James 3:1–12 NRSV – Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 3:4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 3:7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 3:8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Summary – 1) We are accountable for the official use of words (v 1). Teachers, leaders, fathers, and public representatives of all sorts can make application from this. There is accountability for leadership precisely because of the potential to lead astray those in such a leader’s care. Those who teach or publicly use words are therefore subject to a stricter judgment. The principle of accountability commensurate with influence applies to all public discourse. 2) We are accountable for the personal use of our words (vv 2-5a). A perfect person has perfect language. A mature person has mature control of his tongue. Thus, the measure of a man’s maturity is his language. 3) We are especially accountable for the destructive use of our words (vv 5b-12). Words set fires of sinfulness. Our words can be wild and untamed, like a forest fire blazing. Words destroy, not only by inflaming (witness Hitler), but they seep into us like poison. They have power, like an incantation. We can “curse” with our words.
Insight – The main current of this passage is plain in the analogies in verses 10-12. These truly need little explanation. Our words manifest ourselves. If we are in grace, we speak graciously. If we are embittered, we speak bitterly. If we are mean, we will say mean things. If we are inflamed with anger, we will say words which spew this. What is in our hearts, comes forth in our words. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Do you retaliate with your words when wronged? Do we you shoot poisoned darts from a heart of fire? Do you spread malice by subtle suggestions? Do you care for the good name of your neightbor?
Catechism – What does God require of us? (In 3:1-12)? We are to speak graciously and in truth to care for the good name of our neighbor.
Discussion – Have you ever been hurt by someone’s words against you? How did you respond?
Prayer – Heavenly Father we praise you for your infinite justice and mercy. We ask that you grant to us that grace with which we can control our words and use them for building up others and not for tearing others down. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.