I understand Genesis 1:26, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,’ as an illustration of the purpose of God in bringing to perfection those who will compose the new creation, those who have become formed into the likeness of God mentally and morally, and finally physically. But how do we harmonize this thought with the passage in James 3:9, ‘Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.’ Please explain the seeming discrepancy.
The third chapter of James is a discourse on the proper and improper use of the tongue, and its potential for evil and good. He says, by our tongues we “bless our God and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.” He continues to say in v.10 “My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?”
We have no problem with the first phrase. The tongue is truly a wonderful instrument with which we can bless, praise, extol, magnify and exult our great Creator. Taken in context, we can also understand the second phrase, that we are not to curse men, as indicating this is a task which rightly belongs only to God. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
The problem is with James’ description of men: “who have been made in the similitude of God.” Does James mean to say that all men are made after the similitude of God and should be treated as such?
We know he did not. James knew the real world for what it is, and recognized that all are not naturally receptive to God’s ways and therefore are not of the likeness of God. James’ subject in this chapter is not the misuse of the tongue toward men in general but only a certain segment of men, those who are “made after the similitude of God,” those who are aspiring to be part of God’s new creation, those who belong to the family of believers, the “we” of verses 1-3, who are part of the body spoken of in verse 6. Of these “which are after the similitude of God,” only Christ has been completely made in His image, having received the physical change; all others are believers working toward that end, being made mentally and morally in His likeness now. They belong even now to the family, as they take on more and more of His likeness, though their position is not permanent until they are glorified and receive the physical change (Phil. 3:20-21).
True believers, those who are being made in the mental and moral likeness of God, and who are looking forward to being made someday like Christ, must guard carefully the use of the tongue. Well James knew that strife breeds more strife, harsh words call forth more harsh words. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (3:17-18)–what a contrast to “cursing” one another! What a contrast to strife, and dissension and jealousy. Here is the true Christian’s spirit, which all who are striving to be made into the likeness of God must demonstrate toward one another.