Read James 1:26-27 (ESV)
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.
How are the world’s standards for our language different from God’s standards for our language?
It can be tempting to think that words are just words. But the reality is that words have meaning. They have the power to cheer someone up or tear someone down. They can give us hope or drive us to despair. They can clearly explain or completely confuse. They can speak the truth or perpetuate a lie. And one of the greatest powers of the spoken word is the power to reveal the inner condition of our hearts. Words really are telling. Our words can expose just how much we have been stained and corrupted by the world or how much we have been transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Today, James has some convicting words to say to us. He said that if we consider ourselves to be religious but we don’t have control over our mouths, we are deceived and our religion is worthless. Ouch.
James was addressing the issue of acting religious on the outside with ceremonies and rituals and rule-following but not living a transformed life from the inside out. If we can’t bridle our tongues and the words that come out of our mouths look more like the world than like Christ, the impurity of our hearts is laid bare.
Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:34-37). Whatever flows out of your mouth reveals what your heart is made of. If hurtful, evil, or vulgar speech overflows out of our mouths, what does that say about the condition of our hearts?
No amount of religious activity can compensate for having hearts stained by sin. No matter how hard we work to be religious, it is worthless and empty if our hearts are evil. But be encouraged, that is why Jesus came—to save us from our sins and transform our hearts and lives.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation with a new heart: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even so, daily, we need to take off the old self and put on the new.
One of the ways we take off the old self is to stop talking like the old self. “But now you must put them all away; anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:8-10).
Friends, if you are struggling with controlling your speech, I encourage you to spend time in prayer. Ask for God’s help in overcoming this area of sin in your life. But don’t ignore the issue. We want our speech to accurately reflect the change that Jesus has made in our hearts. We want to speak words that are pure, undefiled, and unstained by the world.
Lord, I know that You have made me new and You are changing me from the inside out. I want the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be acceptable to You (Psalm 19:14). I want the overflow of my heart to honor and reflect You. Help me tame my tongue so that my speech is not stained by the world. Amen.