"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace." - Yermiyahu 6:14
An examination of Yaakov/James 3
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow Israelites, since you know that we will receive a stronger judgment.
Simply put, if we take on the responsibility as rabbi’s to pass on the teaching of Messiah, we must do so with considered accuracy, we must also accept that we will be assessed in a more detailed way. This warning is meant as a call to take care with the instruction we give to those who look to us for Godly council.
3:2 For we all stumble in many ways; but the man who does not stumble in what he says, he is a complete/perfect/mature man who can bridle his whole body.
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d.” (Romans 3:23) Yaakov—James—makes it clear from the beginning of his teaching concerning the tongue, that none of us has complete control over it. He juxtaposes this fact with the man who does have control over the tongue—which is the director of our words. That man can be none other than Messiah Himself. Messiah, being the Word, is the only man able to perfectly control the rudder that directs the words of human beings.
3:3-5 f we put a bit into a horse’s mouth to make it obey us, we are able to direct its whole body. 4 And think of a ship — although it is huge and is driven by strong winds, yet the pilot can steer it wherever he wants with just a small rudder. 5 So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze!
The tongue is like a bit or a rudder, both these tools are used by a rider or pilot, neither of them in and of themselves are able to direct anything. The tongue is a neutral muscle until such a time as it is directed.
The tongue, like a rudder, is small but powerful, with disproportionate control over the whole body. Like a rapidly spreading fire a small lie can destroy a nation.
3:6 Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness. The tongue is so placed in our body that it defiles every part of it, setting ablaze the whole of our life; and it is set on fire by Gehennom itself.
The specific tongue in question here is the tongue that gives in to temptation—as explained in chapter 1—and is therefore used to direct our entire being toward evil. Because the tongue speaks forth that which is in the heart its words are the evidence of things kept deep within. If our hearts—core being—are given over to wickedness then our words will perpetuate that wickedness and we will act accordingly. Yeshua warned that what comes out of a man’s mouth is what defiles him. (Matthew 15:19-20) One might say that in contrast to the Messiah, whose tongue directs the body--Ecclesia/Church—toward perfection, our tongues have the potential to damage and defile the body--Ecclesia/Church.
It is important to note that Gehennom is spoken of as existing concurrently and as the ignition source for the corruptible fire that dances on the tongue when it is used by the yetzer ha-ra—evil inclination. Therefore the place to which Yaakov refers—which, at that time was understood by the rabbi’s to be the holding place for the wicked, perhaps a section of sheol, Hebrew for underworld (not grave, the Hebrew for grave is Kever.)--is believed to have existed for some time, probably having had its inception before the creation of humanity—that is after the fall of ha-Satan, the accuser.
We should also remember that Jewish tradition speaks of the Torah descending like tongues of fire. There is a fire born of truth and a fire born of evil. Truth is a fire that cleanses all in its path, evil is a fire that scars, damages, defiles and destroys all in its path. Truth is so hot that it has the power to transform the fuel it consumes, evil is only hot enough to deform the fuel it uses.
3:7-12 For people have tamed and continue to tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures; 8 but the tongue no one can tame — it is an unstable and evil thing, full of death-dealing poison! 9 With it we bless HaShem—YHVH--the Father; and with it we curse people, who were made in the image of G-d. 10 Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing! Brothers, it isn't right for things to be this way. 11 A spring doesn't send both fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it?12 Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers? Or a grapevine, figs? Neither does salt water produce fresh.
As stated previously, no one can tame the tongue, that is, no one except the man mentioned in verse 2—the man who does not stumble in anything He says but has power of all of His being. This of course is Messiah Yeshua. It is fallen humanity’s tongue that is an evil thing, not the physical muscle but the physical muscle misused for evil purpose.
Yaakov clarifies his position by identifying the motivation or intention behind the tongues use: firstly it is used correctly to bless G-d but incorrectly for cursing human beings made in G-d’s image. Therefore it is Messiah in us that steers the rudder of the tongue toward blessing and the evil inclination or fallen nature that is at work in the misuse of the tongue. The royal commandment or royal Torah mentioned in Chapter 2 of Yaakov’s book is here, reaffirmed as central to right action. One who blesses G-d with his tongue and then turns to his neighbor and curses him, has effectively blessed and cursed G-d in the same breathe. On the other hand, the one in whom the Son of G-d resides, calls out blessing with Messiah’s voice—and we cry Abba, through the spirit of son-ship—and from the same root turns and blesses his neighbor. This is born of Messiah, as opposed to the misuse of the tongue which is born of Gehnnom/ha-Satan when submitted to the evil inclination.
With reference to the spring we are reminded that it is from the source that the spring produces either fresh or bitter water. The fresh spring is born of a pure source, some might say it is of the heavens, while the bitter spring is born of an unclean source—deep within the earth, a metaphor for Gehennom. Our tongues must be guided by the pure life giving water of G-d’s Son, which comes from above. He guides us, we do not direct Him.
3:13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.
Yaakov affirms pure core faith that bears the fruit of our humble Messiah.
3:14 But if you harbor in your hearts bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, don’t boast and attack the truth with lies!
If the source of your words is evil, don’t think you will be able to delude others by attempting to twist the truth with lies. Again, it is from a man’s heart—core being—that he speaks.
3:15 This wisdom is not the kind that comes down from above; on the contrary, it is worldly, unspiritual, demonic.
Pretentious false wisdom doesn't come from G-d but from unspiritual fallen nature and from demonic sources, be it by influence or possession. Much of the philosophy of the day seemed wise on the surface but was soon exposed as Gnostic, ungodly and deceptive.
3:16 For where there are jealousy and selfish ambition, there will be disharmony and every foul practice.
Selfish ambition is idolatry and when fueled by jealousy it produces disharmony and abominable actions. Jealousy was the catalyst for Satan’s desire to become god. All sin is a form of idolatry and as the author has already said, it sets the tongue on fire. G-d is a G-d of symmetry and order, of harmony, unity and reconciliation. Satan on the other hand seeks to divide, taint, separate, defile and breed disharmony.
3:17 But the wisdom from above is, first of all, pure, then peaceful, kind, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 And peacemakers who sow seed in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
The wisdom that comes from G-d is pure—like the fresh water of the previous analogy, peaceful, it doesn't seek to divide, it is kind—not nasty, listens to reason rather than jumping to conclusions, hence the previous chapters admonition to be quick to listen, slow to anger and slow to speak. The wisdom from above prefers mercy over judgment—as alluded to in the previous chapter, thus it produces the fruit of mercy which is reconciliation and unity—the opposite of disharmony. Again Yaakov reminds his readers that hypocrisy and partiality are the fruit of a misused tongue and a jealous, self-glorifying heart—core being.
Finally, the tongue that Messiah steers will be a platform for peaceful reconciliatory words that when sown into the lives of others will produce a harvest of right action both in the life of the speaker and in the lives of those who receive the Word.
“Peace makers who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness—right action.” Notice that the text doesn't say, “Peacemakers will reap a harvest of righteousness.” Simply being a peacemaker is not enough, anyone can, by their own inclination, attempt to make peace. This does not always produce a righteous outcome. The peace process in the Middle East is a perfect example of this. The Scriptures remind us that, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) Only peacemakers who sow in Shalom, will reap a harvest of righteousness, that is, a truly peace-filled outcome. Peace Himself is the key here. The Peace we sow in is Messiah Yeshua, Sar Shalom—the Prince of Peace.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.