Religion and the Role of the Tongue

The missionary task involves speaking the gospel—but an uncontrolled tongue can damage a ministry.

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 ESV)

Losing my religion.

This is an expression in the southern United States. It means losing one’s temper or civility. It’s also the title of an alternative rock song from the ‘90’s that made Christian people illustrate the expression. When tempers are lost, and civility is absent, unpleasant words typically follow. James had something to say about this to his first-century readers.

James used a conditional statement to invoke a contrast. He placed worthless religion (1:26) next to pure religion (1:27). The focal point is how a religious person—one who is devoted to the proper expression of personal beliefs—uses their speech. Verbal expressions are external and apparent. James essentially called out religious people who couldn’t control their tongues.

If people describe themselves as religious, their claims are proven through personal speech. Truly religious people don’t speak quickly (1:19), stumble in what they say (3:2), curse those made in the image of God (3:9-10), or speak evil against others (4:11). Anyone who fails to
bridle his tongue deceives his heart. By southern standards, this person would have “lost his religion.” By James’ standard, this person’s religion is worthless. Controlling the tongue is another example of doing the Word.

Believers in Jesus need to be mindful of their speech. This includes missionaries. The missionary task involves the tongue. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message that needs to be preached and proclaimed. It is the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). It is communicated through our speech. But when missionaries are unable to control their tongue in the everyday stresses of life on the mission field, they lose the ability to influence their audience.

It sounds funny, but we need to pray that our missionaries don’t “lose their religion.” We pray for them to be bold as they proclaim the gospel. But we also need to pray for them to control their tongues as they experience frustration, delays, injustice, culture shock, and the innumerable challenges of living in a foreign context. Pray that they would use their tongues to build up others (Eph. 4:29).

Let’s pray:

“Heavenly Father, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19:14). Let that also be true for the missionaries we support.”

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