If anyone thinks he is religious
If anyone wants to claim spiritual maturity,
q and does not bridle his tongue
And instead of being careful to control the dangerous tongue,
but deceives his heart,
They trick themselves, about their true spiritual state.
this person’s r religion is worthless.
Then they are certainly not spiritually mature.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
Instead real spiritual maturity looks like this:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
Take care of the vulnerable and needy,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
And keep yourself from immitating the world.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks. If the heart of this person were pure, they would have no need for bridling, but no one is ever completely pure, so this person deceives themselves by not recognizing the evil that resides in the heart and making the effort to control the tongue to be used for good and not evil.
Jesus says that it is not things from outside of the man that defiles him, but what is inside. So the goal of this spiritual maturity is not to avoid brushing shoulders with unsavory companions, but to keep the world and it's motives from infiltrating the heart.
This little set of verses seems to be a summary of the chapter that comes before. James has spent much time convincing the readers that wisdom and goodness come from God but that sin is what issues from our own souls. A few paragraphs before he cautions them “Do not be deceived”. Do not be deceived into thinking that our sin is the doing of God. Do not be deceived into thinking that he is the source of evil, but instead recognize that sin resides in our own hearts and God is the source of all that is good. Here again he speaks of deception, and it looks like the same deception. This one who believes himself to be religious, he deceives himself about the contents of his heart. He does not bridle his tongue because he sees no reason to do so. He thinks that his heart is pure and that what he speaks is right. When he curses people, he believes it to be a righteous curse as patterned by David in the psalms, when he criticizes his brother, it is because he is concerned about his spiritual well-being and is called to point out his wrongs, and his arrogant boasting is just taking after the apostle Paul when he tells his churches that they should imitate him to achieve righteousness. He is convinced of his own righteousness and therefore the righteousness of all his words. James knows that true maturity always results in concern for others and care of the needy and vulnerable. So to sum up his admonitions, he moves away from the intangible mindsets that the boaster is deceived into believing he already possess and strikes at their actions, questioning if their religion is resulting in the good works to which they were called. He knows that they will not be able to answer in the affirmative, they do not wish to associate with their lowly brothers, but with the rich. And as they grapple with a command that they cannot rationalize their disobedience to, he finishes with the order to keep unstained from the world. This requires introspection and an understanding of what the world is and wants. Perhaps if they can begin to see the dark stains covering themselves, they will be humbled enough to seek again the grace and forgiveness of the cross. It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith, that the more we grow, the more we become aware of our own sin and pride. Even as God refines and shapes us, we do not become more convinced of our goodness, but aware of our neediness. Let us always be seeking to be washed of our stains and humbly receiving the implanted word which is able to save our wicked souls. For God did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. So let us pray that we would recognize our place among the sinners so that we can hear his calling.
Main point summary
True spiritual maturity will result in humble service and not arrogant neglect of self-control.