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.
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