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Bible Commentaries
James 3

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

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Verse 1

Jas 3:1. Masters is from DIDASKALOS, and it is the same word rendered "teachers" in Heb 5:12. In that place Paul says the brethren ought to be teachers, using the word in a good sense, while James says for the brethren not to have many of them. We must therefore consider the connection in which it is used in order to get the meaning in any given case. In our verse it is plain that James is writing of men who put themselves up as teachers who do not properly control their tongues. Such people are to be condemned all the more because they do harm by their words.

Verse 2

Jas 3:2. For in many things. If we do have too many of such professed teachers we will offend all or all (of us) will offend or stumble. The importance of our language is the subject in several verses. If a man does not offend (or stumble) with the improper use of his tongue he will prove to be a perfect or complete man, controlling even his body.

Verse 3

Jas 3:3. The great influence of apparently small things is the idea James is illustrating in this and the next verse. In size and weight a bridle bit is very small, yet with it we control the direction of the entire animal.

Verse 4

Jas 3:4. The same thing is true of the helm or rudder of a ship. It is but a few inches or feet long, yet it may guide a ship that is many hundreds of feet in length.

Verse 5

Jas 3:5. The application of the illustration is made to the tongue. The last word is from GLOSSA, which means as its first definition the literal organ that is a member of the fleshly body. The Greek term is used because the tongue is the instrument by which the speech or words of a person are produced. Actually it is the language of the individual that is being considered, although the form of the phrases is related to the physical organ of speech. James uses another illustration for the same purpose as that in verses 3 and 4. If a man wished to burn a structure as tall as a tower, he would need only to use a torch an inch long.

Verse 6

Jas 3:6. James calls the tongue a fire because he had just used the illustration of "a little fire." It is called a world of iniquity because the original word for world means mankind. The evil use of the tongue will affect mankind in general if it is not curbed. Defiles the whole body. Our organ of speech if allowed to work sinfully will result in evil conduct of the whole body. Course literally means "a wheel" according to Thayer, and nature means the procedure of human existence. The figure represents it as a wheel that is rolling onward. James means that the evil tongue sets this wheel on fire. It is set on fire of hell (GEHENNA); not literally, of course. But a torch has to be "lighted" from some source, and James regards a wicked tongue as so bad that he renre-sents its owner as having applied to hell to "get a light."

Verse 7

Jas 3:7. The facts of controlling a horse with a bit, guiding a ship with a rudder or training a beast by man all have one thing in common, namely, the feat is accomplished by another party; the things controlled are acted upon by an outside force.

Verse 8

Jas 3:8. Such a feat cannot be accomplished upon the tongue because of its characteristic of poison which defies being subdued by another man than its owner. James does not say a man cannot subdue his own tongue; in truth he teaches that a man can and should bridle his own tongue (chapter 1:26).

Verse 9

Jas 3:9. The main point in this and the next verse is to show the inconsistency in the uncontrolled tongue. Man is made after the similitude of God, therefore He should be regarded with respect. Yet the evil tongue will bless one and curse the other.

Verse 10

Jas 3:10. This repeats the thought of the preceding verse in another form of expression. The words same mouth emphasize the inconsistency in a more direct way.

Verse 11

Jas 3:11-12. James refers to the consistency of the things in the natural creation, to shame the man who is double-minded in the use of his tongue. The same God who made the inanimate things named also created man and gave him a tongue wherewith to express his intelligence. How inexcusable it is therefore in him to make such an evil use of the blessing of speech.

Verse 13

Jas 3:13. Wise man is one who has learned to exercise good judgment, and knowledge means information concerning which he may exercise that good judgment. James gives some specific suggestions on how such a man may manifest those traits in his conversation, which means conduct or manner of life. He is to do it with meekness of wisdom; a truly wise man will be meek or humble and not boastful of his knowledge.

Verse 14

Jas 3:14. Bitter envying denotes a mind that is resentful toward another person who is fortunate. The original word for strife means an attempt to outdo some other person by fair means or otherwise. Should such a person succeed he is admonished not to glory in it. Lie not against the truth. Certainly all lies are against the truth, but the special thought Is that an envious person cannot oppose a righteous or fortunate one without contradicting the truth involved.

Verse 15

Jas 3:15. Wisdom is from a Greek word that has a great variety of meanings. Thayer comments on this phase of the subject as follows: "Used of knowledge of very diverse matters. so that the shade of meaning in which the word is taken must be discovered from the context [connection] in every particular case." In general the word refers to knowledge or Information that a person may have (or claim to have), whether it be good or bad. true or false. This should prepare us to see why James calls something by the word wisdom when he is sneaking of that which he disapproves. Earthly is used as a contrast to above; sensual pertains to the natural or animal part of our nature; devilish is an adjective and means something that has the character of demons.

Verse 16

Jas 3:16. James verifies his description of this wisdom (preceding verse) by repeating virtually the sentiments of verse 14. He emphasizes it by adding the results of such "wisdom." namely, confusion and every evil work.

Verse 17

Jas 3:17. In verses 14-16 James designates the kind of wisdom that does not come from above (or heaven); the present verse describes the kind that does come from the higher source. First pure signifies that it is of the most importance for a man's information to be pure or unmixed with anything false. Then peaceable indicates that peace is not to be desired unless it is according to the truth. That is why Paul placed it on condition in Rom 12:18. Gentle means to be mild and fair in one's temperament even when insisting on truth as being preferable to peace. Easy to be in-treated is all from one Greek word that means to be of a yielding disposition and not stubborn when the heavenly wisdom is presented. Full of mercy means that one's life is merciful toward those in difficulties whenever the occasion arises, and not only when it is the most convenient to be so. Fruits are the deeds that are performed and heavenly wisdom will prompt one to produce good deeds. Without partiality denotes an attitude that does not show respect of persons. (See chapter 2:1-4.) Without hypocrisy means that our expressions of friendliness to others will be sincere and not a mere pretense. A tree Is known by its fruit, hence if a man is being influenced by the wisdom that is from above, he will exhibit the characteristics that are described in this verse.

Verse 18

Jas 3:18. If a man possesses good fruit he usually wishes to reproduce it by sowing or planting it. Hence he will sow it righteously by conforming to the rules of peace that have been formed in harmony with the pure wisdom.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on James 3". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/james-3.html. 1952.
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