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James 3:9-12 – Getting to the Heart of the Matter

This week we’ll bite off a lager piece of James than usual, just because this section contains variations on one common theme.

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

If you’ve been following this series, the title of this series might give you pause. The heart? Aren’t we talking about the tongue? Well…yes, and yes.

If you remember back to our previous study, James has been expounding on the dangers of the uncontrolled tongue. We mentioned then this this goes way beyond the frustrating, embarrassing slip of the tongue. A misplaced word here, a malapropism there, the occasional foot placed squarely in mouth…these are the consequences of thinking before we speak. And this is bad enough.

But, as usual, James is hunting bigger game. Let’s take a look at the contrast he sets up in verse nine. Pay attention to the highlighted words:

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.

Do you see the “bless/God vs curse/similitude of God” comparison? It’s jarring, it doesn’t fit. One of these things is not like the other.

The point James is making here is this: There is something fundamentally wrong with the person whose speech is characterized by this kind of incongruity. It’s not an innocent mistake, it’s a character flaw.

To drive home this point, James follows up with a series of illustrations that demonstrate the seriousness of the condition: a spring that sends forth both fresh water and bitter, a fig tree that bears olives, or a grapevine that bears figs, or yet another spring from which comes both fresh and salty water. All of these analogies have one thing in common: they are impossible!

Here, of course, James might just be hearkening back to when he heard Jesus himself express similar thoughts. Like…

You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:16)

Or…

Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. (Matthew 15:11)

The first verse Jesus is warning of dangerous false prophets, while in the second he is referring to the hypocritical Pharisees. Nevertheless, the point that he makes in both verses – and the point James is making in today’s text, is clear. An uncontrolled tongue is an indicator of a defiled, or even unregenerate heart.  That being the case, the logical solution is to care for the heart.

And, not coincidentally, the heart will be the subject of the next few verses.

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