Taming The Tongue

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s highly likely your mama used to tell you that on more than one occasion! My mother had a lot of those sayings; she also has an incredible memory and often comes up with bits of wisdom – sayings that stick with you.

What’s in the well of the heart comes up in the bucket of the mouth.

Isn’t it better to leave people wondering why you didn’t talk than why you did?

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Profanity is the weapon of the witless.

Before you say anything, ask yourself; Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?

And this one I heard often growing up:

A wise old owl lived in an oak.

The more he heard, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard.

Why can’t we all be like the wise old bird?

Words are powerful, aren’t they? In James 3:1-12, we are given some challenging wisdom on the dangers of our tongues. The tongue is compared to a bridle bit in a horse’s mouth, the small rudder that turns a large ship, and a flame set on fire by hell, that defiles our entire body and sets on fire the course of our lives. It’s also called a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James rebukes his readers for the hypocrisy in their hearts that is revealed by what comes out of our mouths. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way (James 3:9-10).

How hard is it to control our tongue? What kind of spiritual strength does it take to keep it under control?

James 3:2 – For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

If I understand James correctly, if we can take control of our words, we will find the strength to defeat every other temptation we might face! That’s pretty powerful. It makes sense; our language and communication are the easiest places to sin because words just fly out of our mouths without a thought. It takes diligence and intentionality to get control of our words.

How would it change our relationships if we truly thought about what we say, before we say it?

How would it change our language if we really believed that we would give an account to God for every idle word (Matthew 12:36)?

What would happen if we stopped speaking carelessly and made an intentional effort to please God in every word that comes out of our mouths?

Ephesians 4:29 – Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Commenting on this passage in James 3, John MacArthur notes, “A corrupt and unholy heart eventually will be exposed by corrupt and unholy speech… If the tongue is not controlled by God, it is a sure indicator that the heart is not, either.”

Our words will either draw people toward Jesus or push them away from Him. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6). We’ve all been on both sides of words that hurt, as well as receiving words that heal and encourage. We know the power of the tongue; we’ve felt the sharp pains of the unkind things said to us, and we’ve all experienced the regret of being unable to take back the ugly words that we wish we hadn’t said. Words take root in our hearts and minds and bear fruit for the rest of our lives – either for good or evil.

God gave us a gift when He gave us words – the ability to communicate. Let’s not take it for granted. May our words reflect a surrendered heart. May God convict us when we stumble and help us control our tongue.

Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

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