Taming the Tongue
News talk, sports talk, work talk, family talk, social media, email, talk-talk-talk… we are always talking. I heard that the average person spends
1/5th of their life talking. In a year’s time, that person’s words would fill 132 books with 200 pages each!
James has been stressing his theme that real faith produces genuine works. Your goal as a Christian is spiritual maturity, and one of the primary marks of Christian maturity is how you use your words. In fact, James says, we are accountable for what we say.
James doesn’t want his readers to underestimate what he’s said about the dangers of the tongue so like a good teacher he illustrates it both positively and negatively with a variety of analogies to first show us that our words set the direction of our lives. Proverbs 8:21 says, “death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
The next several illustrations James uses indicate that our words can bring destruction like an out of control forest fire. An unchecked heart can come out in one’s speech and do incredible damage. It can destroy a reputation, ruin a church, or cause life-long pain. The more fuel you add to the fire the more it rages out of control and sets one’s whole life a blaze.
Most Christians would shrink back from sins like homosexuality, molesting children, or murder as being satanically depraved. Yet we tolerate gossip, slander, deceit, half-truths, sarcastic put-downs, and other sins of the tongue as if they were no big deal. James says that they have their origin in the pit of hell. They defile the one committing them and destroy people.
Take the Challenge! - Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has lectured around the country on the powerful and often negative impact of words. He has asked audiences if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. He says, “Invariably, a minority of listeners raise their hands signifying ‘yes,’ some laugh, and quite a large number call out, ‘no!’”
He responds, “Those who can’t answer ‘yes’ must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go for twenty-four hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go for twenty-four hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. Similarly, if you cannot go for twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue.
There’s hope! It is possible to control your tongue. While James says that “no man” can tame the tongue, as a believer, you have the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling your life and transforming your heart. Remember your tongue expresses your character and testimony. Use your words to build others up, and not tear them down. Use your tongue to bring a continual sacrifice of praise to God for that He is. Remember that worship flows out of the heart.
Have you surrendered control of your tongue to Jesus Christ? Jesus warned, “I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).