New Defender's Study Bible Notes
3:1 masters. “Masters” here means “teachers.” The gift of teaching (I Corinthians 12:28) is from God and involves great responsibility. It is presumptuous for anyone to try to teach God’s Word unless he has been called and prepared by God to do so in its truth and fullness. He must first believe in its absolute authority and perspicuity, be a diligent student of the Word (II Timothy 2:15), and be “apt to teach” (II Timothy 2:24-25).
3:5 great things. The importance of controlling one’s tongue is emphasized in the New Testament. Christians are commanded to keep their speech truthful (Ephesians 4:25), gracious (Ephesians 4:29), serious (Ephesians 5:4), relevant (Colossians 4:6), courageous (I Peter 3:15), corrective (Titus 1:9), always purposeful (Matthew 12:36), and always in the context of a possible testimony for the Lord (II Timothy 4:2). On the other hand, it should never be deceptive, abrasive, trivial, inane, fearful, compromising, idle, or hurtful to our Christian witness in any way.
3:6 fire of hell. The word for “hell” here is gehenna, the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). This is the only one of its eleven occurrences in the New Testament which was not spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. Since the tongue can be “a world of iniquity” if it is “set on fire of hell,” this implies that hell itself may be a world of iniquity, where “their worm dieth not” and where “he that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Mark 9:44; Revelation 22:11). It may also be possible, since this final mention of gehenna in the Bible suggests that the “fire of hell” is what makes the tongue so iniquitous, that the fire of hell in these other references is a figurative description of the inconceivable horror of a world of nothing but eternal wickedness, hatred and violence, everlastingly separated from the holiness, peace and love of God. If men object to the concept of hell fire, they must realize that, if these fires are not to be taken literally, it is because the reality which they represent is so terrible that it can only be visualized as everlasting fire, where “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). Those who will be its inhabitants will be there by choice, having refused to accept the eternal presence of God as made available only through His sacrificial love in Jesus Christ.
3:9 similitude of God. This is a reference to Genesis 1:26-27. Even though scarred by thousands of years of sin and the curse, man is still made in the image of God, and should be respected as such. Even the most depraved of men can be “renewed” in that image (note Colossians 3:10) if they will only come to Christ for regeneration.
3:12 either a vine, figs. Each created plant or animal can only reproduce after its own kind. Its “seed [is] in itself” (Genesis 1:12), and it can never generate any other kind of seed. “God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body” (I Corinthians 15:38). This is sound biology as well as Scripture; macroevolution is impossible and does not occur. Thus “the fruit of our lips” (Hebrews 13:15) should be praise to God, not the cursing of men.
3:13 conversation. That is, “style of life.”
3:15 earthly, sensual, devilish. The “wisdom” of this world will “come to nought” (I Corinthians 2:6), for it is of “the world, the flesh and the devil” (earthly, sensual, devilish). It is humanistic, or man-centered, and therefore inevitably leads to envy and strife between men (James 3:16). The man of true wisdom, centered in Christ (I Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3) will show his works, in the context of godly behavior, with “meekness” (literally “gentleness”) of wisdom (James 3:13; note also II Timothy 2:24-26).
3:17 from above. The “wisdom that is from above” answers to the seven pillars of wisdom of Proverbs 9:1. As Proverbs is the Old Testament book of wisdom, contrasting wisdom and folly, so James, in the New Testament, contrasts the wisdom from above and that of the world, the flesh and the devil. Thus, the seven pillars of the house of true wisdom are built on Christ, the one foundation (note Proverbs 8, adumbrating Christ, the Word, as the Creator of all things and, therefore, the only source of true wisdom), constituting the stability of genuine Christian character. These seven characteristics, as given in this verse, are thus the measure of genuine wisdom. They are:
(1) “Pure,” a character made clean by the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5); since this attribute is listed as “first,” it may be considered as the central pillar, surrounded by the other six. Without purity of life and doctrine, the other pillars will fall;
(2) “Peaceable” (note again II Timothy 2:24-26);
(3) “Gentle” (or literally “appropriate;” a Christian should always be a gentleman, or gentlewoman);
(4) “Easy to be entreated” (that is, “reasonable”);
(5) “Full of mercy and good fruits,” always helpful and considerate;
(6) “Without partiality,” that is, manifesting true humility;
(7) “Without hypocrisy,” always sincere in both speech and action.