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Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can saltwater produce fresh water. (James 3:12)
The above things are simply impossible within nature, and this is equally ridiculous when it comes to our morals. A fig tree can only produce figs. Therefore, likewise, the tongue should only give words that are good or evil, not both. Because of human imperfection, this has brought about an abnormal situation that is absurd. These illustrations are especially remarkable and show the ridiculousness of that which the apostle admonishes all Christians. Because we are all mentally bent toward evil, possessing a treacherous heart that we cannot know, and having a natural desire toward bad, it is understandable how we lack control over the tongue. Nevertheless, these illustrations help us to realize the main purpose which James had in mind. He knows that with a biblical mindset, as well-trained conscience, the mind of Christ, we can repress our unnatural desires that give way to an uncontrollable tongue. He is also warning us that the desire of becoming public teachers within the church or even in the making of disciples without having done so, and lacking the suitable qualifications, is foolish. These illustrations further show us the power of the tongue. It is a dangerous power that should not be wielded by any man leading a church, who does not have the proper training and qualifications. These illustrations further show the stupidity of anyone outing himself in the position of a leader within the church, where they wield the power of the tongue without having a well-trained conscience, being biblically minded, and having the mind of Christ. If he has those things, he will have a moral certainty that he will use the tongue aright and the Word of God aright.
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” (Gen. 1:11-12) On this Kurt A. Richardson writes, “Grapevines produce grapes, not figs; and fig trees produce figs, not olives … Back to the principle at hand, those who truly praise God do not curse their brothers. James did not refer to a thoroughly new constitution of the person but to true faith that does what is natural to it, both toward God and toward other human beings. Such faith praises and blesses.” (Richardson 1997, 160) James is conveying that if grapevines produced figs or fig trees produced grapes, they would not be producing what God had purposed. Therefore, the misuse of the tongue is contrary to its naturally intended purpose. Another aspect of this could be that the fruitage that comes from a person’s mouth will identify whether he is acting contrary to design or not. Jesus said,
Matthew 7:17-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruits.
Jesus used trees in some of his illustrations, emphasizing the necessity for fruitfulness in true righteousness, as John the Baptist had indicated before him. (Matt. 3:10; 7:15-20) Fruit trees were taxed in Palestine in the first century. Therefore, an unfruitful tree (might as well be dead) was an unwanted weight to the owner and, consequently, a tree that should be cut down and destroyed. (Luke 13:6-9) Jude tells us that immoral persons who creep into the Christian congregation are compared to fruitless trees in fall time that have twice dead. (Jude 1:12) Their being labeled as ‘twice dead’ is a powerful way of saying they are absolutely dead. Conversely, it could mean that they are dead in two respects. They are (1) barren or fruitless and (2) are completely dead, having no life.