So often I find myself regretting something I said, or even perhaps something I did not say! James reminds us (3:5) “... the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” In fact, the next verse seems to make matters worse when it says: “... the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” So what can be done about it? How does a person control this dangerous body part?
(1) Taming the Heart
The first thing that must be understood, is that what comes out of the mouth via the tongue has its origins in the heart. We are not talking about the blood pumping organ in our chest cavity, but rather the seat of the emotions, or spirit. The prophet Jeremiah is just as depressing, telling us that (17:9) “The heart is deceitful above all, and beyond cure.” A solution to this problem must start in the heart. I am reminded of the Disney movie “Bambi,” where the little rabbit Thumper tells another animal, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” So, the first step to impulse control is to THINK about what you are going to say before you say it; is what you are about to say true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, or kind? Paul gives a more positive reminder to the Ephesians (4:29) that should motivate us to think first: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
(2) Taming the Tongue
The second thing that must be understood, is that what comes out of your mouth is a choice which can be controlled. You are a human being with free will, a gift from God. To those who have accepted the gift of salvation, God also gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to resist temptation and control what comes out of our mouth. On our own, we are without this ability, as James says (3:8-10) “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” Indeed, death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21a). So, a solution to this problem must start with submission to the Holy Spirit, who will then enable us to “take captive every thought to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5b)
(3) Taming the Mind
The third thing that must be understood, is that what comes out of your mouth is often a result of what you have been allowing to dwell in your mind. Jesus teaches that what you allow into your mind develops and produces fruit, and that fruit will show all around what is inside.
Matthew 12:33-37 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
When I was at Bible College, one of my professors was known for saying, “When the pressure is on, what is inside will come out.” So then, the solution lies in controlling what we allow into our minds and hearts. We do this by being careful what we watch, listen to, and what we allow to linger in our minds. What do you fill your mind with? Whatever it is, that will affect what comes out of your mouth! I heard someone say the other day that we imitate the people we see the most. This is so true!! So, what is stopping you from making sure that Jesus Christ is the one you ‘see’ the most?
(4) Taming the Response
The fourth thing that we must understand, is that what comes out of your mouth is often in response to what someone else has said or done. You must ask yourself, ‘Have I taken time to fully understand the situation?’ In times where anger is motivating speech, we must remember the example of Jesus and the advice of God to Moses, (Exodus 14:14) “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” This is closely tied with the taming of the heart, in that we must think before speaking. A book I was reading recently explained that the difference between a reaction and a response is that a reaction is immediate, not thought through, whereas a response is careful and planned. We need to follow Christ’s example, trusting in the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, and respond (or in some cases, not respond) in such a way that demonstrates wisdom (understanding what the other person is saying or the context of the situation). Paul’s instruction to the believers in Colosse (4:6) is good for us today as well, reminding us that you should “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Let us pray with the Psalmist (Psalms 141:3) “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” When we take the time to guard our hearts and submit to the Holy Spirit, then He gives us the power to tame the tongue.