James 1:26-27: Crucify Your Tongue
The war for holiness is a global war waged against every inch of our own personal geography.
(note: before penned as a blog this was preached as a sermon. The words in this blog will come to life as you watch the sermon by clicking here.)
I have seen maps hanging on friends’ walls with red pins signifying the places they have traveled, the whereabouts they have conquered. Imagine your life as a globe. Christians have a tendency to wage war only against the big continents of the globe. Big continents, like our brains, hands, hearts, or stomachs. If we are honest, there are only a few continents in our lives that have red pins stuck in them.
When Jesus saves you, he sends the Spirit to conquer every inch of your personal geography. And in the epistle of James, God makes it very clear to us that he wants to stick that red pin in our tongues:
“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” (James 1:26-27).
How do you measure your spirituality?
Do you measure your spirituality like James? Just be honest for one moment and fill in the blank: if somebody thinks they’re spiritual, but ____________, then that person’s spirituality is worthless. Given the opportunity to answer that question, I think the Western world might answer it like this: if somebody thinks they’re spiritual, but drinks beer, that person’s spirituality is worthless. If somebody thinks they’re spiritual, but is a darwinian evolutionist, that person’s religion is worthless. If somebody thinks they’re spiritual, but practices premarital sex, that person’s religion is worthless.
Right or wrong, these answers are not how James answers the question. James makes the tongue the measurement of a person’s religion. Which is intense.
But intensively right. If we can crawl into the imagination of James and develop a thoroughly Biblical imagination, this emphasis on the tongue might come to us with more sense and force. Let’s start here: to lack control over your tongue, James says, is to possess a deceived heart. In other words, the tongue is an organ that’s connected to a more important organ: the heart. In fact, if you can picture this, a biblical understanding of the human anatomy teaches that the heart and tongue are not two organs, but one.
We know this Biblically. In Matthew, Jesus says “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” In the Old Testament, Proverbs teaches that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
We also know this historically. John Calvin once wrote, “the tongue exists to reveal our hearts.” In the imagination of John Calvin, God designed the human heart as the center of a person, and he didn’t stop there. In the beautiful creativity of God in designing the human body, he opened the mouth and gifted a tongue so that we might have a tool to reveal our hearts. Without the tongue, the heart is mute.
We also know this personally. Test yourself in this moment, Dead Men readers. Take one second to revisit the burnt and broken string of friendships in your past. How many of those relationships ended because of something you did? Maybe some. How many of those relationships ended because of something you didn’t do? Maybe a few. But how many of those relationships crashed and burned because of something you said?
If our tongues are the measurements of the health of our friendships, why would it not also be the measurement of our relationship with the Lord? Of course James says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
There is good news. But before we get there, I don’t believe there is anything more practical I can write than this: repent. There is evidence of your unbridled tongue scattered around you everywhere: on your facebook news feed, your instagram comments, your text messages, your your unreconciled relationships. Repent. Your tongue is a spiritual problem.
The good news is that tomorrow you don’t have to talk like the man you were yesterday. Next week, you don’t have to speak like the woman you were last week. Perhaps you have uttered one-thousand curses against God with your tongue, but praise be to God, he has chosen to include your tongue in his plan to redeem you: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If your tongue is connected to your heart, then when God chose to regenerate your heart he also chose to regenerate your tongue! When he took out your heart of stone, he also removed your tongue of stone and gave you a tongue of flesh! When the Holy Spirit baptizes you, he dunks all of your body beneath the water: your hands, heart, head, and your tongue!
And strangely enough, when we remember the gospel, this passage not only challenges us but also encourages us. Like every sentence in the Bible, these sentences also should remind us of Jesus.
Jesus is the tongue of God. When God opened his mouth and flexed his tongue to form words, it is not merely phonemes and units of sound that tumble out from God’s mouth. When God spoke, Jesus Christ incarnated himself in the flesh. Jesus is the word of God. And he was perfectly bridled by the Father: he obeyed the Father perfectly, he executed the will of his Father perfectly, he embodied the Father perfectly.
Do you want to use your tongue like God?
Then it might help to remember the chief action of God’s tongue in human history. So that sins might be forgiven, so that righteousness might be gifted, so that creation might be made right, so that death might be defeated, Christ was crucified.
So once more I would like to challenge you: do you want to talk like God?
Then crucify your tongue.