This Sunday’s sermon continued our theme on the qualities Peter says every Christian should have. Rather than going through one a week, we are going through one over several weeks. Right now we are looking at self control, a topic that I have to admit is one I need and sometimes more than others.
The basis for even talking about self control is found within ourselves. We all have feelings, desires, wants, and needs which we wish to fulfill. The thing is, not every option to fulfilling those desires and needs is either appropriate, wise, or godly. The 3-year-old who throws a temper tantrum in the store over a candy bar is trying to fulfill a want but not in a good way. To control oneself though is to recognize that there is a reason for doing so and it comes down to the heart of Christian living.
While we have added virtue to our lives (the determination to do right) and knowledge (the understanding of what IS right), Peter now wants us to add to our knowledge, self control (based on what we know we now will control ourselves for a benefit). (2 peter 1:5-7) In many ways, this quality of self control is what we get to when we ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?” Because what ever the answer, it is implied that that is the best thing to do and, if our first inclination was different, we will change (control ourselves) to now DO what Jesus would.
Self control is absolutely part of the Christian Life. Those who want to live godly lives will exercise self control.
Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
The ideas behind denial of self, taking up your cross and following Him all involve self control. Whereas many people are content to have a “little Jesus” in their life and let Jesus follow you where you go, it is different when you follow Jesus where He goes.
Cain was told that if he did well he would be accepted but he choose to do wrong instead and Able was killed. James says that the one who boasts of being righteous but does not bridle his tongue is deceiving himself. It does not involve just the hearing of what to do but it involves the doing of it.
There is, of course, a self control that is ineffective. That is, when we exercise self control for either the wrong reasons or purpose.Paul asked the Colossians why they submitted to regulations of the Jewish system. These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. The Pharisees also exercised self control, they tithed of the smallest of herbs, they cast their money into the temple treasury, they spent time on street corners praying, they fasted often (two or three times a week) and all of that control they used was for naught (Matt 6:1-9) because they did it to be seen of men. (If you question the idea of praying as an act of self control, ask yourself if you are able to spend 30 minutes in prayer without wanting to get up and do ‘other things’)
Ineffective and unprofitable self control is rooted in the opposite of what we see asked of us in Philippians 2:3
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
In looking at proper motives for self control, it is not so much in finding out the “what” to control but in finding out the “why” to control. We may exercise self control for the sake of a weak brother (I cor 8) or we may do so simply because it is better for another brother (Philp. 2:1-ff) but Paul’s words tell us a good reason to exercise self control.
2Ti 2:4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
We exercise Self control in order to please God. This is what Jesus did. He exercised tremendous self control in order to please God and for our benefit. Consider what self control our Savior used in order to wash the feet of Judas (John 13) or to not show anger as Judas came to betray him with a kiss (Luke 22:48). Consider the self control when he could have called 12 legions of angels to protect him (Mt 26:53) or to not answer the trumped up charges (Mt 27:14)
Truly Peter was correct when he said:
For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; (1Pe 2:19-23)
The sermon can be heard here
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Even though we are looking at this book slowly, one verse or two at a time, the larger context cannot be forgotten. In the book of James, this is not the first time, nor that last, that he counsels on the speech of a Christian. Here, it is very definite, that he is taking seriously the connection between what a person says and the worth of his religion. A person can THINK that he is religious and still have that religion be worthless based on how he speaks.
In Matthew 6, Jesus said that the prayers (speaking) of the Pharisees were of no value in their relationship to God. In fact, one parable (Luke 18) in the NKJV the Pharisee is said to pray ‘thus with himself” and while the context means that he was standing off by himself, the joining of those words can leave the impression that he prayed by himself, to himself and not really to God. Worthless speech indeed. He also in Matthew 6 warns against empty phrases or vain repetitions which the Gentiles use.
James talks about an unbridled tongue and if you look back to the preceding verses we again might see some examples of when a tongue needs to be bridled:
- Asking of God, but in faith, according to His will v5
- Poor brothers who need to boast in exhalation v9
- Rich brothers who need to boast in humiliation v10
- During temptations-so that he doesn’t say “I am tempted by God” v13
- As he hears the word that can save his soul-so that he doesn’t erupt in anger v 19
In addition to the previous verses in which speech is indicated or implied, James will have much more to say on the use of the tongue starting in chapter 3.
We see then, that while James has illustrated in verses 22-25 that actions (hearing with the doing) are important, speech is equally so. We might not think of speech as important but it is also type of action. A person’s speech can invalidate his religion. Again, James says “do not be deceived” and isn’t that just the way with us. We fall so easily into a ‘that’s not so bad’ mentality.
This has to go beyond taking the Lord’s name in vain. Or, maybe we don’t understand what a vain use of God’s name is. We all recognize that profanity with the name of the Lord is wrong. However, I would suggest to you that calling out to God in an unserious way is just as bad. I refer, of course, to those who, in their excitement use ‘God’ as if it some expression of Joy.
While it could be an expression of joy (cf Jn. 20:28), it is not the meaning given when someone shouts out “Oh my–” or abbreviates it “OM-!” in a text message.
Bridling the tongue in both sad times and joyous times is still an essential part of the Christian life. While we DO things that let our faith shine forth, we also need to SPEAK in a way that lets our faith shine forth. Hebrews 11:14 says that there is a speech that let’s people know we belong to the world above. I would also suggest that “Lord willing” is a good phrase that should grace the Christian’s tongue quiet often.
Let us not speak lies or half-truths, let us be kind in our words and not cutting with clever phrases. Let there be no filthiness or foolish talking, or crude jokes, or innuendos but rather let there thanksgiving. (see Eph 5:1-6) I once had a roommate who, while professing to be a Christian (God knows if he was) insisted in using what he called ‘Man language’ (as opposed to the innocent language of boys). I reject that premise. I think James would too.
Cursing men and praising God with the same tongue? My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (Jas 1:22-24)
James now begins to argue that doing the word is important. While hearing is an important thing in the Christian’s life, it must be coupled by action on his part if it is to mean anything at all. In the parable of the Sower, each of the different soils represents someone who ‘heard’ the word and yet the fruit of each was considerably different. Of course, James is writing to Christians who have already heard and obeyed the Gospel of Christ so what is there to do?
From the beginning of this book and then even after this statement, James provides illustration after illustration of action that is, or is not, in line with the Faith which bears the name of our Saviour. The idea here is that to hear is not the same as to respond to what has been heard. Many times as I was growing up I heard the phrase “going in one ear and out the other” as a description of my powers of retention. I could hear my mother tell me to do something but that was a far cry from actually doing it.
In the same light, James says to his audience that those who hear the word but do not couple it with action are deceiving themselves. James had just urged them not to be deceived by thinking God created the problems in their lives and now they are suffering a self-delusion that they are pleasing to God even though they do not do according to what they have heard.
When one deludes themselves, all sorts of things can go wrong. James uses an illustration to prove his point. Suppose you get up in the morning and look ‘intently’ in the mirror. You notice messed up hair, a dirty patch on your forehead, sleep in your eye and maybe (if you dressed before you looked) you might see wrinkled clothes and a shirt that is buttoned in the wrong holes. When you look intently you notice these things. Then, you walk away and forget about them:”Out of sight, out of mind”. The first person you meet will either conclude you are on the way to a costume party, or that you didn’t pay any attention to what you saw.
James will further this illustration in the next few verses and make a spiritual application. However, each of us can probably relate to this illustration before us. Let us not deceive ourselves, let us be hearers and doers. Those who believed the report…acted on it.