). It would be better rendered "forest" as the NIV translates this sentence, "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark." It is interesting that the adjectives "great" and "little" are from the same Greek word and yet are translated differently. They are from helikos, which calls attention to the size of something. The context will determine how the word should be translated; and, in this case, the spark is "little" but the forest it affects is "great." "Kindleth" (anaptei) simply means to light or set on fire. Many of the great fires that have destroyed thousands of acres, homes, and even lives are often started by small sparks. It seems as if almost every year we hear of great fires in California that do great damage. In many cases, these fires are started by something as small as lightning hitting a tree or someone carelessly tossing a burning cigarette out of their car. The story is even told of a great fire in Chicago that destroyed hundreds of homes and was supposedly caused by a cow kicking over a lantern. This illustration is similar to the first in that a small object exerts a power out of proportion to its small size. It differs slightly in that in this illustration the small object causes great damage.

MacGorman offers a suitable conclusion to verses 3-5:

In remarkably few words and with aptly chosen illustrations James depicted the power of the tongue. Small like the bit, rudder, and spark or tiny flame, it wields a power all out of proportion to its size. Thus teachers, who are particularly vulnerable to the temptations of abusive utterance, and all others, are reminded of the awesome power of the tongue (32).

Verse 6

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

Of all of the verses in James, this one ranks as one of the hardest to understand. The difficulties occur in translation, punctuation, and interpretation.

And the tongue is a fire: James’ reference to the tongue as a fire is indicative of its destructive power. Fire can be the friend of man when it is controlled--he can use it to cook with and to keep himself warm--but fire can also become his enemy when it gets out of control. An uncontrolled fire has the ability to devour and destroy everything in its path. Likewise the tongue can be the friend of man when he uses it properly in communication with one another and in service to God. When used improperly, the tongue can become man’s enemy because it, too, can devour and destroy everything in its path. Solomon refers to this same metaphor when he says, "An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire" (Proverbs 16:27).

a world of iniquity: This phrase marks the point in this verse where the reader first begins to run into problems. The problem is in determining if it should be connected with the words before it or the words after it. Since the Greek text did not come with punctuation marks, the translators have added them. Some translations connect the phrase with the words preceding it, regarding it as being in apposition to the first phrase; thus they end the thought with a colon or a semi-colon. The NASB renders the passage, "And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity." The KJV renders the passage in the same way. Other translators connect this phrase to the words after it: "so is the tongue among our members." There it would operate as a predicate nominative. The RSV renders the passage, "The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members." The ASV also supports this rendering, which is probably the correct one.

"A world of iniquity" may also be translated "a world of evil" (NIV) or "an unrighteous world" (RSV). Concerning the word "world" (kosmos), Hiebert writes,

It is commonly used to denote the world or universe, viewed as an orderly system. Thus, James stamps the tongue as a vast system or organism connected with ’iniquity,’ that which is unjust and unrighteous in character. The genitive ’of iniquity’ may mean a world "composed of iniquity (genitive of substance) or ’characterized by iniquity’ (genitive of quality) (The Epistle of James 214).

so is the tongue among our members: In this statement, the word "is" (kathistatai) means "to show or exhibit one’s self, come forward as" (Thayer 314). Its present tense form indicates it is a continual practice of the tongue, and being in the middle voice shows that it performs the action upon itself. "Members" (melesin) is the same word as used in verse 5 where it refers to the human body. The phrase may be understood as follows: "the tongue continually makes itself a world of evil among our members." In view of how closely connected the tongue is with all forms of sin, we can see that James’ statement here is no exaggeration. No other member of the body plays such a role in sin as does the tongue. It has the ability to verbalize every evil thought or action and cause tremendous grief and untold damage.

that it defileth the whole body: "It defileth the whole body" continues the list of charges against the tongue. "Defileth" (he spilousa) is a present participle meaning to corrupt, stain, or spot. It occurs only twice in the New Testament, here and in Judges 1:23. The present tense indicates that defilement by the tongue is a continual problem. It is the first of three participles used in this verse to describe the tongue. The other two are "setteth on fire" (phlogizousa) and "is set on fire" (phlogizomene). These latter two participles are used to describe further how the defiling takes place. The tongue has the power, unfortunately, to corrupt the entire person. It can stain a man to such a degree that whatever good may be in him is unnoticed because of previous malicious speech.

setteth on fire the course of nature: This statement is another of the difficult phrases found within this verse. "Setteth on fire" (phlogizousa) is a present participle, again referring to a continual process. "Course" (trochon) literally means a "wheel" (Thayer 631), and "nature" (geneseos) means "existence, life" (Thayer 112). It is translated as the "wheel of nature" (ASV), the "cycle of nature" (RSV), and even the "whole course of his life" (NIV). These words have been variously understood as referring to: (1) the entirety of life, (2) the ups and downs of life, or (3) the cyclical repetition of life (Barclay 87). It seems most likely that this "wheel of life" is simply a figurative expression for human life. The tongue has the ability to destroy or set on fire the human life. The tongue has the power to destroy not only the one who possesses it but also all of those with whom it comes into contact. The parent who verbally abuses his children can scar them for life. The spouse who constantly degrades his mate can ruin a marriage. The congregation where gossip and hatred are present can find itself unable to carry on its mission effectively. Cities and even entire nations (such as Nazi Germany under Hitler) can find themselves so swayed by false speech that it brings about their ruin. And often the ruin of a people is the result of one of the smallest members of the body: the tongue.

it is set on fire of hell: Here James describes the actual source of the tongue’s destructive power. "Is set on fire" (phlogizomene) is a present passive participle, with the present tense showing that this is an habitual setting on fire and the passive mood indicating that an outside force is causing the action. In this case, the tongue is set on fire by "hell" (geennes). The tongue allows itself to become a tool of hell. Certainly God does not cause the improper speech to come out of people’s mouths. The devil knows well the destructive power of the tongue and gladly uses it in his arsenal of weapons to cause mankind to fall.

The word translated "hell" has an interesting origin. When transliterated into English, it becomes gehenna. It was originally a reference to the valley of Hinnom, located just south of the city of Jerusalem (VOS 1183). It was here Ahaz sacrificed children through fire to the god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3), as also did Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6). Albert Barnes describes this terrible practice:

In that worship, the ancient Jewish writers inform us that the idol of Moloch was of brass, adorned with a royal crown, having the head of a calf, and his arms extended, as if to embrace anyone. When they offered children to him, they heated the statue within by a great fire; and when it was burning hot, they put the miserable child into his arms, where it was consumed by the heat; and, in order that the cries of the child might not be heard, They made a great noise with drums and other instruments about the idol (23).

Josiah came along and stopped this evil practice and in the process "defiled" the valley by covering the sites with human bones (2 Kings 23:10-14). Jeremiah prophesies that because of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem the valley would receive more defilement with the dead being buried there. He also mentions the bodies of the dead will become the food of birds (Jeremiah 7:32-34). After the return from Babylonian captivity, the Jews buried their trash in this valley, bringing even more defilement to the place. The scholars are divided over whether the Jews kept a constant fire burning in this valley. Woods (166) and Barnes (23) contend they did, but Lenski (608) and McGarvey (54) say there is no evidence for such a practice. McGarvey is probably correct when he says,

There is not the slightest authentic evidence that in the days of Jesus any fire was kept burning there; nor is there any evidence at all that casting a criminal into fire there was ever employed by the Jews as a punishment. It was the fire of idolatrous worship in the offering of human sacrifice which had given the valley its bad notoriety (54).

Jesus uses this valley to refer symbolically to the future punishment of the wicked (Matthew 5:22). This literal valley thus became a fitting symbol for hell and its punishment. Hell (Gehenna) is a place for hideous punishment, suffering, pain, and extreme defilement.

While the verse may be difficult to understand at first, the meaning soon becomes clear. The tongue can cause great damage to all that it comes into contact with because--if not controlled--it becomes a tool of hell.

Verse 7

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

In this verse and the next one, James presents a contrast between what man can tame and what he cannot tame. The ability of man to control the animal world is an amazing accomplishment. He is able to tame animals much larger and more powerful than he is. This superiority over the animal world is a part of God’s plan as He states in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea: "Kind" (phusis) is defined by Thayer as "the sum of innate properties and powers by which one person differs from others" (661). Here it refers to the different natural traits that separate the various groups within the animal kingdom. James lists four categories of animals that have been tamed. "Beasts" (therion) refers to four-footed land animals. "Birds" (peteinon) refers to flying or winged animals. "Serpents" (herpeton) refers to creeping things such as reptiles. "Things in the sea" (enalion) refers to marine animals.

is tamed: "Is tamed" (damazetai) is a present passive verb meaning to restrain or curb. The present tense indicates the continuous process of man’s taming or restraining animals. Outside of James 3:7-8, the word is found only in Mark 5:4 where it refers to the demon-possessed man who could not be tamed.

and hath been tamed of mankind: "Hath been tamed" (dedamastai) is a perfect passive verb, with the perfect tense referring to completed action with existing results. These animals have been tamed in the past and continue in that tamed state. No doubt James is speaking of domestic animals in this latter case. "Of mankind" literally means "by the nature the human." The point is that man is in control of the animal world. He has already tamed some animals and is even in the process of taming others.

The psalmist describes this situation by saying, "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas" (Psalms 8:6-8).

Verse 8

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

But the tongue can no man tame: While man has subdued all forms of animal life, there is one force that he has not been able to conquer: his tongue. He may harness this destructive force for many years and, in a time of weakness, allow it to escape just momentarily and then suffer the consequences of its destructive power. Every individual, no doubt, can look back on his life and see instances in which he wishes he had not said what he did or at least had said things differently.

"Can" (dunatai) is a present tense verb indicating this problem of taming the tongue is a continual one. "No man" literally means "no one of men." James is telling his readers that this problem of taming the tongue is a universal one. No man should think he is so strong that he will never be bothered by this problem.

it is an unruly evil: The adjective "unruly" (akatastaton) occurs only once in the New Testament and means unstable or restless. It pictures the tongue as a wild animal, caged and constantly pacing back and forth, waiting for the opportunity to escape. If not constantly controlled, it escapes and brings about great damage. "Evil" (kakon) refers to that which is troublesome, injurious, or destructive (Thayer 320).

full of deadly poison: James continues the description of the uncontrolled tongue by this phrase "full of deadly poison." "Deadly" (thanatephorou) means death-bringing, and some commentators believe it refers to the damage inflicted upon individuals by poisonous snakes (Woods 171). The psalmist pictures the uncontrolled tongue as being like a poisonous snake (Psalms 58:4; Psalms 140:3). James parallels those who slander, lie, and misuse the tongue with a poisonous snake slithering around in hidden places waiting to bite any unfortunate victim. Their words, just as the snake’s poison, may bring death to the unfortunate party.

There are several sins that involve the tongue, and the Christian should learn to recognize and avoid them. Gossip or talebearing is one such sin. Solomon warns, "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly" (Proverbs 18:8). Gossip causes great pain, especially to the innocent. Talebearers are quick to spot the flaws in others, and then widely spread those flaws. They are not too concerned about the damage inflicted upon the victims of the gossip. It does not take long to see the talebearer is often insecure, and his putting down of others seems to make him feel better.

Someone has prepared a nine ingredient recipe for gossip as follows:

1. Take a harmless event.

2. Add one ugly motive.

3. Stir in your opinion.

4. Add a suspicious tone.

5. Put in a measure of "they say."

6. Add imaginary details to increase the taste.

7. Sprinkle well with a spice of rumor.

8. Heat slowly over the flame of envy.

9. Serve secretly and as often as possible to anyone who will give attention.

As Christians, we should question our motives for spreading gossip. Do we enjoy discussing evil things with others? Do we like to hear reports of a scandal? Do we judge others with only superficial evidence? Do we feel guilty when we talk about others? Do we refuse to give others the benefit of the doubt when we hear rumors concerning them? An affirmative answer to those questions indicates that we have a problem with gossip.

The wise man, Solomon, has many words for the talebearer. He writes, "He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: Therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips (Proverbs 20:19). These words point out the futility in revealing innermost thoughts to the talebearer because he has no scruples to keep him from revealing these thoughts to others. He often appears to be a friend but will not hesitate to betray another’s confidence. Solomon also says, "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer the strife ceaseth" (Proverbs 26:20). Just as it takes wood to keep a fire going, it also takes a talebearer to keep trouble stirred. It is a sobering thought to reflect on how many problems in the church can be linked to gossip. The adage "If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all" remains good advice for the church.

Unjust criticism is another sin of the tongue, Positive, constructive criticism is a benefit to the Christian. It points out his mistakes in a positive way and helps in his service to God. Sometimes, though, criticism is unfair and unjust. Unjust criticism does not build up but, rather, it tears down. "Armchair quarterbacks" are quick to point out the mistakes of others. When Mary anoints Jesus with oil, Judas and others are quick to criticize. Matthew records, "But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, to what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for so much, and given to the poor" (Matthew 26:8-9) There is always someone ready to criticize another, even when good is being accomplished.

Grumbling is another sin that involves the tongue. Paul writes, "Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer" (1 Corinthians 10:10). Several times the children of Israel grumbled about their conditions as they wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 14:1-3; Numbers 16:41-50). As a result of their grumbling, terrible plagues came upon them. Paul encourages the Christian to learn from the mistakes of these people and to understand the displeasure God feels toward those who murmur or grumble. There will always be those who grumble and are never satisfied. These individuals often spend their time grumbling over the nonessential while leaving undone that which is important. Jesus describes this type of individual as one who will "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:24).

It is a sad fact that much of the grumbling in the church is directed toward its leaders. Such behavior should not be too surprising since the people murmured even against Jesus. John points out, "And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, he is a good man: others said, nay: but he deceiveth the people" (John 7:12). Those who take an active part in the work of the church realize this situation is an unfortunate by-product of spiritual service. It is easy for spectators to grumble and find fault in those who work.

What is ironic is that those who are so quick to grumble and find fault often are the very ones who need improvement in their own lives. As Jesus points out, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:5). Self-examination is an important step in the cure for grumbling. Active service to the Lord also helps to stop grumbling. An active Christian does not have the time to spend finding fault in others. As Paul says, "Do all things without murmuring and disputings" (Philippians 2:14) (Goad 367,373).

Lying is another sin that comes from the tongue. Solomon lists the "lying tongue" and "a false witness that speaketh lies" as among the seven abominations the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). John warns that all liars "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). Ananias and Sapphira can testify to the seriousness of lying (Acts 5:1-10).

Individuals may lie for several reasons. One might lie in order to conceal a prior wrong he may have committed. A person might lie in order to deceive another or to better himself. Some have hardened their consciences into believing they do not lie when they actually do. Others tell what are commonly called "white lies," believing these untruths to be harmless. Regardless of the motive, speaking untruths constitutes lying, and lying remains a sin of the tongue.

Flattery can be another sin of the tongue. It is right to give honor where honor is due, but it is wrong to praise insincerely, which is what the flatterer does. The flatterer uses his tongue to make others seem more attractive than they really are. He generally has a selfish motive when approaching others with smooth words. Solomon warns, "A man that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet" (Proverbs 29:5).

The sin of "sowing discord among brethren" is another abomination that involves the tongue. This sin is also listed among the seven abominations that God hates (Proverbs 6:19). It is easy to assume automatically the worst about others without first investigating to see if the allegations are true. Christians should reach the point in their spiritual growth to where they are willing to give their brethren the benefit of the doubt when certain assertions are made. Sowing discord includes such practices as continuing to stir up strife among brethren, attempting to destroy the reputation of others, and even causing brethren to question the faithfulness of others. Many problems today that trouble the church could be cured if this sin of sowing discord could be stopped.

While James has emphasized the great destructive power of the tongue and man’s inability to control it, the Bible also addresses another part of the problem: those who listen to the destructive forces released by the unbridled tongue. This destructive power is actually diminished by those who refuse to hear the poisonous words of the slanderer, liar, and gossip. Jesus warns, "Take heed what ye hear" (Mark 4:24). We are to be careful of the words that we hear. The responsibility to control the ear is just as great as the responsibility to control the tongue. While an individual may not be able to control the speech of another, he does not have to stay and listen to his speech. The talebearer and gossip become miserable when no one listens to their slanderous words. A Christian’s greatest contribution to controlling gossip is to refuse to listen to it. The message on a church sign once wisely stated, "You can’t have gossiping lips without first having gossiping ears."

Verse 9

Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

Therewith bless we God, even the Father: James now presents the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the tongue. In one breath it can bless the Lord and in the next curse men. "Therewith" (en autei) is used to describe the tongue as the instrument by which we bless or curse.

"Bless" (eulogoumen) is a present tense verb meaning to praise, indicating a continual blessing of the Father. Using the tongue in this way certainly has to be its greatest use. The KJV uses the word "God" (theon), whereas the evidence points to "Lord" (kurion) as the better translation (Metzger 682). The phrase may be translated "the Lord and Father."

and therewith curse we men: "Curse" (katarometha) is another present tense verb, indicating a continual cursing. It is a compound word from kata, meaning down, and aroumai, meaning to curse. The picture is of one in a higher position, looking down on others and cursing them. This attitude is not uncommon among people even of our own generation. Those who belittle others generally are trying to make themselves feel more important.

which are made after the similitude of God: "Are made" (gegonotas) is a perfect participle, with the perfect tense pointing to an action already accomplished with existing results. It can also be translated "have been made." "Similitude" (homoiosin) means "likeness or image." This reference is to the fact that men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Originally made in God’s image, he still continues to possess His likeness. It is this likeness to God that raises man above animals. Man has a moral and eternal nature the animal world does not possess. Because of that nature, there is great danger in speaking evil against men: speaking evil against men is actually speaking evil against God.

Verse 10

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing: James emphasizes here that the inconsistency of blessing and cursing coming out of the same mouth. "Proceedeth" (exerchetai) is a present tense verb meaning "to come out of" and indicating a continual condition. How many times have we made a statement and then a short time later made just an opposite statement? Such is one of the weaknesses of the tongue. Peter had this same problem. Just before the betrayal of Jesus, he boasts, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (Matthew 26:35). Within just a few short hours, however, Peter denied the Lord three times, even to the point of cursing and swearing (Matthew 26:69-75). Peter fell victim to the same problem that James is discussing: the weakness and inconsistency of the tongue.

Barclay describes this problem by saying,

Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with impatient irritability at his own family. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on Sunday and to curse a squad of workmen on Monday. It has not been unknown for a man to utter the most pious sentiments one day and to repeat the most questionable stories the next. 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 tongue (90).

My brethren, these things ought not to be: "My brethren, these things ought not so to be" contains the rebuke of James for this inconsistent tongue. "Ought" (chre) is found only here in the New Testament. It carries the idea of being appropriate or fit. His point is these two contradictory manners of speech are not appropriate or fit for Christians.

"To be" (ginesthai) is a present infinitive and means "so to keep on happening." James says the practice of inconsistency of speech should be stopped. While these words may not sound too harsh, they should be considered as a rebuke.

Verse 11

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

James returns to his familiar practice of illustrating spiritual truths through examples from nature. In this case he compares the inconsistent tongue to a fountain or a spring. While man may have trouble being consistent, nature does not. When one comes to a fountain, he may find sweet water or he may find bitter water; but he will not find both at the same time.

fountain: "Fountain" is from pege, which is an old word for "spring." Palestine was full of springs where tired travelers could find cool water to drink. Some of those springs, especially the ones close to the Dead Sea, were not fit for human consumption. No doubt, the original readers of James were familiar with that situation. "Send forth" (bruei), found only here in the New Testament, means to bubble up or gush forth. "Water" is not in the original, having been added to help the understanding of the sentence. "Sweet" (gluku) refers to clear, unpolluted, drinkable water. Incidentally, our word "glucose" comes from the same root word as does this word. "Bitter" (pikron) refers to that water which is undrinkable. This word is found only twice in the New Testament (here and in James 3:14). It comes from a root word meaning to cut or prick.

The word meti, which is not translated, is found in the original. It indicates a negative answer is expected. It was common knowledge that a spring did not put off sweet and bitter water at the same time. The traveler knew that if he came to a spring that put off bitter water, it would not soon begin to give sweet water. He would have to find water elsewhere.

Verse 12

Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

James asks these questions in such a way that a negative answer is expected. It is a truth of nature that like produces like. Whatever a man plants, that is what he will harvest. The fig tree produces figs, not olive berries. The olive tree would be the one to produce olives. The vine produces grapes, not figs. With these illustrations, James continues to portray the inconsistency of the tongue. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses this same figure of a tree producing only its own kind of fruit. Jesus says, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matthew 7:16-18).

James then returns to the familiar illustration of the water producing spring. As mentioned in the previous verse, many of the springs in the area of the Dead Sea gave bitter water. It was impossible for one producing undrinkable water suddenly to start producing sweet water. The springs that produced the bad water were remembered and avoided.

James does not draw out the inevitable conclusion with these illustrations, leaving the readers to do so. The inconsistency of the same tongue in both blessing and cursing should be obvious to all. Man attempts to do what is impossible in nature. Lenski says,

The implied application to the tongue is the point that it will produce according to its nature and not otherwise, and that it can have only one nature and not two or more. If it then blesses and curses out of the same mouth, something is wrong (613).

Verse 13

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.

At this point James leaves his discussion of the tongue and turns his attention to wisdom. There are two types of wisdom that he will discuss: the wisdom from the earth and the wisdom from above. He continues to address these words to teachers, although they are applicable to all Christians. It would be easy for certain ones to look at his words on the tongue and say, "These are good words for those who need it." The tendency for most of us is to think that the Bible is talking to others and not to us. It is easy for us to think that we are wise and others are the ones who need this instruction. James warns of a false wisdom and points out the characteristics of true wisdom.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you: James asks the question, "Who is a wise and knowledgeable man?" While "wise" and "knowledgeable" may appear to be similar in meaning, there is a slight difference. "Wise" (sophos) is defined by Thayer as, "one who in action is governed by piety and integrity" (582). "Endued with knowledge" (epistemon) occurs only here in the New Testament and refers to one who has understanding, experience, and intelligence. The basic difference between wisdom and knowledge is that while one studies to obtain knowledge, he prays to God for wisdom (James 1:5). Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge. It is possible for an individual to possess knowledge yet not have wisdom. Vincent compares the two terms saying,

In this passage sophos would seem to be the broader, more general, and perhaps, more dignified term of the two, as denoting the habit or quality, while epistemon indicates the special development and intelligent application of the quality to particular things (359).

The first term, "wise," may denote a moral quality while the second term may be intellectual (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 227).

let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom: "Let him shew" (deixato) is an aorist imperative meaning, "to give the evidence or proof of a thing" (Thayer 127). The aorist imperative is a command that has to do with action that has not started. "Conversation" (anastrophes) refers to one’s behavior or manner of life. James is actually saying, "You need to start showing your good works." Evidently there were those who claimed to be wise, but they did not have good works in their lives to sustain those claims. The proof of their claims would not come from their words but from the works of their daily lives.

"Meekness" (prauteti) is produced in the life of the individual by "wisdom" (sophias). Over the years, words have the tendency to change in meaning. Such is the case with meekness. The world views the one who is meek as being timid, weak, and submissive. The New Testament uses the word, however, to refer to strength under control rather than to weakness. For example, it describes an animal being tamed for man’s use in the same way our wills must be tamed and placed under the control of God. Our Lord was a meek man (Matthew 11:29), meaning He controlled His strength. It is significant that the one who hears the word is to be meek (James 1:21), and now James instructs the teacher to develop the same quality. The importance of meekness is seen in that Peter lists it as a mark of true discipleship (1 Peter 3:15), and Paul calls it a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Having such meekness is evidence that one possesses true wisdom.

Wisdom is not so much proved by what one says but by what he does in his daily life. The individual who feels he is wise but whose life is not characterized by good works, is, according to James, not wise. Thus we again see James emphasize the importance of good works just as he does in chapter two. He merely reinforces the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

Verse 14

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

But if ye have bitter envying: "If" (ei) introduces a first class conditional sentence, meaning that it is assumed as being true. Unfortunately, the negative characteristics described here are a reality. "Ye have" (echete) is a present tense verb indicating this is not an isolated but a continual problem.

The first of these negative qualities is "bitter envying." "Bitter" (pikron) is the same adjective as found in verse 11 where it referred to bad water. It is used here metaphorically to refer to a harsh and hateful attitude. "Envying" (zelon) means jealousy. This word is used in the New Testament in both a positive (John 2:17) and negative sense (Acts 5:17). The context determines which. Our word "zeal" comes from this word. It is possible for our zeal to be either proper and good or misguided and wrong. Obviously in this context, with the adjective "bitter" accompanying it, it refers to that which is bad. Thayer calls it "an envious and contentious rivalry" (271). This description points to the importance of controlling zeal. Zeal is a wonderful quality that every Christian should possess, yet zeal must have knowledge with it (Romans 10:2). An uncontrolled zeal becomes a dangerous problem. Zeal, not properly channelled, can quickly degenerate into this bitter rivalry. If James still has teachers in mind, he is referring to that jealous state whereby each looks upon the other with distrust and, at the same time, tries to draw some followers to his own side.

and strife in your hearts: The second negative quality is that of "strife" (eritheian). Before New Testament times, it was found only in the writing of Aristotle where it meant, "a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means" (Arndt and Gingrich 309). It describes one who puts himself forward and one who has a partisan and factious spirit (Thayer 249). Hiebert adds, "The basic thought of the term seems to be that of one who, for personal advantage, works to promote a definite cause in an unethical manner. It denotes a party spirit, or factiousness" (The Epistle of James 229). It is also translated "selfish ambition" (NASB). It refers to the individual who stoops to questionable means to make sure his way is chosen. He also will make sure he is the center of attention.

While teachers, preachers, and church leaders may be especially tempted in this area, every Christian should take heed of these warnings. It is a sad fact that many church problems are caused by personalities, bitter envy, and selfish ambition. The church at Corinth suffered from these problems (1 Corinthians 1:10-15). One causing discord among the brethren is one of the abominations the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:19).

These negative qualities are found "in your hearts" (en tei kardiai), James says. The scriptures often picture the heart as the mind of man. With the heart, man thinks (Proverbs 23:7), reasons (Mark 2:6), understands (Matthew 13:15), believes (Romans 10:10), purposes (2 Corinthians 9:7), and even obeys (Romans 6:17). Thus, the heart refers to man’s intellectual, emotional, and rational activity.

glory not: "Glory" (katakauchasthe) is a compound word from the preposition kata, meaning down, and the verb kauchaomai, meaning to boast. Thayer defines it as, "to glory against, to exult over, to boast one’s self to the injury of" (331). It pictures an individual with an air of superiority looking down on someone who he thinks is below his dignity. The same word is used in James 2:13 concerning mercy’s "boasting" over judgment. It is a present imperative (command) with a negative (me), which signifies they are to stop an act already in progress. This boasting or glorying is already occurring, and it must be stopped before it damages the church.

lie not against the truth: "Lie" (pseudesthe) is another present imperative with the meaning, "deceive one by a lie, to lie to" (Thayer 675). It is middle voice, meaning that it is self-deception. This act is another one already in progress that is to be stopped. It means "stop deceiving yourself regarding the truth." These individuals, who were not meek but rather controlled by envy and strife, deceived themselves against the truth. In their own twisted way, they thought they were obeying the truth; but they were not. The one who thinks he is obeying the truth, when in reality he is not, is actually opposing the truth.

Verse 15

This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

This wisdom descendeth not from above: "This wisdom" refers to that which has just been described in the last two verses. It is characterized by a lack of meekness, along with bitter envy and strife. In this passage James continues to give more characteristics of this wrong type of wisdom. Just because someone is said to have wisdom does not mean that it is the right kind.

The wrong wisdom "descendeth not from above." This phrase indicates that its source is not from God because it is not the pure and helpful wisdom that comes from Him. "Descendeth" (katerchomene) is a present participle, with the present tense indicating this false wisdom never comes from heaven. "From above" (anothen) is the same adverb used in James 1:17 and also in James 3:17. The thought is that wisdom that carries these negative characteristics should not be thought of as coming from God. Wisdom is seen through its fruits. If the fruit is bad, then the source is bad. James then presents three additional characteristics of this false wisdom.

but is earthly: It is "earthly" (epigeios) in contrast to heavenly, so it refers to that which is of this world. This wisdom views life only from the world’s viewpoint and does not take into consideration the wishes of God. Its purpose is to help man advance in this world. The wise man warns of this wisdom when he says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Paul also describes this wisdom in detail in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 where he says that God had made foolish the wisdom of this world. Man has been warned not to place too much confidence in that which the world offers. Friendship with the world causes one to be an enemy of God (James 4:4), and this world and all in it will pass away (1 John 2:15-17).

sensual: This false wisdom is also sensual (psuchike), an adjective coming from psuche, which refers to the soul. Man is said to have a body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). When contrasted with the word "spirit," the word "soul" means life. The spirit is the immortal nature of man while the soul refers to that life which he shares with the animal (Psalms 78:50). In this sense the soul refers to the lower nature of man, the natural man as opposed to the spiritual man. Man can live his life on two levels: a higher spiritual level or the baser natural level. He can live on a higher level by becoming a Christian and developing into the image of Christ. This level is characterized by having the fruit of the Spirit in his life (Galatians 5:22-23). He can also live on a lower level, which is to live as the world does without being guided by spiritual truths.

The other individual (the one James refers to in verse 15) is controlled by his natural feelings. James uses the word "sensual" to refer to his character. It is also translated "natural" (NASB) and "unspiritual" (RSV, NIV). This wisdom is "natural" or "unspiritual" because it does not take into account the spiritual truths of God; rather, it appeals to the carnal, unconverted man.

devilish: A third characteristic of this wisdom is that it is "devilish" (daimoniodes). Thayer defines this word as, "resembling or proceeding from an evil spirit, demon-like" (124). Rather than being God-like and producing love, peace, and fellowship, this wisdom is demon-like, producing bitter envy and selfish ambition. Just as demons are the enemies of the truth, so is this type of wisdom an enemy. This wisdom accomplishes what the demons want accomplished--divisions among God’s people, hatred, and heartache. In similar fashion, Paul warns us that false doctrine is also demonic in nature (1 Timothy 4:1).

This type of wisdom may be summarized as follows:

Its sphere of activity is in the animal nature, and its motives are of the basest type. It seeks for the gratification of the flesh, and its chief characteristic is pride. It will resort to anything to accomplish its desired ends, even to effecting division among the Lord’s people. It may enable a man to be shrewd, cunning, adroit, and to attract the attention of other worldly-wise people, but it is wholly foreign to that spirit which motivated the lowly Nazarene, and which he desires to see in his followers today. It can lead one down only to the source from which it comes, and never up to God (Woods 188).

Verse 16

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

For where envying and strife is: Paul tells us that "whatever a man sows he will reap" (Galatians 6:7). If a man sows evil, he should expect to receive evil. This verse tells us of the fruit produced by this false wisdom. "Envying" and "strife" are the same words as found in verse 14 and express the same idea.

confusion: "Confusion" (akatastasia) means "instability, a state of disorder, disturbance, confusion" (Thayer 21). James uses the adjective form of this word in James 1:8 when he refers to the double-minded man being "unstable" in all he does. He also uses it in James 3:8 to refer to the tongue being a "restless" evil. Here it refers to the disorder, turmoil, and disarray that comes from this false wisdom. Instead of bringing about the desired unity of God’s people, this wisdom brings about evil suspicions and distrust. It causes those who are striving to be obedient to God’s word to be branded as legalists and unloving. This wisdom often clouds the picture and tries to make it difficult to know which direction to go in following the wishes of God. It tries to make that which is right look wrong and that which is wrong look right. Certainly this practice does not come from God. As Paul says, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

and every evil work: This wisdom also produces "every evil work." "Evil" (phaulon) is a word that means worthless or of no account, denoting that from which nothing good ever comes. It came to refer to that which is bad, base, or wicked (Vincent 359). The reference is to all forms of evil. Every evil practice can be traced back to this earthly, sensual, and devilish wisdom for its source. God cannot be blamed for these problems. As James has already pointed out, God cannot be tempted to do evil, and He does not tempt any man to do wrong (James 1:13). This false wisdom merely provides the proper soil and nutrients for confusion and every evil work to take root and flourish.

Verse 17

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

James now begins to describe the second type of wisdom, the one that is to be desired. This wisdom is not acquired through human means. It is not something that man acquires on his own. It is said to be "from above," indicating it comes from God. James explains to the Christian early in his epistle that he should ask God for this wisdom (James 1:5) and that every good and perfect gift comes down from God (James 1:17). At this point, James lists seven characteristics of this beneficial wisdom.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure: The first characteristic of this wisdom is that it is "first pure." This trait is first because the other characteristics come from it. "Pure" simply means to be free from every fault and stain. It can be used in the sense of dirty clothes being washed clean or melting gold to remove the impurities so that it will be pure. If this wisdom is not freed from fault, it will be no better than the worldly wisdom. If it is not pure, then the other characteristics will be meaningless. This word "pure" (hagne) is closely related to the word "holy" (hagios). In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees considered religious purity simply to mean keeping the outward commands of the law. In their twisted way of thinking, the heart had nothing to do with purity. A man could have evil thoughts and desires, but as long as he was religious outwardly he could still be pure.

Jesus emphasizes that purity must include the entire man. On the mount He says, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). His outward life as well as his inner feelings and motivations must be freed from sin. Even a casual glance at the life of Jesus reveals that He lived a life of purity. His actions and His motives were freed from the stain of sin.

The scriptures admonish us to be like Him in this respect. John says, "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). Barclay adds, "The true wisdom is so cleansed of all ulterior motives and of self that it has become pure enough to see God. Worldly wisdom might well wish to escape God’s sight" (95).

This wisdom is pure because it is also connected with God’s word. In Psalms 12:6, David says, "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Solomon also states in Proverbs 30:5-6, "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." God’s word is perfect and needs no human improvement. It serves as the light to guide one to Heaven (Psalms 119:105).

peaceable: The next characteristic of true wisdom is that it is "peaceable" (eirenike). One of the great themes of the Bible is that of peace. Paul begins his letters by wishing peace upon the readers. Many of the letters also end with the wish for peace. It is important to understand that peace is not the mere absence of strife and hostility. Two individuals can fight bitterly, call a truce, and yet let hate continue to smolder in their hearts. This condition is not peace. True peace is also a positive force (not just quitting something but also doing something constructive). To bring about peace, we must rid ourselves of hate, suspicion, and fear and replace them with love, patience, and understanding.

Peace can further refer to the right relationships between people. First man should strive to have peace with God through the forgiveness of his sins (Romans 5:1), and then he should seek peace with his fellowman (Romans 12:18). He should not imagine he is superior to others, nor should he hurt others with his words. He must not be childish and always demand his own way. Instead, he must recognize the feelings of others and, at times, sacrifice his own rights (1 Corinthians 8).

Man should also strive to have peace within himself (Philippians 4:7). This type of peace is not some mysterious emotion falling upon man at God’s whim but, rather, a condition of inner calmness knowing all is well with his soul. True wisdom, then, serves to break down hostilities between all parties and bring man closer to God and all others.

While we all desire peace within a congregation, it is not to be peace "at any cost." James points out this wisdom from above is "first pure, then peaceable." This order is for the good of the Christian. True peace is built upon the truth. Solomon emphasizes this point as he writes, "Buy the truth, and sell it not" (Proverbs 23:23). Truth cannot be sacrificed in order to have peace.

gentle: Being "gentle" (epieikes) is another characteristic of true wisdom. The exact meaning of this word is difficult to translate into English. Thayer defines it as "equitable, fair, mild, gentle" (238). It is also translated as "considerate" (NIV), "reasonable" (Rotherham), "forbearing" (Moffet), and "courteous" (Weymouth). Paul uses this word in Philippians 4:5 to encourage the Christian to let his "moderation" be known to all men. Christians are to be "gentle" to all men (Titus 3:2). This same word is used as one of the qualifications of the elder (1 Timothy 3:3).

The word carries with it the idea of being considerate toward others. That attitude is not one that demands its rights but is willing to suffer wrong on occasions even when in the right (1 Peter 2:20). Jesus’ suffering unjustly at the hands of His enemies is a good example of the kind of "gentle" attitude we should possess. He did not fight back and demand His rights. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are products of our environment. The current spirit in America is that of selfishness and a "me first attitude." If an individual is accidentally injured, he often sues the unfortunate party for millions. The courts are swamped with lawsuits of complainers who are demanding their rights. While some of these complaints may be justified, many are not and are only examples of the selfishness of man. Unfortunately, this spirit often finds its way into the church. Christians will rationalize that because someone has done them wrong, they have the right to do the same back to them. Some will demand their rights regardless of the feelings of others. When applied to our lives properly, this peaceful attitude removes selfishness and leads us to a greater consideration of others.

easy to be entreated: James here presents another characteristic of wisdom. "Easy to be entreated" (eupeithes) is found only once in the New Testament and means "easily obeying, compliant" (Thayer 261). It is also translated as "open to reason" (RSV), "willing to yield" (Goodspeed), and "ready to be convinced" (Knox). It refers to that individual whose mind is not closed and is willing to listen to others. He knows that truth has nothing to fear from hearing other viewpoints, even though he does not accept everything he hears as being the truth. He knows, too, that he is not to be carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). But, he is not so proud as to think he knows all truth and someone else cannot possibly teach him anything. He will patiently listen to others; if truth is presented, he will accept it; but if error is presented, he will reject it. It is extremely frustrating to speak to a "religious know-it-all." So this type of wisdom knows when to listen to others and consider their viewpoint. This individual will not react rashly toward someone who approaches him with a correction or a new idea.

full of mercy and good fruits: "Full of mercy" (meste eleous) and "good fruits" (karpon agathon) continue the characteristics of true wisdom. True wisdom asserts itself in our actions toward others. The basic meaning of mercy is that of compassion for the unfortunate. When Jesus says, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy," He is teaching something new and different for that age. It was a time of general cruelty and unconcern for the unfortunate. While it was possible to feel compassion for those suffering unjustly, the consensus of the world was that mercy was not to be shown to those who were suffering because it was their own fault. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity can be found in the Christian’s attitude toward others. The Christian should show mercy to anyone suffering, even those who bring it on themselves. The gospel writers often portray Jesus as looking upon the crowds with compassion (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 20:34).

The adjective "full" indicates there is an abundance of mercy in this wisdom and not a shortage. Christians should be liberal with mercy.

Mercy is not a mere feeling. It is an action, so James adds that this wisdom is full of "good fruits." The New Testament often uses the word "fruit" to indicate the good works that should come with faith. Jesus mentions that a good tree brings forth good fruit and that one can know a man by the fruit (works) he produces (Matthew 7:16). Israel was destroyed because of her lack of fruit (Matthew 21:43). Paul instructs Christians to possess the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Where good fruit is found, wisdom will be found close by.

without partiality: "Without partiality" (adiakritos) is the next characteristic mentioned. In the New Testament, the term is found only here and has two possible meanings. It could refer to the partiality condemned in James 2:1-13. The NIV accepts that definition and translates the word "impartial." James warns these Christians not to show preferential treatment to certain ones.

The second possible meaning is that of being "without uncertainty" (RSV) or "unwavering" (NASB). Here the idea is that wisdom acts consistently. It does not change according to the circumstance but remains constant. It might be easy to say one thing to one individual and an entirely different thing to another, but wisdom does not do that. The double-minded man does not possess this type of wisdom (James 1:8). While it is commendable to be open-minded concerning others, the truth is not something that can be changed according to the situation. It remains constant and predictable. It becomes very confusing, especially to new Christians, to see other Christians wavering or being uncertain about certain issues on which they once stood firm. While both meanings may be possible, the second one seems to be the correct one here.

without hypocrisy: "Without hypocrisy" (anupokritos) is the last characteristic of wisdom James mentions in this verse. The word "hypocrite" originally referred to an actor wearing a mask in a play. He was merely pretending to be someone that he really was not. James uses the word to refer to the person who masks his real intentions; that is, he pretends to be what he really is not. The hypocrite practices deception so as to gain something for himself. Jesus denounces the Pharisees in the strongest possible terms by branding them hypocrites (Matthew 23). Paul admonishes Christians, on the other hand, to be honest and sincere at all times (Romans 12:17).

Peter’s hypocrisy, as described by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14, shows that no Christian is immune to the threat of hypocrisy. The apostles even lived with the potential of living hypocritical lives. At some point early in the history of the church, Peter pays a visit to Antioch. There he engages in full fellowship with the Gentiles by eating with them. But when certain Jewish Christians come down from Jerusalem, he separates himself from these Gentile Christians "fearing them which were of the circumcision." Even Barnabas goes along with Peter in this hypocritical behavior. This is a critical time as far as the unity of the church is concerned. Had this behavior been allowed to continue, the wall between Jew and Gentile might never have been torn down. Paul describes his confrontation with Peter and his hypocrisy with these words, "But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Galatians 2:14) Paul’s charge against Peter was that he was acting hypocritically.

If the danger of hypocrisy was real for Peter, it remains just as much a threat for Christians today. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus brings to light many different types of behavior that involve hypocrisy. When Christians enjoy receiving the praise of men for doing their Christian duties, they are in danger of hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16). Finding fault in others, while ignoring one’s own shortcomings, causes the Christian to be hypocritical (Matthew 7:5). Pretending outwardly to be faithful to the Lord with words, while inwardly the heart is far from loving Him, is another example of hypocrisy (Matthew 15:7-9). Masquerading evil thoughts with flattering compliments is yet another form of hypocrisy that Jesus exposes (Matthew 22:16-18). When Christians live deceptive lives, they become a stumbling block to others who would obey the Lord (Matthew 23:13). Hypocrisy, then, is a serious matter and should not be ignored. The hypocrite can do as much damage, and sometimes more, than the false teacher in a local congregation. The false teacher eventually goes public with his teaching and can be pointed out. The hypocrite, on the other hand, quietly leads his deceptive life and, thus, may subtly influence others in a negative manner for years. The Lord reminds us of the fate of the hypocrite when He says of the unfaithful servant, "And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:51).

We should remember that contextually these words were spoken to the teachers. James urges these individuals to exhibit these characteristics of wisdom in their daily walk. These words serve to remind the teacher of the great responsibility he has voluntarily chosen. They also, obviously, have meaning for all Christians as God expects us to grow in wisdom.

Verse 18

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

The importance of the peacemaker in the church should never be underestimated. While the church needs preachers and teachers, ones who have the talent to help brethren dwell in unity also should be respected. In this passage James writes that a peacemaker helps to bring about a harvest that is the fruit of righteousness.

And the fruit of righteousness is sown: "Fruit of righteousness" (karpos dikaiosunes) is used as a subjective genitive, with the meaning of "the fruit that righteousness produces." "Is sown" (speiretai) is a present passive verb, with the present tense indicating this is a continual process and the passive mood pointing to the fact the fruit was planted by someone else, in this case the peacemakers. This fact tells us the work of the peacemaker is never finished: it is an ongoing work. James employs the illustration of a garden in an unusual way in this verse. He mentions that the fruit is sown rather than the seed. Why did he use fruit rather than seed? The statement anticipates the harvest. A farmer may say, "I planted my corn today." In making that statement, he is anticipating the harvest that will come from the seed.

in peace: "In peace" refers to the soil in which this fruit was planted. It refers to the proper atmosphere in which this crop will grow. Jesus plainly describes the difficulty of growing crops in bad soil in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9). In an atmosphere of bitter envy, selfish ambition, and division, the fruit of righteousness will not grow. The only thing that will grow in that type of environment is the fruit of unrighteousness. In the right environment of patience, understanding, and love, the fruit of righteousness will flourish. The Christian should take a lesson from the hard-working farmer. If he will work as hard at providing the proper environment at his home and congregation as the farmer does in preparing his soil for his crops, he will find a marked increase in spirituality in his life and in the lives of those influenced by him.

of them that make peace: "Them that make peace" (tois poiousin) is a present participle referring to the peacemakers. This participle is also present tense indicating a continual work. The need for peace never ends. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who bring about peace (Matthew 5:9).

There is one final thought that needs to be presented. Division is a terrible thing. It is the product of earthly, sensual, and devilish wisdom. Christians should deplore the division of the Lord’s body. There can be a worse evil than division, however, and that is when truth is sacrificed in order to have unity. When truth is sacrificed, true unity does not exist. Jesus plainly warns that He came with a sword, not to bring this false peace to mankind (Matthew 10:34-37). Paul says to mark those who cause divisions (Romans 16:16) and reject the factious man (Titus 3:10).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on James 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/james-3.html. 1993-2022.
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