Most Holy God and Father,

It is our sincere desire to live in the image of Christ more perfectly in our daily lives.  Help us to be conduits of His love and mercy. Give us His gentleness of spirit and His ability to love without restraint. And give us Your Godly wisdom, beloved Holy Spirit, to become instruments of peace so that we might fulfill our destiny as apostles of light to a world in darkness.  Guide us now, Lord, as we study St. James' teaching on the virtue of self-control and the exercise of Godly wisdom.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +


 "Both honor and disgrace come from talking; the tongue is its owner's downfall." Ecclesiasticus 5:13


"Would you like to see God glorified in you?  Then rejoice in your brother's progress and you will immediately give glory to God.  Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised." St John Chrysostom d. 407AD


"If a person does not practice what he preaches, he will be judged more severely, since his teaching has borne no fruit.  For such a person is condemned along with the one who has sinned with his tongue."  Oecumenius, 6th century


In the first two chapters of his discourse, James has discussed of the vitality of the New Covenant Law of Jesus Christ.  In James 1:25 he defined the Gospel of salvation as "the perfect law of freedom" and in 2:8 he has referred to the Law as the "royal law" or "law of the kingdom" and once again in 2:12 as "the law of freedom."  When James refers to the "law" he is not speaking of the Old Covenant ritual works of the Law as St. Paul does in Romans 3:20, 28, and in Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, nor does he speak of the separate sections of the law as St. Paul does in Romans 7:8; 13:9; and in 1 Corinthians 7:19.  Instead James refers to the whole body of the Law given by God the divine Lawgiver.  As James says in James 2:10: "You see, anyone who keeps the whole of the Law but trips up on a single point is still guilty of breaking it all."  For James keeping the commandments of the Law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which fulfills the Old Covenant Law, means obedience directed to not the individual commandment but to God the eternal Law giver [see James 2:11; 4:11-12].  To break away from obedience to any one commandment of the law established in the practice of the true religion of the Church of Jesus Christ reflects disobedience to God and is a rupture of the Law as a whole.  James would reject the terms "liberal" or "conservative" Catholics, for James you are either orthodox in belief and practice, in other words a true doctrine Catholic'sharing in the Church of Jesus Christ in a universally taught doctrine or you are not Catholic at all!  For more information on what it means to be "catholic", see the document Why the Church of Jesus Christ is Both Roman and Catholic in the Documents section, sub-section "Church History."


Have you noticed in the Letter of St. James that our Bishop has mentioned his kinsman Jesus twice by His name, Jesus in English but Ya'shua in Hebrew, which means "Yahweh saves"?

1.      James 1:1, "From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"

2.      James 2:1, "My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord."


 These are the only two occasions where James mentions Jesus directly.  However, in each of these verses James proclaims Jesus as "Lord," meaning the Messiah whose message of salvation has been authorized in His resurrection from the dead.  In the Old Testament "Lord", Adonai [ad-o-noy'] in Hebrew, is a title which refers to God.  The Hebrew word adon is the usual word for "lord" addressed to human beings of distinguished rank, but Adonai is uniquely reserved as a divine title for Yahweh God. In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament this word, rendered in Greek, is Kyrios.  James will use this title for Jesus fourteen times in his discourse.  Seven is the number of spiritual perfection and two is the number for the Second Person of the Trinity.  By using the title "Lord" for Jesus 14 times or 2 x 7 times, James may be indicating Jesus' humanity and divinity times His spiritual perfection or double spiritual perfection [see the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture]. By using the Greek title Kyrios, James' Jewish-Christian audience clearly understood he was referring to Jesus as the divine Messiah. 


St. James references to Jesus Christ as Lord in the Letter of James

1. "From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" James 1:1

2. "...inconsistent in every activity, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord." James 1:8

3. "Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life (literally "the crown of life) that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:12

4. "My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord." James 2:1

5. "Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up." James 4:10

6. "Instead of this, you should say, 'If it is the Lord's will we shall still be alive to do this or that.'" James 4:15

7. "The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth." James 5:4

8. "Now be patient, brothers, until the Lord's coming." James 5:7

9. "You too must be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon." James 5:8

10. "For your example, brothers, in patiently putting up with persecution, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord's name; .." James 5:10

11. "You have heard of the perseverance of Job and understood the Lord's purpose," James 5:11

12. "...realizing that the Lord is kind and compassionate." James 5:11

13. "Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him." James 5:14

14. "The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; " James 5:15

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.


James will also use five indirect references to Jesus:

1.      "the Word (Logos)of truth" in 1:18

2.      " the Word"= Logos that has been planted in you", in 1:21

3.      "do what the Word tells you.." in 1:22

4.      "Anyone who listens to the Word" in 1:23

5.      "the honorable name" in 2:7


For more information on the use of Adonai in Scripture see the document The Many Names of God.  Also please note that in some Old Testament translations the word "Lord" is substituted for the divine name "Yahweh", in which case the word "Lord" is usually written all in capital letters as "LORD."   For example see Genesis 2:4 in the New American translation; "Lord God" literally reads "Yahweh God".


In chapter 3 James continues with his three-step approach to successfully living the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he introduced in James 1:19: "Remember this, my dear (beloved) brothers, everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to human anger."  In James 1:22-25 and in 2:1-26 our thoughtful bishop defined for Christians the goal of being quick to listen: "But you must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves." Clearly James believes that the proper response to the Gospel of salvation has to be love in action!  Then in chapter 2 James defines being "quick to listen" as responding to God's grace with the kind of faith that leads to salvation, which is a vital, active faith that bears fruit in good deeds: "As a body without a spirit is dead, so is faith without deeds" James 2:26.


Now James turns his attention to the second dimension of Christian discipleship, being slow to speak.  The proper and improper uses of speech are a central concern to James. In James 1:26 he advises Christians: "Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein on the tongue can claim to be religious".   The tongue is a powerful weapon for good and for harm.  Loving praise builds confidence and a homily inspired by the Holy Spirit can transform lives; however, nothing can do more damage to a family than verbal abuse or more damage to a community more than ugly gossip and slander.  This kind of damage can cause fractures in relationships that can be more difficult to mend than the fractures that damage bones, verbal abuse wounds the spirit.


Please read James 3:1-12: The Danger of the Uncontrolled Tongue

This entire passage, from James 3:1-12 is a well constructed argument based on the theme of why not many should become teachers introduced in 3:1:

  1. We all fail in our speech [3:2]
  2. We seem unable to control the power of the tongue [3:3-5]
  3. The tongue is a dangerous weapon [3:5-10]
  4. If we are of one nature in Christ then we cannot produce two contradictory effects [3:11-12]


James 3:1: "Only a few of you, my brothers, should be teachers, bearing in mind that we shall receive a stricter judgment."

James continues to use the intimate language of kinship to address his audience: adelphos/adelphoi, brother/brothers 19 times [1:2, 9, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14, 15; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11 (3 times); 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19] and sister, adelphe, once in James 2:15, for a total of 20 kinship references.  Please note that adelphoi in the plural can mean both brothers and sisters.  For such a short letter this is a remarkable number of references to the bond of kinship.


In James 3:1, St. James, Bishop and teacher, gives a warning.  This is the 6th warning James has given thus far:

  1. James 1:16: "Make no mistake about this... all that is given to us from above.."
  2. James 1:19: "Remember this...everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to human anger.."
  3. James 2:12: 'Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy.."
  4. James 2:20: "Fool!  Would you not like to know that faith without deeds is useless?"
  5. James 2:24 "You see now, that it is by deeds, and not only by faith alone that someone is justified."
  6. James 3:1: "Only a few of you my brothers should be teachers, bearing in mind that we shall receive a stricter judgment."


Question: What is the very serious warning for those who teach Scripture and the doctrine of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ?

Answer: In their individual judgment, teachers will receive a stricter judgment based upon what they have taught. 


The Greek word didaskalos, teacher, is a translation of the Jewish term "rabbi".  In the Jewish-Christian faith communities the didaskalos [did'-as-kal-os] or teacher occupied the same position of authority as the rabbi in the Jewish synagogues [see Strong's

#1320].  In most English translations the Greek word didaskalos is translated as "master," but the Greek New Testament text also includes the Aramaic title rhabbi = "Rabbi" , which is usually translated in the English as "my Master" [see Strong's #4461].

Question: In the Gospels by what title is Jesus most often addressed by His disciples and others who came to hear Him preach?  See Matthew 8:19; 12:38; Mark 4:38; 5:35; 9:17, 38; Luke 8:4; 9:38; 10:25; and John 13:13-14 for didaskalos and also see Matthew 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 11:21; 14:45; John 4:31; 9:2; 11:8 for rhabbi.

Answer: He is addressed directly as both "Teacher" and as "Rabbi"  8 times in the New Testament [only in the Gospels].


James identifies himself as a teacher, using the first person he says in 3:1 "we shall receive a stricter judgment" and in 3:2 "For we all trip up in many ways." The position of teacher reflects a specific ministry in the early Christian community.  Acts 13:1 mentions prophets and teachers in the early faith community in Jerusalem and the office of teacher is included among St. Paul's list of ministries in 1 Corinthians 12:29 and Ephesians 4:11:


The first catechism of the Church, called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or more simply known as the "Teaching", in Greek the Didache, mentions both prophets and teachers:


Some scholars interpret the passage in James 3:1-2 to mean that teachers will be held to a higher standard in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but surely the standard is the same for all believers.  Upon the completion of our baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation are we all not called to be apostles who are sent forth to share the Gospel of salvation?  Other scholars suggest the standard is the same but the judgment is harsher because those who teach falsely the doctrine of the Church are teaching heresy that can impact the very salvation of those who listen to false doctrine and are misled.  The Fathers of the Church referred to heresy as a slow poison.  False words won't kill the soul immediately but slowly over time the lies/poisons build up, causing the unsuspecting believer to fall deeper into to sin and separation from the covenant until salvation is threatened and the mortal soul is sickened to the point of death.


Question:  What was the role of teachers in the early Church?  See Acts 13:1 and 1 Corinthians 12:28.

Answer: Teachers were appointed in each separate faith community.


Question: In the Old Covenant Church the scribes and Pharisees served as teachers of the Law.  How did Jesus condemn them in exercising this respected office in Matthew 23:1-36; in Mark 12:38-40 and in Luke 20:47?  What did Jesus teach about the position of respect one exercises as "teacher" and what did He mean when He said they occupy the chair of Moses in Matthew 23:1?

Answer: The "chair of Moses" was the position of authority as God's representative to the covenant people.  This position of authority had been passed down through the centuries since the formation of the Church at Sinai from Moses to each leader in the Old Covenant Church who succeeded him.  Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites who taught the Law with their tongues but did not live out what they taught in their actions.  In Matthew 23:8-13 Jesus admonishes the people that the one who aspires to this respected and influential office of teacher or rabbi must be aware that the sole authority for what is taught comes from God and it is to Him that they are responsible for He is the divine Lawgiver and they are only the vehicle of that teaching.  Jesus' teaching in Mark 12:40 is clearly to warn those who teach, "The more severe will be the sentence they receive."


Question: The supreme teaching authority in the Old Covenant Church was the one man who occupied the chair of Moses and the council of elders and priests who advised him.  Who has that supreme authority in the New Covenant Church?

Answer: The one who occupies the chair of Peter, the Pope or father of the New Covenant people of God, and together with his council of bishops he forms the Universal Magisterium of Catholic Church.  He deserves the title "father" just as the Vicar of the Davidic kingdom who served the Davidic king deserved the title "father" to his people [see Isaiah 22:21].  The Catholic Dictionary defines the Magisterium as: "The Church's teaching authority, vested in the bishops, as successors of the Apostles, under the Roman Pontiff, as successor of St. Peter.  Also vested in the Pope, as Vicar of Christ and visible head of the Catholic Church.  (Etymology = Latin magister, master.)


Question: What is the single obligation of a Christian teacher, no matter what his rank in the Church?

Answer: To teach the same Gospel of salvation that Jesus taught which is continued in the teachings of the Pope and the Universal Magisterium.


James 3:2-3, "For we all trip up in many ways. Someone who does not trip up in speech has reached perfection and is able to keep the whole body on a tight rein."

James has identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ in 1:1 and now in 3:1-2, using the first person plural twice, he identifies himself as a teacher.  This is his first personal comment since the greeting.  In these first three verses, James has stated the direction of his argument in the use of proper and improper speech.  In 3:1-2 James' prohibition that not many should teach identifies the problem that the office of teacher is perilous one.  Yet in 3:3 James seems to suggest that human perfection is possible for those who achieve mastery of pure speech, a teaching which may be inspired by the Old Testament wisdom literature like Proverbs 10:19-20 and Ecclesiasticus 5:13; 14:1-2. "Blessed is anyone who has not sinned in speech and who needs feel no remorse for sins." Ecclesiasticus 14:1


Question: How is it that we can all trip up?  What are honest mistakes and what is heresy?

Answer: James recognizes that all human beings are fallible.  Sometimes one unintentionally misspeaks and sometimes one can be misinformed or misled by someone in authority.  Those are not errors of intent.  But any time a teacher has his or her own agenda and knowingly teaches contrary to the teaching of the Universal Magisterium, that person is guilty of heresy, which is a serious sin.  The Catechism defines heresy as: "The obstinate denial after Baptism of a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith (#2089; cf. 465)."page 881.  Also see CCC# 2087-88; 817 and 465. 


Question: What is incredulity as defined by the Catechism #2089.  Give some examples of this deficiency in faith.

Answer: Incredulity as defined in CCC # 2089 is: "..the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it."  To support abortion, to practice birth control knowing it is contrary to the teachings of the Church, to promote divorce as legitimate, to deny the doctrine of Purgatory, or belief in the Immaculate Conception of and perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary, to promote the acceptance of women to the priesthood, etc. These refusals to yield in faithful obedience to dogmas of the Church of Jesus Christ are various ways of sinning against faith, and to teach such false doctrine will render a harsh judgment upon the false teachers who support this rebellion against the teachings of the Universal Magisterium of the Church of Jesus Christ.


Question: Does a teacher in the Church, whether a lay person or the member of the Parish staff or a priest, have the obligation to set a good example of Christian living?

Answer: Absolutely.  Anyone who feels he or she is called to one of these offices within the faith community must be willing to set a high standard of moral Christian living.  In the 5th century St. John Chrysostom, the great Archbishop of Constantinople taught: "Teaching without setting an example is not only worthless but also brings great punishment and judgment on the one who leads his life with such heedlessness, throwing out the pride of those who do not want to practice what they preach.  So reject the teaching of those who teach without setting an example and pass judgment on them.  Yet if there is no contradiction between what he says and what he does, and he is able to control his entire body, then do not condemn him.  For if he teaches such things and surrounds the right words of his faith with outstanding deeds corresponding to it, it is clear that he is fully in charge of his body and has no love for the things of the world." 


This kind of warning of human frailty is common to the Old Testament wisdom literature of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, and Job:

If angels, who are called "servants of God" in the Job passage, still have weaknesses, how much more fallible are human beings?  This is wisdom that is also common in the writings of 1st century AD philosophers like Seneca, the Roman senator and tutor of the Roman Emperor Nero, who wrote: We have all sinned'some in serious, others in trivial things; some from deliberate intention, some by chance impulse..."; and the Jewish 1st century AD philosopher Philo of Alexandria: "...there has never been a single man who, by his own unassisted power, has run the whole course of his life, from the beginning to the end, without stumbling..." [Sacra Pagina: James, page 173].  James says one who does not trip up in this way has reached perfection!


James 3:3-5: "Someone who does not trip up in speech has reached perfection and is able to keep the whole body on a tight rein.  Once we put a bit in the horse's mouth, to make it do what we want, we have the whole animal under our control.  Or think of the ships: no matter how big they are, even if a gale is driving them, they are directed by a tiny rudder wherever the whim of the helmsman decides.  So the tongue is only a tiny part of the body, but its boasts are great.  Think how small a flame can set fire to a huge forest; the tongue is a flame too.  Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world: it infects the whole body; catching the fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation.  Wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish of every kind can all be tamed, and have been tamed, by humans; but nobody can tame the tongue, it is a pest that will not keep still, full of deadly poison.  We use it to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use it to curse people who are made in God's image: the blessing and curse come out of the same mouth.  My brothers, this must be wrong, does any water supply give a flow of fresh water and salt water out of the same pipe? Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers, or a vine yield figs?  No more can sea water yield fresh water."


In 3:3-12 James uses several contrasting metaphors to illustrate his teaching concerning the power of the tongue despite its small size and the danger its speech can generate.  James compares the self-control one must use to master control over one's tongue with:

  1. The control of a horse's mouth with reign and bit
  2. The rudder of a ship
  3. A fire
  4. An infection [literally "a stain" or "a defilement"]
  5. The taming of animals
  6. Poisonous pest
  7. Blessing and cursing
  8. Salt water and fresh water out of a single source
  9. Fruit produced by a tree/vine


The first two metaphors are positive examples but beginning in 3:5 James moves in a more pessimistic direction in which he emphasizes the power of the tongue as well as its destructive power.  Then in 3:11-12 James presents metaphors in a rapid series of contrasts, all of which have the same point, that this is not the way it should be!


The theme of the power of the tongue for good and for evil is found both in the writings of the Greek and Latin moralists, especially in the double image of the charioteer and the helmsman of a ship in which a tongue, though small, can if properly controlled, direct the action of a life just as the horse is controlled by the small bit of a horses' bridle and as a small rudder can guide a large ship.  Such warnings of a dangerous tongue are also found in the Old Covenant wisdom literature, especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach).  Proverbs 10:19-21: "A flood of words is never without fault; whoever controls the lips is wise.  The tongue of the upright is purest silver; the heart of the wicked is of trumpery value.  The lips of the upright nourish many peoples, but fools die for want of sense."


Catholic scholar Father Patrick Hartin believes all of James' metaphors have been borrowed from commonly known Greek and Latin proverbs, especially the horse and ship metaphors.  He points out that many of the words in this passage are hapax legomena, words that are only found in this particular passage and no where else in New Testament Greek Scripture, nor in the Greek Old Testament Septuagint and rarely or not at all in secular literature.  Father Hartin believes this is evidence that James was quite familiar with Greek culture [see Hartin, Sacra Pagina: James, pages 174-182].  Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnston also points out that this part of James' discourse is extremely well thought out, not only using common metaphors from secular Greek literature but by the use of alliteration, a literal device in which the sounds of words are repeated, which is used through out this section, and cannot be appreciated in our English translations [Sacra Pagina: James, pages 254-258].


In 3:5 James warns, "So the tongue is only a tiny part of the body, yet its boasts are great".  In sacred Scripture boasting was seen as a sin because it suggested self-sufficiency and trusting one's own abilities instead of putting one's trust in God.  Paul warns of such boasting for those who think they can work out their own salvation simply by keeping the Old Testament Law of Moses. 

Question: What does Paul write about boasting in Romans 2:24; 3:27-28; Galatians 6:13-14; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31?

Answer: It is only in Jesus Christ and His work of salvation that any man can boast.


In the 4th metaphor in verse 6: "The tongue is a whole wicked world: it infects [literally "stains" or "defiles"] the whole body" recalls James reference to true religion in James 1:27 where he called the faithful to keep a tight reign on the tongue and to practice "Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father, is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows in their hardships, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world."

Question: In linking these two passages in James 1:27 and 3:6, how does James suggest the world contaminates or stains the individual?

Answer: The world, from which the believer must protect himself, can enter the body through the harmful power of the human tongue.


James 3:6 continues, "it infects the whole body; catching fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation." This is a very interesting metaphorical image: infection, fire and the wheel or cycle of life.  The word James has used for "hell," is not Hades, which is the grave or the netherworld, in Hebrew, Sheol.  In Greek this word is Geenna; it represents the Aramaic Gi-hinnam, which in turn comes from the Hebrew Ge-himmom,  which is an abbreviation of the full title, "the valley of the son of Hinnom," probably the name of the original owner of the property.  The name refers to a valley near Jerusalem.   In the Old Testament this place name identified a geographical site which divides ancient Jerusalem ( Zion) from the hills to the south and west.  It is the valley that formed a part of the boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin [see Joshua 15:8; 18:16].  Today it is known as the Wadi er Rababi, which joins the Wadi en Nar, also called the Kidron Valley, at the southern extremity of the Jerusalem hill of Zion.  The valley became associated with evil when it became the site of the shrine of Tophet [in Hebrew, "fire place"], a cultic shrine of the god Molech in the valley of Ge-hinnom where infant sacrifice was offered by burning babies alive in a cultic image of the god Molech [Leviticus 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah7:31ff; 19:2ff; 32:35].  In the 8th century BC the prophet Isaiah refers to this valley, although not by name, as a place where the dead bodies of the rebels against Yahweh are cursed to lie forever [Isaiah 66:24].  In Jeremiah 2:23 the prophet Jeremiah calls the site simply "the valley" cursing the place [Jeremiah 7:32; 19:6] and predicting that it would be a forever a place of death and corruption. 


In the New Testament Gehenna became associated with the place or state of everlasting punishment.  In the New Testament Gehenna is mentioned 7 times in Matthew, three times in Mark, once in Luke, and once in James.  It is described as the place which:


James paints a picture of the tongue's destructive propensity for evil which has its origin in Gehenna/ hell, and which can infect mankind from birth to the grave, the whole cycle of human existence: "the tongue is a whole wicked world: it infects the whole body; catching the fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation." James 3:6

Question: What is the only way to escape this endless cycle of the transmission of evil?

Answer: It is through the gift of salvation.  In the Sacrament of Baptism the cycle is broken, but only remains broken if the baptized believer continually turns away from sin and turns back to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  For more information on the Church's teaching on Gehenna/Hell see CCC# 1033-36


James continues in his argument by suggesting in James 3:7 that man has been able to control many things in nature, even taming animals, birds, reptiles and sea-creatures.  Father Hartin points out that James makes a play on the word "to tame" by using it in both present and perfect tenses, suggesting that humans have exercised dominion over the animal world since the beginning of creation when God bestowed the first blessings on Adam and Eve, the blessing of dominion and fertility [see Genesis 1:28].  However, James reminds his audience, man has failed in his attempt to secure dominion over his own tongue.


The mention of blessings and curses in James 3:9 was important to the Jews and Jewish-Christians [see Leviticus 26:3-13 = blessings and 26:46 = curses; Deuteronomy 11:26; 28:1-14 = blessings and 15-68 = curses; Matthew 5:1-10 = blessings; Matthew 23:13-32 = curses].  Blessing and praising God for His goodness is the central focus of prayer for the covenant people of God [see Psalms 16:7; Ephesians 1:3].  It is interesting that James uses the words "Lord and Father."  This is the only place in Scripture where the phrase "Lord and Father" is found [see Hardin, page 179].  To address God as "Lord" and to address Him as "Father" occurs separately in the Old Testament [see Isaiah 63:16 and Ecclesiasticus 23:1 and 4] but not together as one title.  In the New Testament "God and/or our Father" is the usually form of address [see Romans 1:7; 1 Peter 2:17], but to address God as our "Father" is a privilege that comes to us through God the Son [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6].  Father Hartin suggests that perhaps James use of this address for God stems from the Jewish formula of blessing that is common in the Old Testament Scriptures: "Blessed are you, Lord God" [see Genesis 9:26; 24:27].  Perhaps James is coupling the typical Jewish address with the Christian intimate address to which the believer now has access through the work of Jesus Christ.  Christians can now address God as our "Father," and therefore He is our God and our Father.


In 3:9 St. James admonishes Christians that we use the tongue "... to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use it to curse people who are made in God's image: the blessing and curse come out of the same mouth.

Question: What should be our primary motivation for not cursing our fellow man?  See Genesis 1:27; 5:2; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:10-11.

Answer: He or she is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore, one is in effect, cursing God when one curses another member of the human family.  In addition, we no longer suffer under the threat of the covenant curses; Jesus has turned the curses of the Old Covenant into eternal blessings.  Shouldn't we, in imitation of Christ, also bless rather than curse those who seem intent on doing harm to us?  It is inconsistent to bless God and curse His masterpiece, human beings.


James concludes his argument by using nature as the example that one thing cannot produce two contradictory effects:


Question: What teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount supports James' closing argument?  See Matthew 7:15-20; also see John 15:16.

Answer: The fruit one produces, one's deeds, will identify the quality of that person, whether good or evil just as a tree produces the fruit it was created to produce good fruit coming from a healthy tree and diseased fruit from a diseased tree.  In order to produce "good fruit" one cannot serve both the world and God, one must make a clear and definitive choice between the flesh and the Spirit.  In John 15:16 Jesus says He has commissioned the faithful to "go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.."

Question: In the Matthew 7:18-20, what is the destiny of the tree/ person that produces rotten fruit?  Also see Jesus' warning during His Last Supper discourse in John 15:6 and John the Baptist's warning to those serving the teaching authority of the Church in Matthew 3:7-10

Answer: Gehenna.


Question: What advice did St. Paul give on this subject of "bearing good fruit" or living a life of love in action in Ephesians 4:29-32?


  1. No foul word should cross your lips
  2. Your words should only be for the improvement of others
  3. do not grieve the Holy Spirit with your bad speech
  4. Reject all bitterness, bad temper, anger, or malice
  5. Be generous and forgiving to others as God has been to you


In addressing this passage in James 3:3-5, the Venerable Bede advised: "Just as James imposed silence on unworthy teachers and on those who want to obtain a teaching post without having the right qualifications of right living and circumspect behavior, so he also exhorts those who are wise and self-disciplined, or who at least think they are such, to demonstrate that fact by living out what they profess more than by trying to teach others.  For someone who lives in a humble and wise way will give more evidence of his standing before God than any number of words could ever do." Venerable Bede, Concerning the Epistle of St. James.  The Bede is expressing the same advice St. Francis of Assisi gave to his brother friars to "preach the Gospel always, and only when necessary, use words."  All baptized Christians are called to live in imitation of Christ, but rising to this challenge is especially necessary for those who feel they have been called to the honorable office of teacher of the Gospel of Truth.



Questions for group discussion:

Question: Please reread Matthew 23:1-2.  Even though some of the members of the authority of the Old Covenant Church had become corrupt, at any time in this discourse does Jesus tell the people they no longer have to obey the Law or they no longer have to listen to the Law that these men teach?  Compare what Jesus told the crowds and the role filled by those who occupied the "chair of Moses" to the role of the Pope and the Universal Magisterium and the teachings of the Church today and the various scandals that have rocked the Church down through the centuries.  Was there scandal even among the men who formed earliest hierarchy of the Church in the 12 Apostles that Jesus chose?  Did this scandal make the office of Apostle invalid?  What about the Davidic kings of Judah?  Where all of these men good? Did the wicked lives of some of Jesus' ancestors make His claim to the throne of David invalid or His claim as the Davidic Messiah who was promised by the Prophets invalid?  Why is it that the Church, both Old and New Covenant has been plagued by scandal?


Question: What are the two most common weapons of the tongue?

Answer: Gossip and slander are two sins of a wicked tongue.  In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiasticus the inspired writer curses the gossip: Ecclesiasticus 28:13, 16-18: "A curse on the scandal-monger and double-talker, such a person has ruined many who lived in concord. [..].  No one who listens to it will ever know peace of mind, will ever live in peace again.  A stroke of the whip raises a weal, but a stroke of the tongue breaks bones.  Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but many more have fallen by the tongue."


Both Jesus and St. James emphasize the necessity of the Christian virtue of meekness. We could have no better example of Christian meekness than the example set for us by the very first Christian, the very first human person to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God.

Question: Who was that person, clothed in grace and humility who submitted in perfect obedience to the will of God?

Answer: Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God the Son. From the first moment of the angel Gabriel's announcement that of all women born, she had been chosen to bear the "promised seed" [Luke 1:26-38], to Simeon's prophecy of her suffering [Luke 2:33-35], to witnessing her Son's Passion on the Cross [John 19:26], Mary submitted herself completely to God plan for her life.  The Fathers of the Church saw her as the model Christian. St. Irenaeus praises her above all women when he writes, "Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.  [...]. The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith." [St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.22.4].  And comparing her humility and obedience with Eve's rebellion and disobedience St. Jerome writes of her, "Death through Eve, life through Mary." [St. Jerome as quoted in the Catechism #494].  In the Old Covenant the Holy Ark of the Covenant was God's presence with His Covenant people.  In Mary's "yes" in meekly submitting herself to God's plan she became the Ark of the New Covenant, her womb became the first Eucharistic tabernacle, and her travels to visit Elizabeth her cousin and her journey to Bethlehem, became the first Eucharistic processions.  Pope Benedict XVI expressed this dimension of Mary's meekness in her submission to God his homily on June 1, 2005: "In a certain way, we can say that her journey was and we are pleased to highlight this in the Year of the Eucharist, the first Eucharistic procession of history.  Living tabernacle of God-made-flesh, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant in whom the Lord has visited and redeemed His people.  Jesus' presence fills her with the Holy Spirit....Is not this too the joy of the Church, that incessantly welcomes Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world with the testimony of assiduous charity permeated by faith and hope?  Yes, to welcome Christ and to take Him to others is the true joy of Christians!  Dear brothers and sisters let us carry on and imitate Mary, a deeply Eucharistic soul, and all our lives will become a Magnificat."  Pope Benedict XVI, June 1, 2005


Catechism reference for James 3:1-18 [*indicated Scripture quoted in citation]


465; 2087-89;








Resources used for this lesson:

  1. Ancient Christian Writers: The Didache, The Newman Press, 1948.
  2. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead
  3. Teachings of the Church Fathers, John R.Willis, S.J.
  4. Church History, Bishop Eusebius
  5. Church History, Father John Laux, M.A.
  6. The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson
  7. Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin
  8. Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters
  9. Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus
  10. Strong's Concordance
  11. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Gerald Bray
  12. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  13. Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Venerable Bede
  14. Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph M. Novak
  15. Modern Catholic Dictionary: page 237
  16.  The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd, London, 8th reprinting 1999; page 190].

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