At some point in our lives, we have all said something we wish we hadn’t.
For some of us, this has happened more often than we’d like to admit. It could be something as embarrassing as uttering a social faux pas, or something as hurtful as lashing out against a friend or loved one. In the social media age, it could take the form of an offensive joke, or an angry, unfiltered comment in a Facebook post.
In a society growing increasingly hostile to Christianity, the instruction James gives to believers to keep a tight rein on their tongues (v. 26) is more relevant and needful than ever. It is crucial that the love of Christ be evident in the way we talk to others—especially on social media.
In fact, James goes so far as to say that if we’re outwardly religious—for instance, attend church, pray, fast, serve in ministries—but fail to control our speech, we’re merely deceiving ourselves and that our “religion is worthless” (v. 26).
Instead, what God considers as pure and faultless religion involves both our speech and our deeds. In verse 27, James tells us—on top of keeping a tight rein on our tongues—to care for “orphans and widows” and to keep ourselves from becoming polluted by the world.
The orphans and widows of James’ day were the most powerless and had the lowest status in society. In today’s context, James would be instructing us to look out for the marginalized groups—for example, the homeless, mentally ill, poor. We are called to look beyond our social circles, to serve and care for those in need. This point ties in with a recurring theme throughout the book of James where a Christian’s faith and deeds should work hand-in-hand.
On top of that, James adds another piece of instruction: to not let the sinful behaviors of the world corrupt our actions (v. 27). As we go about our daily lives, especially in the area of performing good deeds in the name of Jesus, we need to be consistently on guard against subtle temptations and influences. When we allow these things to creep into the area of service (such as dishonesty about finances or impure motivations in our acts of charity), we undermine the positive actions that we make and jeopardize the good name of Jesus.
This task is not an easy one. However, as we control our tongue, care for the marginalized, and guard our motives and methods from worldly corruption, the world will take notice and wonder why Christians behave in this way. Then we can share the goodness of Christ’s love that we have experienced and invite them to become a part of the family of God.
—Caleb Young, Australia
Questions for reflection
1. In what ways have I failed to “keep a tight rein” on my tongue?
2. What practical steps can I take to help the powerless in my community?
3.How can I guard against becoming “polluted by the world” (v. 27), particularly in the area of service?
Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao
Caleb is a fan of film, food, fun, family as well as other things that don’t begin with the letter f, like travel and the theatre. He considers himself a citizen of the world: born in New Zealand, raised in the Fiji Islands, now living in Australia, and the holder of three passports. He is also a storyteller, whether that be in filming a testimony of God’s work in a person’s life or writing an article or creating a concept for a good narrative story. In it all, he is a young adult navigating through life, striving to become more Christ-like, and is grateful to a gracious Saviour who loves him despite his flaws.