The previous post on our study in James was about applying God’s Word, and what the Word shows you about yourself to your life. In today’s scripture, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) continues to instruct us to apply God’s Word.
Back in November, I purchased this inductive Bible study on James because I thought that I really needed to study what James had to say about acting on our faith. I am learning so much. Today’s text takes me back to the post I published Taming the Tongue, which is when I became excited about studying James. Prior to getting into today’s verses, I want to include the first paragraph from my earlier post.
The tongue really is you, it really is. The tongue is a tattletale, and it tells on the heart. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The tongue is the revealer of the heart. “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (Col. 3:8-10) The new man in Christ has a new mouth, has a new tongue, new speech.
An uncontrolled tongue and a deceived heart are companions of an empty religion. True religion in practical living will be exemplified in pure speech, pure love, and pure character – characteristics of Christ. While James does not give an exhaustive list of the positive duties of genuine religion, he presents these as typical characteristics. (James 2:1–13) An empty religion will betray itself in relationships. God wants us to deny ourselves (and our sinful nature), take up our cross and follow Christ, emulating his speech, actions and faith (Matthew 16:24). Purity of heart is often revealed by controlled and proper speech.
One truth immediately clear from this passage is, it is not enough just to think that you are religious. Religion in the New Testament is not just a matter of what you think and claim; it is matter of your individual response of heart to God. It is the activity of your faith in Christ.
James sees the control of one’s tongue as decisive in the control of one’s entire behavior, much like the decisive control of a horse’s direction by means of the rein and bit. To neglect controlling one’s tongue while still considering oneself to be a religious person is self-deceiving. The actual conclusion is that such religion is worthless (mataios, meaning idle, fruitless, useless). This term makes emphatic James’s rejection of a disobedient faith as a false faith. James appears to be saying that worship rituals without a controlled tongue or concern for the poor are worthless. According to James, purity is not contingent upon worship rituals, but is of the heart and is lived out in active love toward others. James echoes one of the most important themes in the Prophets (see Isa 1:17; Jer 22:3; Zec 7:9–10).
Genuine, saving faith will produce actions in the believer’s life which are obedient to the word of God. Seek to submit your views to the biblical view and give priority attention to your speech as you seek to purify your behavior. Immoral ways of speaking simply cannot be excused biblically as somehow of secondary importance. Further instruction concerning specific forms of impure speech will come later in James’s letter.
Are we leading others to the Lord by our life, speech and testimony? Are we exhibiting the Spirit-filled characteristics that naturally flow from a true believer in Jesus Christ—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23)? And are we “applying all diligence” in faith to add moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to our lives to ensure we are fruitful for the kingdom of God (2 Pet. 1:5–8)? If not, we need to ask God to teach us how to live so that our lives reflect His love and care at every turn.
We cannot expect anyone to embrace a Savior they know nothing about. Yet as the body of Christ, we are His hands and feet, His mouthpiece, His representatives, and His “fragrance…among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15). And as ambassadors for Christ, we have the God-given responsibility to live in such a way that others see Him in us by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. Therefore, set a goal to know Him better and to allow Him to love you with His infinite and unconditional love. When you abide in Him—obeying His commands and expressing His character—others will “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).