Meditations on James 3:1-12

The “greater strictness” of judgment mentioned here, was in the mind of Jesus when he told Pilate, “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin”, (Jn. 19:11) God knows that when a Christian becomes a teacher, that Christian becomes responsible for what they teach. In the same way, everyone who was responsible for handing Jesus over to Pilate would carry the weight of accountability for taking on more responsibility in the crime. If Christians teach error, we are committing a greater crime than any other kind of teacher because we are influencing people and giving them over to the influence of deceit instead of truth. James was attacking gossip and equating it with a devastating forest fire in a time when man could do nothing but watch and see everything destroyed. God has grace for us, but we should never negate our responsibility, the risk is too great and our accountability is grave (Matt. 7:16-21; 15:10-11, 17-19). Remember the only people Jesus ever called a hypocrite were religious leaders and teachers, his most severe rebukes were pointed at spiritual teachers, not physical leaders but religious ones. 

        Kindles. The point is that a small force can ignite, become out of control, and then destroy everything! Our words have awesome power and they can truly destroy (Prov. 16:27-29)

       Defiles means evil speech such as lies, false vows, and slander as well as blasphemy and gossip. The Bible says they are all evil! A small tongue in our large body controls our direction, relationships, and all we experience in life from peace to violence; it is how we are perceived and how others react to us (Psalm 25:15, 23; 28:23; 39:1-3; 52:1-4; 57:4; 120:2-4; Prov. 16:27; 26:21).

       Hell, (Greek Gehenna) refers to the valley of Hinnom, the place where the heinous child sacrifices took place under Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chron. 28; 33; Jer. 7:32). This was the wickedest place a Jewish mind could conceive of, and where the first century Jews burned their trash. It also refers to everlasting torment (Mark 9:43-48). It is the image of judgment. Our tongue is hurtful when it is boastful and condescending and thus will lead to the fate of those who are dammed. James is not saying gossip causes a person to go to Hell, rather it is where its concept and veracity leads, the logical conclusion is for us to stop this, or experience a falling away, Galatians 5:4.

       Tame. The tongue is harder to tame than a wild beast! Animals are made to be to be subservient; we are made to be over the animals (Rom. 3:13-14). Can we have rule over the animals but not ourselves?

        Deadly poison, as in deadly cobra venom, the most powerful illustration that could be made in this time! James is using the image of Moses’ snake, how the snakes killed and how the symbol which is the modern medical symbol today, heals (Nub. 21:6-9). This compares the uncontrolled tongue to the deadliest snake, and how our words can be of love or be a deadly toxin (Psalm 52:2; 58:1-6; 64:3; 140:3; Prov. 12:8, 18; 16:24; 18:21; 25:18)

      Made in God’s image. James’ point is that we are made in God’s image and to be in Christ; animals are made for our use and it is our responsibility to care for them. (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:2; Prov. 12:10). Thus, we should have control and care over our own mouths and words!  

        Does a spring. James illustrates these incongruities with examples of the most common crops that were necessary for life from nature (Gen. 1:11-12, 21, 24-25). The point is that we cannot worship God authentically if we use the same mouth to curse His children!

So then, do we fully understand the power of our words? We must be conscious of what comes out of our mouths before it comes out. Squeezing the toothpaste out is easy, but putting it back in the tube is nearly impossible. When our words come out, they are out for good! We must have them under control! How can we do this? By making sure our tongue is under a good helmsman, God (Psalm 19:14; 51:10; 141:1-4; Eccles. 3:7; Mark 12:34; Luke 6:45; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 10:5; 11:3; Phil. 4:8; Eph. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:13-14) and by making sure our spiritual formation is growing in Christ as Lord. When our spiritual life is growing, we will be disciplined as our motivations and attitudes are aligned up to His, The Father of Light, love itself.

Meditations on James 2:14-26

Because of God’s grace, some Christians can be genuine Christians with all the flaws, weaknesses and sins previously listed in James 1:1 – 2:13, but when James starts talking about what kind of faith we have, a line is being drawn to distinguish between real Christians and fake Christians. Salvation is at stake here in learning what kind of faith we have. There is only one kind of faith that can save a human soul, and that is found in Christ, Ephesians 4:5 & John 14:6.

v16, “Go in peace” was a Jewish farewell blessing and saying. It means, may the Lord bless you and go away from me. It is saying to someone, stay warm, while you are in a warm home with a spare coat and they have no coat and are out in the cold. But, the Law explicitly commands us to provide hospitality (Deut. 10: 17-19; 15:7-8; Isa. 42:3-4; 58:6-7; Matt. 14:14-21; 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 4:18). Many Jews did; however, many refused and used their faith as the reason not to give help to others-a perverted reason.

Saving a soul or saving a body, is not the question James is concerned about answering, but it is whether or not our faith is real enough to save either, afterall, once body and soul are separated, we’ve lost any opportunity to believe or do anything. Jesus connected the two in a Christian’s duty to the Lord, Matthew 25:31-46.

A dead faith described in v17, is like a dead end, but a living faith is the avenue that brings a person into eternal life, Ephesians 2:8. God’s part is in being gracious, our part is in being obedient, therein is that living faith. Do not for a moment think that this refers to just baptism as a work on our part. Baptism is a work on God’s part, Colossians 2:12. Our faith is seen as trusting obedience through all the action we are compelled by the gospel to do, like confessing, repenting, being baptised and living faithfully. The act of baptism alone is not a work that we do as deserving salvation, it’s simply a part of many steps towards saving us, see 1st Peter 3:21. 

The type of work or labor James refers to in v18 can not be better described than by reading 1st John 3:23-24. To believe in the name of Christ and love your brother is a work akin to salvation, having the same importance as obeying the Lord in baptism. This is why Paul can say we must work out our own salvation, Php. 2:12 and yet still need God’s grace.

Abraham was saved by his faith in God (Gen. 15:6; 22; 26:4-5). What Abraham did was prove his faith by trusting in God and then backing up that trust by his obedience to God’s directive, even though it seemed irrational to offer up his only son, for whom he had waited so long.

  Rahab trusted in God and she was saved. She then hid the spies sent from Joshua. She knew the city was judged and doomed and that the Hebrews were God’s own. She was willing to sacrifice herself so that God would be honored and so that perhaps her family could be saved too (Josh. 2:1-21; 6:17-27; Heb. 11:31).

Two completely different people in nationality, gender, class & personality, yet they both had the same living faith which moved God to be gracious in forgiving and saving both of them. If either of them can be moved by faith to obey God, then God can move us too.

Paul also was saved by trusting in God. His life was radically transformed, so he put the same, if not more, energy into equipping the church as he had in trying to destroy it (Rom. 4:1-5). Paul and James do not contradict. Paul tells us outright that faith will have a response to it; so, Paul and James do not contradict, but rather complement each other. Salvation is a gift, not a reward (2 Cor. 5:10)