Commentary on James, Chapter 3

Commentary by Kelly Gneiting. Go to Kelly’s commentary on Chapter 1, or Chapter 2.


1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

One who knows the will of God, and is in authority, and an example to others, receives greater condemnation for sin. The Lord’s way is one in which men have a natural inclination to their own position, whereas one who hastens to that which he ought not is unwise, seeing as he is setting himself up to fall, or to experience “greater condemnation.”

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

The words one speaks says more about the spirit of that man than in any other way. Words have the power to deceive and destroy, or save and sanctify. One feels the Holy Ghost or is under the trance of Satan, based on mere words.

One who can control his tongue, and speaks reservedly, putting much thought into that which does come out of his mouth, is able to show true temperance. Such an one, when he does speak in the name of the Lord, speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost. The power of a trained tongue from one who has faith in God can be so great that all under the sound of his voice will believe that man, as in the case of 3 Nephi 7:

“And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority. And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.”

Yet one can also use his tongue to defile his whole body, setting himself and others on a course far away from God.

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

A mouth in which proceedeth blessings and cursings, delivers cursings. Either the water is pure, or it is defiled and bitter. When one speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, the “water” coming from that man’s fountain is only a blessing to others.

12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

When one’s eye is continually single to the glory of God, with a love of God and of all men, only that which is edifying leaves his lips. For that which a man speaks is a reflection of his heart. “Good conversations” dominate that man’s tongue; and he is meek, and when he speaks, his words are that of the wisdom of the scriptures—the simple and plain truths, even if these words give offense to the ungodly.

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Good practice in conversation consists of one continually asking himself the question, does what I speak come from above? If it is, one’s mind in preoccupied with the things of God—His work and His glory. If it is not, one is preoccupied with the things of the world. Although man lives in this world (below), the yearning, the stretching of soul, the things preoccupying one’s mind can ever reach to that glorious place above, where God dwells and all His holy angels.