The Epistle of James
BLESSING AND CURSING
Scripture Reading: James 3:9 (KJV)
In this verse and through verse 12, we have the inconsistency and the restlessness of the tongue. He is now especially thinking of those who profess godliness; who praise the Lord with their lips – yet, a short time later, curse their fellowman. He shows from nature how utterly inconsistent this is.
"Therewith bless we God ..." To bless and praise the Lord is a good thing. The Word of God always commends it, and James is not trying to belittle it here. He is showing the inconsistency of praising the Lord with one breath, while cursing his fellowman with the next. "Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely" (Ps. 147:1). The last four Psalms are filled with praise to God. The Lord says, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23). Every once in a while a New Testament writer will burst forth in a doxology of praise (Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3). "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Heb. 13:15). The Lord delights when brothers and sisters meet to worship Him; when they gather to praise and extol His name, remembering Him. "Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders" (Ps. 107:32).
"... God, even the Father ..." The expression, "God, even the Father" would be better translated "Lord, even the Father". The title Lord is usually applied to the Son, but sometimes also to the Father. Lord speaks of dominion. It speaks of one who is to be reverenced and obeyed. The Lord Jesus says, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" (Luke 6:46). Is He our Lord? Then let us seek to do His will in all things!
"... the Father ..." He is first of all, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; then He is also our Father. As a Father, He loves us, cares for us, watching over us night and day and supplying us with all necessities of life; ever on the lookout to do us good. He is a better Father than any this world has ever known. Let us be good children, loving Him, obeying Him, ever seeking to please Him. May we, as His son, always bring glory to His name.
"... therewith curse we men ..." Cursing was and is today, a very prevalent sin in eastern lands. If we were to travel in Palestine and adjoining lands, and could understand the natives, we would be shocked by the stream of oaths proceeding from almost every mouth. One would judge from this verse that many who professed Christianity were guilty of this sin. James wants to show the sin and utter inconsistency of such actions. He says, in chapter 1:26, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain". It is folly to praise the Lord on Sunday and curse one's fellowman on Monday. We cannot expect the Lord to accept our worship under such conditions. Perhaps some of us who act
this way are not saved. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar" (1 John 4:20). We cannot have love for God and hatred for our brethren at the same time.
Even Christians guilty: Some Christians are guilty sometimes of speaking rashly toward their fellowman. They are apt to be something like Peter. He made a grand confession; "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". Yet only a short time later he denied Him with cursing and swearing. We need to be cautious or we may be found blessing God, and a short time later, reviling man. We need to guard against spiteful and passionate words that tend to nullify our words of praise toward God.
Evil speaking: Today, there is far too much quarreling, evil speaking, and backbiting among Christians. This, of course, is not new. The apostle John complains bitterly, in his third epistle, of Diotrophes, accusing him of "prating against us with malicious words". Sometimes, because of a difference of opinion on some minor thing, one Christian will thoroughly denounce another, and sometimes whole groups will denounce each other, often leading to a split in the Body of Christ. Have you ever heard an esteemed servant of the Lord say something about another servant of the Lord, which was uncalled for and unbecoming? This sort of thing is a great hindrance to the work of the Lord and will certainly be brought out on the Judgment Day.
Not condone sin: We are not to curse men, however, that does not mean that we are to condone serious sin. When a man is guilty of such serious sin, we are not to shield him. Sometimes it is necessary to expose sin in order to eliminate it. It might even be necessary to put some out of fellowship. In all this though we must not curse men.
Let us not be too critical: Much harm comes from Christians being too critical of others. All have failings; none are perfect. We all say things and do things with which fault can be found. Even though some do us definite wrong we still must not revile or curse them. Leave them in the hands of the Lord. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).
Bless them that curse you: Even if others curse us, we must not curse in return. Shimei cursed David, but David did nothing about it. Even later, when David was restored to the throne, Abishai said, "Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" But David would hear none of it. They cursed and reviled our Lord Jesus, but, "Who when he was reviled, reviled not again" (1 Pet. 2:23). "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). "Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not" (Rom. 12:14).
"... the similitude of God." The word "similitude" would be better translated "likeness". James is thinking of what the Lord says in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". This likeness was not primarily in looks, maybe not at all, because we read, “God is a Spirit.” It perhaps refers to man's intelligence; his ability to know things and to reason them out. No doubt, it also refers to man's character, which must have been princely before the fall. Speech is one thing that lifts man above the animals, and is perhaps part of his being made in the likeness of God. Image ruined by the fall: Sin has in a great measure ruined the image of God in man. Things that men do and say now do not result from being created in God's image, but from being led on by the enemy of souls, the devil. Now we see men mean, hard, cruel, unclean; even filthy. We hear them lie, rage, even curse man and God. In a great measure they have lost the image of God and received instead the image of Satan.
Image restored in Christ: By letting Christ into our hearts, we in a measure become like Christ, and so the image of God is in that measure restored in us. This will be fully restored when we are at home with Him. As long as we are in the body we will have with us that which the Scripture calls "the old man". We must hold this old man in a place of subjection.
Christ the perfect image: Christ fully manifested the image of God when He was here. We read of Him in Hebrews 1:3, "The express image of his person". And, praise the Lord, when we get to heaven we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).
Not completely lost: James acknowledges that the image of God is not completely lost in man, and gives this as the reason for not cursing man. Fallen man still shows great intellect, and consciousness of the existence of God, and has an uneasy conscience about sin. These are all remnants of being created in God's image.
Therefore to curse man who is made in God's likeness is akin to cursing God. We are told to honor all men (1 Pet. 2:17). We should respect all men because we also are men ourselves. Then do not forget, Christ also, "took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). We should be particularly careful not to curse a Christian. To do so is like cursing Christ Himself. The Lord identifies Himself with His people (Acts 9:5).
James now intends to show the inconsistency of the human tongue. Out of the same mouth can come words of highest praise, as well as words of basest cursing. One moment it may be blowing sweet words and so fanning the spark of kindliness into a flame, a moment later pouring out bitter words and, as it were, putting out the spark with its venom. Such things ought not so to be, but sad to say they often are.
"Out of the same mouth ..." If you serve the Lord in a public way, you probably have discovered that your worst opposition comes from religious leaders. They were the ones who denounced you the loudest and came the nearest to cursing you. Perhaps though, you too, have denounced them in no uncertain terms. We need to be very careful not to "curse whom God hath not cursed" (Num. 23:8). Balaam tried to curse Israel, but was forced to bless them instead. Paul thought he did God service when he persecuted the Christians, and sometimes we think that we do God service when we lash those who do not agree with us on some little matter.
Fire from Heaven: The Samaritans did not receive the Lord Jesus, because His face was set to go to Jerusalem. James and John said, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did? But he tuned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of" (Luke 9:54, 55). Some, today, would try to call down fire from heaven for a far lesser reason. Let us be sure we know what we are doing before we open our mouths against others who do not agree with us.
Will denouncing others help?: Let’s consider a few questions: That thing that we denounce so strongly; is it a real evil or do we just suppose it to be one? Is it so serious that if Christ was here He would condemn it like He did the Pharisees? Will our denouncing it help the situation any? Should we be the ones to do this denouncing, or would it be better to leave it for others to do? Make sure none of your beautiful lessons are spoiled by cruel attacks.
"... my brethren ..." Again James uses the expression, "my brethren." Here it bears special force. He appeals to them on the grounds of Christian brotherhood. They surely should not be cursing their brethren in Christ. Yet, that is probably just what was happening on occasions, and it may be happening today. These conditions were the cause for James' strong exhortations about the tongue.
"... ought not ..." Surely blessing and cursing ought not to come out of the same mouth. Not only that it ought not, but we should determine in our hearts that it will not. There is no reason why we should let our tongues run wild. If we commit ourselves to the Lord, the Spirit will make it possible to control the tongue, helping to keep it from running wild. There are a few other "ought nots" in the Word of God that we will briefly consider.
Abimelech to Abraham: Sarah was a beautiful young woman. When she and Abraham went to Gerar, he was afraid they would kill him in order to get her, so he said, "She is my sister." Abimelech, the king of Gerar, saw Sarah and immediately took her home with him to be his wife. However, the Lord intervened and spoke to Abimelech in a dream. The next day Abinelech calls Abraham and reprimands him severely for using this deceit. He says, "Thou hast done deed unto me that ought not to be done" (Gen. 20:9). How sad when a man of the world finds reason to reprimand a child of God. Let us never use deceit even if the truth does cost a great deal, or even endanger our lives. Deceit is one of those things that "ought not" ever be practiced by a Christian.
Tamar to Amnon: We have a very sad story in 2 Samuel 13. Amnon was David's son and Tamar, his daughter, but they had different mothers. Amnon loved Tamar, but he restrained himself because she was his sister. He had a cousin named Jonadab, who gave him very bad council. In verses 11-14, we read of Amnon's folly, and her protest in verse 12. She says, "Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly." But he would not listen, and committed the crime that caused Absalom later to kill him, and brought great sorrow to David, his father. Sexual sin is one of Satan's traps that every Christian should do his utmost to avoid. Never give way to him an inch or you surely will get into great trouble.
Gossips: In 1 Timothy 5:13, speaking especially of some young widows Paul says, "And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." What damage a gossip can do; one who wanders from house to house telling this about that one and that about this one. Are we guilty of this sin? Let's change the "ought not" to "shall not." False teachers: "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake" (Tit. 1:10, 11). How sad it is when those who profess to be teachers of the Word of God teach things that please the people for the sake of money. The world looks at most everything from the financial viewpoint. As Christians, let us look at things rather from the viewpoint of God's glory, expecting Him to provide for our needs. Certainly we ought never to teach wrong things for mercenary reasons.
Here James brings in the fountain or spring of water to illustrate the absurdity of a tongue that blesses God and curses man. Fountains are to this day very prevalent on the eastern slopes of Judea. Some are sweet, some blackish, some positively bitter, some tainted and not fit to drink or for nourishing plant life. The ones that are sweet are always sweet, and the ones which are bitter are always bitter. Sometimes a sweet spring is close to a bitter one, but never does bitter water and sweet come from the "same opening" (R.V.).
Inconsistent tongue: The human fountain is not as consistent as the fountain of water. At one time sweet words may come from it and a short time later words that are ever so bitter. How quickly the sweet stream of praise can change to a bitter torrent of reviling and slander.
Sweet words: The tongue, like a spring of water can be a great blessing, like a tired traveler thirsty from his hard journey welcomes fresh water. How wonderful to meet a weary traveler wandering through this world of trouble and to be a help and consolation to him. We read of the Lord Jesus, "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth" (Luke 4:22). No gall, no bitterness, no venom, ever came out of His mouth. "His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely" (Song of Solomon 5:16). "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Prov. 25:11). "A word spoken in due season, how good is it!" (Prov. 15:23). "Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones" (Prov. 16:24). Regarding the words that come out of our mouths, are they clean, healthy, good, fit, and timely; are they truly sweet words?
Bitter words: Too often we hear bitter words, words of discontent, words of grumbling; words of anger. How absurd that these bitter words should come from the same mouth as the sweet. Let us dam up the bitter waters and let only the sweet flow freely.
Bitter turned to sweet: There are two interesting stories of bitter water in the Scripture. The first is in Exodus 15:23-25. The children of Israel in their journey from Egypt to Canaan came to the bitter waters of Marah. The people murmured against Moses and said "What shall we drink?" Moses cried out unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he cast into the water, the waters became sweet. The bitter waters have been applied in various ways. They picture the bitterness of a life of sin, which can only be made sweet by casting in the tree of the cross. They have also been made to picture the bitter trials that beset a Christian at times as he travels through this world. The bitter can be turned to sweet as we look to the Lord Jesus. In the same way, a mouth that is accustomed to pouring forth bitter words can be changed so that sweet words proceed from it, by looking to Christ for help. He can make the bitter sweet.
Jericho's bitter words: Jericho was a lovely city, beautifully situated, with fine climate, and rich soil. The only bad thing was the water, which was not fit to drink and brought death and barrenness wherever it flowed. Elisha takes a new cruse of salt and pours it into the spring of the waters, and the waters were made sweet (2 Kin. 2:19-22). Again, the bitter waters may be made to picture many things, but the new cruse can only mean the New Testament, and the salt, the cleansing power of the Lord Jesus. Picture a handsome young man or a lovely young lady, well- educated and intelligent. Many of these are ruined by a hard, bitter, rash, sarcastic tongue. Death and barrenness follow wherever these bitter words flow. Christ in the spring of the words, the heart, can change all this. There is no need for a Christian to ever let bitter words pass his lips. Christ is within to sweeten, if we but leave all in His control.
Here James further shows the inconsistency of the tongue. The fig tree only bears figs, never olives; the vine never bears figs, only grapes. They do not transgress the law of their nature.
Illustration from nature: James, like the Lord Jesus, constantly uses illustrations from nature to drive home his teaching. It may be, as he was writing this letter, he could see fig trees, olive trees, grape vines, and springs of water. These trees, as well as the vine and the fountains, played a great part in the lives of the inhabitants of Palestine. We find them all referred to many times in the Word of God. May our words be as useful to those around us as those things were to these people.
Lessons from trees and their fruit: The Lord Jesus taught many lessons from trees and their fruits. In Matthew 7:15-20, He says we may know a tree by its fruit. In the same manner we recognize a false prophet by his fruits. In Matthew 12:33-35, He teaches lessons very similar to our verse here in James. "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things". From this we would conclude that a man who curses his fellowman must have an evil heart, even though he sometimes blesses God.
Tongue's absurdity: There is nothing as absurd in the lower forms of creation as is the tongue of man. The fig tree will bring forth only figs, the olive tree, only olives, the vine, only grapes, yet man's tongue can bring forth both blessing and cursing. God's highest creature and master of all creation cannot govern his own tongue. His chief mark of superiority is his power of speech. Yet this power at times causes him to sink lower than the beasts.
Double tongues: The Pharisees professed to be so godly. How they could pray, and they were the teachers, yet they rob widow's houses, and they reviled the Lord Jesus. Alexander, the coppersmith no doubt was a professing Christian, but he did Paul much harm, and withstood his words (2 Tim. 4:14, 15). We have already noted how Diotrophes treated the apostle John. There are many today like the Pharisees, like Alexander, like Diotrophes who profess to love and bless the Lord and who at the same time abuse and curse their fellowman. Let us make sure our tongues are not double like theirs.
A double tongue cannot be a blessing: The Lord is displeased and will not accept worship from a double-tongued man. The Christians will have no respect for him either. And worst of all, such a one is no testimony to the unsaved, for they will not listen to him, but will rather mock and use him as an excuse for not becoming Christians.
Man will judge us by our words: Men will judge us by our words; not by the words we say in the meeting or when with Christians, but by our everyday words. Do our tongues constantly affirm "I am a Christian; I belong to Christ?" Or does the world say, "That man says he is a Christian, but I don't know; did you hear the way he talked this morning?"