These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
We are in a series on Genuine Faith. We are taking a very practical look at what it means to have real faith and it affects various aspects of our lives. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have placed your faith in Jesus for salvation. Sometime in your life you trusted Him to forgive you of your sins, to help you live for Him, and by His grace receive eternal life. The Bible makes it very clear that your salvation is a gift given to you when you place your faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-10). You don’t get saved because you are good enough, because you do the right things, or stop doing the wrong things. You are saved by grace, which means God decided to rescue you from your sins. You were spiritually dead and God made you alive in Christ.
Once you place your faith in Jesus for salvation, you are to grow in that faith letting your belief in Him affect every aspect of your life. This is what the whole book of James is about. It is about living out your faith on a daily basis. Throughout James, God is going to help us to understand what practical faith looks like on Monday and Tuesday and in the home, with our neighbors, at work, how we treat others, and even how we speak.
In James 1, God tells us what trusting Him looks like when we face trials and temptation. What faith looks like when it comes to receiving and responding to God’s Word and what faith sounds like when we talk.
Your faith is designed to influence everything about you: how you talk, how you manage your money, how you treat people, how you choose a spouse, how you view yourself, what you value and what you don’t value. When you understand faith, you understand faith is the key that God uses to unlock every blessing that He wants to give you. God has given you a measure of faith, but it is up to you to apply that faith and to receive what God has for you.
Today, God wants to use your faith in Him to influence and completely transform your life by changing the way talk. This goes beyond just cleaning up your language. This involves how you talk about you, about others, about the world, and about the future. Some of you talk out of fear, rather than faith. Some of you talk out of shame, rather than faith. Some of you talk out sarcasm rather than faith. Your words are a reflection of what is on the inside.
God wants to help us with our speech so that it influences us and those in our lives. So listen carefully to James 1:26 which says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (NLT). Let’s unpack all that and then look at some Biblical principles that God wants us to consider when it comes to our speech. What you are about to hear, you can begin immediately and I’m convinced you will begin to see a change in your attitude and perspective on life.
“If you claim to be religious”
James starts verse 26 by saying, “If you claim to be religious….” Remember, James is talking to believers. When you hear the word “religious” today it is often used in a negative way or in a generic way. When most people hear the word religion they think of religious rules and religious regulations, not a real and authentic relationship with God.
However, “to be religious” refers to the outward expressions of religion. For example, religious people do some or all of the following. Religious people go to church, they pray, they fast, they give, they serve, they observe the Lord’s Supper, and host of other religious activities. Those religious activities are not bad and we, as followers of Jesus, need to be doing those things for the right reasons.
James’ emphasis is on the person who prides himself in his religious activities. He thinks he is something special because He does all these religious things. James is talking to the person who says to others or himself, “Look how good or great I am because I do all these wonderful religious activities.” When a “religious” person talks you will hear them talk about going to church, giving, reading their Bible, fasting, and serving in this ministry or that ministry, or how they don’t do this or don’t do that… but you will not hear a “religious” person talk about how they love God, how much Jesus means to them, or how their soul pants for the presence of God like a deer pants for water. Keep that in mind.
“but don’t control your tongue”
James goes on to say, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue….” Let’s stop right there. This subject of controlling what we say and how we talk is going to come up again in chapter 3. James is going to spend almost a whole chapter talking about the power and influence of our words. When we get to chapter 3 we will unpack it, but right now I want you to see the connection between genuine faith and how we talk.
James is making a contrast between those who control what they say and those who don’t control what they say based on their faith in what God says. When a person has a genuine faith in God you will eventually hear it come out in how they talk and what they talk about. However, if a person does not have a real faith in God through Christ you will hear that come out as well even when they are trying to sound religious.
Those who don’t control what they say will engage in some form of lying, cursing, swearing, slander, half-truths, and filthy language. From a human point of view the hasty word, shading of the truth, the subtle innuendo, the questionable joke, and the hurtful sarcasm are shrugged off as insignificant. Yet from God’s perspective they are an indication of spiritual immaturity.
The word “control” actually is referring to a bridle. A bridle is the headgear that you would place over the head of a horse that also has a bit that goes into the horse’s mouth. The purpose of the bridle is to guide the horse where you want it to go. Genuine faith builds a bridle over our mouths so we can guide our words where they need to go, not just let them come out and go wherever they want.
“you are fooling yourself”
James goes on to say, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself….” The person James is talking about appears to be on the right track and considers himself a religious person. He goes to the church, studies the Bible, engages in spiritual conversations, gives, says the right kind of prayers and on the outside he appears to be doing the right things. But, his words do not reflect a faith in God during difficult times, his words are negative and critical of others, he lies to get what he wants, and he uses words to manipulate others for his own purposes. His words are often cold and unkind. James is saying the person who “claims to be religious” but “does not control their tongue” is “fooling” himself. This issue of fooling ourselves is a big issue in God’s Word. Let me give you some examples.
- Paul addresses this same subject of claiming to be religious, but not really having a relationship with Jesus. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1, “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.” Then Paul list several things that will make it difficult and one of those is found in verse 5 where he says, “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (NLT). People will be going through religious activities without a relationship with God.
- Jesus addressed this as well. Jesus said in Matthew 12, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (Matthew 12:34-37, NLT). What you say is an indicator of what is on the inside.
When the trails of life and the troubles of life begin to stress you out and put pressure on you it will eventually squeeze what is inside of you out. What you say under the pressure of problems will tell you what is really in you. If you really want to know how you are doing spiritually, listen to yourself about how you talk about yourself, about God, and about others when the stress level is high.
“and your religion is worthless”
Let’s look at verse 26 again, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s say you are going to church, you are reading your Bibles, you are giving, and you are doing other religious activities and rituals. If you are going through the religious motions with no real meaning to them and throughout the week you are yelling at the people in your life, you are giving them the silent treatment out of anger, you are being rudely sarcastic, dropping F bombs because you are irritated or because you think it’s funny, and you are lying or misleading others with your words in order to get what you want… James is saying “your religion is worthless.”
The word “worthless” means devoid of power, having no positive influence, it’s not productive, it’s useless. You can be religious all you want, but if your mouth is mean, rude, dirty, sarcastic, and untrue no one will see Jesus in your life and no one will hear what you have to say when you have something important to say. Because of your mouth, your religion has become worthless.
You are salt that has lost its saltiness. Your light pointing people to God, has become very dim. Because of the lack of joy, lack of hope, lack of truth, lack of love that comes from your mouth people have either hit the mute button on you or changed channels altogether. They are not listening to you, nor are they watching you. Your religion is worthless.
Before we wrap this up, let’s look at some practical things God wants us to apply to our mouth in order to honor Him. Because of our love for God and our faith in Him, how can we place a bridle over our mouth and control what we say?
Speak from a new heart
First, speak from a new heart. Ezekiel 18:31, “Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (NLT). When you become a follower of Jesus, Jesus gives you a new heart that leans toward Him. This new heart he can mold and shape and use to guide you throughout life. With this new heart you are able to love God with all your heart. Genuine faith that speaks starts with a new heart because out of the heart the mouth speaks.
Speak with God’s help
Number two, speak with God’s help. Psalm 141:3 says, “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips” (NLT). Even with a new heart you will need God to help you. You will need to ask God to help you get rid of your sarcastic comments, your rude replies, your belittling remarks, and others things you say that are not honoring to Him or to others. You will need to let God take control of what you say and ask Him to put a guard on your lips.
Speak as a representative of God
Number three, speak as a representative of God. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (NLT). As a follower of Jesus, as a believer you represent the Lord at your home, at your school, at your job, while you are driving, while you are shopping and everywhere else you go. Speak as if you are representing someone important, significant and powerful. You represent the King of kings and the Lord of lords. If you think like a representative of God you will speak like a representative of God.
Speak words that are helpful
Number four, speak words that are helpful. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT). The words “foul or abusive” (sapros) was used to describe rotten fruit and vegetables and spoiled food. Just as rotten food is repulsive to us, so should rotten speech be repulsive to us as believers. We are not interested in speaking it, nor hearing it. Instead of rotten speech we are to have “helpful” speech that is encouraging to those who hear it. You and I should be known for being people who when we talk are speech is instructive, constructive, helpful, uplifting, and encouraging in some way.
Realize the power of what you say
Number five, realize the power of what you say. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring death or life” (NLT). The words you choose and the way you say things can either bring death or life into a relationship. What you say has the power to crush people or to uplift them. You can bring people down or you can lift people up with your words. You can help them or you can hurt them with what you say.
- When you talk to your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend do you bring life into that relationship or sarcasm, put downs, and condemnation?
- When you talk to your children do you bring death or life into that conversation? When you are verbally correcting them, are you correcting them out of your selfishness or out of the love you have for them?
- When you talk to the people you work with do your words show respect toward them?
Your mouth has the power to bring death or life into any relationship.
Genuine faith speaks in such a way that it demonstrates a trust in God, a love for God, and a respect for people. That’s because you love God and His Spirit is working in you to transform you to be more and more like Christ.