By: Daniel Goepfrich
The Power of the Tongue
Chapter three’s teaching on the power of the tongue seems to be disconnected to its context (James 3:1-12). However, its “size-to-impact ratio” concept could point back to chapter two, where not loving one’s neighbor (a “small” sin) has a profound impact within the Christian community. Likewise, the tongue, a small member of the body, can greatly affect those around us, either building up for good or tearing down for bad. The life change that faith should bring (end of chapter two) should harness the power of the tongue for good. James could not understand how a believer could use his tongue for both good and evil, blessing God yet cursing his people.
The end of chapter three and the first paragraph of chapter four go together, bridging the power of the tongue to practical teaching about Christian speech. Each of these paragraphs begins with a question. The first is “WHO IS WISE AND UNDERSTANDING AMONG YOU?” (James 3:13-18). Godly wisdom is to exhibit itself in good works done in gentleness toward those around us. Bitterness, jealousy, and the like demonstrate selfishness, the opposite of the royal law, leading to discord within the assembly. Godly wisdom, however, leads to peace and righteousness.
Chapter four opens with the second bridge question (starting in James 3:13): “WHERE DO THE CONFLICTS AND WHERE DO THE QUARRELS AMONG YOU COME FROM?” (James 4:1-3). The obvious answer would be, “From selfishness,” which is exactly what James answered. Even in our prayers, if we ask with selfish motives, God is unlikely to grant what we desire.
A Life of Submission
Reminiscent of the Hebrew prophets, James called his readers spiritual “ADULTERERS,” those who cheat on God by chasing the world and its ungodly suggestions (James 4:4-10). Probably just a few years later Paul would write, “THE FLESH HAS DESIRES THAT ARE OPPOSED TO THE SPIRIT, AND THE SPIRIT HAS DESIRES THAT ARE OPPOSED TO THE FLESH, FOR THESE ARE IN OPPOSITION TO EACH OTHER” (Galatians 5:17). James gave only one solution – the same as Paul’s: submit wholly to God, humble oneself completely to him, and confess sin. (“Clean hands” is a common metaphor in the Hebrew Scriptures for confession of sins.)
James concluded this section with another focus on specific speech (James 4:11-17). Speaking against a fellow believer is to judge where God has not judged. Paul would later expand on this in his teachings on a believer’s conscience (see Romans 14, for example). Where God has not spoken, a believer does not have the right to speak. This submission to God and his Word applies to our own decisions as well. A life of full submission will hold plans with an open hand, allowing God to lead as he desires. Ultimately, any decision or action that is not done in faith is sin.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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