THE RELIGIOUS TONGUE
James 1:26-27, James 3:2-8 Princeton Christian Church 7 February 2021
Typically, a person's idea of being religious is just going through rituals and practices associated with the faith. In James 1:26-27 we find God’s definition of what it means to be religious. So regardless of what we think it means, or how we perceive it, God’s definition of the word is how we need to understand it.
Read: James 1:26-27
Typically, a person's idea of religion, or being religious, is going through rituals and practices associated with the faith. But, to people of the Christian faith it is so much more than that. Anyone can go through the motions without being sincere in their devotion to God. God has his own definition about it means to be religious. So regardless what we think it means, we should learn what God has said it is.
What is religion? Probably if you ask several different people you'll get several different answers. Theologians are good at taking something and using a lot of intellectual words to describe it. Here is an example of a theologian’s definition of religion; “Religion originates in an attempt to represent and order beliefs, feelings, imaginings and actions that arise in response to direct experience of the sacred and the spiritual. As this attempt expands in its formulation and elaboration, it becomes a process that creates meaning for itself on a sustaining basis, in terms of both its originating experiences and its own continuing responses.”
Did you get all that? Who can tell me what I just read there? No, well, good. I’m glad you can’t – because I read it and I don’t know what it said.
I think God has given us a more simplistic and clearer idea of what religion is. James 1:26-27, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
This is pure religion. There are religious activities and religious observances but the heart of religion is what we find here in James. James is good at defining things. He did it here with religion and he does it later in his letter when he speaks about faith. Webster has nothing on James when it comes to defining important words. James cuts through the idea of what something is and highlights the reality of what something is. And it really has to do with showing proof. It's like he's from Missouri; the 'show me' state. You say you have faith? Show me. You say you're religious? Show me. James highlights a few 'show me's' when it comes to being religious.
Pure religion is keeping a tight rein on my tongue. First one's pretty easy, right? Not really.
1) Why the tongue?
2) There could have been any number of things James could've mentioned that would've been important. Why does he focus on the tongue? It's really about total self-control. If the tongue is controlled, then the rest of you will be too.
Let’s skip over to James 3:2-8 for a moment. He says here: "We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."
James highlights that if we are able to keep our tongue under control then the rest of us is under control as well. Think of how we can develop self-control in things like our diet or in overcoming addictions, but when it comes to our mouth it's a different story. James focuses on the fact that although the tongue is a small part of the body it is so powerful. Words carry so much weight. With them we can make someone's day or we can break it. We can praise them or we can blast them. A physical beating will hurt for a short time, but the pain inflicted from words our words can cause permanent and lasting damage.
In northern New Mexico, at around 5 AM on July 16, 1945, the still dark early morning sky became as bright as the noonday sun. In that one blinding flash, the Atomic Age began. You may have seen pictures of this event. The atomic fireball shot upwards at 360 feet per second. The mushroom cloud formed at 30,000 feet. All that remained on the ground at the blast site were chunks of green radioactive glass that had been created by the incredible heat of the explosion. That unbelievably destructive power was later found out and experienced when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
On December 20, 1951, something else spectacular happened. In Arco, Idaho, the still dark sky was brightened with light as well. Yet this time it was brightened by light bulbs powered by the first electricity produced from nuclear energy. Today, 1/5 of America’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. The uranium that is used in the nuclear reactor that produces that electricity is the same uranium that is used in the atomic bomb.
So what’s the difference? The difference in how they were used. When used one way, atomic energy produces tremendous good. But when used another way, it produces terrible destruction.
Now, let’s see how the same benefits or destruction can happen as James talks about another extremely powerful object—the tongue. Like atomic energy, the tongue is capable of accomplishing great things. But it is also capable of accomplishing great destruction. Therefore, it is important for us to tame the tongue. But James says no one can tame the tongue. That's true, without Christ it is impossible; that's how powerful it is. James focuses on the tongue because the tongue is the hardest thing for us as humans to get under control.
How am I deceived? James 3:9-12, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."
Natural springs still remain in the Middle East today. Some produce fresh water, and some produce salt water. However, none produce both. So when it comes to blessing and cursing, our tongues should not produce both. It is unlikely that you would find a fig tree bearing olives or a grapevine bearing figs. So should it be equally unlikely to find a Christian with a poisonous tongue. What James is saying is that the tongue only reveals what is at its source.
Jesus actually spoke about this in as He rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33-37, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Now, if that doesn’t make us want to watch our words, nothing will!
We all can be deceived into thinking we can bear bad fruit and still be a good tree. We are deceived because we think that just because our words are hurtful; it doesn't mean our hearts are. We defend ourselves by saying – “I said it but that's not how I really feel. I just spoke without thinking about how it would come out.” That may be true if I say something once, but if I find myself saying or blurting the same thing out more than once, then I seriously need to consider that it isn't just something I said. It is something I truly feel. So when it's repetitive I'm not just speaking out of anger or emotion it's more than that. It is an intention to hurt another person.
There are certain things we think but don't say -- until we're provoked to say it. Usually it will be said out of anger or some other emotion or if we're under the influence of something and our inhibitions are lowered. They call alcohol truth serum. I might want to blame the alcohol but chances are it's not the alcohol talking; it's the heart talking. Regardless, although we might not like to believe that what we say is how we truly feel we shouldn't just dismiss it as, 'I just didn't think before I spoke'.
We should seriously consider what's coming out of our mouths as being straight from the heart. And then we will deal with the condition of our heart so we can get to the root of the problem. If I don't keep a tight rein on my tongue I'm deceiving myself that my words aren't that serious or that my words aren't an indicator of what's in my heart. If I want to know what is inside of me then I need to listen to what comes out of me. I'm deceived when I think my words don't have anything to do with how religious I am.
Which brings us to this question. Why is my religion worthless?
Someone has defined true religion like this: ‘True religion is the life we live; not the creed we profess’. Anyone can show up to church; anyone can sing songs and participate, anyone can listen to the sermon. Anyone can appear religious, but in order to be religious, one needs to go from listening to the word inside the church to going and doing the word outside of the church.”
What validity is there to my religion when I'm praising God one minute and cursing him or his people the next? How does religion show itself to have made a profound impact in my life when I'm speaking biblical principles today and speaking vulgarities tomorrow? What kind of message does that send to others? How will they view my religiosity when they listen to my speech which is contradictory? I can shout “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” all day long inside of church building, but when I leave I find myself in a heated discussion with someone. Then my words inside of church are deemed worthless.
If I'm saying “Jesus loves you” inside the church but then I'm cussing someone out after church what does that show? Are people going to see me as religious? Yes, I was in church doing all the right things; I was looking and acting religious but then I left and spoke hurtful degrading words to, or about another person. Would you think what you heard from me inside the church was the real me, or what you heard outside the church? What we say inside the church isn’t as important as what we’re saying outside of it. If we’re not consistent, then our religion is worthless and it's having a negative impact. Some people have wonderful “Sunday speech”. We have to be careful that we don’t follow it up with a terrible “Monday mouth”.
Now, I think that it is possible for us to have a “slip of the tongue” on occasion, and our religion should not be considered worthless. But if we think we can be truly religious without being concerned with what's coming out of our mouths we have some correcting to be done.
The Apostle Paul speaks in Ephesians 5:1-4, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."
These things are improper; they don't belong; they render my religion as worthless because it shows no real difference in my words and my behavior. If God says my religion is about wholesome speech and wholesome behavior, but my words and actions aren't really changing then what does it say about the impact my religion has had on me? What does it say about the value I place on my religion? That is, the value I place on my devotion to Jesus Christ – which, in a nutshell, is what religion is.
In thinking of there not being a hint of sexual immorality or impurity, we can see how obscenities, foolish talk and coarse joking play into those. We see how not only words themselves can be sinful but they can also easily set the stage for other sins to follow. That is why taming the tongue is so important.
Prov. 10:19, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Tame the tongue, tame the sin. Preserve my speech; preserve my religion. And in so doing I indicate and communicate my religion as something worthwhile; not worthless.
So, how do I keep a tight rein on my tongue?
James 1:19, "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." Being quick to listen and slow to speak shows that I am willing to learn. It shows that I desire to gain knowledge, insight and wisdom. Think about this: Why did God give us two ears and one mouth? So that we would listen twice as much as we speak.
Prov. 18:13, “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame.” Why? Because when we speak before we listen we will say something we regret, we will say something foolish, we will make erroneous judgments which will damage our witness.
If we are going to be quick to listen and slow to speak we need to practice silence. Being silent creates the opportunity to make observations and think rationally. I can adequately reflect and process what I’m seeing and hearing. Plus, giving myself over to silence creates the opportunity to silence my anger. Being quick to listen and slow to speak is being self-controlled. If I can be self-controlled in my listening and speaking skills then I will be self-controlled in my anger. In silence my anger can be subdued.
Keeping a tight rein on my tongue involves being quick to listen and slow to speak. And if I'm slow to anger then I will be keeping a tight rein on my tongue. Colossians 3:8-10, "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."
Keeping a tight rein on my tongue involves remembering who I am now. In Christ, I am a new creation; a new self. Things like anger, rage and malice shouldn’t be a part of who I am now. All of those typically involve hurtful words being spoken. Slander, filthy language and lies are all part of the old creation; the sinful me. But the new, spiritual me is involved in the renewal process; the process of becoming like Jesus. So, I need to not only get rid of all that garbage talk, but to replace it with healthy talk.
Colossians 3:12-16, "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."
If I'm clothing myself with compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness then my words will reflect that. My speech will be encouraging and edifying; gentle, not abrasive. The things I say will be humble, not arrogant. And if I have put on love then love fills my heart. So, love will overflow from my mouth. If the peace of Christ rules in my heart it will come out of my mouth. I will be speaking words that promote peace, not discord. And with a thankful heart comes expressions of gratitude. And when the word of Christ fills my heart and mind I will vocalize it. I will sing it; I will teach it. Keeping a tight rein on my tongue means holding back on bad words and letting loose with spiritual ones.
So, if I consider myself to be religious then I need to take into consideration the words that are coming out of my mouth. If I don't have a tight rein on my tongue then I'm not as religious as I think I am. I am not as much in Christ as I need to be.