Faith on display in your conversations
James 3:1–5a, 9–10, 13–18
The epistle of James has been compared to Proverbs because of the emphasis upon wisdom. The words wisdom or wise occur four times in the Book of James (James 1:5; 3:13, 15, 17). Wisdom could be placed as the subhead above James 3.
In contrast, the term tongue occurs six times in James 3. James pairs wisdom and the human tongue.
In no area of our life is divine wisdom as needful as in our relationships.
The broad scope of James 3:1–4:12 focuses on the problems of dissension, envy and selfishness. The power of words serves as a foundational issue in these actions and emotions that harm the cause of Christ.
James mentioned the power of speech earlier in his letter. James 1:19 admonishes Christians to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger as corrective actions to problems in the church. True religion, he writes, involves bridling the tongue (James 1:26).
There is power in our words. (1–5a)
Before beginning his discussion on the power of words, James commanded, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers … .”
Teachers possess the possibility of forming lives in positive or negative ways. A positive example is that of Anne Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller, the famous author and first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.
A negative example is an Austrian history teacher named Leopold Poetsch, who taught students Adolph Hitler and Adolph Eichmann the basic tenets of Naziism.
Every Christian is a teacher of someone, either by words or example.
In admonishing individuals about the responsibility of Christian teachers, James stated God will judge Christian teachers strictly. A Christian leader’s verbal teaching, doctrinal soundness and life example should reflect the teachings of Scripture. Otherwise, the teacher’s words could be as destructive as fire.
Our speech can be inconsistent when controlled by self instead of God. (9–10)
The human tongue possesses the power to bless God or curse people made in the image of God. The Greek term translated bless in English is eulogy.
Eulogy literally means good word. We eulogize the dead at a funeral, but James affirmed we should eulogize God during our earthly life. Cursing people pronounces a curse on the God who created humans in His likeness.
We need God’s wisdom to direct our speech. (13–18)
This passage may summarize the entire letter of James. James asked a question about identifying wise and understanding members of the congregation. James identified the wise by good conduct.
James uses language from the Old Testament as he describes wisdom.
Wise Christians are identifiable by the following traits: purity, peaceableness, reasonableness, mercy, good fruits, impartiality and sincerity.
James identifies two sources of wisdom and describes the fruit produced by these two sources. Demonic wisdom is earthly, unspiritual and diabolical in origin and nature. Godly wisdom produces good fruits and is pure, peace loving, gentle, compliant, merciful, impartial and without pretense or hypocrisy.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida