“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
If anyone does not stumble in word,
Now James expands his point from the teacher to “anyone.” He also moves to a particular sin – the sin of the tongue. This sin clearly includes everyone. Each of us, at some point, has said something that was not right. All of us have hurt someone.
Our speech is an indication of our maturity. Taming the tongue is a major concern to James (1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:5, 6 [twice], 8; 4:11; 5:12). Our words matter to God. Some of us stumble “in word.”
Matt. 15:19-20, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
he is a perfect man,
The word “perfect” carries the idea of maturity, not sinless perfection. A person who can control his mouth is a mature man.
able also to bridle the whole body
A mature person has an ability (“able”) that resides in the inherent power of his spiritual edification. The word “able” is more forceful than the English idea, for it means strong, powerful. A mature believer powerfully reflects the glory and dynamic of Jesus Christ.
The idea of “bridle” is control. We can control a large beast like a horse by a bridle. We can lead him and hold him in check by a bridle. If we can hold our tongue, we can control anything because the tongue is a great power for good or evil.
The words “whole body” probably refer to his whole being. If we learn to control our tongues, we can learn to control our entire lives.
Taming the tongue is a sign of maturity.
One sign of maturity is a tamed tongue. Conversely, a person who cannot control his mouth probably cannot control his life. The tongue reveals character in a manifest way. It is the telltale sign of the condition of the heart. As a medical doctor looks at our tongues to determine the condition of our health, God looks at our tongues to determine the condition of our spiritual health.
Ps. 34:13, “Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.”
Ps 39:1, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, Lest I sin with my tongue;
I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle,
While the wicked are before me.’”
Sins of the tongue can go to church without much danger of censorship from fellow Christians. We can see the dynamic of our faith by what we say. A mature believer speaks of edification, worship, and winning the lost. A carnal Christian speaks despairingly of his fellow Christians. Some people live for gossip. They are very unstable because their tongues are strapped to their souls.
Psalm 35:28, “And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness
And of Your praise all the day long.”
None of us can live in sinless perfection, but we can determine if we wag the tongue or the tongue wags us.