Main point summary
An unbridled tongue may reveal a false religion, so guard it from evil. Then love showing mercy and pursue holiness.
If anyone thinks he is religious
If a man believes himself to be religious
q and does not bridle his tongue
and he does not restrain from using his tongue for evil
but deceives his heart,
then his heart is fooled about its true spiritual condition
this person’s r religion is worthless.
and furthermore his religion is empty! [So guard your tongue!]
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
Then know what is good and acceptable to God the Father;
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
namely that you show mercy to those in need,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and that you are set apart from sin unto the Lord your God. (Holiness)
I'm using a progression here because I don't think James is simply informing us that this type of religion is worthless. He is implying that we ought to see the necessity of guarding our lips from speaking evil, and then move on to doing these other things that he describes as pure and undefiled religion.
This passage proved to be quite difficult for me. I struggled to understand how James was relating these two verses together. I went back and forth between Alternative and Progression. As you can see, I used a progression relationship between the verses for this reason: While it seems clear that James is describing a kind of religion that is false in vs. 26, and on the otherhand describing the kind of religion that is pure and undefiled before God in vs. 27, I believe his reason for pointing it out wasn't simply to inform his readers of this fact. I believe he intends to communicate the command "Get control of your tongue!". Therefore, the progression relationship seems to fit this idea. So by way of pointing out the inconsistency of a man whose tongue is unbridled and claiming to be "religious", James teaches us the same truth that Jesus spoke of in Matt. 12:34 that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. So the fruit of evil speech indicates the true condition of the heart! Know this, check yourself. Does your speech build others up? Does your mouth speak in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" Eph. 5:19-20 ? This is a high calling. As James points out later in this same letter after his own name, "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." James 3:2b . Then in vs. 27 I saw the visiting of orphans and widows as describing a group of people that are somewhat helpless and as we visit those in that condition we extend to them mercy. This also God commands us to do several places in His word. Micah 6:8 "do justice, and [to] love kindness, (mercy, steadfast love) and to walk humbly with [our] God." Finally, James tells us to keep ourselves unstained from the world. I see this as a call to be set apart, that is, to be holy. Holiness is demanded of God's children. We were called to be set apart unto Him and His will. 1 Peter 1:14 says it so well; "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct" Lord, teach us to use our tongues for your glory not our own and therefore prove to ourselves and show to the world the reality of our new heart which we have from you. May we love to show mercy to those in need as you have so graciously and generously lavished your mercy on us. And may we be set apart unto you for the good works you prepared in advance for us to walk in. May we shine like stars in the midst of this generation. May we LOVE to walk in obedience to your commands as they are good and upright. Teach us Lord Jesus we pray. Amen!