3:1-12 – FRUIT CHECK! What do you talk about most of the time?
Now, sometimes, ungrateful creatures that we are, and still hopelessly tainted and twisted by sin, we can forget all that the Lord has done for us in not only paying the price for our sins but expunging our records and then cleansing and sanctifying us to be fit to live with Him eternally, and we have plenty of help, in the form of distractions, and sometimes other worse things.
There are ways we can keep a check on ourselves. We can see what kind of fruit we are bearing ourselves. Please, be careful you only inspect your OWN fruit. We are not God-appointed fruit inspectors. He does that Himself, and He doesn’t need us stirring up trouble here. Again, this requires a certain kind of self-awareness without pride, and I offer this method as a kind of self-examination tool.
What do you spend most of your time doing? Are you always playing, for example, role-playing games? I won’t decry the games themselves, though I could, because they can be a huge distraction, but if you spend every waking minute playing them, you have a problem, because you are not bearing any real fruit. (I am aware that these games can also be beneficial, and I am not speaking against them, only over-playing them.) Do you watch too much television? Spend your time in local watering holes? Is your conversation about sports? What is it that you are using to distract yourself from the holy pursuit of Christ?
What you spend your time on outside of your employment (and sometimes even your employment) say a lot about who you are. What is it telling you? Please, again, I am not a fruit inspector, and you need to answer those questions to yourself alone about yourself alone. I am qualified by God to shepherd the sheep, and I can identify areas that you could be helped with, but you have to ask me for that help, and if and when you do, it is incumbent on me to be as gracious as possible to help you troubleshoot your own life. Anything else is a case of the shepherds that beat the sheep as presented in Ezekiel 34.
[For reference if you need it: Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”’”
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’” (Exe. 34:1-10)]
I am what the world would call a “mandated reporter,” but that mandate doesn’t come from or report to the world. It reports to God, and Him alone. Let me put it this way. As a pastor, I am to be inspecting fruit from a quality control perspective, but only to help you, and unless it is a case where your issues hurt others, I should be waiting on you to request my help. Otherwise, the faithful follower of Christ checks their own fruit.
Remember this from last week? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24) That should be your daily prayer, not mine for you. Anyway, on with the show.
I broke the chapter down like this:
KV10: The bridling of the tongue: An exercise in Christian discipleship
“…from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
1-4: We ALL stumble in many ways…
5-8: You don’t think so? How is your speech?
9-12: Choose your words to bless and not curse…
If I could call to your mind for a moment or two what we studied in Galatians 5 about the fruit (singular) of the Spirit, I need to start this study by equating what Paul said there with an example that James is using here. James is talking about the fruit of the Spirit as well, though he does not use the same words to reference it. In fact what Paul described theologically, James is giving as a practical example of the same.
Galatians 5:22-23 say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” James recognizes that, as well as the fact that we ALL have a LONG way to go. There is a song by the music group Acapella called “Long Way to Go.” The lyrics go kind of like this: ” ‘Til we understand the message of Christ (’til we know it, ’til we know it)…’Til we learn to let Him work in our lives (we gotta learn to let Him work it)…We got a long way to go (Long, long way). Mighty long way.” I can attest that this is true personally.
Practical theology is where the rubber meets the road, Beloved. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians, we need to display self-control. James begins our text this evening with the great example of our tongue, referring to our speech, not the simple organ of the tongue. It is what James is holding up as a practicum of Christian practice.
KV10: The bridling of the tongue: An exercise in Christian discipleship
“…from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
Think of this. The tongue is the thing that allows us to taste the delicious food that my wife makes, and it is the thing that can tell the store clerk to take a long walk off a short dock when they tell you they are out of stock, sometimes less than politely. James and I share the persuasion that the situation shouldn’t be like this. And yet, here we are. We can offend people easily with the words we say. I’m not talking about preaching the Gospel, that’s going to be offensive to the world whenever we tell them that they need to turn from their sins. Half of them, more than half, by a LifeWay survey done last year, don’t believe they have committed wrongs that need forgiveness before God. And that survey was for active Southern Baptists, friends.
That’s a lot of so-called disciples that aren’t following Christ! That may still be lost because they have not really believed the Gospel!
To be crystal clear about the reality of the situation of everyone on the planet, Paul says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of God.” That’s ALL. It is the Greek word pas, and it means, well, ALL. Everyone. Without exception, regardless of how we like to think of ourselves. This might sound like a bit of a plug for our Friday night book studies, but we learned in the last book called The Holiness of God by Dr. R. C. Sproul that “sin” should be called by another name: “cosmic treason.” I don’t want to minimize our state here–without Christ, we have NO hope of clearing the debt our wrongs have created to God Most High. We must metanoia. That is, we must REPENT! It means to turn from our sin. One of the meanings of that Greek word is to change one’s mind to the opposite point of view. Think differently about your sin. Admit it’s actually sin, a high crime against the creator of the universe! And then ask His forgiveness for it!
We can do this because the Creator of the universe has already made a way for us to cancel that sin-debt: the payment made by His Son for that sin on the cross. If we will accept that payment made on our behalf, we can be free of that debt forever! Beloved, that’s true freedom, no matter what kind of a slave you have been in the past. Then begin to follow Him. Start reading the Word of God daily–join us at BereanNation.com, because that is what WE do. It is how we learn what He said for us to do. That’s an invitation if you needed one. Go ahead and create yourself an account. Email me if it gives you trouble. We’ll supply that email at the end of the livestream.
The tongue will require all of the fruit the Spirit can muster if we are to learn to control it, and learn it we must if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s get into the text and see what James has to say about it.
1-4: We ALL stumble in many ways…
The very first thing James recognizes, and something I think it important to see also, is that no one has this mastered here. We ALL have problems in our lives. Sin afflicts us all. If you will be free of that, then stick around. If you don’t think you have a problem with sin, stick around anyway, because I think, and so does James, that you may need to see what your sin really is and how it will limit you and ultimately condemn you before God, whether you are a believer or not. For the unsaved, this is already clear, as they will suffer an eternity of conscious torment. Jesus said that, not me. For the regenerate, there is the loss of reward so great that Paul couldn’t find the words to describe it in 1 Cor. 3.
No one has a corner of the truth here, least of all me. I don’t want you to feel like I’m preaching down to you. I have not arrived, as Paul said of himself. I am engaging in God’s call on my life to handle accurately the word of truth, and you’ll see what I’m saying as we get into the text. Let’s do that here.
1: Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
- This is what actually solidifies what I said about not checking other people’s fruit in my mind. The very first thing James says is not to become “teachers of the way.” The Greek word is didaskaloi, plural of didaskalos, a teacher, that is of doctrine…in other words, a pastor, or someone in church leadership whose calling it is to lead and guide in the way of Christ. James is addressing the congregations of believers and say that not many of them should in fact BE that kind of teacher.
- This is kind of a big topic, but being a preacher of the truth is actually a calling of God on your life, and if He has called you to do this, you WILL know it, and in fact desire it. What I can tell you about being a pastor is this: If you can do ANYTHING else with your life and be content, you should do that instead. The Pastor [you will recall this is actually the Latin word for Shepherd] is called by God to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) so that the sheep can learn how they are supposed to behave. Such an individual has a special commission from God to do just that, and he has the right to be supported in that activity, financially and otherwise. [I chuckle when I say this, but it’s probably why we live in what Hebrews 11 calls “caves” and “holes in the ground.” If you’ve been to my home, you’ll know that description isn’t that far off. I’m sitting in my basement right now.] If you are not prepared for or willing for the deprivations that go with this, you should find something else to do, or be prepared to work very hard (as did Paul) to support yourself in that service to Christ.
- Members of the congregation are by and large NOT called to be pastors, though they should study the word and learn to meet peoples’ needs just like the pastors do. The Pastor in some ways is an example to the flock that they should follow in terms of behaviour. Why is that? James tells us that as a teacher of the way, because we know it well enough to teach and lead others, we WILL be held to a stricter, higher standard of behaviour and knowledge. Considering who our Master (not didaskalos here but kurios, or LORD for the word Master) truly is, it should put real trepidation into the heart of anyone considering official capacity in this regard. That phrase for “greater judgement” is actually megan krima, or if you like, a fair transliteration of this phrase is mega-crime. What? Crime? Yes, as in the sentence for crimes committed in this vein. Everyone will face judgement. The teacher not only has to give an accounting of his own conduct, but a report on those under his charge! If that is found unfavorable, it might be be because of failings on his part, and that is bad. That’s why I’m always seeming to hammer you with what the word says. I don’t want to have to give that kind of a report. Help me out and behave!
- My point here is that those that are self-appointed fruit inspectors here are taking to themselves a serious charge from God that is not theirs, and that position has serious standards and penalties that will be incurred whether you were commissioned by God or not. Be careful about checking the fruit of others, unless you have an invitation to be involved. And if you DO have that invitation, make sure you maintain some form of confidentiality, or gossip starts, and that is never good, because gossip is a sin, according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:20, which we just finished a couple months back, so it should be fresh in our minds. Mind your own affairs, not everyone else’s. Moving on.
2: For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.
- You see, according to the Lord speaking through James, we ALL have issues that we are dealing with. I opened earlier with this statement that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and it is our duty to open our souls to Him (and not to us unless he is your pastor and only with your permission) so that He can identify all of those nasty issues that we will have to mortify during our sanctification! And if you don’t want to do that, well, you’re just making my point. It is difficult, and I’m not condemning anyone for shying away from it. But this is not supposed to be easy, I think. We’re the criminals, not the Lord. He has justified us by atoning for our sins (propitiation) and by wiping our record before Him clean (expiation). What then should we do? Submit to the events He brings our way and respond in a way that reflects well on Him as His followers. We have repeatedly defined that as “sanctification.”
- The second part of what James says here is worth some detailed examination. “If anyone does not stumble in what he says.” What is that referring to? Well, the Greek here is ptaio, to cause to stumble, and in this verse in particular it is used in metaphorical fashion with moral significance. He does not morally stumble in what he says. Such an individual, says James, is “perfect,” or teleios, complete. He is sanctified, and not just in His speech, but in his entire character. But how do we know?
- Beloved, we know because of the way he speaks. Yes, he is able to “bridle” his whole body, but the clue is that his words are under self-control! His words bring grace to the hearer in some form, like it says in Ephesians 4:29! “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” King James says “corrupt communication.” Beloved, this is a clue as to the condition of your heart. Even the Lord Jesus indicated this in Mark 7:18: “And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.” Yes, it is true that people can lie, but only the very skilled can maintain a lie for a very long time. I had opportunity to screen and view the documentary Enemies Within the Church on Tuesday this week. Some of the big Eva leaders, if you watch them over decades give little slips that betray a non-Christian agenda. That’s what I think this means. No, Beloved, say what you mean, and mean what you say. By the way, “no unwholesome word” can involve pastoral reproof and rebuke. It does NOT mean you have to be milquetoast, for the record. My own commission (which sounded a lot like 2 Tim. 4:1-5 to me, that’s the reference that simply rings in my soul) says that I as a preacher of the Word am to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Last I checked, only one of those words had a positive result, exhortation. Who enjoys being reproved or rebuked? But sometimes, that’s how you have to bring the grace of God to the sinner.
3: Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
- James is using something here called “analogy.” Hey, I’m the first guy to say we shouldn’t use analogy all the time, but there are times where it is appropriate. I grew up on a farm in Northwestern Ontario on the Manitoba border. That’s Western Canada, but about as far east as you can come and still be in Western Canada. I grew up riding horses. In fact I had my own horse, her name was Cinnamon, because that was what colour she was. She was a pony, meaning under 13 hands high, but I rode her until I was about 16, when I got too heavy for her and she kept trying to find low-hanging branches for me to ride under! One of the first things I learned how to do was steer that living vehicle. We put a piece of equipment called a “bridle” in her mouth. There was a bit that went in her mouth called a “bit,” which is what happened to your hand if you put it on wrong, I’m guessing. Never got bit, can’t tell you that for sure, but I did see a couple of guys get nipped for it. That device in her mouth was how you controlled her direction while you were sitting on her back. Later, I learned how to do all of that without a bridle, but that actually took skill, and the horse and rider knowing each other well, and isn’t really James’ point.
- Beloved, we can’t put a bridle on you. This is something you have to do yourself. I know it would be a lot easier if we could sometimes, but this is an analogy…you have to do this for yourself. Did you hear that? Learn to control yourself. I personally don’t limit this to words, either. Sometimes, I can read expressions so well, a person doesn’t have to say what they are thinking. Learn to control that too. Start with your speech, though, it’s the key for everything else.
4: Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
- James isn’t done with the analogies. I’m not really a sailor, but my dad was in the naval reserves. I did learn a bit about tall ships from him. My daughter Hannah could tell you more about that, she’s actually sailed on a tall ship for a week, and earned status as a deck hand. But here is the concept. You have sails that you can fill with wind, and stronger winds can really make the boat cut through the water with speed. But you steer the boat with a VERY small piece of wood called the rudder. Only the pilot (also more modernly called the helmsman) can do it, and YOU are the helmsman in this analogy. You decide the course, you keep the wheel of the ship, which controls the rudder. YOU decide what to do, and YOU follow the orders of our Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, this is about Christians. YOU are involved. If you weren’t, James would say differently. Learn to follow the directions of the Captain.
The impression we should be getting here is that for the believer, James is telling us that the only fruit we need to be checking is our own. The pastor is there to help you if you need it, and sometimes he does actually have directional orders from our Lord, but in terms of your sanctification, learning to mortify your own sin, you should be looking at your own situation, an NO ONE ELSE’S. And if you need help, I’m here, and what you have to share with me will remain between us.
You see, the Lord is mandating that we be sanctified by the trials that we undergo here, until He decides we are done. Then He will return for us, whether that means at our death, or when He returns for all of us at once and harpazos us out of here…AND NOT BEFORE. Until then, we need to be learning to control ourselves, just like when parent raise kids. At first, external systems of rewards and punishments may be necessary, but then they begin, wonder of wonders, to begin to internalize the controls that you teach them. That, believe it or not, is the path that the Lord has US on, so we can learn internal controls and how to represent the Lord in the situations He brings us to.
5-8: You don’t think so? How is your speech?
Okay, I can see a number of people out there in internet land that have grown slack-jawed, and maybe don’t believe what I’m saying, and don’t think they need to be involved in all of this, because God just loves us all too much to make us go through hard stuff. How very Charismatic of you, my friends. Let me see if we can bring a little actual biblical clarity on this for you.
5: 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!
- After some analogizing to make his point easier to grasp, James returns to his point with LASER focus. We aren’t talking about horses or ships. It turns out we are talking about your use of your tongue to speak words to others (and sometimes to yourself, yes I see it happen with you, Beloved. I’m not condemning you for that, we were designed to have dialogue, and sometimes it means we have to talk to ourselves).
- That tongue of ours occupies about 24 cubic centimeters of our body, which is very much larger than that. But wow, what a driver! It can start fights, it can cause wounds, it can cut down, it can revile…or it can de-escalate a fight. It can ease or heal wounds, it can build up, and it can bless. And WE are in charge of what it does as believers in Christ. It can humbly serve Christ, or it can exalt the self, and it is up to you which. You can point to Christ as the one that gets the glory, or it can try to make you sound like the smartest guy in the room when you aren’t. And even if you are, it was awfully rude about it. Or it can write such grandiose commercials for yourself. Because that’s never good. We tend to be treated to those on a regular basis by select individuals.
- And that is the very “forest” fire that James says the tongue can set afire. It boasts of great things that “we have done.” As if we are all that. But it does point out a problem, and guess what James is going to talk about? If you guessed, “that problem,” you’re right, give yourself a gold star…if you can stay humble about it. So…nope, no gold stars. [hahahahahaha]
6: And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
- James goes on to tell us that the tongue by itself is a representation [from the Greek] of a true representation of the world system [kosmos] of adikea, the notion of the opposite of “rightness.” Literal “un-rightness,” at least according to Vine. How is this possible? Pick up a newspaper. Read the headlines. If it is mainstream media today, it is a part of the world system that is trying to blot out anything truly Christian. Even 5 years ago it wasn’t like it is today. And you may call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but I’m calling what I see. It doesn’t make me a nut just because you refuse to look. But enough of that.
- James is explaining here that of all of the “members” of our being, the tongue (specifically our motivated use of it) has the unique ability to defile our entire being. I know the word here is the Greek soma for “body,” but this is one occasion where it is being spoken of in a figurative and metaphorical sense, because clearly we are not thinking of mere physicality. If that were true, then our tongue could basically taste food, and help us make hopefully intelligent noises. No, James is speaking here of the motive force of how we are driven to USE our tongue. Remember that quote from Jesus in Mark 7:14-15? “After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” Did you think the Lord Jesus was speaking of physicality only? Because I don’t. The Lord went on to say in later in that passage, “And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (vv.20-23).”
- The Lord is speaking of what is driving the words that come out of our mouth, that is, our motivations. If we are motivated by the flesh, then all manner of defilement comes out of our own mouths, rendering us, well, fleshly or soulish, as opposed to spiritual in the true sense. We defile ourselves with that kind of speech and underlying motive. When we are living in that fleshly realm of the natural man, our old nature, our default settings, then hell sets the course for our life on fire, and that is definitely a bad thing. [Just a side note: so why are we praying for the Lord to set us on fire? I have never seen a legitimate use of that phrase in the New Testament. Just saying. I could be corrected there, but you are going to have to work hard for that.]
- “On fire for the Lord?” Okay, maybe…but that isn’t what James is saying here. He’s going to take the next two verses to make his point.
7: For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.
- Look, James is saying, humans have tamed all manner of life on earth. We’ve tamed beasts. Horses are still used in ranching, for example. We’ve even tamed the “king of the beasts,” and there is a professional actually CALLED a “lion tamer.” We’ve tamed birds. Carrier pigeons, for example. And Falcons to hunt those pigeons, apparently. We’ve tamed reptiles. What do you think a “snake charmer” is? And we’ve even tamed creatures of the sea. Seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and Killer whales, which is really just an oversized dolphin of the deep. We have tamed ALL of these and more.
- James is NOT saying we have made pets of all of them. I know we’ve tamed the orca, but I still wouldn’t go swimming near a pod of them if I didn’t want to be a snack for them. I can hear these creatures of God when I pray out, Oh Lord, let them be Christian Killer Whales…I would maybe hear (if I could understand orca speech), “Oh Lord of All, thank you for providing us with this food…”
- The Greek word here, as a point of fact is dedimastai, and we can almost transliterate that into English as the word “domesticate.” And we’ve done a great deal of that. Cows, pigs, rabbits, fish species, dogs, cats, like that. Even bears, at least to a point. I remember a show from when I was a really small kid called Gentle Ben. Ben was a black bear. Or how about Grizzly Adams, and his best friend, the Kodiak bear? Also known as the Grizzly? There was a story I hear once about how Dan Haggerty (the actor that played Grizzly Adams) was supposed to be nudged by Bozo the Bear (the bear actor that played Ben the bear) with his nose to wake him. Apparently Bozo had a sense of humour, and sat on Haggerty’s head instead. That’s how we domesticate animals, right? Don’t ever get between a cow and her calf. You better be able to hurdle a 6-foot fence if you do. I won’t tell you how I know that, but I did grow up on a farm. They are not “tamed,” and that isn’t what James is saying.
- James is saying we can control our tongues, but the motivations behind the use of our tongues will often betray what is really inside us, and if that isn’t sanctified life from God via the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, then if will defile us completely. (Remember, if you violate the law on just one point, you violate the whole law…same principle.). Here is what James means. Next verse.
8: But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
- In and of ourselves, “domesticating” the tongue is not truly possible. James makes no bones about it. Look, he just plain flat-out says, “No one can tame the tongue.” He even tells us why: the tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. If you are not regenerate, you haven’t even got a hope. This is one of the reasons that the regenerate must exercise self-control. It is a display of your regeneration by God at your justification by Him and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. And there is a conscious element to that.
- Otherwise, it is a ἀκατάστατον κακόν, [akatastaton kakon], meaning unsettled, unstable, and disorderly evil in character. It is literally describing the malice of a poorly treated junkyard dog, Beloved. If you’ve never met one of those, I’ll see if I can describe one from personal experience. I was delivering invitations to a film in our community that was going to preach the gospel, and as I was coming off of the doorstep of a house and back onto the sidewalk, I heard a loud “thunk,” followed by the rattling of a chain and a very low guttural growl. It startled me, and I spun around to see what made the noise. It was the larges Rottweiler I had ever seen, ears back, teeth bared, growling at me as it strained at it’s chain…an actual logging chain, as near as I could see. Analyze the order of the sounds I heard before I turned if you will. The first thing I heard was the “thunk.” That was the noise of the impact of the dog meeting the limit of the chain. THEN I heard the growl. Beloved, that pup was coming for me from behind. If made no noise as it launched its attack. The only thing that stopped it was the logging chain that its owner had tied it to the wall with. Ears back and teeth bared with a low growl means in dog language, intentional malice of forethought. Its intent was clear. He had been frustrated in his attempt to maul me, but he wanted me for a snack. I chose to move to another street to deliver those invitations.
- Beloved, that’s what the tongue is. It is disorderly evil character looking for expression. And just because it isn’t all curse words and epithets doesn’t mean evil is not being expressed. Lies are also an expression of evil, as is incessant flattery. They always have a point that is evil, and they never have the interests of anyone except themselves in mind. And sometimes WE can give place to that and be used as the instrument of the enemy.
No one can actually tame or even domesticate the tongue. Some, even some on this call, have said that our tongue has a mind of its own. I don’t know how true that is, but it does sometimes seem like it. One the creator of the tongue can operate it under perfect control. And if we are to learn to control ourselves, just as that fruit of the Spirit called self-control implies, we will need Him to do it in and for us.
Please do not think that this is something that He does for us while we are mindless automatons. Our will and effort is most decidedly involved. I used to think otherwise. But as sin depends on an act of wilful disobedience, so also does sanctification. This is how God involves us in the work. And if you aren’t involved consciously and deliberately at least some of the time, then you are NOT being sanctified. People think that somehow God will drag you kicking and screaming into His kingdom. It’s a complicated topic, but I don’t think that statement is true. We must, as believers, engage our will for Him. If we aren’t, and we just sit around waiting for the Lord to do it for us, I think we will be waiting a long time. The sad part is that it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are “waiting on the Lord” or such. But that should only happen after you do everything possible for you to do it. God wants us to walk in a worthy manner, and with our wills engaged in seeking His will and seeing it accomplished by us. What else do you think God is training us for? We are eventually going to be His administrators, sent to deal with situations exactly as He would. I’m getting that out of Paul’s letters. This is a Scriptural idea. It isn’t going to be all clouds and harps, Beloved. We need to get ready. And that means with the tongue, we must choose to use it differently than our sin nature would have us use it.
9-12: Choose your words to bless and not curse…
For our tongues, which James is specifically addressing in this passage, we should be choosing to bless and not curse. We should deliberately choose our responses and words in real time to be a great witness to our Lord to the world, and we cannot do that if all we ever do is compromise ourselves with bad language or behaviour. James actually starts off by looking at the dichotomy presented by the tongue.
9: With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
- James point out what we do. All of us as humans. I can think of no actual exceptions. We bless our Lord and Father. We offer worship to God, for who He is, and all that He has done for us. We are even sincere, and probably committed when we do so. The Lord is easy to praise, apparently. Certainly we can’t ever run out of things to give thanks for or reasons to praise Him. That isn’t our problem.
- James hits the nail right on the head. We ALSO curse men. Men, who he says have been made in the likeness of God. Men, that our Lord and Father has also created. Men that our Lord and Father also loves as much as He loves US.
- You know, I occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, detect a hint of unjust criticism toward those that stand in the way of the work of Christ in the church, and that needs to stop. There are well-defined areas of action that the Scripture names and describes how to use should it become necessary to either eject or discipline such individuals. Venting to your friends about a guy that you think did something wrong might feel better, but it came (chances are, right?) from the very pit of hell. We need to stop doing that unless we need to point it out for Spiritual purposes. We should instead be seeking to bless said individuals, first with the gospel, because it is a great encouragement to all true Christians, but also, assuming God calls you to service like this, with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation as required. Not just curse people that we don’t like or that have crossed our wills. Just sayin’.
10: from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
- Why? Well James said it shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t use the same mouth with which we praise God to utter curses to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and I don’t think we should do it with the lost without cause either. It’s one thing if you’re talking directly with, say, Richard Dawkins, the aggressively obnoxious anti-Christian atheist (so called because he will not say a word about Islam for fear of the violent personal consequences of it). It is quite another if you’re speaking to a dear older lady in the congregation who has taken a shine to the false teachings of Joel Osteen or T. D. Jakes (who is a Modalist heretic as it turns out, and we get that right off of his website). That dear older sister, you should treat as your beloved mother. Richard Dawkins should even be treated with love and respect. He is a man created and loved by God in the same way you are. Speak truth to someone like that. Who knows what might happen? James is right. We don’t want to be unstable and double-minded and double-tongued. We want to have a single eye and a single tongue, speaking the things we have learned from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the benefit of whoever will listen. If someone tells you to shut up…your call, but personally, I shut up. I’m done putting things that are very dear and of inestimable value in front of people who won’t appreciate it and can turn harshly on you in less than a heartbeat. It ought not to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be.
11: Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
- Here is James analogizing again, but with a purpose. I am aware of NO examples of what James is talking about in nature. That is because without some engineering intervention, this simply does not happen.
- But let’s remember what James is talking about here. No fountain of water anywhere does this. That’s how our tongues are SUPPOSED to operate. But they don’t, do they? We have blessings and cursings, the refreshing and the embittering. Instead, we need to learn to control our own speech as disciples of Christ. If we feel like we need to express displeasure at the world, we need to not. Beloved, they cannot help themselves. But we can, or rather our Lord can if we will speak that greatest blessing of all, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
12: Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
- James here is evolving (if I can use the word in a proper fashion) his analogy. What is he really saying here? It is an obvious thing that a fig tree will not produce olives. A grape vine will not produce figs. Salt water cannot produce fresh (without desalination, something James is not speaking of here). Why is this?
- Because it is not in the nature of the tree to produce a different kind of fruit. If I were a fig tree, I could only produce one kind of fruit–figs. If an olive were what was required, I would be completely unable to produce that crop and those requiring olives would have to look elsewhere. If I were a vine, all I would be able to produce is grapes. I would not in fact be able to make figs. If I were salt water, I would not be able to instantaneously become fresh water without a lot of external energy being expended to do so, and it would alter my chemical structure.
- James is saying that the believer cannot produce what is not in his nature to produce. Paul said the very same thing. 1 Cor 6:9-11 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
- Let me euphemize again with our classic fake organization, “Car Thieves for Christ.” If I was a car thief, I would steal cars. I might even make a living (a very good one if done properly) at it. For the sake of analogy, we will assume at some point, I became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, recognizing how my sins put Him on the cross, and how He willingly paid the price of my justification before God. He changed my nature and I would no longer be a car thief. Do you see what Paul and James are saying? “Such were some of you…” That is now past tense. I have been set free from that, and I will produce fruits from my new nature in Christ. If someone needs me to steal a car, they would have to look elsewhere. Lest you think I’m blowing smoke, I have a friend who was an actual car thief, and things way worse than that. My friend Gary [and I will not give his last name] was an actual mob enforcer. Christ saved Gary as an adult, and when I knew him, he lived in Chicago. He doesn’t anymore, but Christ totally changed him. In fact, he gave his testimony and it was featured on a Christian Radio show in the early 1990s in the Chicagoland area. I heard the tape once, it was really neat. But as I said, Christ totally changed him. He was not a criminal anymore. But he and I share a great love…deep-dish pizza…and he was one of the truly great connoisseurs of that. [hahahaha–but we do both like deep dish pizza]
I could go on with other people I have known over the years. Some I am still in touch with, some I am not anymore because of time and distance, but I have SEEN this at work. If your will becomes engaged in the faith of Christ, you change. Sometimes, you even see it in yourself, though for most of us, that’s rare. We will begin to act out of our new nature and do things naturally that please the Lord! We will worship Him. We will read His word. We will pray to Him. We will fellowship with those who do likewise. I’m not saying we will become perfect, but we WILL begin to be perfected. That’s a life-long process, so it can take a while.
And some, wanting that process for themselves but who are unable to obtain it because they will not truly surrender to Christ and believe that His payment on the cross was enough for our sins, become hypocrites or false converts (another way of saying the same thing). They think that their efforts must be stepped up in order to achieve worthiness to be saved. They have no real assurance of salvation, because they have no actual salvation. For these individuals, my heart breaks, because they will miss reigning with Christ…by 18 inches, the approximate distance between ones brain and heart. Now if ever there was an application for Maxwell Smart’s humourous phrase to get that one’s attention, don’t miss it “by that much.” If you do, you will descend into Kaos…[hahaha]
But I’m not trying to give you Get Smart puns. I’m trying to awaken you to your own situation so that you will look at it honestly before the Lord God. Is it truly well with your soul? You can answer that question for yourself by simply observing your verbal responses to people without glossing over it as “their problem.” No, honestly examine yourself, and pray to God that He would be merciful to you, a sinner, to reveal the sin you have that He wants you to work on right now. I bet He surprises you with the answer.
Or if you already know the answer, then what are you waiting for? Beloved, I’m not a huge fan of Dr. Phil, but he does have some good things to say. One of those truisms is, “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.” Admit to yourself that you just might need some help with this. Seek God about it. And then seek genuine Christian mature help. Again, I think the Lord will surprise you if you do, and that surprise will change your life for the better by faith, through grace, and in Christ…alone.
And that’s what I saw in this evening’s text.
Next study, it will be a little different. We will be looking at James 3:13-4:12 as a single unit. This is what I identified as Section 6 in the overview of James, which you can find in our Bible Study Section on BereanNation.com.