Wesley's Notes on the Bible
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
3:1 Be not many teachers - Let no more of you take this upon you than God thrusts out; seeing it is so hard not to offend in speaking much. Knowing that we - That all who thrust themselves into the office. Shall receive greater condemnation - For more offences. St. James here, as in several of the following verse s, by a common figure of speech, includes himself: we shall receive, - we offend, - we put bits, - we curse - None of which, as common sense shows, are to be interpreted either of him or of the other apostles.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
3:2 The same is able to bridle the whole body - That is, the whole man. And doubtless some are able to do this, and so are in this sense perfect.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
3:3 We - That is, men.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
3:5 Boasteth great things - Hath great influence.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
3:6 A world of iniquity - Containing an immense quantity of all manner of wickedness. It defileth - As fire by its smoke. The whole body - The whole man. And setteth on fire the course of nature - All the passions, every wheel of his soul.
For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
3:7 Every kind - The expression perhaps is not to be taken strictly. Reptiles - That is, creeping things.
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
3:8 But no man can tame the tongue - Of another; no, nor his own, without peculiar help from God.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
3:9 Men made after the likeness of God - Indeed we have now lost this likeness; yet there remains from thence an indelible nobleness, which we ought to reverence both in ourselves and others.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
3:13 Let him show his wisdom as well as his faith by his works; not by words only.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
3:14 If ye have bitter zeal - True Christian zeal is only the flame of love. Even in your hearts - Though it went no farther. Do not lie against the truth - As if such zeal could consist with heavenly wisdom.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
3:15 This wisdom - Which is consistent with such zeal. Is earthly - Not heavenly; not from the Father of Lights. Animal - Not spiritual; not from the Spirit of God. Devilish - Not the gift of Christ, but such as Satan breathes into the soul.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure - From all that is earthly, natural, devilish. Then peaceable - True peace attending purity, it is quiet, inoffensive. Gentle - Soft, mild, yielding, not rigid. Easy to he entreated - To be persuaded, or convinced; not stubborn, sour, or morose. Full of good fruits - Both in the heart and in the life, two of which are immediately specified. Without partiality - Loving all, without respect of persons; embracing all good things, rejecting all evil. And without dissimulation - Frank, open.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
3:18 And the principle productive of this righteousness is sown, like good seed, in the peace of a believer's mind, and brings forth a plentiful harvest of happiness, (which is the proper fruit of righteousness,) for them that make peace - That labour to promote this pure and holy peace among all men.