By Rony Kozman, Ph. D.
Assistant professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
FAITH ON DISPLAY IN YOUR CONVERSATIONS
James 3:1–5a, 9–10, 13–18
There is power in our words. (1–5a)
In this chapter, James focuses on the power of our words. Before this discussion about words, he has discussed the important connection between faith and works (2:14–26). And after James discusses our words (3:1–12), he returns to the theme of works (3:13).
The discussion of the tongue in 3:1–12, then, may not be a departure from the concern of works, but it is rather a focus on certain kinds of works — the works of our words.
We see the power of our tongues. Even though the tongue is small, it boasts works of enormous power. The tongue boasts a power that far exceeds its size. A horse’s large body is controlled by the small bit in its mouth. Large ships are steered left and right by the small rudder. So it is also with the tongue; although the tongue is much smaller than the body, if we can control this small part, we will be able to rule and direct the whole body.
The person who can control his or her tongue is “perfect,” and this reminds us of the persevering person who becomes “complete, lacking in nothing” (1:4).
Our speech can be inconsistent when controlled by self instead of God. (9–10)
Even though the tongue is such a small member, it is very difficult to control, and for such a small member, the damage it causes is great. It can destroy the whole body.
James likens this small member to an animal. Humans have been able to tame just about every kind of animal. But this one small animal — the tongue — has proven untamable. This beast is particularly evil and dangerous since it is “full of deadly poison.”
Because the tongue is evil and so difficult to master, it results in our doing evil works that are inconsistent with how we ought to live.
We use our tongues to both worship God and to curse our brothers and sisters, who are made in the image of God, whom we bless. We use our tongues to do evil. We use our tongues in ways that violate their intended use for good works.
We need God’s wisdom to direct our speech. (13–18)
James now returns explicitly to the theme of good works, which he had addressed in Chapter 2. These good works come from wisdom. If we are going to use our tongues for good, then we need wisdom that comes from God.
This wisdom is not a matter of knowing what to do when faced with difficult ethical decisions. Rather, to be filled with God’s wisdom is to be filled with the moral character that comes from God and that God requires of us.
James identifies the wisdom from above with virtues such as being peaceable, gentle and merciful. If you recall, James 2:1–13 called us away from partial judgment toward the rich.
Now we are reminded that if we have the wisdom that comes from God, we will be impartial. If we are filled with God’s wisdom, we will rule over our tongues; then we will rule our bodies in a way that is in keeping with God’s will so we do the good God requires of us. We will reap justice and peace as we bring justice and peace with our tongues.
Here, James echoes the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. … Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:6, 9).
If our tongues seek impartial justice, peace and mercy that do not favor the rich, we will receive justice, peace and mercy from God.