“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26–27, AV)
What is the value of religious worship? I have been to churches that incorporate a vibrant contemporary worship style. I have also been to some that use a traditional style. I have also been to others that use a solemn liturgical style. The question is not one of style but of value. What is this worship accomplishing?
In this verse, the word translated religious, threskos, refers to the outward expressions of religious worship. Every Sunday, people march into churches and sing songs of praise and adoration for God. They hear prayers uttered. They hear the Scriptures read and hear a sermon. Then comes the benediction and they all go home. But what does it all mean if it is not something that flows forth from the heart of the worshipper? Moreover, it must flow forth from a heart that has been renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, which has come through the Spirit’s work of regeneration. This happens when one is truly saved.
Yet, James tells us that for some, perhaps many, who practice religious worship, their outward practice of religious expression is worthless. The word “vain” in the text, mataios, refers to something that is useless and accomplishes nothing. It is worthless. He gives us three evidences in a person’s life to show whether their religious observances have value or not. The first of these has to do with the words one speaks.
James stated that any man who cannot bridle his tongue should consider his religious expression as worthless. It has no value. I have been around some who profess themselves to be Christian, but the things that they say would make you seriously doubt their profession. A dad would never curse in church during a worship service, but when back home his conversation rivals a sailor. What kind of testimony does this man have to his children? He tells them not to use profanity, but then uses the very language that he forbids them to use. He fails to realize that when his children leave the home that they are using the very same language that he does and they do so, blending into the world. His religious worship on Sunday is useless, having no real influence on his children.
The Scriptures teach us to “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29, AV). Cursing by using vulgar language and by using the Lord’s name in vain, makes a person’s religious expression worthless.
James states that this type of person cannot bridle his tongue. A bridle is a harness that is placed over the head of a horse that contains reins and a bit place in the mouth, by which the rider can control the animal. With it he can steer the animal and stop it. A person of true faith has the ability to control his speech. Rather than saying degrading things, he will use speech that is not corrupt and say things which are edifying and not destructive. In doing so, his testimony will have influence to those around him and his religious observances have true meaning.