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James 3

The Tongue Is a Fire

1 1Let not many of you become teachers, 2my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
2 For we all 3stumble in many ways. 4If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a 5perfect man, able to 6bridle the whole body as well.
3 Now 7if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
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.
5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it 8boasts of great things. 9See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
6 And 10the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which 11defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by 12hell.
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.
8 But no one * can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of 13deadly poison.
9 With it we bless 14our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, 15who have been made in the likeness of God;
10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
12 16Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Wisdom from Above

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? 17Let him show by his 18good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter 19jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against 20the truth.
15 This wisdom is not that which comes down 21from above, but is 22earthly, 23natural, 24demonic.
16 For where 25jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
17 But the wisdom 26from above is first 27pure, then 28peaceable, 29gentle, reasonable, 30full of mercy and good fruits, 31unwavering, without 32hypocrisy.
18 And the 33seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

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James 3 Commentary

Chapter 3

Cautions against proud behaviour, and the mischief of an unruly tongue. (1-12) The excellence of heavenly wisdom, in opposition to that which is worldly. (13-18)

Verses 1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.

Verses 13-18 These verses show the difference between men's pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be know by the meekness of the spirit and temper. Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes. Those who are lifted up with such wisdom, described by the apostle James, is near to the Christian love, described by the apostle Paul; and both are so described that every man may fully prove the reality of his attainments in them. It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.

Cross References 33

  • 1. Matthew 23:8; Romans 2:20; 1 Timothy 1:7
  • 2. James 1:16; James 3:10
  • 3. James 2:10
  • 4. Matthew 12:34-37; James 3:2-12
  • 5. James 1:4
  • 6. James 1:26
  • 7. Psalms 32:9
  • 8. Psalms 12:3; Psalms 73:8
  • 9. Proverbs 26:20
  • 10. Psalms 120:2, 3; Proverbs 16:27
  • 11. Matthew 12:36; Matthew 15:11, 18
  • 12. Matthew 5:22
  • 13. Psalms 140:3; Ecclesiastes 10:11; Romans 3:13
  • 14. James 1:27
  • 15. Genesis 1:26; 1 Corinthians 11:7
  • 16. Matthew 7:16
  • 17. James 2:18
  • 18. 1 Peter 2:12
  • 19. Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:16
  • 20. 1 Timothy 2:4; James 1:18; James 5:19
  • 21. James 1:17
  • 22. 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:19
  • 23. 2 Corinthians 1:12; Jude 19
  • 24. 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:24
  • 25. Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:14
  • 26. James 1:17
  • 27. 2 Corinthians 7:11; James 4:8
  • 28. Matthew 5:9; Hebrews 12:11
  • 29. Titus 3:2
  • 30. Luke 6:36; James 2:13
  • 31. James 2:4
  • 32. Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 6:6
  • 33. Proverbs 11:18; Isaiah 32:17; Hosea 10:12; Amos 6:12; Galatians 6:8; Philippians 1:11

Footnotes 15

Chapter Summary


In this chapter the apostle cautions against censoriousness, and reproving others with a magisterial air; advises to bridle the tongue, and guard against the vices of it; and shows what true wisdom is, and from whence it comes. He advises the saints not to arrogate too much to themselves, and take upon them to be the censorious reprovers of others; which he dissuades from, by the consideration of the greater damnation such shall receive, and by the frailty of all men, and a common proneness to offend by words; for he must be a very singular man indeed that does not offend by words, Jas 3:1,2 wherefore he exhorts them to watch over their words, and bridle their tongues; which he illustrates by the methods used with horses to keep them in subjection, and with ships, to turn them as occasion serves, and the master pleases, Jas 3:3,4 and though the tongue is a little member, and not comparable to a horse, or ship, for its bulk; yet it boasts of great things, has a world of iniquity in it, and much mischief is done by it, being influenced by the powers of hell; therefore care, and all possible means, should be used to restrain it, Jas 3:5,6 though it is not tameable by man, only by the Lord, when all sorts of creatures are, even the most fierce and savage, and therefore are worse than they, being an unruly evil, and full of deadly poison, Jas 3:7,8. And what is the most monstrous and shocking, blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth, are pronounced by the same tongue, which is used in blessing God, and cursing men made after his image, which by no means ought to be done, Jas 3:9,10 and which is not to be paralleled in nature; no instance like it can be given, no fountain sending forth, in the same place, water sweet and bitter, salt and fresh, or any fig tree bearing olives, or vine figs, Jas 3:11,12. And because all this evil springs from a vain opinion men have of their own wisdom, the apostle proceeds to give an account of true wisdom; and observes, that that shows itself in good works, in a holy conversation, attended with meekness and humility, and not in envying, strife, and lies, Jas 3:13,14. Such sort of wisdom is not from heaven, but of the earth; it is not rational; it is no better than that of brutes; yea, no other than that of devils, since where the above sins prevail, it is a hell on earth, there is nothing but confusion, and everything that is vile and wicked, Jas 3:15,16 but, on the other hand, true wisdom is of an heavenly original, of a pure, peaceable, gentle, and tractable nature, and is full of good fruits or works in its effects, particularly mercy, and is clear of partiality and hypocrisy, Jas 3:17 and as one of its fruits is righteousness, that is sown in peace by the peacemaker, and produces it, Jas 3:18.

James 3 Commentaries