Resources » The IVP New Testament Commentary Series » James » Controlling What We Say (3:1-12)

Controlling What We Say (3:1-12)

Years ago I visited a college friend at his home. On campus we had enjoyed a significant sharing of personal values and philosophies, much of it through discussion of literature, history and music. When we met at his home, he wanted me to hear a certain Mahler symphony that expressed some of his aspirations toward the attainment of love and peace. We listened together in silent pleasure, caught up in the music and our high ideals—until, at a particularly moving point in the symphony, my friend's mother broke the spell by entering the room and asking a mundane question about supper. Her innocent interruption received a fierce verbal rebuke from her son. How dare she spoil the exquisite music! Startled and embarrassed, she retreated from the room, but the damage to our mood had been done.

The damage to our illusions had also been done. My friend and I talked about the incident. What good were ideals of love and aspirations to "self-actualization" if we could not control our tongues enough to speak respectfully to other human beings? The spirituality was only a feeling, an illusion, if it could not purify our behavior in the practical matter of what we said.

Exactly so, writes James. He returns now to a theme he introduced in 1:19 and emphasized in 1:26, to provide his most complete explanation of this issue—controlling our tongues.

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