James 3:6

Monday, 29 July 2019

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. James 3:6

For this verse, James pulled out his Greek lexicon and used several words which are rarely found, or only found here. He just said in the previous verse, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”

Now, building upon that thought, he says, “And the tongue is a fire.” He has made a direct comparison of a fire, which is small and yet it can burn down a whole forest, to the tongue which is small. It implies that the tongue can also do an immense amount of damage. He will further explain this. Before doing so, he says that the fire, which the tongue is, can be equated to “a world of iniquity.”

The word for “world” is a common one, kosmos. It generally signifies an orderly arrangement, which the physical world certainly is. In this, he is saying that the tongue “is an organism containing within itself all evil essence, which from it permeates the entire man” (Vincent’s Word Studies). It is an orderly arrangement of that which is contrary to God’s righteousness and His righteous judgments.

Understanding this now, James continues with, “The tongue is so set among our members.” The word translated as “is so set” is not uncommon, but it is more than a simple “is.” It signifies to “set in order,” or “appoint.” One can think of the tongue being put in charge, or having authority. With this setting of authority within our members, James then says “that it defiles the whole body.”

Here is another new word in Scripture, spiloó. It signifies to stain, spot, or soil. One can see the root of our modern-day word “spill” in it. When one spills something, it can stain something else. This word will only be seen again in Jude 1:23.

The tongue, like the little fire of the previous verse, goes forth and puts a stain upon the whole body. As the verb is a present participle, it literally reads, “defiling the whole body.” It is active and it spreads like a cancer to every member. Once this happens, James says that it “sets on fire the course of nature.”

Here, James uses two new words. The first is phlogizó. It is a verb used twice here in James 3:6, and nowhere else. It means “to cause to blaze.” It is also a present participle, and so it more literally reads, “setting on fire.” The tongue actively is setting on fire “the course of nature.”

Here is the second new word, and it is found only here in the Bible, trochos. It signifies a wheel. It is that which moves on a circular track and thus it speaks of a circuit representing the “moral axis” on which our lives turn. Along with this, James ties the word “wheel” in with the word genesis, signifying one’s birth or lineage. Because of the unusual nature of the words, translations vary widely –

the whole course of one’s life (NIV)
your whole life (NLT)
the course of nature (BLB)
the entire course of our existence (GNT)
the course of human existence (NET Bible)
the successions of generations (Aramaic)
the wheel of nature (ASV)
the wheel of our nativity (Douay-Rheims)
the whole round of our lives (WNT)

Probably, the Douay-Rheims gets the closest to what James had on his mind. We are born into the world and, from that point on, our life turns on an axis like a wheel. This “wheel of nativity” is set on fire by our very small tongue. For example, the baby who was born in an obscure area of Upper Austria turned into a raging monster who exterminated countless lives in a war which spanned the earth.

Upon his death, nothing is remembered of his supposedly innocent birth. Rather, his tongue brought him to a state of infamy as it brought destruction and ruin. He is but one example of every human who has come into existence, with but one exception. Our tongues can be an uncontrollable fire from the moment we are born until the last breath we take. James is warning us of this and calling us to pay heed. The “wheel of nativity” is a vivid description of the state of human life.

James finishes with the thought that this small and yet terribly powerful part of the body “is set on fire by hell.” Here he uses the same word as before for “set on fire,” and it is again a present participle. Hell itself is setting the tongue on fire, causing it to blaze like an inferno. But the word translated as hell is the word Geenna, or as the Hebrew calls it, Gehenna.

The word comes from two Hebrew words, gay (pronounced gah-ee) & Hinnom. Thus, it is the Valley of Hinnom, a valley west and south of Jerusalem where the trash of the city was burned, including the bodies of the slain. It was a place of putrefaction and burning heat. Thus it is symbolic of the final place of punishment for the ungodly.

The tongue receives its power to defile from hell, and it leads those who use it for this purpose directly to the place from where its power was derived. The wheel of nativity for some goes from the control of the devil back to the place where the devil and all ungodly will be forever banished to.

Life application: When a person is corrupted, everything he or she comes into contact with is also affected by that corruption. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, rejected the words of Paul in Galatians 1:6-8 and proclaimed “another gospel.” In this, he has deceived millions of people in successive generations by his false teachings. Paul quite clearly calls any gospel other than the one he proclaims, “anathema,” or worthy of eternal condemnation.

Adolph Hitler invoked the name of “Jehovah” when railing against the Jewish people. His evil words led to the destruction of many millions of Jews, Christians, and other “undesirable” people in the lands he controlled. His words came not from God, but from hell itself. His tongue received the instruction of the devil and repeated it to the destruction of not only the lives of those he fought against, but the lives of his own people. Germany was laid waste by one small tongue – a spark in an immense forest.

These examples only touch on the evil found in the history of mankind. Today we face evil in the form of Islam and the Islamic imams who speak of, and participate in, the destruction of western society. Israel is to be “wiped off the map” according to these lunatics. Their words stir up billions of Muslims and are leading us down the path to Armageddon.

Such large examples tend to make us overlook our own destructive tongues though. Let us, even in our small circles of life, conduct our tongues in reverence of God, in building up our friends, and in the tender care of our children. May our own tongues be especially careful to always be salted from heaven and not spiced with the fires of hell.

Lord God, our tongues have not always been a tool for blessing – You know this all too well. Please help us to control them so that they will be used for goodness rather than evil, for blessing rather than cursing, for godly counsel rather than wickedness. Hear our petition and our prayer – made in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

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