James – How’s Your Religion

Peninsula Community Church

February 24, 2013

James – How’s your Religion?

James 1:26-27 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

The last time I went to the doctor one of the things that I was asked to do was to stick out my tongue and say ahhhhh! When I was younger, I use to wonder why he would do this but as I have gotten older I now have a better understanding for this. The reason a doctor will ask you to do this is that he can often measure the health of the body by examining the tongue. For example, he can tell if we are under stress because of certain conditions that might be evident on the tongue and in the mouth. He can determine if there is a potential for sickness, as a coated tongue is often a sign of bacteria evident in the body. He can also discover certain cancers. 

In this passage, James is telling us to stick out our tongues and say ahhhhh! James presents two ways to show the purity of one’s religion. His goal is to present us with a definition of good religion. To do so, he presents two ideas that reveal who we are and what we are all about. The first idea is matter of controlling our tongue. The second is a matter of how we minister to orphans and widows. Our primary focus today will be on the tongue.

Before we get into the meat of this discussion, let me speak to this idea of religion for just a moment. There is a big difference between having religion and being a passionate follower of Christ. Religion while it was supposed to be a good thing has most often become a perverted system of rules and regulations. This is best illustrated by the Pharisees. The Pharisees, the religious leader’s of Jesus’ day, took God’s law which could be summed up in “Loving God” and “Loving Others” (Mark 12:28-31) and developed 613 laws which included 365 negative commands and 248 positive commands. 

Joe Stowell, professor at Moody Bible Institute, proposes that, at the time of Christ, the Pharisees had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness. The problem is that new laws were continually invented to satisfy their need to control others. The result was that their laws created a judgmental spirit and a false standard of righteousness. Instead of freedom, these laws became a burden and they were unnecessarily confusing and contradictory because of the number of laws presented.

The truth of the matter is that there were so many laws that even the Pharisees could not keep all of their own laws. For them it was easier to make a law than it was to deal with the heart. Any time you have a system in place where the rules are primary and the heart issues are nominal in terms of priorities, then we have a problem. The issue is that we can have an outward persona that appears to have it together. Jesus described this as being white washed tombs. In that day they would paint the burial vaults with a white wash to keep them looking nice. His point was though they looked good on the outside the tombs still contained deaf men’s bones.

This however is not the kind of religion that James is propagating here. He is not propagating a long list of laws but he is referring to a positive response to God’s word and commands. He is referring to being a hearer and a doer of God’s word which means we bring our hearts into alignment with God’s will and His purposes for our lives. Good religion does not come from a long list of rules but it only comes by way of God’s grace. The law does not save us, as it is only a school master that points us to sin. In Galatians 2:15-16, Paul says, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Paul continues in Galatians by helping us understand that we were held captive under the law until faith came through Christ. The law was our “guardian” or as the KJV says it was our “schoolmaster.” It pointed us to Christ but was powerless to deal with the power of sin that ruled over us. Christ came as the fulfillment of the law. While the ceremonial law was no longer needed as Christ came to satisfy the requirements of that part of the  law, the moral law remains in tack. 

With that said James illustrates for us what “good” religion looks like. It is one that is not guided by a long list of rules but by a heart motivated by Christ’s love and His righteousness. Therefore, one who exemplifies good religion is one who controls their tongue. As we consider the tongue, we must understand that just as the physical tongue is barometer for our physical health, the tongue is also a barometer of our spiritual condition. It is of note that James throughout this book discusses the work of the tongue and the working out of our faith in practical ways.  James is keenly aware that our tongue will either support us or it will betray us. It is for that reason that he uses the word picture of a bridle. A bridle serves to steer or guide a horse. In essence he is saying that we should put a bridle on our tongue to guide and steer our tongue in the right direction.

What comes from our mouth reveals the character of the heart which reveals the health of our spiritual body. Jesus stated that it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks for the heart is the seat of one’s emotion and thoughts. In Matthew 15:18-20 Jesus says, “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”

We must understand that we all communicate unhealthy and unwise things at one point or the other. This does not mean that we are necessarily evil minded, it simply means that this action is pointing to an adjustment that must be made within us but, an on going pattern of unhealthy talk will define who you are as a nonspiritual person. The problem for some is that they may never use a curse word and yet they curse others by way of slander, lies and corrupt thinking. Too often this is done in private or it is done with others in a group with the absence of the one being spoken about.

To understand this, let me ask you a couple of questions.

  • Do you edify others or do you slander others?
  • Do you give thanks or do you complain?
  • Do you speak truthfully or do you speak falsely?
  • Do you speak with civility or do you use sarcasm?
  • Do you speak humbly or do you speak with pride and arrogance?

Let’s look at these questions for a moment. Let’s begin by asking ourselves, “Do I edify others or do I slander people and tear them down by my words?” The answer to this is important. One way to define this is to ask if you spend more time talking about someone rather than talking to the person. When you do speak to them are you encouraging them or do you find yourself tearing them down by being critical and judgmental? Are you looking at the faults of others only or are you looking for the positive in their lives as well.

Second, “Do I give thanks more than I complain?” My heart can be filled with bitterness or it can be filled with gratefulness and joy. Bitter hearts end up hurting others because they become distrusting of those who have grateful hearts. Instead of rejoicing, they become upset with others who seem to have it all together. A person with an ungrateful heart is hard to please and the one with an ungrateful heart will have a hard time in feeling satisfied because they are never content with the things they possess. The tendency is that they always want something else to satisfy them and cause them to feel accepted.

Third, “Do I speak the truth or do I continually speak falsehoods and lies?” To be clear sometimes we do not speak lies outright, sometimes we simply distort the truth to make us look better or to avoid the reality we may face, if we were perfectly honest. A partial untruth is still and untruth. God calls for us to be honest in our communications and in our dealings with others. To mislead someone is a falsehood and in the end hurts the one propagating the falsehood. 

Four, “Do I speak with civility or do I speak with sarcasm?” The problem with sarcasm is that it begins as a joke but the problem is there is too often an element of truth in our expressions of sarcasm. A second problem is that sarcasm gets more hateful. A third problem is that sarcasm becomes the mode of operation that we use when we battle others. In the end sarcasm brings pain and hurt the one the sarcasm is aimed. It tears the other person down rather than building them up.

Fifth, “Do I speak humbly or do I speak with pride and arrogance?” Let me be clear to speak humbly does not mean that I cannot be emphatic or direct in my approach. We often confuse directness with pride when that is not the case. However, when I am prideful and arrogant, the message is lost and/or distorted. Pride and arrogance come when I try to present myself in a deceptive manner. It comes when I try to present myself as something else when that is not the case at all. 

What we learn here is that our vocal communication is a measure of our hearts and the transformation or the lack of transformation that has come…. but listen to what the Bible says to us.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Ephesians 4:15 Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Proverbs 4:24 Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. 

Colossians 4:5-6 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

So how is your tongue today? Does it point to a healthy spiritual life or is there some work to do? The fact is you are not alone as we all can grow in this area of our life. It’s your choice but God is ready to assist you in this area. Will you allow Him to do that?

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