Usually, we find ourselves under the delusion of our own excuses: “I was raised to cuss like a sailor”, “I was angry and I lost it”, “I need to work on that, but I always forget”, “there are no bad words”. We could plumb the depths of the excuse abyss ad infinitum and find a defense for every one of our misconducts. But we do ourselves a true disservice by accepting defeat, instead of trusting in Him who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 6.6-14, 8.32).
The apostle Paul says that we are more than conquerors through God’s power (Rom. 8.37), and to raise the white flag is to accept defeat unnecessarily. Such determinism is Calvinistic to the core, and utterly rejects the free-volitional-will that God endowed upon His Imago Dei (Gen. 1.26).
A person can choose to serve God or not – it is within our hands (Josh. 24.15, cf. Eccl. 9.10). Furthermore, it dismisses the seriousness of the sins of the mouth, which God has stated to be recipients of His wrath (Prov. 6.16-19; Rev. 21.8).
Returning to the situation confronting the church James addresses, it is essential to notice that one of his main objectives is to denounce and expose the erroneous excuse that God has placed us in a difficult situation only to fail, and that we have no recourse but to sin (cf. Jas. 1.12-18). To overthrow this deception, James sets forth the themes of his letter:
Knowing this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear [1.21-2.26], slow to speak [3.1-18], slow to anger [4.1-5.6]; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. (Jas. 1.19-20)
James demands personal responsibility in the employment of true religion. Furthermore, true religious expressed through the Christian lifestyle is dependent upon the ability to control the tongue (Jas. 1.27-28). This is clearly stated in James 3.2:
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
Chalinagogeo, the word used for “bridle” in James 3.2 is the same word used in James 1.26. It means to literally “lead with a bridle”; and among all the New Testament documents it appears in James alone. The word carries the metaphorical force of restraint and the ability to keep things in check (cf. NIV).
Amazingly, James reaffirms his statement about the tongue in 1.26-28, and affirms the need to control the whole body in 3.2 (i.e. behavior and character). In light of this warning, could anything be clearer than the need to actively control our tongue?
In what way could excuses designed to deflect one’s self from the demands of personal responsibility carry weight against the inspired words of James? Excuses have no merit. An uncontrolled use of the tongue cannot be explained away with frivolous excuses; neither, will they stand when they are brought before the Divine Tribunal in the judgment (Eccl. 12.14; Matt. 12.36).
With such a clear biblical case, excuses must be tossed to the side, responsibility must be taken for the misuse of the tongue, and a course of action must be taken to consistently (daily) manage the tongue knowing full well that it is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3.8). With God on our side we are more the conquerors (Rom. 8.37)!
- Although many have suggested outlines for the book of James, we agree with John Niemela’s assessment of the organization of the letter based upon the thematic structure of the letter. In brief: (1) Prologue (1.1-18); (2) Theme (1.19-20); (3) Themes Subdivided (1.21-5.6); (4) Epilogue (5.7-20) (“Faith Without Works: A Definition.” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6.2 : 2-18; pp. 3-6).
- Ralph Earle, 1998, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson), 434.