Controlling The Tongue


James described the tongue as "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" capable of defiling the whole body (James 3:8, 6), and Jesus warned that improper use of the tongue would bring us into condemnation (Matthew 12:34-37). However, we could turn to other passages such as Romans 10:8-17; Ephesians 4:29; et al and read that the tongue can be used in very positive ways to edify, evangelize, give thanks, confess Christ, etc. In this brief study we want to consider some things Proverbs has to say about this "little member" and hopefully be spurred to give more careful thought to our speech and its power for both good and evil.


Talk Less 

            Of all the lessons we need to learn about the use of our tongues, the most important one may be the most difficult to prac tice. Simply stated, most of us need to talk less. While there are certainly times we can sin by refusing to speak, consider a few of the ad moni tions in Proverbs: "In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (10:19). "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction" (13:3). "He who has knowledge spares his words....Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive"(17:27, 28). "Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (29:20).

            If we talked less we would probably be more honest, for those who are always talking tend to pass along information they cannot be sure of, and to put it nicely, shade the truth or exaggerate things in order to keep their stories interesting. If we can learn to talk less and listen more, we will have more friends and fewer enemies, because we will not be as prone to hurt people's feelings and we will be appreciated for our ability to listen.

            Though the thought may be a little different, closely related to the general concept of talking less, is the counsel to resist the temptation to let your anger be immediately known. "A fool's wrath is known at once..." (12:16). "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him" (18:13). "A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back" (29:11). Before saying anything in anger we need to take the time to make certain we have the facts straight; be certain we know what we are going to say; and be sure we will not regret it later. We may have good reason to be angry with our em ployer, neighbor, spouse, or brother in Christ, but is there a compelling reason to say anything? If something must be said, must it be said while still seething? Instead of angry words, we should try to hold back and then when we do speak, "bless those who curse [us]" (Matthew 5:44).

Sticks and Stones... 

            "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Though taught to repeat this little rhyme as children, we know better--words can be excruciatingly painful. "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword..." (12:16). Words can hurt or they can heal; they can edify and encourage or they can dis courage and even enrage. "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1). "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (16:24). These words of wisdom are not intended to suggest that we never question or criticize the beliefs, teachings, and ac tions of others, for Solomon counseled, "He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue" (28:23). Firm, unyielding words of correction are sometimes necessary, but we must learn to give more thought to the best way to say things, especially when words of re buke are needed. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in set tings of silver. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear" (25:11, 12). Let us strive to imitate that virtuous wife who"opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness" (31:10). "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).

"Have You Heard...?" 

            "An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer sepa rates the best of friends" (16:27, 28). "He who covers a trans gression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends" (17:9). Exhortations to neighborly and brotherly love abound in Scripture; harmony and unity in the local church are frequent themes of the New Testament, and few things are more disruptive to good relationships than gossip, talebearing, and whispering secrets behind the backs of people. Remember that when you have a burning tidbit you intend to tell to only one per son, that one person will probably feel justified in repeating it to one person and soon everyone will have heard something that should never have been repeated. We must learn to ask: "Am I certain this is true? Do others need to know about it? Will people be hurt by it? Why do I want to tell this?" When it comes to repeat ing things, let's remember our initial exhorta tion:"In the multi tude of words, sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is not wise"(10:18).

            "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be con demned" (Matthew 12:36, 37).