James 3

The Word Made Fresh

1Not many of you should be teachers, friends. Those of us who teach will be judged more strictly than others. 2Everyone makes mistakes, but those who speak the truth are able to keep their whole body in check. 3When we bridle horses with bits they obey us because we can guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships, for example; they are so big that only strong winds can drive them, but they can be guided by a tiny rudder to go wherever the pilot wishes. 5In the same way, the tongue is very small, but can boast of great deeds. A great forest can be set ablaze by a small fire, 6and the tongue is like a fire in our bodies that can ruin the whole body. It is like a fire kindled by hell. 7Every kind of beast and bird and reptile and fish in the world has been tamed by humans, 8but the tongue is restless and wicked and poisonous. 9It can bless our Lord and Father, or it can curse those who are made in God’s image. 10The same mouth can speak blessings and curses. Friends, this shouldn’t be! 11Does a single spring contain both fresh and bitter water? 12Can a fig tree produce olives, friends? Can a grapevine bear figs? No, and neither can saltwater taste like fresh water.

13Who among you has wisdom and understanding? Demonstrate in the way you live that what you do is done with compassion shaped by wisdom. 14But if your heart is full of bitterness and selfishness, don’t give in to boasting or telling lies. 15That is the kind of “wisdom” that doesn’t come from above, but is from the earth and is unspiritual and even devilish. 16Wherever there is jealousy and selfishness there will also be disorder and evil of all kinds.

17But wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, gentle, able to yield, and filled with mercy and good deeds without partiality or hypocrisy, 18while righteousness is sown in peace by peacemakers.


1-5: Speech is controlled by the tongue, which makes the tongue a powerful instrument. It is likened to the bridle which guides the horse and the rudder which guides the ship. Indeed, in Proverbs the tongue is accorded the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, those who spend their lives teaching others are undertaking an extreme risk, for the tongue — that it, the words that it forms — can set people afire. Rare is the individual that can handle such responsibility.

6-12: The tongue can no more be controlled than a spring can gush both fresh and brackish water, or a fig tree bear olives, or a grape vine bear figs, or saltwater turn fresh. It is a dangerous tool; another reason why only a few should undertake to use it for instruction of others.

13-18: Envy and selfish ambition are named as the causes of wickedness and disorder, and a bit of reflection certainly confirms this. Wisdom “from above” is the antidote. The qualities listed in verse 17 are certainly the things that make for peace and should be sought at all costs.


The importance of daily meditation cannot be overstated. It is easy to get caught up in all the stuff the world tosses our way.