Taming The Tongue

Taming the Tongue

James 3:1–12 1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. 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 hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James uses three different word pictures to describe the need for controlling the tongue – the bit, the rudder and animals being tamed. Each of these words in Greek gives an understanding of both restraint and direction.

If we are ever to gain control of the tongue, we must be able to restrain the words that we use, to hold back from speaking wrongly. We must also be able to direct our speech to that which is right and good. If we’re honest with ourselves we have all said things we shouldn’t have.

• Times when we speak our minds and say just a bit too much • Times when our anger gets the best of us and we spout off with our mouth • Times when we know a juicy tid bit of info and just have to share it

One of the reasons that we need to get a handle on the words that we speak is because they are filled with great power. In fact, the tongue has the ability to destroy.

• How many reputations have been ruined by careless words? • How much hurt has been caused by false accusations? • How many lives have been affected by someone’s “slip of the tongue”?

James says this is exactly the issue with our words. One moment things are fine and the next we are dealing with a major problem. He gives two more vivid word pictures about the destructive power of the tongue. First he uses fire to describe the uncontrollable nature of our words once they are spoken. The sad reality is that once words are said, they can never be taken back. They often spread like wildfire.

The second word that James uses is poison. He uses an interesting word for poison because it was used to describe both the venom produced by snakes and scorpions and was also used to describe rust. Thus the warning that James gives is twofold: first words have the ability to harm others, like venom from a snake and they also have the ability to corrode and destroy areas of a person’s life.

The tongue is a spiritual Issue. One of the best evidences of our spiritual condition is the words that we use and how we speak to and about other people. James again uses several word pictures here to describe this aspect of our spiritual lives and does so with two different sets of words.

The first set that he uses is blessing and cursing. To say that these words are exact opposites is an understatement. The word bless means to cause to prosper or to bring happiness. Christians should build others up and bring help to them. The word curse means to bring evil upon and when we use our words to hurt we are indeed bringing evil on others.

The second set of words that James uses are the spring and the fig tree. These two images are saying that we can only produce one type of word from our lives. Just as a spring will produce one kind of water or a tree one kind of fruit, our tongues will produce one kind of effect.

We make the choice of what kind of impact our words will have on those around us. The things that we say are not a product of our mouths; they are a product of our spiritual condition. If we want spiritual growth, the tongue is the first thing that Christ must have under His influence.

So, think before you speak.

T –  Is it true? H –  Is it helpful? I    Is it inspiring? N –  Is it necessary? K –  Is it kind?

Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mat. 12:34) According to Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” James 3:6 says the tongue is “a fire, a world of iniquity”, and James 3:8 calls the tongue a “deadly poison.”

As a fool would carelessly play with a loaded gun, so many Christians today do with their deadly tongue. If only we would realize the damage we are doing to the body of Christ! If only we could see the full effect of the words we use!

Let us consider some sins of the tongue as revealed in God’s word.

The Lying Tongue

Proverbs 25:18 18 A man who bears false witness against his neighbor Is like a club, a sword, and a sharp arrow.

A lying tongue is the misuse of a deadly weapon. It can be used to harm others near at hand (a club), a few feet away (a sword), or a great distance away (an arrow). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and God said that he hates a lying tongue (Pro. 6:17) and that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire, according to Revelation 21:8.

The Flattering Tongue

Flattery is also a sin of the tongue. The Bible speaks of flattery as a characteristic of the wicked, not the righteous: Psalm 5:9 9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.

Imagine the improvements which would be made in our nation if voters elected leaders on the basis of the record rather than on the basis of flattering speeches! Flattery is just a form of lying and manipulation and has no place in the life of a Christian.

The Proud Tongue

Psalm 12:3–4 3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, And the tongue that speaks proud things, 4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; Who is lord over us?”

The most annoying Christians you will meet are those with proud tongues because a proud tongue usually comes with two closed ears! Proud-tongued Christians are generally so full of themselves that they learn very little from anyone else. They will talk much of their knowledge and service, but very little about the Lord.

In a church, a proud-tongued Christian will make all sorts of suggestions about how the church should function, yet his suggestions, if received, will place burdens on everyone but himself. A proud-tongued Christian is hard to teach or reason with because he thinks he knows everything.

God hates a proud tongue. Allow the Holy Spirit to use your tongue in the way of humility and of showing kindness because pride will only quench God’s Spirit and damage your testimony.

The Overused Tongue

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 2 Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words.

Some people sin by simply overusing their tongue. They think they appear smart by much talking, but the Bible states just the opposite. God doesn’t like a blabber mouth. You say, “Well, that’s just the way I am!” Then confess your sin and ask God to help you repent.

The Swift Tongue

Some people are guilty of speaking too swiftly when they really need to wait before saying anything. God’s word says: Proverbs 18:13 13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.

How many times have you had to “eat” your words because you spoke too swiftly? James 1:19 warns us to be swift to hear and slow to speak. Why do you suppose God gave us two ears but only one mouth?

The Backbiting Tongue

Proverbs 25:23 and Romans 1:30 make mention of a backbiting tongue. A backbiter is someone  using their tongue against you when you aren’t present, yet they will not face you when you are present. This is a coward who would rather stir up problems than solve them.

A backbiter would much rather talk about the preacher than talk to the preacher. A backbiter would much rather talk about a weak Christian in the church than offer some words of encouragement to them. A backbiter is of no use to anyone, and no one has ever been strengthened or edified through backbiting. Beware of the backbiters, especially the ones who sow discord among brethren. (Pro. 6:19)

The Talebearing Tongue

Proverbs 18:8 8 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.

Leviticus 19:16 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Every Christian has the duty to deny his own desires and seek to edify other Christians (Rom. 14:19; Philip. 2:3). Talebearing runs wholly contrary to Christian edification. Talebearing (carrying and telling tales) spreads all sorts of hurtful information around, and Satan uses that information to hinder and tear down God’s work.

A victim of talebearing, according to Proverbs, is a “wounded” person. God forbid that a Christian should wound another Christian. Some Christians live as though they think God has “called” them to bear tales on other Christians. Many “Christian” newsletters are dedicated to informing the body of Christ on the latest negative news about someone’s ministry or life.

The Cursing Tongue (This is not vulgarity, but speaking evil of or over another person.)

Some people, Christians included, have a nasty habit of speaking evil of others. Romans 3:13–14 13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

This passage actually deals with unsaved people and their ungodly ways, yet there are a great many professing Christians who curse regularly. Christian or not, God says they are dead, deceitful, and poisonous and adds this: Psalm 109:17–18 17 As he loved cursing, so let it come to him; As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him. 18 As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, So let it enter his body like water, And like oil into his bones.

The word for slanderer in Greek is the word diabolos, from which we get both our English words “diabolical” and “devil”.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, it is used to refer to “those who are given to finding fault with the demeanor and conduct of others, and spreading their innuendos and criticisms in the church.”

Many people curse because their life is miserable. They are unhappy and make it known with their degenerate speech. Psalm 109 shows that God actually keeps them unhappy because of their speech! Christian, don’t expect God’s blessings if your mouth is filled with cursing.

The Piercing Tongue 

Proverbs 12:18 18 There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.

Some people have a sharp piercing tongue which Satan uses to offend and insult others. The Bible commands Christians to have their speech dominated by grace (Col. 4:6), yet most churches have a few people who use their tongue like a sword to pierce their brethren.

Titus 2:8 commands us to use sound speech which cannot be condemned. Do you use graceful speech which cannot be evil spoken of, or do you possess a piercing tongue? Every Christian’s prayer should be, “Lord, make my words gracious and tender, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

The Silent Tongue

A silent tongue is also a sinful tongue because we have been commanded to speak up and witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We, as Christians, have an obligation to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus. To be silent about Christ is to sin against Christ. Jesus said, Mark 8:38 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

If you do not want to be ashamed of yourself when the Lord returns, then don’t be ashamed of Jesus today. Pray for opportunities to speak up for your Savior. Don’t be found guilty of having a silent tongue.

As a closing thought, I ask you to think of a time when you were injured either directly or indirectly by the words of another. Think of the overall impact it had on your life and then ask the Lord to help you to keep from ever contributing to harmful words that will negatively impact others.

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