If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. - Vs 26-27 (NLT)
ere James seems to give us an example of what it means to be a doer of the Word and not just a hear (Vs 22-23). Religion that is free from corruption and does not have anything mixed with it that would make it unacceptable before God is a religion that is marked by obedience and life change. It is hearing God's Word followed by a willing obedience to do what God's Word says. In this case, it is controlling the tongue. James refers to someone who is of the opinion that he is religious. In the New Testament, the Greek word "religious" is never used positively. And that's the case here. James is talking about someone who takes pride in their religiosity, but who is not really right with God. It is reminiscent of the Pharisees. The had all the appearance of being religious or pious, but were walking contradictions. James says someone who has a high opinion of their own religiousness, but can't control their tongue has a religious that is worthless. They are only fooling themselves, but not God. Their hearing of the Word of God doesn't ever get translated into action. So their walk with God ends up with no value because it doesn't end up changing the way they live and the way they treat others. The way they behave doesn't seem to correspond with what they say they believe.
But if you want to practice religion that is really free from corruption and doesn't have anything mixed with it that would make it unacceptable before God, you'll be more concerned about His opinion than your own. You will want to keep His standards, not yours. You will want to do what He says is important and not try and add to His requirements some rules and religious rituals of your own. God's view on religion is pretty basic. It's simple, practical stuff. First, visit the orphans and widows in their distress. Give yourself away to those who have nothing they can give in return. Love the ones who are loved the least. Care for the ones who no one else cares about. Widows and orphans were the downtrodden of the day. They had no rights, no representation, no resources, no hope. They were typically neglected and ignored, even by the religious elite of James' day. The religious world of James' day was saying to ignore them. They had no value. They were in their condition because they had somehow deserved it. They were being punished by God. But James said to care for them in the midst of their distress. To not do so would be to allow yourself to become stained or corrupted by the world's influence. Pure religion is practical religion. True religion is selfless religion.
James sums it up best in verse 25: "But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the law that sets you free – and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it." Our religion isn't worthless, it is highly worthwhile because it is based on the Word of God. We do what He calls us to do. We obey what He commands us to do. We love the unlovely. We care for those who have been ignored. We feed the hungry. We clothe the naked. We love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’" (Matthew 25:37-40, NLT)
Father, I don't want to practice worthless religion. I don't want to think of myself as being religious when in reality I am only practicing some corrupted form of self-righteousness. I want what I do to be in keeping with what You have told me to do in Your Word. I want my behavior to match my beliefs. No contradiction. No disconnection. No hypocrisy. Give me the grace I need to be "an effectual doer" or Your Word. Amen