The Preacher Says....  
  Taming the Tongue  
  James 3

It’s not in our power to know the thoughts and intentions of our brethren, or anybody else for that matter; this power is reserved for God’s judgment. We know too that we can’t discern evil in a man’s heart by the things he says. So we had better be wise as serpents (and harmless as doves) when confronted by the evil described by Zophar, one of Job’s comforters who said, Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, he hides it under his tongue. (Job 20. 12). Solomon called this perverseness a breach in the spirit, whereas a wholesome tongue is a tree of life. (Prov 15. 4). Can a fountain send forth sweet water and bitter at the same time? Strangely enough, yes, through weakness and perversity. We know this much is true-- every time someone says the wrong thing he reveals his lack of perfection. How come? Because the ‘perfect man bridles his tongue’. Though we can’t be perfect, some control is possible. Think of the tongue as a mirror. Breaches that happen—and happen they will—reveal the evil in us all. To tame the tongue we need to get the enemy out in the open and scrutinize ourselves; we need to take a good look within and honestly view ourselves as others do. Most of us regret much of what we say, because we said it too quickly, or as we sometimes say, ‘I spoke without thinking’. What’s wrong with that? Well, pretty much everything. Some words we often live to regret because, unhappily, they can never be recalled. When we don’t think before we speak, more often than not we do what comes naturally. Now the natural thing is the fleshly thing, and generally often the wrong thing. Sometimes this is attributable to no more than your state of health—lack of sleep—frayed nerves—too much to do. You speak too quickly because you’re not thinking clearly. We owe it to ourselves and others to be moderate and temperate. We need to put away the many noxious characteristics of the natural man such as vindication of self, self-glorification, justification, scorn, ridicule, harsh words, lies, and replace them.

The person who tries to vindicate himself at every turn is somebody who cannot take criticism. His tongue must win at all costs--in arguments and loud talk—red faces—parting in anger. Not because right and justice has won the day, but because it hasn’t been clearly demonstrated to the satisfaction of each that ‘I’m right’ and ‘You’re wrong’. A more fruitful path would be for us to speak words of wisdom, an ideal that God has promised to freely give to those who ask. Wisdom is not great learning, but rather good judgment, and sagacity, born of experience. The speech, therefore, of one that is wise should be in all humility.

Take the braggart—full of self-glorification: he boasts, ‘So I did so- and-so’, with a smirk of satisfaction. Always striving to be heard, overpowering you with words. What was it Solomon said? ‘a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion’. We’re all tempted to justify ourselves; it’s very hard to admit you were wrong. After all, who wants to look foolish. Your tongue can pour out all kinds of excuses. This is probably the commonest fault of all, but relatively mild, since the only one that really gets hurt here is you. Can we make our words more a healing balm to others? Become a source of strength? Speaking only when it is time to speak?

Perhaps the greatest wrongs—scorn, derision, ridicule—and the most insidious and pervasive, gossip. These wrongs emanate from feelings of weakness and inadequacy, prompting an unleashed tongue to strike back. Often we may think we speak the truth, but it just doesn’t come out right. Our words are harsh, maybe hurtful, like a piercing sword. There is more to wisdom than knowing the truth and speaking it. Words fitly chosen should be like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Prov 25. 11), in speech revealing the depth and riches of God’s word. Words like those of Jesus at the scene of the woman taken in adultery, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone—such a beautiful way to say that no one man is better than his brother.

When it comes to God’s truth you should always be ready to speak up. But don’t stand on principle unless you know it to be one. You don’t want to be like the man described by Solomon when he said—and I paraphrase—don’t be in a hurry to jump to conclusions regarding your neighbor. You could be wrong and look foolish in the eyes of him you have judged. (Prov 25. 8) Better to settle the matter privately.

A diagnosis of all these observations and ramblings indicates that we suffer greatly from the disease of pride. The prognosis is not a permanent disability, but a condition that can be improved with proper exercise and trying hard to keep our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking guile—this is a given, difficult at best, and not always dependable. But God has shown us a more excellent way. Paul said it. Let us speak the truth in love. There’s no doubt that a deep, dedicated study of God’s word will lead to a saving knowledge of the truth. When we find this treasure the most reliable action we can take in our effort to tame the tongue is to be always ready to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in us.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue