Taming the Tongue
Lord, remind me on the spot when I am speaking idle words (Matt. 12:36).
Read James 3:1–12
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 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.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
New International Version (NIV)
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“Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence” (T. S. Eliot, 1888–1965).
“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Prov. 17:28). In today’s world, we rarely heed that caution—we’re too caught up in the pursuit of being heard and noticed. How often have we read that a celebrity or politician has had to retract and apologize for an off-color comment on social media? Not before the damage is done! Words spread like wildfire beyond our control. Sadly, we realize too late that we cannot undo the damage of words on social media, in our workplace, home, church or marriage. The misuse of speech can lead us to honor the wrong people in the church, sometimes with tragic consequences: those who are great public speakers, but whose private speech and character are riddled with pride, folly and sin. James’s warning here is unambiguous: do not underestimate the consequences of a tongue
that will not submit to the discipline of God.
Our speech—whether anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language, or peace, worship, encouragement and love (Col. 3:8–16)—reveals how we are
controlled, how our ship is piloted: either by our sin nature or by God’s Spirit. We are told to put on our new nature and practice its rhythms in our daily life. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Silence and solitude are valuable spiritual disciplines. They train us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (Jas. 1:19). God graciously gives us the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God to combat the sinfulness of the old nature; but we need to make time to listen to the Spirit, sacrificing time out of the busy-ness of our daily lives. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
An old southern country Pentecostal preacher once declared that what’s in the well comes up in the bucket. Jesus agrees (cf. Matt. 15:18).
Lord, discipline my speech. Teach me silence; teach me to listen to Your wisdom and embrace it like my dearest friend.