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Bridling the Tongue

In his portrayal of the person who displays a “religion” that is true and worthwhile, James highlights our use of the tongue. Continue reading . . .

In his portrayal of the person who displays a “religion” that is true and worthwhile, James highlights our use of the tongue.

Try to imagine a person who obeys the rules and never steals or lies or betrays a confidence, a person who is generous with his/her money and appears to love their spouse, but continually berates other people and demeans them and lets fly with vulgarities and profane speech. They are critical and sarcastic and judgmental even though they seem to always abide by the rules.

This is the person who sings loudly and passionately, having memorized the words to every song, serves in children’s ministry and hands out bulletins, but gossips and slanders and undermines others with his mouth. James has in mind the sort of person who pretends to be religious or spiritual and yet talks just like the world does. What he has “heard” in terms of the Word of God has made very little difference in his speech.

James says it as clearly and forcefully as he can. He pulls no punches. The simple spiritual reality is this: If you say you are religious, if you say you love Jesus, but you don’t bridle your tongue but are given to gossip and slander and profanity and angry speech and destructive verbal criticism, your “faith” is worthless. Your so-called “religion” amounts to nothing. Your so-called “Christianity” is a sham!

I know the pushback coming my way. I can hear some of you saying: “Wait a minute, Sam. It sounds as if you are saying that we are saved by our speech. It sounds as if you are telling us that whether or not we are truly born again is dependent upon how we use our tongues. Is that what you are saying?” No. It isn’t.

What I’m saying is that how you use your tongue is indicative of whether or not you are born again. Your words serve as the evidence of whether or not your claim to be a follower of Jesus is genuine. Your words are like a moral thermometer that reveals the spiritual temperature of your heart.

When a person is born again and devotes his/her life to Christ there will be a transformation in how they make use of their speech. That doesn’t mean the moment we are converted we suddenly experience a complete change in our speech patterns. It does mean that there is set in motion a progressive refining and purifying and transformation in how we speak. The mouth reveals the condition of the heart. Jesus said it in Matthew 12:34 – “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Now, I must say that there is yet another way of interpreting this text. Some argue that when James says that “this person’s religion is worthless” (v. 26) he simply means it is ineffective; it accomplishes nothing of value; it fails to truly help people and truly glorify God. That is possible.

In either case, it matters immensely how we use our speech. Do we praise our spouse in public but humiliate them in private? Do we use our tongues to build up and encourage our children or to shame them? Do we publicly pledge our love for people of another ethnicity but in private speak in a way that questions their integrity or value as human beings? The answer to those questions is perhaps the clearest and most explicit measure of the value of our “religion” and our devotion to Jesus.

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