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What does James chapter 3 mean?

Must peace be sacrificed for doctrinal purity?

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  • brethren be not many teachers: In some measure these words applied to the household of faith but more pointedly did they apply to the rich: the Pharisee, the Sadducees and the Scribes. See Romans 2:17-21! They were so proud of their understanding of the law and yet they understood not one jot of it. How pathetically sad that the belief they held so tenaciously would be but a one-way ticket to destruction at the judgment seat of their long-awaited Messiah. May the same not be true of us!
     
  • greater condemnation: Note Romans 2:3 (judgement = Krima). Greater responsibility. Knowledge brings responsibility. The greater one’s knowledge the more good or ill one may do. With the responsibility of teaching comes the duty to live an exemplary life. A teacher is looked-up to and his example emulated by those who hear him.
     
  • offend all: We all make many mistakes. The mistakes of the teacher can have tremendous negative effects in precept and example. These vile usurpers of the Law were factious, corrupt, and eager to engage in acrimonious debate. Wherever they went they dishonoured God’s name (see Ezekiel 36:22) and when they taught the proselyte they made him “twice the child of hell than themselves.” (Matthew 23:15 – hell = gehenna which is the same word for hell used in James 3:6). 
     
  • offend not in word: If anyone can control his tongue, that person is spiritually mature (perfect = mature). The “Logos” of God, His word which is His creative instrument is the “outward expression of the inward thought.” So with us. When Peter denied his Lord, those standing by said that his speech betrayed him. They were talking about his thick Galilean accent but then Peter opened his mouth and truly betrayed himself as he vehemently denied being a follower of Jesus. The first place a poverty of ideals or ideas will show itself is in our speech. (See Matthew 12:34-36!). Someone once said, “I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say” Meditate upon this principle. Examine yourself. Does your speech betray a heart that is far removed from the Kingdom of God? “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” (Cp. Colossians 4:5,6: Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. See also Ephesians 4:29-32)
     
  • of horses and ships and little flames of fire: a bit is a small piece of equipment but it controls the direction of a large animal. Huge ships are controlled by a relatively tiny rudder. The rider and the pilot are ultimately in control and bear responsibility for the horse or the ship. So the direction of our lives is expressed and sometimes betrayed by the words which we speak. How great a fire is started by a little flame! Where I grew up, vast forests have been destroyed by a match carelessly tossed aside. So our words can have effects for good or ill far beyond what we imagine.
     
  • the tongue is a fire: the word fire is “pur” and is almost always associated with judgement. Peter talks about the “fiery trial” which has overtaken believers (cp. 1 Peter 4:12; 1:7). We can all be guilty to some degree of this fault in thoughtless talk, gossip, and slander. However, the rich Jews of the ruling council were at the far end of the wrong side of the scale of evil use of the tongue. They lied; they railed; they falsely accused; by subtle argument and overt oppression they deliberately tried to derail the faith of the followers of the Lord; they sat in condemnatory judgment of their Christian brethren. Woe to them! The Lord hates those who sow strife and discord among brethren! Let us take that to heart the next time we feel inclined to talk about someone behind their backs and to denigrate their character or point of view. Let us remember that, at such times, we are willfully stepping into the circle of those whom the Lord hates! If that thought alone does not still our wayward tongues then nothing will. We must learn to act in the spirit of Christ, the spirit of “Agape” love, at all times, in all circumstances, towards all people, no matter how strongly we feel about them or about an issue that divides us. There is no choice in this matter. There is no excuse. If the flesh overcomes us then we must withdraw from the arena of discussion and pray earnestly for that “wisdom from above” which will enable us to deal with our brethren “for Christ’s sake.” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “the love of Christ sets my limits.” He has set our limits too. (See 1 John 4:7).
     
  • defileth the whole body: vicious persecution was defiling the whole body of believers in the Synagogues. Although this is, I think, the primary focus of James’ remarks, the principle is absolutely true of the Ecclesia today. Strife and division and the acrimonious debate surrounding them have too often been left to go unchecked and brethren have separated from one another in anger. It sometimes takes a generation for such feelings to heal. (See Hebrews 12:15). It is the duty of every brother and sister, constrained by the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, to strive to heal any breach between brethren.
     
  • setteth on fire the course of nature: literally “ignites the wheel of genesis.” It defiles all of the Father’s creation. The unbridled tongue can do so much damage! Look what it did in the Synagogues of James’ day with pious frauds pretending to defend what they considered to be the “truth” but in reality, they were protecting their “turf.” There is a general application of this principle to which we would do well to take heed!
     
  • set on fire by hell: Hell = Gehenna, the valley of the son of Hinnom, Jerusalem’s garbage dump. What fires your speech? Is it ignited by the garbage of this world? (1 John 2:15-17!). Is it on fire with the spirit word of God? 
     
  • For every kind of beasts and birds: Mankind has been able to tame every kind of wild and venomous animal – serpents are charmed, falcons trained to hunt, lions purr like kittens, and killer whales jump through hoops. No human can, unaided, tame the tongue. The tongue and the temperament behind it can only be tamed by God: 
  • 1 Peter 2:21-23 "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously"
    Self-discipline is not enough; the tongue must be the subject of divine discipline. ( Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13;) May our tongues be ignited with the fire of the Father’s spirit-word that our words may ever be gracious, healing, instructive. Corrupt and vain communication is the bane of our existence today. The world is consumed by the most trivial and Godless vanity – fashion, sports, celebrity of every kind, visual entertainment which revels in perversion and violence. Sadly, our conversation far too often reflects our association with the things of the world rather than our love of the Father. (Cp. Psalm 101:3 and Psalm 26:2,3 – we need to meditate deeply on these words of the Psalmist!)
    Ephesians 4:29 "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
    Psalms 12:7-8 (RSV): "Do thou, O LORD, protect us, guard us ever from this generation. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the sons of men."
     
  • unruly evil full of deadly poison: The rich persecutors were like serpents lying in wait, ready to strike, their tongues full of deadly venom ( Acts 9:1). 
     
  • blessing and cursing: “cursing” is used almost always in a context of persecution or judicial condemnation (see Matthew 5:44; 25:41; Hebrews 6:8). The pious worshippers in the Synagogues on the Sabbath were the same vile men who cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” at the Lord’s trial and who screamed in tormented rage at Stephen as they hauled him away to die. At our level, how often have we worshipped the Father and found ourselves, sometimes within the hour, slandering, backbiting and gossiping against our brethren and sisters? “These things ought not so to be!”
     
  • figs, olives, grapes, fountains: James is warning against the danger of hypocrisy. A “hypocrite” is an actor who assumes a different mask for each role he must play. Our face must never be a mask concealing insincerity but at all times it must reflect the visage of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6). We are “poets” – performers – of the word and wear one mask only and at all times.
     
  • Who is wise and endued with knowledge: who is a man of understanding among you? Let him prove it by his way of life. Here is the conjunction of words and works. Sometimes “what” is said is not as important as the example of the one who says it. The spiritually wise person will demonstrate his wisdom in meekness. (See John 3:20,21).
     
  • meekness: What is meekness? It is that inner quality produced in one who has sincerely sought the fellowship of the Father and is expressed in the love of justice and mercy and is worked out and refined day by day as one walks humbly with Him. It is an umbrella description of the “fruit of the spirit.” It is the fundamental character of those who will inherit the Kingdom (Matthew 5:5; Luke 22:26,27). It is the expression of the glory of God in the life of an individual. It is a wonderful mixture of humility, strength, and wisdom which is attainable only by those who are “servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Cp. John 1:14, 16; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Acts 6:15)

  • bitter envying and strife: bitter = piercing; envying = zealotry; strife = contention and intrigue (nasty politics). The wisdom from above was not the hallmark of the rich persecutor but rather a bitter zeal full of contention and hatred. They were proud of it but in their heart of hearts, they knew they were caught up in a self-serving lie. (John 3:2; 11:48).
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  • earthly, sensual, devilish: Everyone who embarks on a campaign of separation or who begins an engagement of strife within a group claims to have superior insight and wisdom. The real reason for such difficulties is usually politics driven by ego. Pride of place and fear of loss due to change often lie at the root of such problems. So it was with the rich in the Synagogues in their fanatical zeal to eliminate the followers of the Lord. Such factional “wisdom” is not from God. It is of the earth; it is born of lust, pride, and fear. It is demonic, sparked by the madness of the flesh unrestrained. Its hallmark is a mean-spirited zealotry and its result is irreparable damage to all who are caught in its coils. 
     
  • confusion and every evil work: this phrase means tumult, upheaval and every foul or wicked deed. The word “work” in Greek is “pragma” from which we get our word “pragmatic.” The connotation of “pragmatic” is to not act strictly according to principle when the principle is difficult to apply. One then acts out of expediency rather than principle. Indeed, the expedient resort to a zealous contention in anger and wrath is sometimes even used in a misguided defence of the Truth. No doubt these persecutors had rationalized their actions in just such a way. Matthew 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. (service = worship latreia – Rom 9:4; 12:1; Heb 9:1; 9:6)
     
  • wisdom from above: Unlike the wisdom from the earth, the result of which is chaos, tumult, division, and every evil work, the end result of the wisdom from above is peace and unity yielding the “fruit of righteousness.”
     
  • first pure then peaceable: This phrase has been wrested from time to time in order to justify strife and contention. “First we must have purity! Then we will have peace!” Peace must characterize all of our dealings all of the time. 
     
  • pure: The word “Pure” is “Hagnos” in Greek. It means “Holy.” It does not mean perfection of understanding. It does not mean that everyone in a group must agree about everything all the time. It does mean we must be utterly separate from the “wisdom that is from the earth.” Nothing can be sadder or more ironic than the spectacle of a misguided brother or sister engendering strife and contention within the Ecclesia and claiming to be defending the “purity of the Truth.” (Hebrews 12:14,15 – note the “root of bitterness” which is a result of unholy actions). 
     
  • peaceable: The heart that has been freed of the tumult and commotion of earthly wisdom is truly at peace. It is whole. It understands the Lord’s words when he commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.” 
     
  • gentle: this word means “moderate,” “patient,” the same word is translated as “moderation” in Philippians 4:5 and means “yieldingness” or “not insisting on the letter of the law” (2 Timothy 2:24,25). This person knows when to give ground and when to stand firm but in doing either he is full of the love of Christ.
     
  • easy to be entreated: “ready to be persuaded” and when persuaded to obey even if one’s position about an issue must be changed.
     
  • full of mercy and good fruits: filled with compassion and the fruit of the spirit. Conscious of the grace he has received, this person extends that same grace to others (John 1:16). 
     
  • without partiality and hypocrisy: “without uncertainty or insincerity” (RSV). No divided loyalties and no playing of roles to gain advantage or status by insincerity.
     
  • the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace: Hebrews 12:11 instructs us that those who bear the chastening of the Lord and grow and learn from the trials of life produce the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” These are the peacemakers, the builders of harmony and brotherly love whom the Lord calls “blessed.” They are children of life and light. Those who sow strife and discord are children of darkness, hated by the Lord. They serve in misguided zeal or in outright pretense.

 

I hope you have found this helpful.

God bless,
Mike
thisisyourbible.com

 
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