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Religion is worthless to those who deceive themselves

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Today’s Bible Study is James 1:26: Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

This is a disconcerting verse since many of us, as Christians, are taught from a young age to proclaim our faith. We do so in our churches, our homes, in our communities in our missions, and in the world. If we are truly committed to our beliefs and practice them each day, it may be extremely difficult to keep our tongues quiet. How often has someone in a restaurant been overheard saying grace before a meal? How often do we part with the benediction, “God bless you?” How very often do we softly utter the simply words, “Thank you, Jesus,” during an ordinary day?

The letter of James is one of the few books of the bible to be written not as a letter to anyone, but by someone. James, although theologians are not certain which of four men by the name of James mentioned in the bible, wrote it himself. In Chapter 1, verses 26-27, James writes about speaking and doing.

He returns to verse 19 to pick up the theme of speaking. Just as listening without acting is empty and deceptive, so is talking religion without a life which confirms one’s words. Religion (a rare word in the New Testament) that is meaningful rather than empty must have the integrity of word and work.

If one wonders what is to be done, the answer is very practical: care for those who cannot fully care for themselves. Socially, these persons were to be given the community’s attention. To do so is far more acceptable before God the Father if such attention to others is joined to an effort to resist the values and pursuits of an unbelieving culture.

This makes the meaning of this passage fall into place. It does not forbid us from speaking of our religion, our Christian beliefs, or our love of God. It simply tells us that, to be of any real value, these words must, necessarily, be accompanied by actions on the part of Christians. As we go forth, let us both speak and practice our faith and may we truly show our works by living the greatest commandment of all by doing unto others.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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