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James 3:2

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

In many things we offend all - Πταιομεν ἁπαντες· We all stumble or trip. Dr. Barrow very properly observes: "As the general course of life is called a way, and particular actions steps, so going on in a regular course of right action is walking uprightly; and acting amiss, tripping or stumbling." There are very few who walk so closely with God, and inoffensively with men, as never to stumble; and although it is the privilege of every follower of God to be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ, yet few of them are so. Were this unavoidable, it would be useless to make it a subject of regret; but as every man may receive grace from his God to enable him to walk in every respect uprightly, it is to be deplored that so few live up to their privileges. Some have produced these words as a proof that "no man can live without sinning against God; for James himself, a holy apostle speaking of himself, all the apostles, and the whole Church of Christ, says, In many things we offend all." This is a very bad and dangerous doctrine; and, pushed to its consequences, would greatly affect the credibility of the whole Gospel system. Besides, were the doctrine as true as it is dangerous and false, it is foolish to ground it upon such a text; because St. James, after the common mode of all teachers, includes himself in his addresses to his hearers. And were we to suppose that where he appears by the use of the plural pronoun to include himself, he means to be thus understood, we must then grant that himself was one of those many teachers who were to receive a great condemnation, James 3:1; that he was a horse-breaker, because he says, "we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us," James 3:3; that his tongue was a world of iniquity, and set on fire of hell, for he says, "so is the tongue among our members," James 3:6; that he cursed men, "wherewith curse we men, James 3:9. No man possessing common sense could imagine that James, or any man of even tolerable morals, could be guilty of those things. But some of those were thus guilty to whom he wrote; and to soften his reproofs, and to cause them to enter the more deeply into their hearts, he appears to include himself in his own censure; and yet not one of his readers would understand him as being a brother delinquent.

Offend not in word, the same is a perfect man - To understand this properly we must refer to the caution St. James gives in the preceding verse: Be not many masters or teachers - do not affect that for which you are not qualified, because in your teaching, not knowing the heavenly doctrine, ye may sin against the analogy of faith. But, says he, if any man offend not, ου πταιει, trip not, εν λογῳ, in doctrine, teaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the same is τελειος ανηρ, a man fully instructed in Divine things: How often the term λογος, which we render word, is used to express doctrine, and the doctrine of the Gospel, we have seen in many parts of the preceding comment. And how often the word τελειος, which we translate perfect, is used to signify an adult Christian, one thoroughly instructed in the doctrines of the Gospel, may be seen in various parts of St. Paul's writings. See among others, 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Philemon 3:15; Colossians 4:12; Hebrews 5:14. The man, therefore, who advanced no false doctrine, and gave no imperfect view of any of the great truths of Christianity; that man proved himself thereby to be thoroughly instructed in Divine things; to be no novice, and consequently, among the many teachers, to be a perfect master, and worthy of the sacred vocation.

Able also to bridle the whole body - Grotius, by body, believed that the Church of Christ was intended; and this the view we have taken of the preceding clauses renders very probable. But some think the passions and appetites are intended; yet these persons understand not offending in word as referring simply to well guarded speech. Now how a man's cautiousness in what he says can be a proof that he has every passion and appetite under control, I cannot see. Indeed, I have seen so many examples of a contrary kind, that I can have no doubt of the impropriety of this exposition. But it is objected "that χαλιναγωγεω signifies to check, turn, or rule with a bridle; and is never applied to the government of the Church of Christ." Probably not: but St. James is a very peculiar writer; his phraseology, metaphors, and diction in general, are different from all the rest of the New Testament writers, so as to have scarcely any thing in common with them, but only that he writes in Greek. The sixth verse is supposed to be a proof against the opinion of Grotius; but I conceive that verse to belong to a different subject, which commences James 3:3.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

For in many things we offend all - We all offend. The word here rendered offend, means to stumble, to fall; then to err, to fail in duty; and the meaning here is, that all were liable to commit error, and that this consideration should induce men to be cautious in seeking an office where an error would be likely to do so much injury. The particular thing, doubtless, which the apostle had in his eye, was the peculiar liability to commit error, or to do wrong with the tongue. Of course, this liability is very great in an office where the very business is public speaking. If anywhere the improper use of the tongue will do mischief, it is in the office of a religious teacher; and to show the danger of this, and the importance of caution in seeking that office, the apostle proceeds to show what mischief the tongue is capable of effecting.

If any man offend not in word - In his speech; in the use of his tongue.

The same is a perfect man - Perfect in the sense in which the apostle immediately explains himself; that he is able to keep every other member of his body in subjection. His object is not to represent the man as absolutely spotless in every sense, and as wholly free from sin, for he had himself just said that “all offend in many things;” but the design is to show that if a man can control his tongue, he has complete dominion over himself, as much as a man has over a horse by the bit, or as a steersman has over a ship if he has hold of the rudder. He is perfect in that sense, that he has complete control over himself, and will not be liable to error in anything. The design is to show the important position which the tongue occupies, as governing the whole man. On the meaning of the word perfect, see the notes at Job 1:1.

And able also to bridle the whole body - To control his whole body, that is, every other part of himself, as a man does a horse by the bridle. The word rendered “to bridle,” means to lead or guide with a bit; then to rein in, to check, to moderate, to restrain. A man always has complete government over himself if he has the entire control of his tongue. It is that by which he gives expression to his thoughts and passions; and if that is kept under proper restraint, all the rest of his members are as easily controlled as the horse is by having the control of the bit.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
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.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, 243

Unswerving faith and unselfish love will overcome the difficulties that arise in the path of duty to hinder aggressive warfare. As those inspired by this faith go forward in the work of saving souls, they will run and not be weary, will walk and not faint. 7T 243.1

I assure you that if you work in right lines, God will make your enemies to be at peace with you. He will uphold and strengthen you. Make a covenant with God that you will guard well your words. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” James 3:2. Remember that a revengeful speech never makes one feel that he has gained a victory. Let Christ speak through you. Do not lose the blessing that comes from thinking no evil. 7T 243.2

Remember that prayer is the source of your strength. A worker cannot gain success while he hurries through his prayers and rushes away to look after something that he fears may be neglected or forgotten. He gives only a few hurried thoughts to God; he does not take time to think, to pray, to wait upon the Lord for a renewal of physical and spiritual strength. He soon becomes weary. He does not feel the uplifting, inspiring influence of God's Spirit. He is not quickened by fresh life. His jaded frame and tired brain are not soothed by personal contact with Christ. 7T 243.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 698-9

You are selfish, exacting, and overbearing. This ought not to be. Your salvation depends on your acting from principle—serving God from principle, not from feeling, not from impulse. God will help you when you feel your need of help and set about the work with resolution, trusting in Him with all your heart. You are often discouraged without sufficient reason. You indulge feelings akin to hatred. Your likes and dislikes are strong. These you must restrain. Control the tongue. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” Help has been laid upon One that is mighty. He will be your strength and support, your front guard and rearward. 1T 698.1

What preparation are you making for the better life? It is Satan who makes you think that all your powers must be exercised to get along in this world. You are fearing and trembling for the future of this life, while you are neglecting the future, eternal life. Where is the anxiety, the earnestness, the zeal, lest you make a failure there and sustain an immense loss? To lose a little of this world seems to you a terrible calamity which would cost your life. But the thought of losing heaven does not cause half the fears to be manifested. Through your careful efforts to save this life, you are in danger of losing eternal life. You cannot afford to lose heaven, lose eternal life, lose the eternal weight of glory. You cannot afford to lose all these riches, this exceedingly precious, immeasurable happiness. Why do you not act like a sane man, and be as earnest, as zealous, and as persevering in your efforts for the better life, the immortal crown, the eternal, imperishable treasure, as you are for this poor, miserable life and these poor perishable, earthly treasures? 1T 698.2

Your heart is on your earthly treasures, therefore you have no heart for the heavenly. These poor things which are seen—the earthly—eclipse the glory of the heavenly. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Your words will declare, your acts will show, where your treasure is. If it is in this world, the little gain of earth, your anxieties will be manifested in that direction. If you are striving for the immortal inheritance with an earnestness, energy, and zeal proportionate to its value, then can you be a fair candidate for everlasting life, and heir of glory. You need a fresh conversion every day. Die daily to self, keep your tongue as with a bridle, control your words, cease your murmurings and complaints, let not one word of censure escape your lips. If this requires a great effort, make it; you will be repaid in so doing. 1T 698.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 308

Our efforts to resist the attacks of Satan must be earnest and persevering. He employs his strength and skill in trying to turn us out of the right way. He watches our going out and our coming in, that he may find opportunity to hurt or destroy us. He works most successfully in darkness, injuring those who are ignorant of his devices. He could not gain advantage if his method of attack were understood. The instruments he employs to effect his purposes, and transmit his fiery darts, are often the members of our own families. 1T 308.1

Those we love may speak or act unguardedly, which may wound us deeply. It was not their intention to do this; but Satan magnifies their words and acts before the mind, and thus hurls a dart from his quiver to pierce us. We brace ourselves to resist the one whom we think has injured us, and by so doing we encourage Satan's temptations. Instead of praying to God for strength to resist Satan, we suffer our happiness to be marred by trying to stand for what we term “our rights.” Thus we allow Satan a double advantage. We act out our aggrieved feelings, and Satan uses us as his agents to wound and distress those who did not intend to injure us. The requirements of the husband may sometimes seem unreasonable to the wife, when if she should calmly, candidly take the second view of the matter, in as favorable a light for him as possible, she would see that to yield her own way and submit to his judgment, even if it conflicted with her feelings, would save them both from unhappiness and would give them great victory over the temptations of Satan. 1T 308.2

I saw that the enemy will contend either for the usefulness or the life of the godly, and will try to mar their peace as long as they live in this world. But his power is limited. He may cause the furnace to be heated, but Jesus and angels will watch the trusting Christian, that nothing may be consumed but the dross. The fire kindled by Satan can have no power to destroy or hurt the true metal. It is important to close every door possible, against the entrance of Satan. It is the privilege of every family so to live that Satan can take no advantage of anything they may say or do, to tear one another down. Every member of the family should bear in mind that all have just as much as they can do to resist our wily foe, and with earnest prayers and unyielding faith each must rely upon the merits of the blood of Christ and claim His saving strength. 1T 309.1

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7 (EGW), 936

Justice and Mercy stood apart, in opposition to each other, separated by a wide gulf. The Lord our Redeemer clothed His divinity with humanity, and wrought out in behalf of man a character that was without spot or blemish. He planted His cross midway between heaven and earth, and made it the object of attraction which reached both ways, drawing both Justice and Mercy across the gulf. Justice moved from its exalted throne, and with all the armies of heaven approached the cross. There it saw One equal with God bearing the penalty for all injustice and sin. With perfect satisfaction Justice bowed in reverence at the cross, saying, It is enough (Manuscript 94, 1899). 7BC 936.1

14-20. See EGW on Galatians 5:6. 7BC 936.2

21-26 (Romans 3:31). Saving Faith More Than Mere Belief—The apostle James saw that dangers would arise in presenting the subject of justification by faith, and he labored to show that genuine faith cannot exist without corresponding works. The experience of Abraham is presented. “Seest thou,” he says, “how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” Thus genuine faith does a genuine work in the believer. Faith and obedience bring a solid, valuable experience. 7BC 936.3

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