Behave yourself and watch your mouth
Tongue on fire1 Dear family, most folks should drop the idea of becoming a teacher. Those of us who are teachers get judged more intensely. 2 We all make plenty of mistakes. Let me tell you this, you’d be one perfect human if you could control the words that come out of your mouth. If you could do that, you could control your whole body, too. 3 We put an itsy-bitsy bit into the mouth of a huge horse. With that bit, we can get it to do what we want. We control the entire horse.
4 And what about ships? They are massive, and driven by powerful winds. Yet we use a tiny rudder to steer them in whatever direction the ship’s captain wants to go. 5 The tongue is small, too. But it talks big. A small flame can set a huge forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame, set on fire by hell itself. The tongue is a wicked world all its own grafted into the world of our body. It corrupts every part of our body and sets our life on fire. 7 People have tamed all kinds of critters and birds and reptiles and even sea creatures.
8 No one has tamed the tongue. It’s a wild and bucking evil, spitting killer poison. 9 With this tongue of ours, we praise our Lord and Father. Then we cuss to high heaven those humans made in God’s image. 10 Out of one mouth comes praising and cussing. Dear family, that’s just wrong. 11 Does a spring give you freshwater some of the time and saltwater other times? 12 Come on, family, can a fig tree grow olives or a grapevine grow figs? No, and you’re not going to draw fresh water from a saltwater pond, either.
Wisdom is well behaved13 Are there any of you out there who are truly wise and understanding? I’ll tell you how you can show it. Behave yourself; live an exemplary life. Whatever work you do, do it with a gentle spirit. That’s what the children of wisdom look like. 14 If you’re someone who has a lot of bitterness, jealousy, and selfish ambition rolling around inside of your heart, do everyone a favor. Don’t get so full of yourself that when you come face-to-face with the truth, you lie.
15 Wisdom from God above is nothing like that. So-called wisdom like this isn’t spiritual at all. It comes from this world or from demons. 16 Wherever you find jealousy and selfish ambition you’re going to find chaos and every kind of evil that exists.
17 Here’s what wisdom from God above looks like. It’s transparently pure, peace loving, gentle, reasonable, merciful, generous, and without a trace of prejudice or hypocrisy. 18 Peacemakers plant seeds of peace. At harvest time they haul in a crop of goodness.
Often translated as righteousness.
James wants to make sure that anyone hoping to become a teacher should know ahead of time that “teachers get judged more intensely” (3:1). In what way do you think teachers have to measure up to a higher standard or get called out for offenses that the rest of us get a pass on?
James seems to imply that it would take “one perfect human” (3:2) to be able to control the words that come out of their mouth. We can generally keep our fists from punching someone and our feet from kicking someone. What makes it so hard to keep our tongue from lashing out at someone?
James says, “No one has tamed the tongue. It’s a wild and bucking evil, spitting killer poison” (3:8). Some of us know people who have done a pretty good job of taming their tongue. They seem to have an excellent filter that doesn’t let much bad stuff through. Who do you know who is like that? What are some of their other characteristics? What kind of people are they?
James says wisdom that comes from God has nothing to do with selfish ambition. He says “It comes from this world or from demons” (3:15). What do you think selfish ambition looks like? Is there any difference between your average workaday ambition and selfish ambition? Or is all ambition selfish?
James tells us what wisdom from God looks like. Sort the list. What would you say are the three most important traits out of this list of eight?
- transparently pure
- peace loving
- no prejudice
- no hypocrisy
LIFE APPLICATION. James compares the tongue to a small flame that “can set a huge forest on fire” (3:5). What would you say are some of the biggest forest fires we have to deal with because of sparks that came out of someone’s mouth?
LIFE APPLICATION. James says that the children of wisdom are well behaved, live an exemplary life, and do their work with a gentle spirit. Who does that describe in your circle of family and friends and acquaintances?
LIFE APPLICATION. James says, “Wherever you find jealousy and selfish ambition you’re going to find chaos and every kind of evil that exists” (3:16). Where in the world have you ever found a place free of jealousy, selfish ambition, chaos, and evil like you wouldn’t believe?