| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


James Chapter Three


James 3

In chapter 3 the apostle recurs to the tongue, the most ready index to the heart, the proof whether the new man is inaction, whether nature and self-will are under restraint. But there is hardly anything here which needs remark, although much that demands the hearing ear. Where there is the divine life, knowledge does not display itself in mere words, but in the walk and by works in which the meekness of true wisdom will be seen. Bitterness and contention are not the fruits of a wisdom that comes from above, but are earthly, of the nature of a man, and of the enemy.

The wisdom that comes from above, having its place in the life, in the heart, has three characteristics. First of all, the character of purity, for the heart is in communion with God-has intercourse with Him (therefore there must needs be this purity). Next, it is peaceable, gentle, ready to yield to the will of another. Then, full of good works, acting by a principle which, as its origin and motives are from above, does good without partiality; that is to say, its action is not guided by the circumstances which influence the flesh and the passions of men. For the same reason it is sincere and unfeigned. Purity, absence of will and self, activity in good, such are the characteristics of heavenly wisdom.

These directions to bridle the tongue, as the first movement and expression of the will of the natural man, extend to believers. There are not to be )as to the inward disposition of the man) many teachers. We all fail; and to teach others and fail ourselves only increases our condemnation. For vanity can easily be fed in teaching others; and that is a very different thing from having the life quickened by the power of truth. The Holy Ghost bestows His gifts as He pleases. The apostle speaks here of the propensity in any one to teach, not of the gift he may have received for teaching.

── John DarbySynopsis of James


James 3

Chapter Contents

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)

Commentary on James 3:1-12

(Read James 3:1-12)

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.

Commentary on James 3:13-18

(Read James 3:13-18)

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.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on James


James 3

Verse 1

[1] My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Be not many teachers — Let no more of you take this upon you than God thrusts out; seeing it is so hard not to offend in speaking much.

Knowing that we — That all who thrust themselves into the office.

Shall receive greater condemnation — For more offences. St. James here, as in several of the following verses, by a common figure of speech, includes himself: we shall receive, - we offend,-we put bits,-we curse - None of which, as common sense shows, are to be interpreted either of him or of the other apostles.

Verse 2

[2] For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

The same is able to bridle the whole body — That is, the whole man. And doubtless some are able to do this, and so are in this sense perfect.

Verse 3

[3] Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

We — That is, men.

Verse 5

[5] Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

Boasteth great things — Hath great influence.

Verse 6

[6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

A world of iniquity — Containing an immense quantity of all manner of wickedness.

It defileth — As fire by its smoke.

The whole body — The whole man.

And setteth on fire the course of nature — All the passions, every wheel of his soul.

Verse 7

[7] For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

Every kind — The expression perhaps is not to be taken strictly.

Reptiles — That is, creeping things.

Verse 8

[8] But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

But no man can tame the tongue — Of another; no, nor his own, without peculiar help from God.

Verse 9

[9] Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

Men made after the likeness of God — Indeed we have now lost this likeness; yet there remains from thence an indelible nobleness, which we ought to reverence both in ourselves and others.

Verse 13

[13] Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

Let him show his wisdom as well as his faith by his works; not by words only.

Verse 14

[14] But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

If ye have bitter zeal — True Christian zeal is only the flame of love. Even in your hearts - Though it went no farther.

Do not lie against the truth — As if such zeal could consist with heavenly wisdom.

Verse 15

[15] This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

This wisdom — Which is consistent with such zeal.

Is earthly — Not heavenly; not from the Father of Lights.

Animal — Not spiritual; not from the Spirit of God.

Devilish — Not the gift of Christ, but such as Satan breathes into the soul.

Verse 17

[17] But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

But the wisdom from above is first pure — From all that is earthly, natural, devilish.

Then peaceable — True peace attending purity, it is quiet, inoffensive.

Gentle — Soft, mild, yielding, not rigid.

Easy to he entreated — To be persuaded, or convinced; not stubborn, sour, or morose.

Full of good fruits — Both in the heart and in the life, two of which are immediately specified.

Without partiality — Loving all, without respect of persons; embracing all good things, rejecting all evil.

And without dissimulation — Frank, open.

Verse 18

[18] And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

And the principle productive of this righteousness is sown, like good seed, in the peace of a believer's mind, and brings forth a plentiful harvest of happiness, (which is the proper fruit of righteousness,) for them that make peace - That labour to promote this pure and holy peace among all men.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on James


James 3:4

On May 21, 1941, the “unsinkable” battleship, the Bismarck, was sighted in the North Atlantic. Immediately planes and ships from the Royal British Navy sped to the scene. As the Bismarck headed toward the German-controlled French coast where it would be safe from attack, to the astonishment of all, the massive battleship suddenly swung around and reentered the area where the British ships were massed in greatest strength. At the same time, she began to steer an erratic zigzag course, which made it much easier for the British to overtake her. You see, a torpedo had damaged her rudder and without its control the “unsinkable” Bismarck was sunk. As the rudder controls a ship, so the tongue controls a person.


Chapter 3. Speech and Behavior

The Tongue
No Man Can Tame

I. Don't Presume to Be Teachers of Many

  1. Fault in Speech
  2. Halt the Tongue
  3. Never Let the Tongue Serve Two Purposes

II. Parables of the Tongue

  1. Bits in the Mouths of Horses
  2. Rudders of Ships
  3. Set on Fire by Hell

III. Wisdom from Heaven

  1. Be Pure First
  2. Then Peace-loving
  3. Considerate and Submissive

── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament

Chapter Three General Review
1) To appreciate the power and danger of the tongue
2) To understand the difference between heavenly wisdom, and that which
   is earthly, sensual, and demonic
James begins this chapter with a caution against many becoming 
teachers.  In view of the stricter judgment that awaits teachers, one
should be sure they possess the maturity and self-control necessary to
control the tongue.  James then provides a series of illustrations to
demonstrate the power and danger of the tongue, and how we can easily
be inconsistent in our use of it (1-12).
Perhaps some sought to be teachers so as to appear wise.  Yet James
writes that wisdom and understanding are to be shown by one's conduct,
done in meekness.  He then defines and contrasts the difference between
two kinds of wisdom.  There is wisdom which is earthly that causes 
confusion and every evil thing.  On the other hand, there is wisdom
which is heavenly that produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness
      1. Teachers shall receive a stricter judgment
      2. Maturity and self-control are required not to stumble in word
      1. Like a bit which controls the horse
      2. Like a small rudder which directs the ship
      1. A little member which boasts great things
      2. Like a little fire which kindles a great forest fire
      3. Indeed, the tongue can be a fire, a world of iniquity
         a. Capable of defiling the whole body
         b. Capable of setting on fire the course of nature, being set
            on fire by hell
      1. Man can control creatures of land and sea, but not the tongue
      2. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison
      3. With it we bless God, and then curse man made in His image
         a. Thus blessing and cursing proceed from the same mouth
         b. Something which should not be so
            1) For no spring sends forth both fresh and salt water
            2) Neither does a fig tree bear olives, nor a grapevine
               bear figs
      1. To be seen in one's conduct
      2. With works done in meekness
      1. Full of bitter envy, self-seeking, boasting and lying
      2. A wisdom not from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic
      3. Producing confusion and every evil thing
      1. Wisdom from above is first pure, then it is...
         a. Peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good
         b. Without partiality and without hypocrisy
      2. The fruit of righteousness is produced by peacemakers who sow
         in peace
1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - True religion controls the tongue (1-12)
   - True religion displays heavenly wisdom (13-18)
2) Why does James caution against many becoming teachers? (1)
    - Teachers shall receive a stricter judgment
3) What is one indication of maturity and self-control? (2)
   - The ability to bridle the tongue
4) What two illustrations does James use to show the power of the
   tongue? (3-4)
   - Like a bit which controls the horse
   - Like a rudder which controls the ship
5) What illustration is used to show the danger of the tongue? (5)
   - Like a small fire which kindles a large forest fire
6) How does James describe the tongue? (6-8)
   - A fire, a world of iniquity
   - Set among our members that it defiles the whole body
   - Sets on fire the course of nature, being set on fire by hell
   - That which no man can tame
   - An unruly evil, full of deadly poison
7) What example does James use to show how the tongue is often misused?
   - Blessing God and cursing man who is made in His image
8) What illustrations does James provide to show the incongruity of
   such speech? (11-12)
   - A spring does not send forth both fresh and salt (bitter) water
   - A fig tree does not bear olives, nor a grapevine bear figs
9) How is the wise and understanding person to manifest himself? (13)
   - By good conduct done in meekness
10) What characterizes wisdom that does not descend from above? (14)
   - Bitter envy and self-seeking, boasting and lying against the truth
11) What is the source of such wisdom? (15)
   - It is earthly, sensual, and demonic
12) What exists when there is envy and self-seeking? (16)
   - Confusion and every evil thing
13) What are the qualities of wisdom that is from above? (17)
   - It is first pure
   - Then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good
     fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy
14) Who produces the fruit of righteousness? (18)
   - Peacemakers who sow in peace


Let Not Many Of You Become Teachers (3:1-12)
1. In our study of "The Epistle Of James", we now come to the third
2. In verses 1-12, we find:
   a. A WARNING against too many becoming teachers - 1-2
   b. A DISCOURSE on the untamable tongue - 3-12
3. In a time where "verbal abuse" is often epidemic, and where "self-
   proclaimed teachers" engage in all sorts of heated religious
   discussions, there is much we can learn from this passage
[First, let's notice...]
I. THE "WARNING" (1-2)
      1. Note carefully:
         a. James does not say, "Let not many of you BE teachers"
         b. But rather, "Let not many of you BECOME teachers"
      2. This passage is not just a rebuke of those who try to BE
         teachers before they are ready, but a warning that many should
         not even BECOME teachers in the future!
      3. It is a mistake to believe that EVERYONE should become a
         teacher at some point in their service to Christ!
         a. Paul illustrated time and again that the body of Christ has
            many members, and not all members do not have the same
            1) To the saints at Rome - Ro 12:3-8
            2) To the church at Corinth - 1 Co 12:12-31 (note esp.
               verse 29, where Paul with a rhetorical question implies
               that not all are to be teachers)
         b. Peter likewise taught that God's grace toward is "manifold"
            (multi-faceted) and that we should exercise our respective
            abilities accordingly - 1 Pe 4:10-11
      4. In view of what Paul, Peter, and James wrote, we should be
         careful before we apply He 5:12-14 to mean that EVERYONE
         should one day be teachers (the author of Hebrews may have
         been writing to a select audience, whom he knew ought to have
         been teachers)
      1. Teachers shall receive "a stricter judgment"
         a. There is a grave responsibility involved in teaching others
         b. We can lead people to TRUTH - but we just as easily lead
            them to ERROR!
         c. Just as with elders (He 13:17), those who teach will be
            held accountable if they mislead others!
      2. Because we all "stumble in many things"
         a. Everyone has faults, and with many people the improper use
            of the tongue is a major one
         b. But it takes spiritual maturity ("a perfect man") not to
            stumble in word!
[So James cautions against many people trying to become teachers.  This
should not discourage any from trying to find out if teaching is a gift
that they might have if nurtured along, but one should proceed with
humility and caution.
In verse 2 James briefly mentions the power of the tongue over the
body.  He elaborates on this theme as we now consider...]
      1. Both illustrations are used to demonstrate that a small member
         (like the tongue) can control the body
         a. A bit controls a horse
         b. A rudder controls the ship
      2. So our tongue controls the body...
         a. If you speak a lie, it won't be long before you find yourself
            living a lie
         b. If you speak suggestively in an immoral manner, it won't be
            long before you begin acting immorally!
      3. The power of the tongue to direct is easily applied to the
         dangers of teaching...
         a. The teacher's speech can easily set the mood of the class
            or congregation
         b. He can easily direct the congregation in an uplifting way,
            or just as easily direct the congregation in a discouraging
      4. Should not this power to direct via the tongue humble those 
         who teach, and caution the spiritually immature?
      1. A small fire can easily cause great destruction (remember the
         Great Chicago Fire?)
      2. So it is with the tongue!
         a. A loose tongue can ruin one's reputation
         b. It can also destroy churches, families, friendships
      3. In describing an uncontrolled tongue, James uses very vivid
         terms to make his point:  The tongue is...
         a. A fire
         b. A world of iniquity
         c. So set among our bodies that it defiles the whole body
         d. That which sets on fire the course of nature
         e. That which is itself set on fire by hell!
      4. Should not this power to destroy and defile both ourselves and
         others caution us in becoming teachers?
      1. Despite being able to tame wild animals, man is unable to tame
         the tongue!
         a. It is an unruly evil!
         b. It is full of deadly poison!
      2. I understand James to be somewhat hyperbolic here for the sake
         of emphasis...
         a. It is true that no MAN (by himself) can tame the tongue
         b. But with GOD'S help, we can tame it (as David prayed in
            Ps 141:3)
         c. And with GOD'S help, we MUST tame it - cf. Ep 4:29; Co 4:6
      3. As a further example of how difficult it is to tame the tongue,
         James uses a very common (and relevant) problem
         a. I.e., blessing God and cursing men
         b. Something we are very likely to do, especially on Sundays
            1) We spend time in worship, blessing God
            2) But in driving home, we might curse men (other drivers
               who pull out in front of us)
         c. Racists and bigots are often guilty of "blessing God and
            cursing men"!
      4. But with the illustrations of a spring, a fig tree and a 
         grapevine, James shows the inconsistency of this!
         a. What comes forth is a true indication of what is inside
         b. Just as Jesus taught in Mk 7:20-23
         c. Despite all the praises we offer God, it is the curses
            against man that reveals the true person inside!
1. Again, these examples of the misuse of the tongue should humble and
   caution all those who would become teachers
2. But they should also serve as a warning for us all, whether we teach
   or not, that we need to seek God's help in controlling the tongue!
May David's prayer be our own:
    Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be
    acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
                                                 (Psalms 19:14)


Heavenly Wisdom Vs. Earthly Wisdom (3:13-18)
1. In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, we are encouraged to seek
   after wisdom - Pr 3:13-18; 4:7-9
2. Likewise, in the New Testament we are exhorted to walk with wisdom
   - Ep 5:15-17
3. But in Ja 3:13-18, we learn that there is more than just one kind
   of wisdom (READ)
4. In this lesson, we will take a look at what James describes as two
   different kinds of wisdom:  "Heavenly Wisdom Vs. Earthly Wisdom"
[In discussing these two, James does so by making several contrasts;
the first being...]
      1. It is EARTHLY
         a. I.e., worldly
         b. Wisdom that is according to the world's standards
         c. But this wisdom is foolishness to God - cf. 1 Co 1:20
      2. It is SENSUAL
         a. Appealing to the senses, the emotions, the passions
         b. Wisdom according to what FEELS right (but that doesn't make
            it right)
      3. It is DEMONIC
         a. The kind of wisdom possessed by the devil and his angels
         b. A wisdom that often finds its origin in the influences of
      1. It comes from GOD - cf. Ja 1:17
      2. It comes via PRAYER - cf. Ja 1:5-8
[Knowing the origin or source of each kind of wisdom ought to encourage
us to select the right one.
But if that is not enough, then consider how James describes...]
   A. EARTHLY WISDOM (14,16)
      1. Full of BITTER ENVY
      2. Possessing SELF-SEEKING IN THE HEART
      3. This wisdom extols as virtues such qualities as:
         a. Power
         b. Position
         c. Privilege
         d. Prestige
      4. It was this kind of wisdom...
         a. That prompted Satan and his angels to rebel against God
         b. That prompted the disciples to argue over who would be the
            greatest in the kingdom
      1. It is first PURE
         a. Above all else, it is true to God's Will
         b. Not one to compromise truth for the sake of peace
      2. Then it is PEACEABLE
         a. Holding firm to the truth, it makes every effort to be at
            peace - cf. Ro 12:18
         b. For example, speaking the truth in an attitude of love -
            cf. Ep 4:15
      3. GENTLE
         a. That is, kind in one's dealings with others
         b. Not harsh, even when right and dealing with those who differ
            - cf. 2 Ti 2:24-25
         a. Not in matters of truth
         b. But in matters of opinion - Ro 14:1
         c. In matters of liberty - Ro 14:19-21
      5. FULL OF MERCY
         a. Quick to forgive the offenses of others
         b. Wisely understanding one's own need of mercy - cf. Ja 2:13
      6. Producing GOOD FRUITS
         a. Notice verse 13, where it says we are to show by our
            conduct our true wisdom and understanding
         b. This wisdom takes one beyond being a HEARER to being a DOER
            - Ja 1:22
         c. Understanding that "faith without works is dead" - Ja 2:26
         a. Showing no respect of persons - cf. Ja 2:1-13
         b. Rather, treating all fairly, on the same basis
         a. Indicating that all of the above is not an "act", a "show"
         b. But that it comes from a heart desiring to please God, not
[Certainly the superiority of "Heavenly Wisdom" over "Earthly Wisdom" is
apparent in this passage.
But as additional proof, notice also...]
      1. Causes CONFUSION
      3. Makes you wonder what kind of wisdom...
         a. Is behind denominationalism
         b. Is often manifested in some congregational meetings
      1. Produces PEACE, instead of confusion
      2. Bears the fruit of RIGHTEOUSNESS, instead of every evil thing
1. Certainly when we compare their ORIGIN, NATURE and FRUITS, the wisdom
   to be preferred is "HEAVENLY WISDOM"
2. What kind of wisdom do we have?
   a. Those who have "EARTHLY WISDOM" boast of theirs (14)
   b. While those who have "HEAVENLY WISDOM" show theirs by their
      good conduct done in meekness (13)
3. What kind of wisdom do we want?
   a. If EARTHLY, then no effort is necessary
      1) Just do what the world tells you
      2) Just do what feels right
   b. But if HEAVENLY, then we must be diligent
      1) To seek such wisdom from God
      2) To demonstrate such wisdom by our conduct
4. What kind of wisdom do you have in regards to the gospel of Christ?
   a. EARTHLY WISDOM makes no response to the gospel, or if any, only 
      that which is convenient
   b. HEAVENLY WISDOM receives the commands of the gospel joyfully and
      obediently - cf. Mk 16:15-16; Ac 2:38
Have you demonstrated "HEAVENLY WISDOM"?

--《Executable Outlines


Speech and behavior

The tongue

No man can tame


I.  Don’t presume to be teachers of many

1.    Fault in speech

2.    Halt the tongue

3.    Never let the tongue serve two purposes

II.Parables of the tongue

1.    Bits in the mouths of horses

2.    Rudders of ships

3.    Set on fire by hell

III. Wisdom from heaven

1.    Be pure first

2.    Then peace-loving

3.    Considerate and submissive

-- Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament