The lady next door had recently moved into a better neighborhood and decided to invite all of her old friends and neighbors to a house warming party. While her guests were talking the doorbell rang and the hostess left the room. Upon returning she announced that she had a little surprise. While away at the door she had left a tape recorder running and now, for “laughs” she was going to replay it!
But her guests were not the least amused. In fact, they all turned a crimson red and shifted about uneasily. For while she was answering the door they had talked about her, how she thought she was “it,” moving to a bigger house and rising up the social ladder. They “ran her into the ground” behind her back!
As the tape began to expose their remarks, one by one the guests got up and left the house. They were too ashamed and embarrassed to listen to their own gossip. Does this story sound far-fetched? Perhaps, but it was true.
In James 3:5-10 we’re told what the tongue is really like: “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a matter a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by Gehenna. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessings and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
Why did James say that no man can tame the tongue? Because it is the instrument through which the mind speaks. And of itself, without any control, the mind or heart of man is capable of producing a great deal of evil! (Jer. 17:9.) For as Jesus Christ said, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, wickedness, deceit, blasphemy. All these evil things come from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).
Let’s take a look as some of the bad fruit the tongue can and often does produce, and what we can do to change it.
Gossip is perhaps the most common failing in the use of our tongue. It seems to be pleasing to some people to repeat a juicy bit of private information they have heard about someone else. If you are told something in private that involves the problems of another person, do not go spreading it around the Church. Realize that what you should do is pray for those involved; don’t see how many others you can inform. Rather cover it up, forget it! Notice Proverbs 17:9: “He that covers a transgression seeks love; but he that repeats a matter separates friends.
People who take delight in letting their tongues wag in this fashion are doing so out of vanity. They want to be the one to receive the glory of having had this secret knowledge.
Rumors are another common problem. You should never repeat something which you are not 100% sure is correct. Often something said in passing is blown up altogether out of proportion.
John 21:21-23 gives an example of a rumor that got out of hand. Peter asked Christ what was to become of John. “Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus said unto him, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? Follow thou me.”
Now see what happened! “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die: but, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Obviously some of the disciples hadn’t heard 100% correctly. They then told what they thought they had heard to other Christians and before long, the saying was abroad that the Apostle John was going to remain alive on the earth until Jesus’ second coming! And it wouldn’t surprise me, if there are people today who believe that John is still alive.
John himself squashed this rumor when he wrote his gospel. He told everyone the truth, that Christ said “If I will that he tarry.” Actually, John did wait until Jesus Christ “came” to him personally: Christ revealed Himself to John when he was on the Island of Patmos, and gave him the visions of the Book of Revelation. But this was in no sense a fulfillment of the false rumor that John would not die.
Follow John’s example, brethren, and squash all rumors. Get the facts before you mention anything to someone else!
Backbiting shows us how easy it is to turn on and accuse someone else. The problem of backbiting is perhaps one of the hardest to overcome because it involves turning the other cheek. It is the natural (and carnal) tendency to snap back at someone who has supposedly “done you wrong,” or talk about them behind their back. But those who make it into God’s Kingdom are going to be the ones who don’t have this fault.
Notice in Psalm 15:1-3: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill (share in God’s government)? He that walks uprightly. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor.”
Do you have this qualification? The greatest example we have of one who did have this qualification is Jesus Christ Himself. He was beaten, ridiculed, scorned, mocked, spat upon, cursed at, jeered at, and yet He never once turned on His tormentors. Rather, He asked God to forgive them. He turned the other cheek! Does your tongue backbite? Unless you overcome this human proclivity you will not have a place in God’s Government!
Making Rash Promises – in this day and age, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a person you can rely on, one who keeps his word. How many times have you heard someone say, “Just leave it to me, I’ll see that it’s done,” and in doing so you find that the opposite has been the case? Solomon wrote: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful (trustworthy) man who can find?” (Prov. 20:6)?
The person who says, “Leave it to me” is proclaiming his own goodness, but does he always keep his word? Once you have given your word on something, if you have told someone you will do a certain thing for them, or meet them at a certain time, or promise them some other thing, then see that you carry it out. Be sure you do it!
In Psalm 15:4 we see the sort of person who is going to be in the Kingdom of God. “He that swears to his own hurt, and changes not.” In other words, if you promise a friend (or an enemy) you will do a job for him, or if you promise your children you will take them out, don’t go back on your word even if it does mean you lose in some way. In modern language we could render this verse as follows: “He that promises something and, even if it turns out to be inconvenient to him, or messes up his plans, doesn’t go back on his word.”
You see, brethren, God wants in His Kingdom those he can trust implicitly. During our present lives is the time to develop this attitude. But how many times does our tongue get us into a position where we promise something we can’t carry out? We should never allow it to happen. We shouldn’t make rash promises.
Many people, in a moment of remorse, have vowed vows to God which, if they had stopped to think about, they were incapable of carrying out. Even though a promise is not a vow, the principle shown for vows in Eccl. 5:4-6 certainly applies to this matter of making a promise you don’t mean, or going back on a promise and becoming an untrustworthy or unfaithful person.
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” In other words, when you make a promise see that you carry it out, for God will otherwise consider you a fool. “Better is it that thou should not vow, than that thou should vow and not pay.” Or, it is better not to make a promise than make one and then break it.
“Suffer not your mouth to cause your flesh to sin, neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error.” That is, don’t let your tongue make you unreliable, and don’t say afterward to the person to whom you made the promise that you didn’t really mean it. ‘’Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice and destroy the work of thine hands?” And God will be angry at the unfaithful or unreliable and will not bless or prosper them, unless they repent and strive to keep their word!
So you see how God looks on the man or woman who makes great promises and doesn’t carry them through. The world is too full of such people. Word breaking is a common failing of man. Don’t let it be your failing.
God hates lying – one of the seven things that God hates is a lying tongue. (Prov. 6:16-19). “I don’t lie now,” you say? If you were to sit down and analyze your day, how many lies would you find you had uttered? Because of habit and because the natural mind is deceitful, we often lie without realizing it.
Remember when someone asked you how you were? You were feeling rotten, but you said you were feeling fine! Now don’t mistake me, I don’t’ mean that you should tell a person every ache and pain you have, but you should be honest when you aren’t feeling so good! It’s customary to say, “I’m fine thank you!” But that’s not always the truth. A small thing? Perhaps. But it serves to illustrate the point.
Many times throughout the day our tongues cause us to lie and we need to be aware of it. Seek always to tell the truth. Before you answer a question, pause and think. Make sure you speak the truth.
Does this mean that if your wife or husband has bought some new clothes and were asked how do you like it, that you should say, “I think it’s the most ridiculous and crazy outfit I have ever set eyes on!” No, of course not! You can be truthful and tactful at the same time. If you don’t like the clothes that were bought, just say that is not your taste. This way you are telling thee truth and being tactful.
Speaking Evil of Dignitaries – it seems to be the natural thing for people to speak against those in authority, especially if they happen to be of different political or religious affiliations. In our past lives we have freely spoken against governments or leaders we have not liked, or ridiculed someone who was in authority simply because he didn’t believe what we believed. But brethren, God tells us to be subject to the powers that exist and not to revile those in authority, whether they be good or evil.
Remember what happened to Miriam and Aaron when they rebelled against Moses because they thought he was wrong. God told them, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses” (Num. 12:8)?
There is no question that we should not speak against those in authority in the Church. But do you realize God also gives the carnal rulers of the nations their positions of authority? Notice Romans 13:1:”Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” So we should respect the office of the leaders of the nations and not speak evil of them, thought we may abhor their evil practices as God does. God says those who despise government and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities are self-willed (II Peter 2:10).
Did you realize that not even angels, who are on a higher plane than mankind, dare to speak against those in authority (II Peter 2:11)? Notice Jude 8-9 where God shows the type of person who speaks evil of leaders, and then shows that not even the archangel Michael dared to revile Satan.
True followers of Jesus Christ should understand this. Don’t let your tongue speak against those in authority in the world. Realize that their authority is God-ordained, and that these leaders are blinded by God and in most cases don’t know to do better as you do.
A Time to Be Silent – You have probably heard the expression, “There’s a time and a place for everything.” This saying, though the majority of people don’t realize it, comes from the Bible. It is found in Eccl. 3:1: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
It is certainly true that there is a time for everything. Did you realize that there is a time when the tongue should be still? Verse 7 says: “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Children who are properly trained soon learn this principle. They realize that when their elders are speaking it is wrong for them to interrupt. They are taught to remain silent until it is their turn to speak.
But, what about grown-ups? What about you, brethren? Do you know when your tongue should be still? You’ve heard of the proverbial “loudmouth,” the person, who is always talking, usually about himself? He’s the sort of man people shy away from. The Book of Proverbs likens this type of individual to a fool who is always getting into trouble because he doesn’t control his tongue.
Proverbs 29:11 reveals, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keeps it in till afterwards.” In other words, the wise person will watch what he says and when he says its.
Why do some people interrupt conversations? Why do others “hog” the limelight with their “words of wisdom”? The answer is – “VANITY”! They like the sound of their own voice. They have to have the attention of others, so they seek to seize is by using their tongue.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we should all become speechless, but too many people don’t know when to shut up.
Perhaps one of the places this fault shows up most is when a minister is visiting and explaining a point of doctrine, or giving advice of some sort. Sometimes the person interrupts before the minister has finished with a comment or question on an entirely different subject. This shows not only rudeness, but outright disrespect! It shows they are not listening!
I have actually been in the process of answering a question for someone when another member of the group interrupts and answers it for me. Refrain from interrupting. Wait until it is proper to speak. Then ask any pertinent questions or make any suitable contribution to the conversation. Always strive to be considerate and respectful.
How Should We Talk? - When you see just how much trouble your tongue can get you into, it might make you want to say nothing at all to avoid “going wrong.” But this is not the answer. Sometimes it is just as much a sin to say nothing as to say the wrong thing!
All these scriptural admonitions should not be viewed negatively so that you become fearful of ever opening your mouth. Rather, they should be taken as wise counsel and teaching, showing you how to use your tongue properly and effectively. It is not God’s will for us to be fearful of opening our mouths; but it is His will for us to learn to speak with discretion, wisdom, and consideration for others.
God tells us what the tongue of the righteous should be like: The tongue of the just is as choice silver, the lips of the righteous feed many” (Prov. 10:20-21). In other words, your talk should be refined, purged of all the dross of slander, bitterness, envy, gossip, unfaithfulness, so that it becomes like pure silver. Notice also that you are expected to use your tongue for good, to “feed many.”
So see that your conversation is constructive, not destructive. Build up, don’t tear down. See the good points in others and use the tool God has given you to edify others.
Notice Eph. 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Use your tongue as an instrument of righteousness to benefit others.
You must have wisdom to know how and what to say in any given circumstances so that it will be upright. “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable” (Prov. 10:32). The more you obey God and drink in of the very mind of Jesus Christ, the more you will know what is right. Ask yourself. “How would Christ say it?” Or, “What answer would He give?”
The Tongue – a Precious Gift of God - There are many principles in the Bible relating to the use of the tongue. For instance, Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” How often we should remember these words when tempted to respond to a particular situation with heated words!
“The lips of the wise disperse knowledge,” says verse 7.When you open your mouth, do you speak factual knowledge, things you know about, or simply speculation, foolishness and vanity? And verse 23 states, “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” Brethren using our tongue correctly will bring increased joy and happiness into your life, helping you to avoid the sorrow and misery caused by uncontrolled, undisciplined words. When you learn to give a right word or answer at the right moment, you will be able to teach, help, and inspire other people more effectively! Think about it.
God says in the book of Malachi of those who please Him: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord harkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him of them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spares his own son that serves him? (Mal. 16-17).
Consider, if we really worship and fear God, then we should often speak with one another, inspiring, encouraging, and comforting one another. We should not neglect this opportunity. But our words must not be charged with gossip, backbiting, complaining, disrespect, malice, or self-centeredness or vanity.
How can we properly control our tongues? What is the key to mastering our mouths? Man, cannot, wholly of himself tame his tongue (James 3:6-10). It does not lie within his heart to do so. It requires a changed mind! The only answer then, brethren, is to seek the help of God. Ask Him to help you by filling your mind with more of His Holy Spirit. And study His Word more diligently to learn more of His character.
With the help of God’s Spirit and your own concerted effort, your tongue will become an instrument for good. It will produce righteousness because it will manifest the thoughts of a changed mind. This is the only way to conquer and control your tongue, the most unruly member of your whole body.
So look to God for help to control your tongue and pray as David prayed: “Set a watch, O Lord before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).