True Faith’s Works: The Example of Speech
James 3:1-12 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. 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. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 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. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 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. 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: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Why does James warn people wanting to be masters (teachers)?
It is a position which many might desire but one which can offend many.
This leads to James next subject. Where does both the danger and the power of teaching originate?
In the tongue, the power of the spoken word.
In teaching about the danger of the tongue or speech, James is continuing the teachings found in Proverbs. Once again revealing the intended audience to whom he was writing.
Proverbs 11:9 An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
Proverbs 12:18 There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
How does James illustrate the power of the tongue?
He compares it with the power of a ship or a horse, both controlled by small things like bits and rudders.
Vs. 5-8 How does he illustrate its danger?
He compares it to a spark that starts a forest fire. He then says everything in nature man has tamed except the tongue.
James draws from the Old Testament in his teaching about our speech being able to start fires of destruction.
Psalm 39:1-3 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Proverbs 16:27 An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.
Vs. 9-12 What is James final appeal when it comes to the tongue? How is control really seen when it comes to speech?
Maturity and growth are shown when our speech shows consistency with our faith. We shouldn’t be able to bless and curse with the same mouth. (My teacher used to say, “Do you kiss your Momma with that mouth?” after hearing a kid curse. The same principle to a higher degree is seen here. ) The tongue should be under the consistent with and under the control of a true faith.
James maybe remembering the Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount as he finishes this section on our speech.
Matthew 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Name some ways we see the potential for good and for evil in the power of what we say?
Death and life are in the power of the tongue:
Thinking of James illustration of a spark in a forest fire, what is the most dangerous use of the tongue in the church?
Gossip can destroy a church, the reputation of members and the ministry of a pastor.
Looking back in the previous chapters of James how do we go about controlling the tongue if we have a problem?
If any lack wisdom let him ask of God.
True Faith’s Work: Conflict and Wisdom
James 3:13-18 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. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Vs. 13. James now gives the qualification for one who would be a teacher. What is the qualification?
That one would show through a good lifestyle the works of true faith along with the wisdom of meekness.
How does vs. 13 restate James theme of faith and works?
He challenges the wise to show wisdom through a good lifestyle, in the same manner that true faith is seen by good works.
Vss. 13-16 James talks of two kinds of wisdom, that from above and that which is earthly. What is the mark of the earthly wisdom?
It is marked by envy and strife and leads to confusion and evil.
What is the end result of envy and strife?
They result in confusion (tumultuous anarchy) and every evil work.
Vss. 17-18 Describe the other wisdom, that which is from above.
First it is (1) pure, then (2) peaceable, (3) gentle, and (4) easy to be entreated (easily persuaded in areas of contention, not error) (5) full of mercy and good works.
(6) Further it is without partiality and (7) without hypocrisy.
What is interesting about the number of description of true wisdom?
James gives seven descriptions which is the number of perfection and completeness. It is a way of expressing the fullness of heavenly wisdom.
Vs. 18 What is different about the last verse? How does the last verse act as a summation of the right kind of wisdom?
It reads like a proverb, a proof outside of James writings to the truth of what he has said. It puts into one verse what has been explored and explained in those above it.
What is the promise of this verse?
Those who practice true wisdom sow righteousness which will bring a harvest of peace in our own lives and to those touched by our work.
Do you think James warnings against strife are still applicable in the church today? Why or why not?
Absolutely, man hasn’t changed and neither has the power of the tongue in stirring up strife.
How dangerous is strife within the Lord’s body, can it lead to anarchy?
Sadly, contentions against people in the church, with the pastors or with others can bring a church to a place of ruin and if not dealt with to destruction.
James continues the theme for his epistle, true faith is seen by our works, by using examples that were practical then and now. By citing our speech, and conflicts he shows both the potential for good and for destruction. The tongue can set a church on fire through gossip and contentious strife or it can teach wisdom and plant peace in a life or a congregation.
True faith will produce speech that will not curse but will bless those who come under its influence and power and resolve conflicts.
May we be of those who harvest the fruits of righteousness that we sow in peace by our works and speech in the lives of others.