James poignantly reminds us in that, “…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8 NIV). Truer words were never spoken! And I am as full of that poison as any other staff, camper or member of this church. I say things I don’t need to say but for some reason can’t resist. I utter things that are utterly purposeless, harmful and without merit—-and perhaps you do the same. What are we to do about this?
The tongue: what an incredible tool for good and bad. We get angry at the pride of arrogant people because of what they say. What they do that annoys us usually follows later, if at all. But think for a moment about how all the small things people say can make or break your day. One kind word or compliment can change your entire day. But then, out of the blue, a senseless, unkind and un-needed word can ruin your week. We can’t retract, erase or remove those hurtful and unneeded things we say or easily forget the harsh words thrown at us. It’s hard to let go of those wounds. In fact, we tend to hold onto insults far longer than a compliment.
James addresses the challenge of the tongue in the third chapter of his letter. He reminds us that the tongue might be small, but it is, ounce per ounce, the most powerful muscle in the human body; it is the cause of most of the world’s heartache and discouragement. He likens the tongue to a small spark that can easily reduce a house or a forest to nothing in a just a few hours. Words we speak can destroy relationships, families, churches and fellowships such as ours here, right now. Think about what is troubling you right now and think about how much of it has to do with something said to you, or the manner in which it was said.
The best time for me to hold my tongue is the time I feel I must say something or explode. I must defend myself…I must put her in her place…..I must correct this man. But those first words in a conversation can cause a person to feel better the whole day or make you want to jump off a bridge. It took a contractor sixteen months to rebuild my home, but just two hours for a teenager with a candle to burn for my former house to the ground —along with 40 years of accumulated furniture, art and beloved memorabilia; it is quicker to destroy than build, so be careful of what you say with your own tongue. You can destroy years of friendship or “building someone up” in a few words. It happens all the time and quite commonly in Christian fellowship.
Ultimately there’s only one answer for the Christian in response to the tongue: The unconditional surrender of your tongue to God. Totally submit it to the Holy Spirit and keep your tongue (our fingers)still when He tells your to hold back on responding, texting or emailing something. Surrender your tongue, your pen and paper or your texts to the Holy Spirit. You will find that you will be talking and texting a lot less, and listening and understanding better. Oh to be able to go back and retrieve the things I said that did absolutely no good and ended a relationship or turned a person bitter, and replace those words with Spirit inspired silence.
What we say is a challenge no matter how old and wise we are. I am still learning that I do not have to always say funny things or what I think at the moment (unless it is positive) or push my opinion into the public debate. And just because it is true does not mean it is helpful or an act of Christian compassion or love to say it. I wish that I could retract some dumb things I have said to those I love, and oh how I wish that the same ones that I love so much could have been rescued sooner from hearing the evil words from others that still haunt them.
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”(Matthew 12:37, NIV). What are you saying that is justified, needed and helpful—-and what are saying that causes you to be condemned as a big mouth bully? Consider instead the good things our words can do! It does not take much to bring about appreciation and gratitude—just a little spontaneous time and some words of kindness. But it takes less to damage children and leave them afraid and unsure for years or the rest of their lives by speaking carelessly and cruelly.
What does David say about how we should speak to others? “Who may dwell in the house of the Lord.…he whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;” - (Psalm 15:1-3 NIV). David is right and we know it, so why is it so hard to hold my tongues and simply offer up a compliment when someone does something that annoys me? Why do I find it so tempting to “educate” someone else about the real character of a person we both know? What makes it so pleasurable to cast doubt or cast an unflattering innuendo about some other soul that has wronged me?
I think that the answer is simply because it makes me look superior and allows me to feel better about my own flawed existence as I compare myself to someone who is apparently more flawed than I am. When I slander people, gossip about someone else, or attempt to make someone doubt the goodness of another soul, all that I say may be true, but it is a lazy attempt to diminish my own failures, weaknesses and faults. It might make me feel good for a short time, but eventually the reality of who I really am will catch up with me and I will need to humble myself before God.
The Psalmist here is once again painting a masterpiece of what a man or woman of God should look like, and if we look at that painting and don’t see ourselves reflected in it, perhaps we need to talk to the Master Artist and ask him to “re-store us” to what the artist originally intended. We’re supposed to be positive, joy-filled, kind-hearted children of God—-not pessimists or ones that enjoy bringing accusations and unkind words into the conversation.
In fact, the more aware I become of His mercy and grace, the more easily I can forgive my neighbor, rather than slander him—or even speak the unflattering truth. The more He reminds me that it is against Him—and only Him—that I have sinned, the less bombastic I tend to be in arguing that another man is contemptible or needs to be repaired.
I truly appreciate people who are able to tell the truth from the pulpit, on talk radio or from the Senate floor. And yes, there are times we need to rebuke a brother or sister or confront what is patently wrong. But there’s also a need to esteem others highly and to always want to believe the best about the other. Christ has called to be children at heart, but adults in our heads—-He does not want us to be naive or innocent of truth, but rather pure and free from a burning desire to hurt or offend others by our words.
As I think about my own words today, I wonder how many were kind, positive, persuasive, uplifting, and encouraging; and how many were snide, witty unneeded, unhelpful or mean-spirited. There’s more than one verse in the Bible that warns about the destructive power of the tongue. Look at what Solomon said: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21, NIV). How true those words are. The tongue is such a little muscle yet with it we can lie and cause great harm; false witnesses have caused the destruction of other people’s lives and even death. Whole countries have gone to war on the basis of things said between their countries’ rulers causing deaths of millions of innocent people.
I read a story about a group of frogs that might help illustrate the point: A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up out of the pit with all of their might. The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were as good as dead.
Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died. The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He jumped even harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs said, “Did you not hear us?” The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time. Speak life to those who cross your path. The power of words … it is sometimes hard to understand that an encouraging word can go such a long way. So from this day forward, think before you speak—-regardless of what the crowd is saying.
MY prayer should be, “Lord, take possession my mind, tongue and motives—we are not where we hope to be yet."
And finally, what is the most important thing we will ever do with our mouths? From the book of Romans: “If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romand 10:9, NIV
Have you spoken those words? And if you have, do you need to speak them again?