Questions for Reflection and Discussion (James 3 1-12)

KKK members with burning cross, Denver, 1921
“No more can salt water yield fresh.”
James 3:12

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, February 11 is James 3:1-12. Here are a few questions we might (or might not) find interesting to think about in class:

Why do we think James picks on “the tongue,” and the relationship of the tongue to the control of “the whole body” – by extension, the whole life? What makes “the tongue” so decisive, or influential? [I think no fair saying, well, because the tongue is a restless evil etc. etc., not that he isn’t telling the truth, but the question is … why do we think James picks out “the tongue” as the root of the problems? What happens if we consult our own experience – do we see evidence that supports his choice? What is it?]

And why start with “teachers,” do we think? And who are the teachers he has in mind – that is, have we ever been in the position of being “teachers” even if we haven’t taught in a school or taught a class? When, where, … how do we feel about that?

If we think about how the relationship between speaking and acting works for us, in our own lives, can we see how being “perfect” in speech, not making mistakes in speech, would affect our behavior? How? [How does this perfection in speech compare to “being politically correct,” in the sense that people seem to use it today, to mean “not saying the hateful or prejudiced or victim-blaming things you actually think and believe to be true, but saying something nicer and inoffensive instead”? Is it the same? Similar? Something else? What does “perfect” Christian speech sound like? Does James give us any clues? Where? What are they?]

Is he saying that “talking the talk” will lead to “walking the walk”? Or is he saying something different? [Because … hello, this is James! “Walking the walk” is one of the main themes of the book.] Or is speech, what we “do” with our talk, itself part of the walk? If so, how?

What is the “fire” he is talking about? Why is “the tongue” “a fire”? Can we think of any examples?

What does James mean by “cursing,” do we think? What all would it include – that is, can we think of forms of “cursing” that are different from, or other than, “using bad words” or “calling people names”? What are those?

More personal: Can we think of times we curse, or have cursed, “those who are made in the likeness of God”? Who – when – why? Have we ever tried to do less of it? How did that work for us? What challenges did we face? How are we doing?

2 responses to “Questions for Reflection and Discussion (James 3 1-12)”

  1. The context within the larger text we’re studying this week is this:

    “5 How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.” (James 3:5-12)

    Would you say the image gives an example of the kind of thing James is likening to “salt” or “brackish” water in v 11?

    I read James as saying that as salt water cannot yield fresh, cursing cannot yield blessing; that in fact, cursing the neighbor contaminates the act of “blessing the Lord and Father.”


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