When we think of sins that grieve God, at the top of the list usually aren’t the wrong doings we commit with our tongue. After all, how much harm is there in sharing a bit of gossip or exaggerating a little here and there. And doesn’t everyone from time to time say things that we regret? Don’t we have more important sins to worry about than the words we speak?
In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” That sounds pretty important to me, and to James as well who talks about the danger of a tongue out of control.
In the early church, there were members who wanted to be like James and become teachers of God’s Word. And although teaching is indeed a mighty calling, James warned it isn’t a job for just anyone. For those who teach are held to a much higher standard by God. And as such they can’t just talk the talk, they have to walk the walk. A pretty daunting task as we all, “stumble in many ways.” (vs. 2) And one of the biggest stumbling blocks we face comes from the tongue. Which is, “a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.” (vs. James 3:5)
A bit in a horses mouth makes it go in the direction the rider chooses, And a tiny rudder determines the path of even the largest vessel. James tells us that control over our tongue equals control over the rest of our body. Yet easier said than done. Because James goes on to say, “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (vs. James 3:8) For out of one side of our mouths we “bless our Lord and Father”, And out of the other we, “curse men; who have been made in the likeness of God.” (vs. 9,10)
Even a small fire can set ablaze and destroy an entire forest. And the tongue, a fire of iniquity, “defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life.” (vs.6) James laments how it shouldn’t be this way. A faucet can’t pour out both clean and polluted water, nor a fig tree produce olives. And a mouth belonging to the Lord can’t speak both blessings and curses. But if it’s impossible for us to tame our tongue what are we to do?
In our own strength nothing. But when we rely on the strength of the Lord, we can do all things; including taming the untamable. (Phil. 4:13) And it starts with our heart. Jesus says, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45) I once read the connection between the heart and tongue can be described like a bicycle chain. The words the mouth puts forth are driven by what is in the heart.
If we want a tongue whose words lift up others and glorify God, we have to rid our hearts of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.” We do this through prayer asking, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24) We do this by spending time in God’s Word daily, “Meditating on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” (Josh. 1:8) We do this by thinking before speaking remembering, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Prov. 21:23) And we do this by asking for forgiveness from the ones we hurt, “ If….your brother or sister has something against you…go and be reconciled to them” (Matthew 5:23-24).
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3) Words can build up, or destroy. They can bring lasting joy, or lasting pain. So fill your heart with God’s wisdom. For it is, “pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (vs. 17), and turn your speech into seeds which produce righteousness and peace.