The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom. Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader. And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words!
James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)
The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth. The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider. The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size.
James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue.
“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.” (verse 4)
A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process. But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small.
- Small bits control/direct—large horses
- Small rudders control/direct—large ships
- Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)
Tell us how you really feel, James! Oh, he did!
Our tongues can get us into so much trouble! Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started. It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished.
Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.”
Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer. Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life. NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)
What a humbling reprimand!
James finishes this serious warning with another word picture. “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.
James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father. Worldly versus Heavenly.
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)
Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve. Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?” Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.
These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue. As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.” If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.”
What constitutes the wisdom from above? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (verse 17)
When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others.
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)
Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3