Have you ever heard someone refer to a person as being very religious? What does that term bring to mind? Someone who is very conscientious? Someone who is diligent in their religious practices? Someone whose faith is obvious in his daily activities?
Let’s think a little about the word religious. It is used seven times in the New Testament. The word speaks of a belief in the supernatural and the expression of that belief.
Many religions of the world prompt people to be devout but they are sadly misguided. I think of religious people who are devoted to public worship, consistent prayer, good deeds—people who are conscious of detail in their religious practices. This type of person may think he is doing well and pleasing God but if his faith is in the wrong place all of his effort and devotion count for nothing.
As followers of Christ we also need to be careful that we do not make being “religious” our primary goal. In James 1:26 we are warned that one of the simplest parts of our bodies can short-circuit our walk with God—“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
We don’t often stop to evaluate the things we say. Imagine what it would be like if every thoughtless word you spoke over the past two weeks was posted on the front of your house. Most of us would be shocked to see a visual reminder of things that have slipped from our mouths almost unnoticed; then we would be humiliated by the probability that other people were aware of them. How could Christians find themselves in that position?
Perhaps we do not put controlling the tongue on the same level of importance that God does. Maybe we focus on battling less significant things. Or we may be putting tremendous effort into pleasing God, growing in faith, teaching with great effectiveness and worshipping. But if the tongue is not under control then God says we are deceiving ourselves and our religion is worthless!
The person whose tongue is out of control may believe he is doing right. He could pass a lie detector test, stating his commitment to God. That’s what it means to be deceived and why it is so dangerous not to keep a tight rein on our tongues. We are not even aware it is affecting our spiritual life.
It is disconcerting to be told we are in danger of having been deceived. This is especially true when it deals with a part of life as important as our walk with God. However, if a person has been deceived the best possible thing that could happen would be for him to be made aware of the deception and correct it.
God has given us a clear warning in James 1:26. I encourage you to pray, asking God to show you how you can be sure your tongue is not destroying your walk and your ministry for Him.
A Sign of Maturity
James 3 teaches about the tongue in more detail. We are told that if a person can control his tongue, if he is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect (mature) person—able to keep his whole body in check.
If we want to live in a way that pleases God, we must consider our tongue. With all that hinges on our words and their impact on people around us we need to recognize there is no greater way to increase our ministry. We should be focusing on this important area of our lives!
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