by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Study # 51 August 26, 1998 Harlingen, Texas
Thesis:Fallen humanity's use of language is predominantly geared toward self-exaltation, and, as such, is the basis for severe condemnation by God.
Introduction:Last week we looked primarily at James' claim that the tongue is a very powerful instrument. This is so because of the power of words. The theology of speech is that speech is designed by God to foster the progress of influence from person to person. This is a critical issue because human beings are enduring creatures and the quality of their experience is directly tied to the way people think and the consequent actions that arise from those thoughts.
So speech is a critical matter because it not only expresses the thoughts of the world-view, it promotes the world-view by calling for faith.
This evening, we are going to move along with James from the thesis of power to the thesis of harm. The first illustrations James used (of a bit and a rudder) were solely focused upon power. However, from the middle of verse 5 on, James switches from a primary focus upon power to a primary focus on destructive power. He uses two primary illustrations; one of fire; the other of poison. This evening we shall look into the focus upon fire and its destructive impact as an illustration of the tongue's negative identity.
I. Verse 5b as a Pivot.
A. It maintains the thesis of power.
B. It introduces the thesis of destruction.
II. Verse 6 as a Statement of the Tongue's Ability to Bring About Eternal Condemnation.
A. The tongue is the primary tool of defilement.
1. The primary sphere of the tongue's impact is identified by the phrase "a world of iniquity".
a. The New Testament focus on "iniquity" is pretty specific: the issue is self-exaltation.
b. The New Testament antidote for "iniquity" is the Truth.
2. A primary impact of genuine religion is the control of the tongue (1:27 in respect to 'spotting by the world').
B. The tongue is the primary tool of destruction.
1. Gehenna is seen as the primary fire that does the igniting.
a. This is a reference to the wrath of God as a consuming fire that ignites the tongue.
1) This is a metaphor for the underlying attitude that makes the tongue a destructive flame.
2) The attitude is the antagonism against legitimate justice (Gehenna) as God responds to arrogance.
b. James' point is that the tongue expresses the deep-seated hatred men have for God.
2. The tongue then becomes an igniter of the whole of man's fallen condition.
a. James' "wheel of the generation" seems to be a reference to the on-going development of man in his natural generation in sin.
b. This on-going development is so thoroughly permeated with the iniquitous use of the tongue that the entire scenario is doomed to be consumed as by flames, both in terms of pain and complete loss.