James 1:26-27 - The Role of Words
In a time where we've never been more empowered to speak, James offers some words of wisdom.
This is the eighth of an 18-part devotional series. Sign-up here to have these devotionals sent straight to your inbox.
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.
An estimated 500 million tweets are sent from millions of Twitter accounts everyday. That breaks down to nearly 21 million tweets an hour, or over 5,700 every second. Sadly, more often than not, these tweets are filled with anything but benign, kind, encouraging words.
In our contentious religious, social, and political environments people use this medium to undercut, denounce, call out, or accuse not only their enemies but even their brothers and sisters in Christ. In an environment such as ours, wherein we can instantly communicate our felt thoughts, we would do well to consider deeply these words in James 1:26-27.
Two pitfalls stand out as James offers words of warning against a free wagging tongue.
The first involves an overabundance of words. There are times when a large number of words leads to someone being described as “loquacious.” Then there are times when that same amount of words earns someone the moniker, “loud-mouthed.” It requires wisdom to discern the volume of words to use based on the context in which one is speaking.
In addition to this, how often have we left a conversation and thought to ourselves, “I wish I hadn’t said that.” An overabundance, and sometimes just abundance, of words often earns regret. By bridling our tongues we can consider more thoughtfully what we ought to say and when we ought to say it.
The second pitfall involves the belief that actions can be replaced by words. James says the person who does not bridle their tongue “deceives his heart.” A religion composed solely of words and sentiments is not Christianity. Rather, God calls his people to love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to serve him in both words and deeds. As we will see in the next chapter, it does no good to merely tell a shiveringly cold person, “Be warm. Be filled.”
In stark juxtaposition to the deceptive, false religion of words and sentiments, James describes, albeit briefly, true religion. This true religion flows from our hearts through our hands. It leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to consider others better than ourselves, to welcome the outcast, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, honor the elderly, to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”
As was mentioned above, this love flows from our hearts through our hands. With that knowledge in mind we must consider that which is our lodestar and sole object of our heart’s desire and worship.
James is the closest thing we have in the New Testament to wisdom literature, and that same foundation of wisdom which drives Proverbs in the Old Testament drives James: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is the love and fear of God our Father that makes our acts of service true religion.
What is more, by worshipping God alone our worship is pure and we remain unstained, untainted, uncorrupted from the world. This is not just for our self-preservation, but so that we can be salt and light to the world.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C. and the co-host of The Will & Rob Show.