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. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. —James 3:2-7
Measuring our words may well be the greatest challenge most people face. I should correct this… It is the greatest challenge most people face who are aware that it needs to be done. True, not everybody even knows they should measure their words. Correct again, large numbers of people don’t know how to even begin the disciplines of gaining control of their speech. And more, lives all over the world every day are ruined by uncontrolled tongues. Every one of you in the discipline of learning to master your words can say, “Amen.” We are all in a global “brotherhood!”
Just so everyone has a chance to say, “yeah,” let me enumerate some of the more common ways we have screwed up with our big mouths:
- We said the right thing at the wrong time.
- We said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
- We said the right thing to the wrong person.
- We said the wrong thing to the wrong person.
- We said the right thing with the wrong tone.
- We said the wrong thing with the wrong tone.
- We shouldn’t have said anything we were thinking to anybody.
- We used the wrong words to express an idea.
- We should only have introduced our idea to someone, not tried to sell the whole concept.
- The more we talked to someone, the worse the situation got; we clearly should have stopped sooner.
- We used somebody else’s words to say what we wanted to say, and it didn’t work at all for us.
- We revealed a secret we promised someone else we wouldn’t reveal.
- We tried to impress someone with a word that didn’t mean what we thought it meant.
- We used words designed to offend somebody and they didn’t get it.
- We used a word we should have known was a negative “trigger word” to someone.
- We cussed when we shouldn’t have.
- We should have cussed a little and didn’t.
- I’m going to stop here because the list could on indefinitely, and some of these examples are making me relive stupid things I’ve said and thought I had forgotten about!
So, can we agree with the Bible writers that controlling our tongue is a monumentally difficult task some or even all of the time? Indeed, there are more admonitions in the wisdom-literature of the Scriptures than on most any other topic. Those who ignorantly think the Scriptures are filled with make-believe stories have obviously never thought about how many universal truths it addresses.
The words we choose to speak reveal so much about who we are and how much or how little we care about people that it is stunning to think about. Controlling our tongues means we are learning to control our minds. It also means we are learning how to love and, therefore, live. No wonder the Scripture puts so much emphasis on this discipline.
These are not new observations to most of us. We know our mouths have caused us and others grief. So here is my exhortation to help the cause:
- Remind yourself daily to listen carefully and speak carefully. The more our speech matters to us, the more it will mean to others.
- When communication carries weighty issues, always pause and think before you speak and while you are speaking.
- Perhaps most importantly, be clear on what you want your speech to produce in others, not just in “the now,” but later when they have had time to think about what was said. This is doubly true when dealing with emotionally charged issues.
Speech that makes us “feel good” in the moment may produce the most damage after the emotions fade and we assess the question, “Did what I said produce the results I wanted in the long run?”
Controlling our tongues does more to control our lives than almost anything else we can do to shape our lives. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). This reality is truly…