We are probably all familiar with what James wrote about the tongue. Such a small thing, but like the bit in a horse’s mouth, it can turn so large an animal, and a small rudder can turn a great ship, and a tiny spark can burn down a forest, so the tongue can do a great deal of damage. I am comforted that James also says in chapter 3
James 3:2 NIV
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
We all do it. We all say things in jest that come across as not at all funny. We inadvertently offend. We speak in anger or haste. We speak out of our own woundedness and thereby wound others. Usually, we don’t mean to; sometimes, we do mean it, every word.
I talk a lot. I am far more prone to offending with my words than someone who is more reserved. Although this wisdom originates in the Bible (Proverbs 17:28), I like the way Abraham Lincoln paraphrased it:
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.Abraham Lincoln
But words are also my life. I am a writer, and I love words. I love a well-crafted sentence. I love finding the perfect word to express precisely what I mean. Writing is a hedge of protection for me because I have the opportunity to edit my words, to check, recheck and check again.
James thinks it is impossible to tame the tongue. It may be nearly impossible to tame a wild animal, but you might be able to train it. We may find it very hard to tame our tongue, but perhaps we can work to train it.
In Luke 6:45 NIV Jesus saidLuke 6:45 NIV
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
In other words, out of the mouth come the thoughts of the heart. If we would guard our words, we must start with guarding our hearts.
In Psalms we readPsalm 139:33-34 NIV
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
It isn’t just our tongue we need to control. It’s the thoughts of our hearts, our attitudes. I wrote previously in the post, “They Lied About You,” that we have to take every thought captive, and to do that, we must stop rehearsing and rehashing the angry words we would like to say.
It goes even beyond that. It is how we think. A verse in Psalm 106 says God heard the Israelites grumbling in their tents.
I may not say it out loud, but I’m thinking it. God hears me grumbling in my tent.
As a woman, I find this particularly applicable when I am taking on the role of “Fashion Police.” You do it too. If you have ever spent time in an airport, there you are, bored, waiting, people watching, and asking yourself questions like, “What was she thinking?” and “Does she not own a mirror?” and, “ A little too old for that look, honey” and, “Oh my goodness girl, put some clothes on!” I could go on.
It’s true in every area of our lives. If you want to tame your tongue, you start by taming your thoughts, and even in the airport, you might pray for the people you notice instead of criticizing them.
James also said that you could not get sweet and bitter water from the same spring. Have you ever been driving and singing sweet praises to Jesus until someone cuts you off, and out of the same mouth comes, well, you know what you said. I, too, have had to repent.
Did you sing that last song at church and follow along with the closing prayer, only to leave your pew and spend the next ten minutes gossiping about someone who isn’t in church today? When you shake your head over someone in grocery store or roll your eyes when the boss walks away, take that thought captive!
Train your mind so you can tame your thoughts and maybe save yourself some embarrassment when your tongue does the damage you did not intend for it to do.
It’s a lifelong battle. There is power in that little tongue, but we can also use that power more wisely. Like the bit in the horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship or a spark that starts a fire, our words can change the course of a person’s life.
Proverbs 25:11 says A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.Proverbs 25:11 NIV
I am glad I do not know how often my words have wounded. I hope that the words I have spoken kindly far outweigh them. Sometimes, someone tells me that something I said lifted their spirits or encouraged them to move in the right direction in their lives.
But when my careless words have hurt someone, they don’t usually give me the chance to recant, repent or explain.
Instead of being the fashion police, let’s try to compliment strangers. Has a stranger in the grocery store line ever complimented you on your lovely children, your purse, or your favorite jacket? It’s happened to me, and it made my day!
These days, they call it “paying it forward.” Honestly, I have never paid for the fast-food order for the stranger behind me at the drive-through, and it’s never happened to me either. But have you told the salesgirl or the checker that she has a beautiful smile, or that she is very efficient and you appreciate it? Have you told the restroom attendant, “Thank you,” because we all appreciate a clean public restroom?
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.James 3:17-18 NIV
Suppose we harness the power of the tongue, like the churning river that turns the water wheel that grinds the hard kernels of wheat that makes the flour that makes the bread that feeds the hungry. Suppose our determination to change our attitude starts the process that breaks down the hardened heart and creates the kindness that feeds the soul?
Start small. Start with you and your thought life. Start by praying for the driver who cut you off. Maybe she’s distracted. Maybe he’s late for work. Maybe she just didn’t see you. Start there. Guard your heart, fix your attitude, and your words will follow.
Proverbs 23:7 says as a man thinks, so is he. What do you spend most of your time thinking about?Proverbs 23:7 NIV
Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these thingsPhilippians 4:8
James is right. A small bit in a horse’s mouth, the rudder on a ship, and a small spark can harness the power of words. I just did, as you were reading this and thinking about what I have written here. Words have the power to change us.
Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Train your thoughts, and you might just be able to tame your tongue.
One final warning: Make sure all your words are sweet because you might just have to eat them.