Scripture Text: James 3:7-12 (ESV) – 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
If you missed last week, you missed how James called our tongue a landfill that is no longer beneficial. This week, James uses the next six verses to discuss the tension and conflict that involves our tongue. One of the reasons why I like James so much is because he isn’t subtle; we know exactly where he stands on any issue. In these verses, James builds what appears to be a battle and turns it in to an impossibility. Right in the middle of our text, he uses some strong language and says “these things ought not to be so.
The central theme of James 3:1-12 comes out of verses 9-10. Verse 9 is a primary reason that people don’t like Christians. It’s one of the main issues that I have with Christians. It’s one of the main issues that I have with myself. The issue is so prevalent among Christians that it could labeled an epidemic. Let’s read verse 9 – “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” That’s the tension that lives in each one of us. We need to unpack this verse a little bit.
We bless: this word bless means to give praise; to speak honorably; to go out of your way to say something nice; this is the word we get ‘eulogy’ from. During the Wednesday Bible study, we talked about how a person giving the eulogy at a funeral would never dare say something poor or negative about the deceased. This is the same type of reference that James is making. As Christians, we would never dare verbalize negativity toward our Lord and our Father, at least not around other people.
Our Lord: This title for God has reverence to the highest capacity possible. This title is Adonai. It’s Elohim. It’s Yahweh. It’s Jehovah. This title for God was such a sacred acknowledgment of God that Jews were afraid to address God this way. These titles declare God’s sovereignty and supremacy over nature and humanity. These names for God remind us that God is the owner, possessor and ruler of all created things. We are his and he is our master!
Our Father: This title for God is relational. It’s the connection that allows us to receive an inheritance as described in Ephesians 1. Please take the time to understand this truth. God can be your father and not be your Lord. You can be a Christian who is connected to God and sealed with the Holy Spirit. You can coast through life with God being your father and never surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. You will keep your “get out of hell free” card and receive your little shack of inheritance on the ghetto side of heaven. You will be extremely embarrassed that you never did more for God with your life.
When we surrender to Adonai, Elohim, Yahweh – we understand who we belong to. We surrender to who is in control. We surrender to God’s sovereignty in our lives. The natural result of surrender to Adonai is giving praise. In contrast, the natural result of resisting Adonai is cursing people.
We curse people: This is not the person who uses profanity. This is speaking of the person that is a loose cannon. The word curse in verse 9 means to pronounce misfortune against mankind. This person doesn’t care who he speaks against, but has developed the habit of speaking misfortune into another person’s life. The word ‘cursing’ in verse 10 means words meant to bring harm to another individual. The last half of verse 9 indicates we do this to people who possess characteristics of God’s image. In other words, we say things to harm another individual who walk with Christ. Christian mouths hurt other Christians because we don’t surrender to Adonai. If you are this person, I want to invite you to surrender to the lordship of Christ. The strong words of verse 10 speak directly into each of our lives. No age group is exempt from this exhortation, “these things ought not to be so.” The translation of this phrase is it is necessary this doesn’t take place in this way. James knows that our mission of making disciples depends greatly on our ability to control our tongue.
Throughout the rest of our text, James describes how much tension our mouth carries. Verses 11-12 give three simple illustrations, “11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” Verses 7-8 gives an illustration that is much more complex when we unpack it. “7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue.” In order to understand what James is saying here, we need to know a couple of things. First, remember James is the pastor of the Jerusalem church and he was highly educated in the Jewish system. Second, verse 7 has a cross-reference to Genesis 1:26. Third, mankind in verse 7 is feminine and human being in verse 8 is masculine. Here’s my paraphrase, “every animal that was every created can be and has been tamed by women, but no man came tame the power of his tongue”.
Let’s look at Genesis 1 because this is really interesting. Genesis 1:26 – “26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Let’s flip over the Genesis 2:15-22 – “15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” Basically, James just told us that it is easier for a woman to tame animals before she was created than it is for us to control our tongues.
Why would James tell us to control our tongue when it’s impossible? James knows our natural bent will always be for the poison to come out of our mouths. We cannot win the battle of our tongue if we fight it our own. Our hope to win the conflict of our mouths only comes when we surrender to Adonai.
Here’s the part that I find most interesting in the entire text. We just spent two weeks learning what we already knew about our mouths; they have the capability to destroy other people very quickly. As much as this text is applicable to each of our lives, as it should be, the context isn’t directed toward the average Christian. Look at James 3:1 – “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James is addressing the men who God has appointed to the office of spiritual overseer as described in Ephesians 4 and First Timothy 3. The men who are the spiritual leaders of churches must surrender to Adonai before congregations will follow. James wrote this book 2000 years ago and it still applies.
James tells us there is a conflict with our mouths, but there shouldn’t be. The one thing we need to assess in your own life is this. Nobody can do it for you. Have you surrendered to Jesus Christ as Adonai? That’s how we win the battle that seems like an impossibility.