“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his own 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.” (James 1:26-27)
1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” What he’s saying is clear. If one claims to be religious but shows otherwise by their speech, our religion, our devotion to Christ and His Church, is worthless and deceptive. In worthless or vain religion men have a form of godliness but deny its power. It seems that religion in this sense of the word is awful – being used as a tool, not for growing closer to Jesus, or understanding the gospel deeper, but a tool used for making oneself seem holier to others when there is no real concern for such things.
The Puritans called those who do such things, “ones with detracting tongues.” The tongue is said to be detracting because when these people, who want to be seen as religious, talk about others they themselves always seem to come out as wiser, better, godlier, holier, or farther along. In an effort to build themselves up they tear others down. Matthew Henry said, “The man who has a detracting tongue cannot have a truly humble gracious heart. He who delights to injure his neighbor in vain pretends to love God; therefore a reviling tongue will prove a man a hypocrite.” Since Jesus summed up the whole law with two commands, “Love God and love neighbor” it’s correct to say both of these must be going on if true religion is present in the heart. The modern word we all use for a person with a detracting heart is simple – a jerk, a gossip, selfish, egotistical, bigot, arrogant, or hypocrite.
This is the issue here is it not? That false religion or true religion is known by the tongue, so that a man can claim to believe this or that all day long, but when it comes down to it – what comes out of the mouth is the best proof of what’s ones religion is all about. There seems to be such a fluid connection between the tongue and the heart of a man that one can know the one by the other. This is why Jesus said, “…from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34, Luke 6:35) John even in 1 John 2:9 says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness.”
Apparently James’ audience really struggled with this for James to deal with it so often in his letter. He already told us in 1:19 to be quick to listen, and slow to speak, he’s telling us again here, he’ll even continue to develop this truth later in chapter 3 and 4. So too I’m convinced that it’s still an issue today, in every congregation. Gossip can kill a church quicker than anything. So hear me friends, loud and clear, if you ever got beef with things going on or got beef with someone the last place to go is someone else. Go to the person, be honest, work it out, and move on. If you begin to gossip beware, that’s evidence of false religion.
Now, we know from 1:26 that if the tongue is properly bridled it can do a great deal of good. But I’m afraid it’s not in natural man’s constitution to bridle the tongue. Once this begins to take place in the heart, and your tongue begins detracting others to build yourself up, religion merely becomes an exercise in vanity. Knowing this, we need verses like Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Paul warns in Galatians 6:3, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
So Christian I challenge you, be warned – you may fool some for a time, but you’re words will betray you eventually.