On the Day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ were gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem. “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). It was the promised Holy Spirit coming to dwell within them (Acts 1:8).
“And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4).
Just outside were Jews from all over the known world hearing them speak in the languages of their home land. Astonished, the Jews wondered aloud, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). The first words from spirit-filled mouths were words good and glorious.
This picture is in stark contrast to what we find in the Fall. There, the first words from sin-filled mouths were blame-shifting and blasphemous (Gen. 3:12). It was there that hell arose and gave utterance to man (Ja. 3:8). However, it was in here in Jerusalem where heaven came down and gave utterance to man (Acts 2:1-11). From hellish hearts come death. From heavenly hearts come life.
In James 3:1-12, our faith is tested by divine truth. It is a piercing examination of our speech where evil leaves a rather bad taste in our mouths. The underlying point is this: a transformed heart produces a transformed mouth. Therefore, a Christian speaking evil compromises his confession. In his closing remarks on the tongue, James points to three obvious absurdities to steer us toward heavenly language.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)
Blessing & Cursing
Corinth was consumed of shady spirituality. Evidently, there were some in the worship services speaking blasphemous words while wearing the proverbial white collars. They claimed to be spiritual, but they were speaking contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’” (1 Cor. 12:3).
In the same breath, Paul expresses the opposite, “and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). This is telling. And deep. On one hand, those with the Spirit of God cannot curse Jesus. On the other hand, those without the Spirit of God cannot bless Jesus. Point being, the Spirit of God enables man to bless Him.
Don’t miss it. Only true believers, those with genuine faith, have the ability to bless their Lord. Unbelievers can only imitate it to some degree. Their life, and eventually their speech, will reveal their hellish insides. Hell curses. Heaven blesses. Our eternal destination is realized today. It speaks from within us. Only a transformed heart produces a transformed tongue. Profound.
The fall of man began and ended with corrupt speech. Deception from the serpent brought about doubt in the woman. Doubt brought about disobedience in the man. Disobedience brought about death to all living creatures. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Corrupt speech became and is still the natural language of all who are born of Adam. “We all stumble in many ways” (Ja. 3:2).
Fortunately, another Adam came into this world and brought new life to man. It was Jesus. Paul calls Him the “last Adam” because no other representative for man is needed (1 Cor. 15:45). While the first Adam’s “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” who were born in him, the last Adam’s “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” who are born again in Him (Rom. 5:18). With the new birth comes a new heart, which produces the new mouth. “With it we bless our Lord and Father” (Ja. 3:9). God puts a holy language in our mouths where hellish language once dominated. Again, profound.
Blessing the Lord was common practice among the Jews. The Shmoneh Esrei, perhaps their most important prayer, was recited three times each typical weekday. It contained eighteen blessings to God. Each was punctuated with a response, “Blessed are you, O Lord.” A similar response would arise in their normal conversations. Anytime the name of Yahweh was spoken, an observant Jew would say, “Baruch Hu!” which means, “Blessed be He!” Blessing the Lord with their tongue was custom of the Jews.
The book of Psalms is full of blessings. One in particular, expresses the attitudinal life of blessing God: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). Another, adopted by Protestant churches today as a hymn, reads, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name!” (Ps. 103:1-5). All that is in me should bless the Lord at all times. Life ought to be full of blessing, particularly for the follower of Christ.
God deserves our blessings. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). It is a great tragedy that we use this instrument of blessing to curse others. James says, “with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (Ja. 3:9). In other words, we bless the Creator but curse His creation.
The word “curse” refers to a classical sense of the word meaning “to condemn.” In context, it is to cut someone off from blessings. While this is appropriate for an all-seeing and holy God (Matt. 25:41), it is never fitting for man. Instead, “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom. 12:14).
A common English proverb says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, no one wants to throw sticks or stones at God. When we curse God’s creatures, this is exactly what we are doing. All people “are made in the likeness of God,” James reminds us (Ja. 3:9).
The likeness we share with God is an indestructible likeness. Although there is no part of us untouched by sin, we remain creatures of rationality, personality, and morality. We are self-conscious and willful. We have a conscience and an ability to reason. We can know, love, and act on the basis of rational thought and motive and intent. When we bless God but curse the likeness of God, we are speaking with duplicity. We are double-minded and hypocritical (Ja. 1:8). “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing,” James points out (Ja. 3:10).
Sadly, we know this all too well. And, we are not alone. Peter, for example, had a real problem with his tongue. He told Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). A few weeks later, he cursed and swore, “I do not know the man,” just before a rooster crowed (Matt. 26:69-75). By the way, he used the same mouth to do it.
We do the same, don’t we? We use our tongues to bless God and curse God’s people. How inconsistent and absurd is this? “My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (Ja. 3:10). It doesn’t come across in the English, but James’ words here are stunningly strong. It is like wagging your pointer finger in the air and saying with other hand on your hip, “THAT IS NOT RIGHT!” The duplicity of speech compromises our confession. And, it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Sweet & Bitter
The double-minded man (Ja. 1:8) is the kind of man James is warning us not to be. It is an absurdity. And, to hammer this nail a bit more, he implores a few pictures. The first and last depend on plants. The middle two deal with water. However, all of them show the inconsistency of evil speech in a believer’s life.
First, “does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (Ja. 3:11). You don’t have to answer. It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. James expected his reader to think, “Are you kidding? Of course not!”
Second, “can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives?” (Ja. 3:12). Again, rhetorical and self-evident. “We call it a ‘fig tree’ because it bears figs, not olives. Of course not!”
Third, can “a grapevine produce figs?” (Ja. 3:12). “You can’t be serious! Grapevines can’t produce figs anymore than figs can produce olives. Of course not!”
Finally, “neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (Ja. 3:12). This time it’s not rhetorical. James is concluding his lesson. He is right back where he started “Of course not!”
Let nature be our teacher. You can’t have salt water coming out of a split in the rock. You can’t have olives growing on a fig tree nor figs hanging from a grapevine. It’s impossible. It’s inconsistent. It’s absurd to expect otherwise.
Does heavenly speech pour out of your opening? Is it absurd to think otherwise? Fig trees produce figs. Grapevines produce grapes. So, the Lord produces righteousness. Does your tongue compromise or compliment your confession?