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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
James 3

 

 

Verses 1-18

Here we begin a fourth division of the book, which continues to the end of Ch.4; in which our walk is tested by the circumstances of the world. Certainly in the previous chapters there is emphasis also on practical life; but there connected with its proper motive of faith in the living God. Now we no longer see faith mentioned, but evident outward conduct.

Not all are teachers in the sense of having that special gift; and it is a dangerous thing for one to assume himself a teacher who is not he is exposed to the greater judgment. Of course, older women are told to be "teachers of good things" (Titus 2:13); and any believer can teach in measure that which he has truly learned; but this gives no-one the right to assume that he has the gift of teaching. It is only right that a teacher should (here on earth) be subjected to serious judgment as to his teaching, and as to whether his practice is consistent with his teaching.

"For in many things we all offend." It is not that this is necessary, but it takes godly self-judgment and wisdom to teach properly without offense, for it is a natural tendency to offend, specially so in our words. one who in this way does not offend is "perfect" in the sense of mature, and able to control his entire body. This ought to be true of a teacher, and indeed of every experienced believer, but generally it is not true without some painful experience.

Two striking illustrations are given us of the control of the tongue. A bit put in a horse's mouth is remarkable for its ability to control so large and strong an animal. At least by this means its driver is able to secure its obedience. So also we should be able to control ourselves in our bridling so small a thing as our tongue. Ships also, of tremendous size, are easily turned by the manipulation of a very small rudder, the helmsman able to turn the wheel with only a finger. Driven though they may be with fierce winds, yet there is amazing control exerted over them by almost effortless control of the wheel.

But if the horse driver or the helmsman give up control, and leave the horse or the ship to its own devices, then tragedy is practically certain. Just so, the tongue, if not controlled by its owner, can do terrible damage rather than exert a great influence for good. Allow it to act merely according to man's natural tendency, and it will boast great things. It is not restrained, and becomes as a small fire rapidly spreading in every direction.

The tongue is certainly a proof of the incurable evil of the heart of man. It need not be so virulent, but even the most honorable believer has reason to retract, or at least regret, things he has allowed to slip out of his mouth. Verse 6 shows what the tongue is if allowed to act without restraint, -- a fire, a world of iniquity, defiling the whole body, fanning into a devouring flame the evil of man's nature. The expression "and it is set on fire of hell" is solemnly arresting. Except for this one instance, the word "Gehenna" (the Greek word for "hell") was used by the Lord alone when He was on earth. It refers to the eternal torment of the lake of fire. How solemn a warning of the dreadful torment that can be caused by a careless tongue!

A believer, by the power of the Spirit of God, may "bridle" his tongue, that is, put it under restraint; and this is surely a serious responsibility; but let no-one persuade himself that he has tamed his tongue; or he will almost certainly have painful occasion to find in experience that it is still "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." Therefore it needs constant guarding and restraining.

How little we stop to think that with the same tongue we may heartily bless God, yet speak badly of men, whom God has created in his own likeness. The inconsistency of this should be a shame to us; yet who is not at some time guilty of it? Let us take to heart the exhortation that these things ought not to be, and seek grace to unsparingly judge any "speaking unadvisedly with our lips." For this very thing Moses was deprived of entering, into the land. (Numbers 20:12; Psalms 106:32-33)

In verses 11 and 12 James appeals to creation itself to show its consistency in contrast to the unbecoming treachery of the tongue. A fountain always produces the same type of water; and the fig tree produces only figs, the vine also according to its character. In all of this, let us note that James speaks only of what is outwardly manifest. Elsewhere we are told the reason that both good and evil proceed from the same person. The "Spirit of God, given to every believer, produces only good; yet the flesh, derived from Adam, produces evil. But we have no excuse for allowing the flesh to act, for the Spirit is infinitely superior to the flesh: we need only to bow to the Lord's authority, and to "walk in the Spirit," and the power of the Spirit will be operative in us. James does not speak of this, but places responsibility rightly on our own shoulders. Therefore, though the tongue cannot be tamed, yet we are called upon to govern it.

This leads to the consideration of wisdom, for the use of the tongue is one of the first marks of wisdom or folly. Is one wise and intelligent? Let him show it in his conversation, which involves more than his words, but his entire manner of life, for "him works" are added here. Compare David, who "behaved himself wisely in all his ways." 1 Samuel 18:1-30 :l4. This is not said of Solomon, though he possessed such wisdom. But the expression "with meekness of wisdom" is most striking, for it is a common thing that man's knowledge tends to puff up his pride. But true wisdom produces meekness, which Involves in up a self-judgment that seeks no self-exaltation, but recognizes God's rights as supreme over ourselves.

But however great one's knowledge, if there is bitter envying and strife in the heart, this kind of wisdom is not from above. For true. wisdom would lead us to unsparingly judge such motives. Notice too that envy and strife lead to boasting and lying against the truth. For these things stem from one's pride, and the truth speaks decidedly against self-exaltation: therefore if I justify my pride, I lie against the truth.

Yet man's wisdom is always permeated by his pride. Such wisdom is earthly in contrast to heavenly sensual (or "soulish") in contrast to spiritual; devilish in contract to Christ-like. Being earthly, it is merely transient being sensual, it is largely energized by mere human desire and feelings being devilish, it is deceptive with deadly danger.

Envy involves both personal selfishness and ill-feeling toward another. Strife therefore accompanies it. This in turn overthrows all proper equilibrium: disorder prevails, and leaves the door open for "every evil work." It is by this means that Satanic activity thrives.

Precious is the contrast in verses 17 and 18. Here is wisdom readily available for every child of God, wisdom as seen in Him who came down from Heaven, the beloved Son of God. And no doubt in verse 17 are the seven pillars of wisdom, those only mentioned in Proverbs 9:1. It is first pure, that is, totally free from all contamination, no admixture of impurity. Then peaceable, having the calm sweetness of concord that banishes contention. "Gentle:" the grace of lowly consideration of the feelings and needs of others. "Easy to be entreated" indicates the humility that yields, rather than the stubbornness of self-assurance: that is, it will yield personal rights: it would certainly not give up the truth of God.

Completing the seven pillars of wisdom in this verses "full of mercy" is the hearty, compassionate care of those in need: "and good fruits" are those virtues spontaneously active, with no forcing. "Without partiality" is giving no preference to one above another, no favoring relatives or special friends. And finally, "without hypocrisy" involves the simple honesty of not attempting to give wrong or dubious impressions.

For the fruit of righteousness can only come from proper sowing Fruit is not forced or sudden. A character that truly seeks peace will have its good fruits in righteousness. On the other hand, mere insistence on righteousness will never accomplish righteousness. How good therefore to seek those things that make for peace, which can certainly be done without compromising righteousness. This is wisdom from above.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on James 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/james-3.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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