This is a book that discusses the biblical mandates for how to interact with both ideas and individuals in a confrontational manner while still maintaining a Christian persona.
Chapter 3: James 3:9-12
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 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 (ESV)
This passage is talking about the infamous tongue, that with which we often both bless and curse people in the same sentence, thereby proving our inadequacy regarding the perfect standard that God has set for us. This passage is very important, for many times, and probably more often than not, we fail to realize that while we may not intend to be disrespectful, nevertheless come across that way to those with whom we are conversing. Also, when we are attempting to actually be rude, we seldom realize that we in fact should not be doing so.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
This first verse of this particular passage tells us that we use our tongue not only to bless God, which is certainly noble and just, but also to curse humans. This is a problem for several reasons, but the main one in view in this verse is the fact that those people who we are disrespecting are made in God’s image. That is, we are hypocrites, for we claim to love God but at the same time we are rude and disrespectful to those who are made in His likeness and image. We all need to remember this as we approach people and situations with apologetics, as we have a tendency to be rude when arguing with people and it is counterproductive to the apologetic task, which necessarily includes evangelism, to be rude in the process of witnessing in such a manner. We must always uphold and actively recognize the dignity and self-worth of those we come in contact with as those who bear God’s image, as anything less is to disrespect God Himself.
“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
This verse reiterates what was just discussed in the above paragraph. We curse and bless with the same mouth, thereby making us all hypocrites on a fundamental level. Now this does not mean that all Christians are complete hypocrites, as many people claim, but rather that we need to be all the more cautious as to how we speak and what we say (whether that language be audible or not), for our witness, and therefore the furtherance of the Kingdom of God and the gospel message depend on it. Also, as the second part of this verse states, the fact that we both bless and curse with the same mouth should not be the case. This does not mean that we should rather curse through some other mode, but that instead we should not curse anyone at all. It also must not be overlooked that James here uses the phrase “my brothers” to start the latter sentence in this verse, which indicates that he is especially talking to believers, for after all, non-believers cannot truly bless God in the first place, and so this exhortation in this passage is specifically, not just generally, speaking to believers, although the principle of speaking both good and evil simultaneously is a universal one that applies to all people to be sure.
“Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”
This verse poses a question that, when truly considered, brings up a very pertinent yet humbling point, for the answer to this question is obviously “No,” for once salt enters the water it necessarily becomes salt water, and the absence of such salt, essentially, in this context, makes it fresh water, and so the water must either be one or the other, but it CANNOT be both. What does this mean in terms of life and apologetics though? Well, first of all it means that the legitimacy of our intentions are made clear through our words and the information that we convey, for after all, it was just said that we do actually bless and curse with the same tongue, so this passage cannot simply be saying that we must either do one or the other, at least not on a fundamental level. Sure, on a surface level, that is, at face value, we can both bless and curse with the same tongue, but on a deeper level we see through this verse that in reality only the blessing or the curse is actually legitimate, for it is true that prior to the mixing of salt and fresh water there is both, just as there is a blessing before a curse or a curse before a blessing, but once they have both been established, only one may prevail, for they cannot both exist at the same time and place and in the same sense. So, as we go about our apologetic ministry, we must remember that even if we say the truth and all the right things, if we do so in a manner that is unbecoming or crass, we are no longer speaking for God, but for ourselves and for the opposing side, for to be rude is almost inevitably to lead people away, rather than toward Christ, and the purpose of apologetics, as stated earlier, is to lead people to Christ!
“Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
Again we see here in this final verse of this passage the phrase “my brothers,” which indicates that James is speaking to fellow believers in the Lord primarily. James here asks another question similar to the previous one, but this time the topic is vines. Can one type of tree bear another type of fruit? Well, leaving modern agricultural technology (which was not available in ancient times when James was writing his epistle) aside, the answer is an unmitigated “No!” What does this mean? It means the same thing that the question regarding the water discussed above means, that we cannot legitimately support or uphold both good and evil at the same time and in the same sense. We must pick one or the other. This is proved by the end of this verse, which starts with the term “neither,” which indicates that the answer to the previous set of questions is negative, i.e. “No.” But why does James ask several questions, obviously rhetorical, about the same thing, and then actually answer the questions in the end, referring back to the first question? Several reasons come to mind. First, this is a popular literary strategy that is often used to emphasize a point, thereby indicating that the author believes that it is extremely important. Also, by going back at the end of the passage and answering the first question, after already having have asked another question, the author ties the questions together, along with the already obvious answer, to show that it is all ultimately one thought, or rather it is all about the same issue.
We must be very careful as to how we speak, for we either curse or bless, but we cannot do both at the same time and in the same sense.
Blessings cannot breed evil, and curses cannot breed good (apart from divine grace and providence).