World English Bible translation
3:7For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind. 3:8 But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 3:9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. 3:10 Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 3:11 Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? 3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.
James first began by discussing trials and temptations and how God uses these things to draw us closer to Him. God plants in us the word of truth and nurtures its growth until we are mature in Christ. Then James passes on to explaining what pure religion should be. Helping the helpless, widows and orphans, and keeping oneself pure from the sins of the world are the beginning steps. Then comes growing and maturing within the body of Christ, learning to work with one another without showing partiality and favoring one brother over another because of outward circumstances. Finally he instructed them that true faith expresses itself through deeds that honor God and that confirm the implanted word to our own hearts.
In the last lesson, we noticed how James began his discussion about the tongue and how the things that we say reveal what is in our hearts. The tongue is like a rudder, able to steer the whole ship even though it is a small thing. The tongue is a fire, able to destroy a whole forest with an errant spark. The tongue needs to be bridled, so that the whole beast may be directed when the tongue is controlled.
In this passage, though, the discussion nearly becomes a tirade. No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil. It is full of deadly poison. Even the godly man blesses God and curses God's creation with the same tongue. These things ought not to be so!
We read these passages and we know that what James reveals is true. Its truth speaks to our heart, the images he evokes are clear and concise. But, what motivates James to reveal the truth here so passionately? Some read this passage and conclude that there must be some underlying purpose. Perhaps James is writing to correct specific faults in specific readers. Perhaps the readers to whom this epistle is directed have succumbed to divisions among themselves, one side showing favoritism over another, and each side cursing the others sincerity. There are scholars that certainly see this passage as pivotal to all that has gone before and all that follows.
However, I would suggest to you something else. I think that all that this passage means is that James is passionate about what he is writing here. James is a man of deep faith and conviction. Anyone reading the works of the Apostle Paul can clearly see this illustrated at times. Even though a main thought is clearly established in certain cases, Paul will pursue a side thought fiercely, simply because he feels passionately about it.
What can we learn from such a passage? Two things I would suggest. First, the obvious. The tongue is a restless evil. You cannot control it. I cannot control it. It can only be controlled by the one who created it. Let us surrender the Lordship of our tongues and our thoughts to our Creator.
But we can also infer something else about this passage. It is appropriate to feel great passion in the pursuit of godliness and righteousness. The reserved man or woman who feels strongly about nothing has never fully encountered a cause for which they ought to feel strongly. The pursuit of holiness is a cause for which our full hearts must be engaged. Let us not shy back from deep conviction. Let us not be timid in our pursuit of God.
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