Careful with your tongue
My brothers, not many of you should become teachers, knowing that we* shall receive a stricter judgment. Because we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, being able to bridle the whole body as well. Consider, we put bits in horses' mouths for them to obey us, and we guide their whole body. Consider also the ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the pilot may desire. So also the tongue is a small member and boasts great things.
Just look at how great a forest a little fire can kindle! And the tongue is a fire! The organization of wickedness, that is how the tongue is placed among our members, defiling the whole body and setting on fire the course of life, itself being set on fire by hell. Every kind of animal and bird, reptile and sea creature, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race, but no one among men is able to tame the tongue—an uncontrollable§ evil, full of deadly poison.* With it we bless God and Father, and with it we curse the people who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessings and curses. My brothers, these things should not be that way. 11 A spring does not send out sweet and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grape vine figs? Thus no spring yields salt water and sweet.§
True wisdom
True contrasted with demonic
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him exhibit his works in the meekness of wisdom, by his good way of life. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast and lie against the truth— 15 such ‘wisdom’ is not coming down from Above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.* 16 Because where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is unruliness and every foul practice. 17 In contrast, the wisdom from Above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is planted in peace by those making peace.
* 3:1 James knew that he was included. We teachers will have to answer for what we teach, and especially if we have damaged others with our teaching. 3:6 Satan uses our tongues to organize wickedness, our own and that of others. 3:6 James here follows the Lord's example in using ‘Gehenna’ as a metaphor for the Lake of Fire. Since none of us can literally go to the Lake of Fire and dip our tongue in it, this must be figurative—a case of metonymy. With what, or whom, is hell most closely associated? In Matthew 25:4 Sovereign Jesus affirms that the Lake was “prepared for the devil and his angels”. Apparently the antichrist and the false prophet will be the first residents (Revelation 19:20), followed a thousand years later by Satan, presumably along with his angels (Revelation 20:10). The defiling, destructive activity of the tongue is the result of demonic participation. § 3:8 Instead of “uncontrollable”, less than 3% of the Greek manuscripts, of objectively inferior quality, have ‘restless’ (as in NIV, NASB, etc.). * 3:8 Notice the violence of the description of the tongue—“organization of wickedness”, “defiles the whole body”, “uncontrollable evil”, “deadly poison”—it would be difficult to be more emphatic. Obviously James is describing something extraordinary. One of Satan's most effective ways of lousing up our lives is by causing us to say things that we should not, and that by ourselves we would not. By this means he turns our homes, our schools, our work places into places of contention instead of peace. “No one among men is able to tame the tongue”—an unaided human being is presumably incapable of escaping from demonic attack, but the Holy Spirit can indeed tame our tongue, if we let Him. 3:9 Instead of “God”, perhaps 4% of the Greek manuscripts have ‘the Lord’ (as in NIV, NASB, LB, TEV, etc.). 3:9 See note at 1:27 above. § 3:12 In nature this does not happen—if it ever did it would mean that there were two veins of different water meeting just below the opening of the spring. James is affirming that our mouths produce words from two different sources—our own mind and demonic interference (since Satan is not omnipresent he works through his angels, the demons). (Perhaps 3.5% of the Greek manuscripts, of objectively inferior quality, replace the last sentence with, ‘nor can salty yield sweet water’ [as in NIV, TEV, LB, NASB, etc.].) * 3:15 James is forthright about demonic interference in our minds. The prevailing ignorance on this subject in Christian circles is a calamity with terrible consequences—it condemns most Christians to a life of defeat. 3:16 Self-centeredness is the essence of sin; the more we give in to it the dirtier becomes our practice, the lower we are prepared to go to achieve what we want, or think we want. 3:18 “Those making peace” are planters; they create an ambient of peace within which to plant. Is the “fruit” righteousness, or does righteousness produce it?