6 February 2017

James 3:1-18

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 101

The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to


This chapter begins by warning that not many should become teachers, since those who teach will be liable to stricter judgement (verse 1). This leads to a larger section dealing with the power of the tongue, and particularly the way in which our words can harm the lives of others (verses 1-12).

James uses a number of different images to illustrate the power of words. The tongue in the body is a like the bit that directs a horse or a rudder that steers a ship (verses 2-4). The tongue is also like a fire that burns a forest, and - in vividly negative prose - can even be described a "restless evil, full of deadly poison" (v. 9). The harm that the tongue can cause is reflected in the way that we curse those made in God's likeness while at the same time blessing God. Such inconsistency challenges us to use our words rightly.

While James' critique of the tongue may seem overly negative, he recognises that we can use our words to build up or tear down, to edify or to destroy. Many of us will remember words of encouragement and love spoken to us, while the words that have hurt us may fester within our hearts, even years later. James' own teaching on this echoes that of Jesus, who warned that the way that we speak to our brother or sister can make us liable to judgement (Matthew 5:22).

In the final section of the chapter, James contrasts "wisdom from above" (v. 17) with "earthly, unspiritual, devilish" wisdom (v. 15). Wisdom from above is reflected in good works, and James uses  a number of powerful adjectives; it is "pure", "peaceable", "full of mercy and good fruits" (v. 17). Earthly wisdom, however, wants to have its own way and is characterised by "bitter envy and selfish ambition" (v. 14). For James, the attitudes of our hearts matter as well as the words of our mouths. Both are connected to the "righteousness" that should characterise the lives of Christians (verse 18).

To Ponder

  • In what ways have you been encouraged by the words of others?
  • How can you take more care in the way that you speak or communicate?
  • How can you cultivate the "wisdom from above" (v. 17) that James describes? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.