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Bible Commentaries

The Bible Study New Testament

James 3

Verse 1


My brothers. See note on James 1:2. Not many of you. Some, in their conceit, wanted to immediately become teachers. The burning passion of certain Jews was to teach the Law of Moses to the Gentile Christians. But these Jews had not yet gotten rid of their prejudices and misunderstandings (1 Timothy 1:7). These teachers of the Law in Christ’s church were the great distorters of the Good News! With greater strictness. James includes himself in this. Because teachers have great influence on others, they will be judged with greater strictness. The ones who make dogmatic statements are usually the ones with the least knowledge of their subject. [For this reason I have not relied on my own scholarship, but have drawn heavily from the minds and abilities of many individuals. RDI]

Verse 2


All of us. No Christian is completely without sin! This included James himself. See what John says in 1 John 1:8-10. But it is more serious when a teacher makes a mistake. In what he says. James is thinking of the ranting and raving which certain Jews did in arguing matters of religion, as well as teaching false things. Compare Matthew 5:22 and note. We can also apply this to everyday life, since the tongue demonstrates the inner man.

Verse 3


We put a bit. “We use a bit in the mouth of a horse to control it. Such a small thing has great influence.”

Verse 4


A very small rudder. “A rudder is small compared to the ship, but it controls its direction.”

Verse 5


So it is. “Even though the tongue is small, it can control us, just like the bit controls the horse or the rudder controls the ship.” It can boast. Mayor says: “There is no idea of vain boasting, the whole argument turns upon the reality of the power which the tongue possesses.” Can be set on fire! Bitterness existed in certain Synagogues (which were used by both Jews and Christians), fanned into flame by the ranting and raving of various “teachers.” James wants to make peace. The tongue of one speaker can set ablaze all the combustible material which is created by fighting and quarreling! So it is vital to the survival of the messianic community that tongues be controlled!

Verse 6


And the tongue. “Not only will the tongue destroy others when it is uncontrolled, but it destroys the one who uses it as well!” From hell itself. The ranting and raving of these teachers did not come from God, but was from hell itself and totally evil! Compare James 1:20 and note.

Verse 7


Man is able to tame. “Human ingenuity has tamed and used all the other creatures of the earth!”

Verse 8


Has ever been able. MacKnight says: “But the tongue of other men no one is able to subdue.” James 3:2 shows that it is possible to control our own tongue, even though few do it. Full of deadly poison. The tongue often brings death to those on whom it is let loose! See Psalms 140:1-3.

Verse 9


We use it. James includes himself, but he aims this in particular against certain Jewish “teachers.” They would never speak the name of God without adding: “Blessed be He.” But these same Jews (who did not believe in Christ) often cursed and damned the Christians in their synagogues. We are no better, if we act the same way! Created in the likeness of God. See Genesis 1:26-27. The lesson is that he who curses the man who was created in the likeness of God is effectively cursing the God he claims to praise. See 1 John 4:20-21.

Verse 10


Words. These are a contradiction! If you love God and praise Him, you cannot curse your fellow-men. You cannot be both holy and unholy at the same time.

Verse 11


No spring of water. “No such stupidity is found in the natural world!”

Verse 12


A fig tree. “A fig tree cannot produce such opposite fruits!” Nor can salty water. “It is just as unnatural for the same tongue to praise God and curse man made in the likeness of God!”

Verse 13


Is there someone? “Although you cannot control other men’s tongues, you can control your own. Someone who is wise and understanding must prove it by his good life. True wisdom shows itself in good actions performed with humility and wisdom.”

Verse 14


But if in your heart. Compare Matthew 15:18 and note. “If you have jealousy, bitterness, and selfishness in your heart against others, and this comes off your tongue as curses against others, you must not be proud as though these things were wisdom. To be proud of such action is to lie against the truth.”

Verse 15


This kind of wisdom. The kind that produces jealousy, bitterness, and selfishness. Heaven is not the source of such things! It belongs to the world. “This unholy method of trying to spread religion by ranting and raving is not God’s way! It is both unspiritual and comes from demons! The Expositor’s Greek Testament says: “The wisdom referred to, – acute argument, subtle distinctions, clever controversy, methods which took small account of truth so long as a temporary point was gained, skilful dialectics, bitter sarcasms, the more enjoyed and triumphed in if the poisonous shaft came home and rankled in the breast of the opponent, – in short, all these tricks of the unscrupulous controversialist which are none the less contemptible for being clever, – this was wisdom of a certain kind.”

Verse 16


Where. “Where there is jealousy because of opinions and selfishness which brings party spirit in defending them, there you will also find disorder (Acts 17:5) and every kind of evil deed.”

Verse 17


But the wisdom from above. “This is the kind of wisdom which ought to guide every teacher of religion!” Pure. Not adulterated with false teaching and evil desires. Peaceful, in contrast to the quarreling and fighting of the other “wisdom” (James 3:15). Gentle, not violent, harsh, or relentless. Friendly. Full of good will toward others, easily persuaded to forgive. Compassion. Showing mercy to others, generous. Good deeds, which praise God. See James 1:27 : Matthew 5:16. Free from. Prejudice and hypocrisy go together. One who has the true wisdom will be free from such things! See 1 Peter 1:22.

Verse 18


And goodness. Goodness = righteousness. The Greek-speaking Jews put great emphasis on the ethical side of religion, and were very proud of their relationship to God. Goodness is the goal here, and it grows out of the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace. See what Jesus said in Matthew 5:9. If goodness is the harvest, then goodness must have been the seeds which the peacemakers planted in peace. Goodness and peace go together.

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Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on James 3". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.