Taped mouth

Taming Our Tongue

As a Christian, I struggle to tame my tongue. That means I can’t control the words that come out of my mouth. James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, says that no human being can. It’s not an ability that human beings possess in our own power. Our tongues are more powerful than we are. Only Jesus himself, who was perfect in every way and without sin, could control his tongue.

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. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Jas 3:2-12 ESV

When talking to other Christians, I find I’m not alone in this. We live in a time when words that used to be considered almost unspeakable in public are now said openly. Whether at work, video gaming with friends, watching TV or a movie, or even while out in public like at a restaurant or community event, people literally bombard us with those four-letter words, rudeness, insults, and even racial slurs. And to make matters worse, we seem drawn to participate like a moth to a light.

How does this impact our witness as followers of Jesus? If an opportunity for you to share the gospel with someone at work came up, would the words that you commonly speak make your witness for Jesus more credible or less?

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?

Jas 3:10-11 ESV

James asks; can fresh and salt water come from the same spring? When salt water from the ocean meets a freshwater stream, we get a condition known as brackish water. Brackish water has more salinity than freshwater, but not as much as seawater. It’s not just that fresh water and salt water don’t pour from the same stream. The salt water actually changes the freshwater into something more like itself.

The Apostle Peter used his tongue to convince a group of unbelievers he was not a follower of Jesus but one of them. When accused of being one of Jesus’s disciples, he “began to curse and swear; ‘I do not know this man you are talking about!’” (Mark 14:70-71 NASB)

The way we use our tongue can convince people one way or another about whether we follow Jesus. Does your tongue create a barrier (put up a wall) between you and your testimony?

There are many reasons we struggle with taming our tongue. I fear not being accepted or being judged by my secular co-workers. Yet Jesus himself says that I will be “blessed when people hate me and when they exclude me and revile me and spurn my name as evil, on the account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22 ESV) So in this way, in taming my tongue for the sake of Jesus, I am bearing my cross for the greater reward.

But it’s more than just filthy talk, isn’t it? Where has the reverence and fear of God gone? In the Old Testament times, people had such reverence for God they refused to even speak his name. One of the Ten Commandments is, you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. The Hebrew word translated as vain means for no good reason. If we reflect on our speech, can we honestly say that we thoughtfully use the Lord’s name, recognizing the power, beauty, and uniqueness of it?

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” (Prov 21:23 NASB) The apostle Paul cautions us: “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.”

According to James, the tongue—our words and how we use them—is not just untameable. It is a restless evil. Our tongues, the instrument of our powerful words, flail around, striking without focus or clear intent. And when they strike, they are full of deadly poison. Just as our deeds reveal our faith, our words reveal our hearts. We can’t tame our tongues on our own, because we can’t change our sinful nature on our own.

It is only through the power and the blood of Jesus that we can hope to tame our tongues. We must seek to dedicate our hearts, minds, and tongues to the Lord daily. We must pray that God would give us an awareness, a consciousness of our words. We must ask forgiveness for any unloving words or attitudes and we must practice speaking words that will encourage, comfort, edify, and inspire those that hear them.