Hold Your Tongue
“Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, if fuzzy wuzzy had no hair then fuzzy wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?” If words were money, we might think more carefully about how we use them. However, God has also given us a stewardship of language, for words are rarely neutral, and possess meaning, power, purpose and character. In the early church, only apostles and prophets were held in higher esteem than teachers; therefore, James takes seriously his own accountability as a teacher of God’s truth and would be held to a higher standard. False teachers were prevalent in the early church; some taught a doctrine that Jesus’ sacrificial death was insufficient without adherence to the Mosaic law. Others denied the deity of Christ.
James share a general maxim: “We all make mistakes.” All of us at times will use our words inappropriately, but those who hold their tongue will practice self-control in what they say, for only children say whatever they desire. He gives two examples of tongue control. First, he talks about a bridle in a horse’s mouth, which guides the rest of his body, and second, the disproportionate size of a ship’s rudder used by a pilot to guide a large ship. In both cases, we hold the reins and we are the pilot. In today’s vernacular, this would be called impulse control, something that many seem to lack today.
James continues by insisting that we have learned to control other facets or life, such as wild animals, but we can’t hold our own tongue. Human ingenuity has demonstrated the ability to put a man on the moon, to split the atom, and to eradicate disease. Yet, when it comes to taming the tongue, we often fail to overcome its toxicity. James asks, “How can we praise God and curse people made in God’s image with the same tongue. Does a spring produce fresh and brackish water? Does a fig tree yield olives, or does a vine produce figs?” But we will be known by our fruits and by what say.
Here are four things to remember:
- Words have legs. Jesus said, “I tell you on the day of judgment, you will give an account for every careless word you utter.” (Matthew 12:36). Just like a computer has history, all we say is permanently fixed in God’s cyber space.
- Words possess an odor. Our words can have a beautiful fragrance or they can just plain stink! The apostle Paul writes, “Watch the way you talk; let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.” (Ephesians 4:29) Expletives are rotten words and don’t conform with God’s holiness.
- Words can be used to gossip. Gossip is an attempt to tarnish another’s reputation by saving your own. It’s using our words to make us feel better about ourselves by putting others down.
- Words can be false. Lying is the attempt to misrepresent an idea or an event to protect us from the light of truth. Lying becomes easier with practice, and we begin to even believe our own lives.
So remember these four little words: your words have power!
PRACTICE: Speaking with self control
THOUGHT: Controlling the things we say requires us to submit to God
Word: James 3:1-12
As James begins Chapter 3, he moves from the generality of good deeds to the specifics of the words that we speak. Genuine faith yields to Christ’s lordship over our tongues. While the monster may never be totally tamed, since we know Christ as Savior, we are engaged in the ongoing battle to tame the terrible tongue. It would be nice if conversion resulted in a total makeover of the mouth, but it is not so! Although we become new creatures in Christ, we also carry around with us the old nature of the flesh, which wars against the Spirit. The tongue is one of the major battlegrounds in the war. To become godly people, we must wage war daily on this front. In these 12 verses, James demonstrates that he knows that we will not gear up for the battle and face our own sins of the tongue unless we recognize the magnitude of the problem. James offers vivid illustrations to open our eyes to just how serious our problem is. It is interesting that he never gives any advice on how to control the tongue. He just leaves you reeling from his portrait of how huge this problem is. He is saying, "to tame the terrible tongue, we must recognize the tremendous magnitude of the battle that we face".
DEED: Carefully re-read James 3:1-12, and summarize it in 25 words or less:
Reflect and Discuss:
Make a list of 5 attributes that your words may be full of if your untamable tongue is motivated by Satan. An example may be selfish ambition.
Make a list of 5 attributes that your words may be full of if your untamable tongue is motivated by God and His wisdom. An example may be sincerity.
It has been said that, “As you go through life you are going to have many opportunities to keep your mouth shut. Take advantage of all of them”. Think about this for a moment. Do you think that is what James is suggesting? Explain why or why not.
By controlling our thoughts, we can maintain better control of what we say. What are some things that you can do to control your thoughts? (Some examples might be to think of a favorite scripture or to hum a hymn or praise song aloud or in your mind.)
MEMORIZE: James 3:9-10, in either version:
With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (NRSV)
With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. (The Message)
A Prayer for this week:
God, I know my tongue often gets ahead of my mind and heart. I am quick to speak and I repent of the many thoughtless things I have spoken. I am sorry for words I have spoken in anger or in gossip. Please help me to see when I am about to speak without thinking and to check my heart. Help me be slow to speak. Help me Lord to be a person full of loving words, full of your Spirit, overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control. Amen.