|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.
Verse 5. -
(1) Application, of illustration. The tongue is only a little member, but it boasts great things. The true reading appears to be μεγάλα αὐχεῖ (A, B, C). The compound verb of the Textus Receptus, μεγαλαυχεῖν, is found in the LXX. (Ezekiel 16:50; Zephaniah 3:11; 2 Macc. 15:32; Ecclus. 48:18).
(2) Third illustration. A very small fire may kindle a very large forest. Ἡλίκον (א, A2, B, C1, Vulgate) should be read instead of ὀλίγον (A1, C2, K, L, ff). It is equivalent to quantulus as well as quantus. A somewhat similar thought to the one before us is found in Ecclus. 11:32, "Of a spark of fire a heap of coals is kindled." Υλη "Matter," A.V.; "wood," R.V. The word is only found here in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is used for a "matter" of judgment in Job 19:29; "matter" in the philosophical sense in Wisd. 11:18. (cf. 15:13); the "matter" of a book in 2 Macc. 2:24; the "matter" of a fire in Ecclus. 28:10 (the whole passage, vers. 8-12, is wroth comparing with the one before us); and for "forest" in Job 38:40; Isaiah 10:17. It is most natural to take it in this sense here (so Syriac and Vulgate, silva). "The literal meaning is certainly to be preferred to the philosophical" (Lightfoot on Revision, p. 140). Forest fires are frequently referred to by the ancients. Virgil's description of one ('Georgies,' 2:303) is well known; so also Homer's ('Iliad,' 11:155).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Even so the tongue is a little member,.... Like the bit in the horse's mouth, or like the helm of a ship.
And boasteth great things: and does them; for this word may be taken in a good sense: a bridled and sanctified tongue, that is influenced by the grace of God, and directed by the Spirit of God, as it speaks great and good things, it has great power, weight, and influence: the tongue of the just is as choice silver, and the lips of the righteous feed many, Proverbs 10:20, the Gospel, as preached by Christ's faithful ministers, who are the church's tongue, when it comes not in word only, but in power, is the power of God unto salvation: faith comes by hearing it, and hearing by this word; by it souls are convinced, converted, and comforted, enlightened, quickened, and sanctified.
Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth; what vast quantities of wood, large forests, stately buildings, and populous towns and cities, are at once seized on by a little fire, a few sparks, and in a short time burnt down, and utterly destroyed. One of the proverbs of Ben Syra is,
"burning fire kindles great heaps;''
suggesting, that an evil tongue does great mischief, as did the tongue of Doeg the Edomite, as the gloss upon it observes: from hence the apostle passes to consider the abuse or vices of the tongue.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. boasteth great things—There is great moment in what the careless think "little" things [Bengel]. Compare "a world," "the course of nature," "hell," Jas 3:6, which illustrate how the little tongue's great words produce great mischief.
how great a matter a little fire kindleth—The best manuscripts read, "how little a fire kindleth how great a," &c. Alford, for "matter," translates, "forest." But Grotius translates as English Version, "material for burning": a pile of fuel.
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