Commentary on James, Chapter 3

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

THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES, Chapter 3

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.

Commentary on James, Chapter 2

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

THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES, Chapter 2

1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

The Lord is the judge. He is the one who is qualified to measure a man. We are not. Whether that man be poor or rich, treat all equal, knowing that they are not equal, and that God favors the “poor of this world rich in faith.” The bottom line is in v. 8 of this chapter, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…”

6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

In a sinful society, it is to the advantage of the rich to bring lawsuits and perceived judgments against the poor, since the poor have no money to fight the injustice. “…and those Gadianton robbers… [were] condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills…” –Helaman 7

7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

By this statement, obviously being rich is extremely looked down upon in the word of God; I find it impossible for a believing rich man to set this aside. In the end a rich man trades his wealth for his salvation, and there is no comparison.

8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

For one to qualify for God’s amazing grace, through his Son Jesus Christ, that person’s commitment cannot be partial. Enjoying one’s sin, while keeping the rest of the commandments shows profound lack of understanding. Only complete and total allegiance to God is acceptable to Him. In the words of Amaleki in the book of Omni, “I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”

11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

Through the atonement of Christ, we can be saved. Thus our hope for salvation is in Him who has power to save. We individually do not have this power. The Lord requires that we have a hope of salvation until that time when our calling and election is made sure, after which we can speak as Mormon, and say “…nevertheless, I know that I shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Mormon 2) I think it imprudent and improper to speak as some, saying, “I’ve been saved since I was [enter age].” Until we see Christ in the flesh and receive of his blessing, our place is to have a firm (and patient) hope and commit ourselves fully and completely to His law and commandments, which commitment involves all of our time, all of our attention, all of our money, all of our talents, and all of our heart, might, mind and strength—and our whole soul. (see 2 Nephi 25:29) The lack of an assured salvation stretches us to new horizons, and destroys all remnants of complacency. In short, it’s the journey that saves, not the idea that we’ve arrived at a certain place from our personal “long walk” with the Lord.

“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” -Lamentations 3

12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” –Matthew 7

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

James is defining faith, which may be a redefinition to some who have believed that mere belief without action in accordance with that belief is sufficient. The most obvious example I can think of is the topic of war in the Book of Mormon, where the strength of the Lord ensured victory every single time, but the army still needed to perform the task of doing—going to actual battle—, and not believing the Lord would give them victory while sitting back, praying to God, and imagining it.

In the following verses, James gives another example of faith without works.

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Even Satan has faith in God if faith is defined as lacking works!

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

James is about to give two examples to cement the idea that faith is action: one from the father of the house of Israel (Abraham), and one from a harlot. This contrast shows that all who believe may, and should, act on that belief. Otherwise one’s “faith” is the babblings of a wishful thinker.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

A body without a spirit is lifeless, and cannot accomplish anything of significance in the real world. Even so believe without motion pointed towards that belief is lifeless.