If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridal his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. James 1:26
We’ve known since childhood that the thigh bone is connected to the knee bone, and James tells us that the heart is connected to the tongue. In fact, James has quite a lot to say about our speech. He reminds us that we can use it to bless or to curse, to heal or to destroy. Though the tongue is small it has the capability to do big things.
Our language and tone of voice reflect the content of our hearts. If our hearts are in alignment with Christ’s love and purpose, our tongues communicate warmth, forgiveness, acceptance, and wisdom. If our hearts aren’t aligned with God‘s mission, however, we may claim to be following Christ, but we are deceiving ourselves. Our speech, then, is an accurate measuring device that shows the true content of our hearts.
Useless religion is a powerful term. Religion promises to put us in touch with God, enable us to experience His presence and change our life’s. The Inability to control our tongues shows that God hasn’t actually touched our hearts. Transformation hasn’t taken place, and the grand promises have it become true for us.
This sobering assessment may be painful, but it can be the beginning of a new day! The realizations that our hearts are still hard can bring us to a point where we cry out for God to work deeply, powerfully, and specifically in our lives. A fearless and searching inventory of our tongues and our hearts may be heart wrenching but not nearly as painful as finding out later that our religion has been useless.
“There is no blessing until we look deep down in our own soul and see our own spiritual life as it really is.
Our words express our thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. They are used to convey in essence who we are. Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our words reveal the secrets of our hearts. To be sure we can to some degree control what comes out in words. We can choose to some degree what we say but when pressure comes, we will find our control slipping away. James tells us that although a horse can be bridled or a ship controlled by a rudder, the tongue is a powerful thing and difficult if not impossible to control. I’m sure most of us have created difficulty in our lives and in the lives of others by what came out of our mouths. I’m sure there have been times that after the words came out, we would like to take them back. But once they’re said, it’s like Pandora’s box, almost impossible to gather up again.
James gives us some help when he says that we should be quick to listen, slow to anger and slow to speak. We have heard the expression, “put your brain in gear before you engage your mouth” and in essence that’s what James is saying to us. If we would think carefully before we speak I’m sure that or words would be more constructive and uplifting.
But the truth of the matter is that we need help with our tongues. We need Someone to manage our mouths for even with our best intentions and our greatest effort to make sure that only good things come out, James says that often the same spring brings forth bitter and sweet water. Thankfully we’re not left on our own to try to tame our tongues.
Yesterday we celebrated Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church. Many of us have been taught and believed that the 120 believers who gathered in prayer in the upper room were extraordinary people. We have made saints out of the apostles, elevating them to extremely high levels of spiritual perfection. But the truth is that they were ordinary people just like us. They doubted and walked in unbelief even of the resurrection(Mark 16). They were jealous of each other and at times pushed to be at the top(Mark 10). In the crucial test, they failed(Matthew 26). And when things didn’t go as expected, they went back to their old lives(John 21). Yet these were those who Jesus called to build His church. One of the key players, Peter, had a mouth problem. Often he spoke by impulse and sometimes what came out was godly and at others what came out was ungodly (Matthew 16,26). I’m sure that Peter meant well and I’m sure he tried, especially since he was around Jesus to guard his words, but somehow his tongue at times seemed to have a mind of its own.
Acts 2 tells a powerful story as it describes the birth of the church. One hundred and twenty believers are gathered in prayer in the upper room, waiting by instruction from Jesus for “the Promise of the Father.”
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit]. And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately].”
The same Peter who just days before had denied knowing Christ with cursing, who had allowed fear to control his words, now proclaims boldly the words of God openly in the streets of Jerusalem. No longer was denial or cursing coming out of his mouth but powerful preaching of the Gospel. This kind of a transformation bears investigation. How could such a change occur. How could a man, who by evidence, had little to no control over his tongue, now apparently be speaking only what God wished? The simple answer was because he was fully surrendered to God in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Listen carefully to the words Luke uses to describe the event: “they were all filled (that is diffused throughout their being) with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out (clearly and appropriately).” Luke is telling us two important things about how to insure that what comes out of us are words of blessing rather than words of destruction. First he says that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We’ve all heard the expression, “garbage in-garbage out.” If we fill our hearts with ungodly things, ungodly words will come out of our mouths. It’s important what we allow to enter our hearts through our eyes and ears. So we find that Peter and the other 120 believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. Many shy away from this in the church today believing as Bill Hull says, that they can somehow manage their sin. But the only sure antidote for the poison of sin is to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that He crowds out those things that lead to sin. We cannot make the assumption that we are filled with the Spirit at salvation and remain filled the rest of our lives. We are in constant need of being filled and refilled daily. As you read the book of Acts you will find that those believers were filled again and again as they sought God in prayer.
One of the questions that rises today in the church is that of whether speaking in tongues is for believers today or whether that has disappeared. Another question is whether every believer has this privilege and if so what is the purpose? Why did God cause the believers to “speak in other tongues as enabled by the Holy Spirit?”
We know of course that the 120 gave the message of the resurrected Savior in the languages of those gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Many point out that this was the reason, but when you continue to read Acts, you find that there were quite a number of occasions that other believers received the Holy Spirit with the accompanying phenomenon of speaking in tongues. As a matter of fact, when Peter went to Cornelius, the Gentile’s house and preached Christ, the Gentiles who received Christ as Savior also were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues just as the 120 believers did on Pentecost. As Peter presents the case for receiving Gentiles into the church, he says that he could not forbid them to be baptized in water seeing as how they had been baptized in the Spirit as the Jewish believers had.
We know that the Holy Spirit was given to empower us to witness to the world of the risen Savior. Most of the time that requires words. Mark says that as we go and proclaim the message of Jesus, accompanying signs and wonders and miracles will follow after, confirming that our words are true.
I think that one of the reasons that speaking in tongues is the evidence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is the fact that when our tongues are under submission to God and the Holy Spirit is fully in control of what comes out of our mouths, He also has full control of the rest of us since James says that the tongue is the most difficult member of our bodies to control.
So if you’re struggling with what your tongue says, just maybe you ought to ask God to fill you with His Spirit. You just might be amazed at how the Holy Spirit can control your speech. I’m sure that those who knew Peter were amazed with his transformation and those who know you will be too.
Dr. John Thompson