If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).
One theme of this series is delusion. Actually, it is a theme that occurs throughout the larger body of scripture. There is the delusion of worshiping false gods [Jer. 10:8], the delusion of following false prophets [Matt. 24:23-24; Mark 13:6], the delusion of self-righteousness [1 John 1:8], and many others. James already taught us about the delusion of living in general disobedience to God and now speaks of the delusion that comes from uncontrolled speech.
When someone claims to be a person of faith, we will know the truth of that statement by the person’s behavior. This verse addresses specifically the words one speaks. James tells us that the uncontrolled tongue deludes the heart by misrepresenting the quality of one’s faith. If I think that I am religious, faithful and obedient to God, but I cannot control my own tongue, then I have convinced myself of a lie. My faith is actually empty and without useful function. I have deceived my heart into believing something of my religion that is simply not so. There is great power in the tongue, even the power of life and death [Prov. 18:21], so it is no surprise that scripture instructs us about the severe consequences of unleashing that power without wisdom and love [Prov. 15:4; 1 Pet. 3:10; Jam. 3:1-8].
Considering that God spoke into existence the world we see around us, it is no wonder that our words also have power. They have the power to build and the power to tear down [Eph 4:29]. If we act as though this is not true, we delude ourselves into thinking that our faith is what it is not. Useful and valuable faith considers this truth and produces controlled words spoken with love for the purpose of bringing life instead of death. Father, help us develop the practice of controlling our words so that we speak life and not death, honoring You with our speech as we build up others.