“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” ~ James 1:26
Explanation of the Text: In reading verse 26, it almost seems that James jumps topics, but once again, he does have a connection between the previous verses. James is transitioning to a rebuke indicating that if one is to do the word, they must have the right heart attitude, having just completed a discussion about concept that hearing the word should lead to being a doer of the word.
There are two terms that must be understood. First, in using the word ‘religious’ James is not identifying someone who is saved. Instead he is referring to people who perform works, specifically someone who is ritualistic in what they do for God. They do not have a proper heart attitude and are performing rituals with the mindset that works is what allows them to enter heaven. The second term is ‘bridle.’ This is a literal picture of the bridle for a horse, which is meant to control the horse. The idea is that one should be able to control their tongue.
James is using this illustration as an example of one who is not obeying the Word and is not a true doer of the Word. This is a person who is caught up in doing, that they neglect what the Word truly says, and thus are never a true doer of the Word, but rather a doer of human wisdom. Thus they have deceived themselves into thinking that they are a ‘practicing’ Christian, when in actuality his efforts are worthless, profiting nothing.
Examination & Application of the Text: Previously, James called on believers to be slow to speak and later on James devotes a whole section to taming the tongue. Being able to bridle one’s own tongue is no easy task! In using this example James is not trying to indicate that religion only requires a person to control their tongue, but rather, he has drawn on one of the most difficult things for any person to do as an example of true religion. “Once a young man came to the great philosopher Socrates to be instructed in oratory. The moment the young man was introduced, he began to talk, and there was an incessant stream for some time. When Socrates could get in a word, he said, ‘Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee.’ ‘A double fee, why is that?’ The old sage replied, ‘I will have to teach you two sciences. First, how to hold your tongue, and then, how to use it.’ What an art for all of us to learn, especially Christians.”
As you reflect on today’s text, ask yourself, “Does my speech reflect the Word of God?” The second question is like it, “Does my speech reflect what’s in my heart?” If your speech reflects what is in your heart, then it should reflect Christlikeness. If it doesn’t, this is an opportunity for growth. It is an opportunity, to once again examine yourself in the mirror of God’s Word. You have been given the Spirit who dwells inside of you, so that you may be transformed, instead of being conformed into the image of the world. Use the tongue as an indicator of your heart, not so that you can be condemned, but so that you can be transformed.