In my last post, we took a look at whom James is addressing in verses 5-12 in chapter 3. In respect to the context, this next section does not apply solely to teachers – but to the whole congregation. As we continue in the series, we will now take a look at the destruction the tongue is capable of rendering.
“See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (James 3: 5b-12).
In nature, the tongue is seemingly uncontrollable. Man has brought many animals under dominion, yet the tongue eludes capture. The purpose in this though is not to instill a fear that man cannot tame the tongue, but rather, in its own right, the tongue is a more formidable beast to subdue than any other on the planet.
Dr. Constable notes of the tongue: “Apart from the Holy Spirit’s help no human being has ever been able to subdue his or her own tongue. It is much more dangerous than any deadly animal because it never rests, and it can destroy simply with words. Fire, animals, and the tongue all have power to destroy.”
While James does not limit the destructive power of speech to anger, we can see the applicatory results thereof. Similarly, Paul lists “outbursts of anger” among other sins, which if habitually practiced, will disqualify one from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). Note specifically the context around these verses though; we see Paul use bookends.
First, he explains the reason why we ought to avoid the deeds of the flesh in verses 13-18. The immediate context of these verses builds off of the “Judiazers” whom demanded that new converts be circumcised per the Abrahamic covenant. The point Paul draws after this though is that through the freedom presented in Christ, we are no longer bound to observe the fullness of the law. Rather, the law is fulfilled through “one word, in the statement, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It is interesting to note hereafter that in Galatians 5:15, Paul uses a reflexive pronoun to show that the ones being consumed by one another are those whom are devouring one another. In other words, we see the proverb played out that the fool who lays his trap is caught in it himself. The intense imagery used is that of wild animals ripping flesh from the bone – and ingesting it. In clear candor – those claiming to love Christ are not loving the brethren, but ripping them to pieces.
This would clearly coincide with the admonition in 1 John to abide in true love, not separating love for Christ with love for the brethren. Paul also uses this illustration as he quotes the “golden rule” of loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. In other words, with the entirety of your being, you are commanded to love the Lord, and thus, commanded to love your brethren in similar manner.
So, how does one abide in the love of the Lord and of the brethren? We walk by the Spirit so that we will not carry out the desires of the flesh (v. 16), for if we walk by the Spirit, the Law does not bind us. A new law binds us: the law of love.
The second bookend to contrast the fruit of the flesh is given in exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit. Hence, we were told why in verses 13-18; we were shown what to flee from in verses 19-21; and now, we are shown how in verses 22-26. The most prominent reason as to how we might accomplish our task is set in verse 24 in saying, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Immediately, the locus is found within the gospel. There is hope for those walking in the flesh, but only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is hope found for those who are now a new creation in relying upon the forgiveness extended through Christ’s sacrifice, His defeat of sin, and our helper, the Holy Spirit.
Within this framework, we can now turn back to addressing the fool in his folly. The main purpose why we ought to address an angry man, in short, is that his actions prove to be devastating to the life of the church, the life of his family, his own soul, and most importantly – the reputation of God. We saw earlier that the fool speaks error against the Lord (Isaiah 32:6), thus, it is imperative that we turn to correct this.