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For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (James 3:2)
James does not exclude himself from the rest of the Christian congregation, as all are prone to stumble while walking with God. James presents an obvious truth in that we all stumble in many ways. The fact we all stumble in many ways is confirmed in Romans 2:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of human imperfection, weakness, and leanings toward bad, all, including teachers, fall short or miss the mark of perfection. (Rom. 7:19-23; 1 John 1:8) In all likelihood, aside from thinking, what we say is the most frequent way we fall short and the one way that will damage our relationship with God and our fellow humans. For this reason, teachers in the congregation and all Christians should be very cautious about the biblical truths that they share. Kurt A. Richardson makes this remark,
The standard for teachers disallows their failing in the matter of speech, and yet human nature is prone to violation of God’s standards. James added this confession for a dual effect: knowing that James himself stumbled in many ways puts the admonition to pursue perfection into perspective; because believers stumble in many ways, their teachers need to be particularly circumspect about their conduct, above all in the way they speak. (Richardson 1997, 148)
Even the best imperfect Christian teacher, the apostle Paul, did not fail to stumble in word. (Ac 15:37-41) This should wake us up to the reality of the damage we are capable of, even if we are quite competent and qualified. Stumbling in word will cause damage within the congregation. If the teacher has significantly erred, this will mean more severe damage to his fellow brothers and sisters. If there is any place where there is a case of one improperly using the tongue, that is, saying the wrong thing, it is the Christian teacher. This is why we should be slow to speak and be cautious in seeking out the responsibility of a teacher in the first place. James goes on to show us what harm the tongue can cause.
If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man
James informs his readers that only a perfect man can keep his words under complete control, never erring. If he can prevent himself from uttering wrong understandings, outlooks, feelings, and desires, then such a man has complete, perfect control over himself. At present, all of humankind is imperfect, so any who would claim they can go without erring in speech is a liar, “for we all stumble in many ways,” including with our words. The only man, who had complete, perfect control over himself was Jesus Christ. (Heb. 7:26) However, we do not want to take on a fatalist attitude, saying, ‘well, we cannot get the tongue under control, and God is very forgiving, so why worry about it.’ No, Christians cannot have complete control, but they can strive to get as close to the goal as possible. Over time, they will make continued improvements as they grow spiritually.
We know that even having significant control is never going to be accomplished in our own strength, and as an evangelist of the good news, the option of remaining silent is on the table. We must apply the Spirit-inspired Word of God in an accurate and balanced manner. We must have our minds molded by “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Richard L., Pratt Jr. writes, “As Paul traveled the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ, he encountered pretentious disbelief supported by clever arguments and powerful personalities. But through the “weakness” of preaching Christ, Paul went about taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (Pratt Jr 2000, 2 Cor. 10:5, 417) Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45.
he is a perfect man,
Perfect; Perfection (תָּמִים tamim; Gr. τέλειος teleios) has the sense of being complete and with defect or blemish. It can also refer to a person who is blameless (תָּם tam) or innocent. This is being morally good, that is, guiltless of a sin or wrongdoing. The terms can be used in an absolute sense (God is perfect); however, they are not always used in such a way when it comes to humans after the fall (Matt. 5:48). In the Scripture, “perfect” and “Perfection” are often used in a relative sense. The Hebrew and Greek Bible words translated “perfect” regularly mean “complete,” “mature,” “full-gown,” “adult,” or “faultless” according to standards set by the Word of God. Imperfect humans at this time fall short of the perfection of Adam and Eve before the fall. However, God makes allowances for this falling short and better still has offered His Son as a Ransom to cover these human weaknesses. Being “perfect” at this time means that we are to remain clean spiritually, morally, mentally, and physically. If we fall short, we repent, and our shortcomings are covered by the ransom sacrifice of Christ. – Matt 5:48; Phil. 3:15; Matt 20:28; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 John 2:1.
So, James goes on to explain what he means by perfect here. It is a person who can get control over his mind and body. This is not absolute perfection, as though the person will never say or do anything biblically wrong. We all sin, which is why we need the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ to cover Adamic sin and human imperfection. (Matt. 20:28) James had himself just said that “For we all stumble in many ways.” The sense here is that if a man can control what he says, which is the most challenging thing to manage; then, he can control his entire body. This is the sense in which he is perfect. The whole point of this section is to emphasize just how much the tongue has control over the person. It governs the entire man.
able also to bridle his whole body
There is little doubt, in an entire human life, that it will be his tongue, which will cause him the most grief. If that man could bridle (χαλιναγωγέω chalinagōgeō) his tongue, he would also be able to control his whole body. The Greek word rendered ‘to bridle,’ means to curb, lead, or guide something, pictured with a bit, like a horse; to then rein it in, check it, moderate it, and restrain it. It means to exercise self-control, strictly speaking, to keep a rein on one’s mouth. (Jas 1:26; 3:2) A man has control over his entire self; if he can get control over his tongue, that is his mouth. Technically speaking, what comes out of the mouth originated in the mind as a thought first. The mouth “is that by which he gives expression to his thoughts and passions; and if that is kept under proper restraint, all the rest of his members are as easily controlled as the horse is by having the control of the bit.”
Prayer as Rational Self-Talk
Self-talk is what we tell ourselves in our thoughts. In fact, it is the words we tell ourselves about people, self, experiences, life, in general, God, the future, the past, the present. It is all the words that we say to ourselves all the time. Actually, suppose we regularly cultivate and entertain slights against us or the deeper personal affronts. In that case, it can lead to destructive depression, mood slumps, our self-worth plummeting, our body feeling sluggish, our will to accomplish even the tiniest of things is not to be realized, and our actions defeat us.
Intense negative thinking will always lead to at least a minor depressive episode or simple, painful emotion. Our thoughts based on a good mood will be entirely different from those based on our being upset. Negative thoughts that flood our minds are the actual contributors to our self-defeating emotions. These very thoughts are what keep us sluggish and contribute to our feeling frustrated, angry, or worthless. Therefore, this thinking is the key to your relief.
Every time we feel down about something, we need to attempt to locate the corresponding negative thought we had that led to this feeling down. It is so subconscious that they even go unnoticed. It is these thoughts that have created our feelings of frustration, anger, or low self-worth. By learning to offset them and replace them with rational thoughts, we can actually change our mood. Remember the thoughts that move through our minds with no effort; this is the most straightforward course to follow.
The centerpiece of it all is the mind. Our moods, behaviors, and body responses result from the way we view things. It is a proven fact that we cannot experience any event in any way, shape, or form unless we have processed it with our minds first. No event can depress us; it is our perception of that event that will depress us. If we are only sad over an event, our thoughts will be rational, but if we are depressed, wrathful, or anxious about an event, our thinking will be bent and irrational, distorted and utterly wrong.
It may be difficult for each of us to wrap our mind around it, but we are superb at telling ourselves outright lies and half-truths repeatedly throughout each day. In fact, some of us are so good at it that it has become our reality and led to annoyance, stress, irritation, anger, even depression, and anxiety. This section should be a beginning in helping us to start identifying these lies and half-truths.
We must appreciate that our thoughts can deceive all of us, contributing to our belief that the negative mood, which has been created because of our thinking, is reality when it is not. If we have established a negative way of thinking, an irrational way of thinking, our mind will simply accept it as truth. We can alter our mood within a moment, and it is not even likely we notice it taking place. These negative feelings seem as though they are the real thing, which only reinforces deceptive thinking.
If we are under mental distress and find ourselves having anger issues or mild depression and are unhappy much of the time, we need to be in prayer for the Holy Spirit. However, we need to act on behalf of our prayers as well. We can likely combine our spiritual pursuits with some self-help cognitive therapy. If things have become more involved, we may want to speak with the elder or pastor. However, if we are moderately depressed, where things feel unbearable because we have feelings of despair, we need to get professional help from a Christian counselor. Our recommendation of a place to find an excellent Christian counselor is found in the footnote below. 
Romans 15:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. David Burns wrote, “feelings are not facts!” Our own thinking can easily trick us. Regardless of what deception our depressed brain tells us, we will accept it as total truth. In fact, it does not take but a partial second to establish these irrational thoughts with ourselves. Therefore, in many cases, we are unlikely to notice it even happening. These negative thoughts feel so right and give credibility to the lie.
While many are well aware that self-defeating thoughts and behavior(s) are harmful to themselves, they also know that resisting and overcoming them is another story. Self-defeating thoughts and behaviors can become deeply rooted over the years and can be highly resistant to efforts to change them. Trying to curb such thinking can be exhausting and even painful, spiraling into depression in and of itself.
Humans being in the state of imperfection, should not expect perfection in this endeavor. Our genetic heritage, inherent weaknesses, and experiences make it impossible to avoid all self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Therefore, lovingly, we do not demand perfection of ourselves, nor should we of others.
However, this consideration on our part does not absolve us of our responsibility to control our thinking and thus our feelings that lead to moods and behaviors. Behavioral scientists say those self-defeating thoughts, like good ones, are learned and developed over time. If that is correct, then self-defeating thoughts can just as surely be unlearned! Of course, ridding ourselves of self-defeating thoughts that may have dominated our lives for years will be difficult. We should not underestimate the struggle ahead of us. There will undoubtedly be setbacks and failures. However, rest assured, things usually get easier with time. The more we work at it, the more our new behavior will become a part of us. How?
Life: Common everyday events, both positive and negative
Thoughts: Your thinking interprets each of these events throughout the day
Mood: It is developed not by the day’s events; no, it is developed by our perception of those events, by our thinking.
Every bad feeling that we have is a direct result of our bent thinking. If one finds themselves embedded in day-in-and-day-out of negative thinking, there will most certainly be an outburst of anger, or some mild depressive episodes follow. We will not be so bold as to use the word “cause,” but instead, we will say contribute. Thus, we will find that those continual negative thoughts will contribute to an emotional spiral until it arrives at the bottom floor of a depressive episode.
Dealing with Our Imperfections
The Bible tells us that we are mentally bent toward evil. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) Jeremiah says that our hearts are treacherous, and we cannot know them. (Jer. 17:9) The apostle Paul tells us that our natural desire is to do bad. (Romans 7) Mental distress is not a part of healthy living. The important aspect is that it can be overcome by learning simple methods to elevate our moods. The techniques of having rational self-talk with God and identifying our irrational thinking will reduce the symptoms of a variety of mental distresses (frustration, anger, jealousy, anxiety, etc.). The idea of how we think is how we feel has been in psychology books for over one hundred years. However, it has been in God’s Word, many Bible books, for about 2,000 – 3,000 years. God’s Word and cognitive therapy can help us control the symptoms that lead to mental distress and help us to recreate an entirely new personality. Paul calls it putting on the new person and removing the old person.
- Swift Improvement of Thinking Errors: For those suffering from a milder form of mental distresses such as depression or anxiety, control of thinking and the new personality can be achieved in as little as three to six months, depending on the level of effort placed into oneself.
- The Ability to Fully Grasp: In the end, by way of deep study in God’s Word, we will fully grasp precisely why our moods alter and have at our disposal numerous principles to apply in controlling these mood swings. We will understand the difference between bent-thinking and rational thinking, and recognize the level of our mood.
- Control Not Removal: Our irrational thinking is a part of the imperfect person; it can only be controlled, not cured. However, there will be new life skills that we will learn to cut off and control distorted thoughts and emotions before they consume us.
- New Person: This new person can be maintained, but we must always be aware of the symptoms, events, and situations that can contribute to a setback.
First, one needs to recognize that all their moods are brought on by our internal self-talk. This is based on the way one looks at something: perceptions, mental attitudes, and beliefs. The way we feel at this very moment is based on the self-talk that is going on between our ears.
Second, when one is distressed mentally, such as mild depressed frustration, anger, jealousy, or anxiety, or any negative mood, their thoughts dominate the mood. We perceive not only ourselves but also the entire world in such a way that it regulates our moods. Moreover, we will buy into this false reality. If we have hit a low, we will move into the stage, believing that ‘this is who I am, and it has and will always be this way.’ As we reflect on the past, only those bad moments will surface. In addition, we will project this bad past as an ongoing reality for our future, creating a feeling of hopelessness.
Third, we must realize that this thinking that creates our moods are really a gross distortion of reality; this is why we are so affected by them. Although they appear valid at present, we will find that they are irrational and just downright wrong. Our mind is like a transmission in a car, where our thinking results from mental slippage and not an accurate perception. As we progress in rational thinking and begin to master methods that will help us identify this cognitive slippage, we will remove that way of thinking. We will start to feel better for more extended periods until it is the norm.
Fourth, we will begin to use the Scriptures in an entirely new way. It is paramount that we take note of how the Scriptures offer us far more than the mere surface knowledge that we have grown accustomed to and see that by our having an accurate, deep understanding, with the application, we can begin to alter our old person into an entirely different person. It is highly recommended that the reader considers three other publications by this author as well.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 56.
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