September 16th: “Tongue Lashing”

[Highlights:]

This Week’s Passage: Second Reading James 3:1-12

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope:

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday September 9th

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 – – Scriptural basis for demanding exemplary behavior from those called to service.

2 – – This is a contradiction. Stumble in many ways, but speech controls the whole being? Does failed speech precede all sins?

3 – – A bit is used for dialog with the animal. The animal may still decide to go elsewhere (c.f. Balaam’s Ass).

4 – – But the set of the sail, or a strong current can over take the rudder. A good pilot knows how to use all of the surfaces of the ship. Even a canoe is easier to moor when the wind is pushing it towards the dock.

5a – – The tongue also leads the soul by its silence, when it should boast. Today, the finger that clicks a mouse is as powerful, perhaps more so in sparking fires.

5b – – A small spark will not set a forest on fire if the forest is not dry and littered with dead wood. How do we keep dry dead wood from littering our soul, thus reducing the potential for moral fires?

6 – – Might a 20th century person say the imagination is dry kindling ready to ignite by the evil of the world, and by hell itself. Dry kindling laid to ignite a fire that would consume the whole person.

8 – – Calvin wrote: Even within the hearts of the saints there smolders an ember of sin. [or words to that effect]

9 – – And when we curse people made in God’s image, we must surely be cursing God.

10 – – So what alternative does James suggest? 3:17-18 does not seem sufficient.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This passage continues theme from 2:14-26 that faith exudes good works demonstrating faith. Here faith controls the tongue to emit good words that demonstrate faith.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Proverbs 18:20 From the fruit of the mouth, one’s stomach is satisfied; the yield of the lips brings satisfaction. 21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Mark 7:20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The bit in a horses mouth or a boat’s rudder might be more relevant to 1st century hearers than to us. We might talk about the ease of steering a car or ???

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: If we can control our tongues, we can turn our behaviors towards God.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • The rhetoric of this passage shows that salt and fresh water does stream from human mouths. Did he intend to only convict hearers that we are unfit for God’s kingdom and need to amend our ways, or to emphasize reliance on grace through Christ.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Luke Timothy Johnson (The New Interpreters Bible, “James”) describes how James has used Hellenistic rhetoric to demonstrate the double-mindedness of all people, or in this case, that people are double-tongued, in fact producing both salt water and fresh.

R.A. Martin, (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: James) notes that verse 1 applies to both professional teachers and to those who might have occasion to instruct someone else. He sees the fire sparked by a careless tongue as starting a conflagration that spreads far and wide; What we say and do affects many people.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

A loose tongue disorients one’s soul.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

If we can control our tongues, we might turn our behaviors towards God.

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