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James 3:2

ESV For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
NIV We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
NASB For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to rein in the whole body as well.
CSB For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body.
NLT Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
KJV For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

What does James 3:2 mean?

A common objection to the stance James takes on faith and works involves the concept of "perfection." With all of James's talk about how those who trust God do good works, it's easy to make the mistake of thinking he is saying that Christians must be perfect. Some attempt to dismiss the connection between saving faith and good works by claiming it leads to perfectionism. That is, some claim tying works to saving faith means if we continue to sin, we are not really saved.

This verse makes it clear that James is not requiring perfection at all. The point of chapter 2 was that genuine Christians will participate in genuine good works in obedience to God. And yet, James is fully aware that fallible human beings will never do so without stumbling. James includes himself in this statement: "we all stumble in many ways" [emphasis added]. That should be encouraging. One struggle of the Christian life is our awareness of the many ways we continue to stumble. Knowing that James, like other New Testament authors, was not perfect should help put us at ease.

However, James also reveals that our goal is to stop stumbling, to be in full control of ourselves at all times. We're not there yet, especially when it comes to our words. The sign of a Christian who has arrived at full-faith perfection is one who never stumbles in what they say or how they say it. Such a perfected believer will never say anything unkind, hurtful, selfish, proud, rude, or manipulative. They will only and ever say words motivated by faith in God and love for each other.

Once we learn to perfectly control our words, we will be in perfect control of every part of ourselves. We will have "bridled"—or learned to keep in check—our entire body. This is a noble goal to aspire to, much like an athlete who aspires to never miss a shot on goal. And yet, as both James and the rest of the New Testament make plain, we will never attain that kind of perfection on this side of heaven (1 John 1:10; Romans 7:21–25).
What is the Gospel?
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