The Untamed Tongue
By Noel Chartier
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh (James 3:1-12).
There is an old saying that goes like this, It's not what you say, it's what you do that counts. And another like it, your actions speak so loud, I cannot hear what you are saying. While the focus of these appears to be more on our actions than what we say, the connotation behind these sayings is that if our speech does not align with what we say, our words become of little value.
These sayings are in agreement with the teachings of Scripture. John says, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). And in case we are not sure how we ought to respond to this, James gives us the following illustration. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:15-17).
In the Scriptures we have an abundance of instruction on how we ought to conduct ourselves in every situation. In His great commission to all believers, Jesus said, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20). This, of course, needs to be taught to our children and all those who are of the faith, however, if our actions do not match our instructions, James says it is a dead faith that will be void of any fruit in our own lives, and those who hear us. In fact, when our actions do not conform to our speech it is usually a sign of hypocrisy.
There is yet another axiom that we are all familiar with that reveals the nature of hypocrisy. You have heard the saying, Do as I say, and not as I do. Jesus used a similar expression to expose the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, saying, All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not (Matthew 23:3). Jesus had earlier revealed the heart of their problem saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8). They paid Him homage with their lips, but their actions revealed the real motive of their heart.
Under the Old Covenant we had the Law of Moses, which was holy, and just and good (Romans 7:12). It was designed to make known the holiness of God and sinful nature of man. It revealed just how short man falls from the glory of God. It also revealed God's justice, that the wages of sin is death (Romans 8:23), and therefore it is appropriately called the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).
This law was inscribed with the finger of God on tablets of stone. However, there was the promise of a new covenant. The Lord said, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:16). This He would do by giving them a new heart and a new spirit. He said, I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
The fact of the matter is that, hard hearts are not very receptive to the law of God. They are stubborn, stiff-necked, and self-willed. However, when a sinner repents and believes the gospel, and receives Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, he is born again, or, born of the Spirit (John 3:3-6), and he now becomes subject to a higher law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).
God's law is written in their hearts, and now, the love of Christ constraineth us (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is the love of Christ, the love that brought Him to the cross to die in our place, which is the greatest motivating factor for our love and service to Him. Jesus said, If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). And, We love him, because he first loved us (1John 4:19).
When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus said, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks (Acts 26:14). Before Paul's conversion he was like a stubborn animal kicking at the goads in his harness, but after Christ found him, Paul's nature was completely changed. His attitude was now, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? (v. 15) His heart was now changed and receptive to the will of God.
Later in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he told them, ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3). With the law now written in their hearts, they had become epistles of God, known and read of all men (2 Corinthians 3:2). Having obtained redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins, and being delivered from the curse of the law, they could now serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).
The Bible has much to say about how we ought to walk in this world, however, it also has much to say on how the Christian should rule his tongue. In fact, how we speak in public constitutes part of our actions, so the King James translators translated the Greek word anastrophe, meaning conduct or behaviour, as conversation, for our actions are always speaking something to someone.
Clearly, our great example as to how we ought to conduct our self in this life is our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).
When Jesus was just twelve years old he was found in the temple of Jerusalem sitting in the midst of the teachers both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers (Luke 2:46-47). From the beginning of his public ministry, all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22), and others testified, never man spake like this man (John 7:46). Jesus always spoke into every situation with exactly the right words and in the right manner giving us the perfect example for the proper use of the tongue.
We are therefore admonished to follow His example. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man (Colossians 4:6). And again, Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers (Ephesians 4:29).
Paul also says, the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
We must remember when we are witnessing to others as an ambassador for Christ, the object is not to win an argument, but to win a soul. To strive or be argumentative will almost always result in those who oppose themselves standing firmer in their own opinions. We should earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), however, this does not mean we need to be contentious about it.
The Scriptures are full of such instructions. A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! (Proverbs 15:23) A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11). By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone (Proverbs 25:15). True compassion for the individual with a genuine concern for his soul will go a lot farther than strong rebukes and harsh answers. James says, if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (James 5:15).
There is another saying that goes like this, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, or, we have often heard the expression, Silence is golden. I'm sure we can all remember at one time or another, when it probably would have been better if we kept our comments to ourselves. As with many sayings of old, they likely originated from the Bible. Three millennia ago Solomon gave this advise. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2). He that hath knowledge spareth his words Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding (Proverbs 17:27-28). In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19).
In the New Testament there are similar sayings. Jesus said, But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6:7). Paul said that we should study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you (1 Thessalonians 4:11). James also says, Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19).
Even when we are slandered or defamed it would be better for us to be silent and turn the other cheek. Jesus did not defend himself when false accusations were brought against him before Pilate but answered nothing (Mark 15:5). In a court of law, the Miranda rights state, You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law Well there is a higher court than that of this world. Jesus said, But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matthew 12:36, 37).
Our tongue can be used to bless or curse. As Solomon said, Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Proverbs 18:21). It is important that our gift of speech be used for good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers, otherwise, simply put, it would be best if we kept our mouth shut.
Too much idleness leads to too much speaking, too much speaking often leads to gossip, the work of a busy body. Gossiping is usually plagues the character of those who will not work, but liveth in pleasure (1 Timothy 5:6). Such a person is spiritually dead (v. 6). And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not (1 Timothy 5:13). Peter says, let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters (1 Peter 4:15). Solomon spoke into this matter as well. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly (Proverbs 18:8). A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter (Proverbs 11:13). He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips (Proverbs 20:19). Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth (Proverbs 26:20).
The Scriptures are a wealth of instruction and knowledge for those who seek wisdom. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth (Colossians 3:8). Jesus said, But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man (Matthew 15:18). If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain (James 1:26). For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile (1Peter 3:10). He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue (Proverbs 28:23). Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles (Proverbs 21:23). A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).
There are certain things that Paul says, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints, these being, fornication, and all uncleaness, or coveteousness ... Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient (Ephesians 5:3-4). Many in this Laodicean era would be shocked to find in the Scriptures that fornication and filthiness are condemned and classed in the same category as foolish talking and jesting.
It is a great tragedy that the most popular preachers today are more akin to stand-up comedians than sober minded ministers of Christ. Some have tried to justify this form of carnality by saying that Paul is here referring only to coarse jesting, but if this is so, is it not strange that all forms of foolish talking and jesting are conspicuously missing from the sermons of Christ and the writings of Paul? Preachers from days gone by found sin and salvation such serious matters, that foolish talking and other forms of humour found no place in their sermons.
Paul told Timothy to shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). In Proverbs we are told, The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness (Proverbs 15:2). Let us understand that this does not mean that the believer walks around like a sad sack all the day long, for A merry heart doeth good like a medicine (Proverbs 17:22).
There is much that bring us joy and gladness, much to be happy and cheerful about, causing our hearts to rejoice. Above all, the Lord Jesus Christ, His wonderful Word, God's wonderful salvation, His mighty deliverance, His marvellous provisions, His exceeding grace and mercy to name a few. He has been so good to us, how can we not rejoice in the Lord always? Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Jesus said, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Psalmist said, in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). There is much in the Scriptures to make our heart merry, but at the same time, let us note, that not once do we see our Lord or the apostles caught up in foolish talking or jesting.
In the book of Romans, Paul spoke of both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:9-10). He then went on to say, Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness (v. 13-14). But Jesus said, these signs shall follow them that believe they shall speak with new tongues (Mark 16:17).
This is truly one of the great signs of regeneration. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). James said that no man can tame the tongue, but Jesus can. As the Lord told Moses long ago, when Moses questioned how he could be a spokesperson for God, knowing full well that his mouth was not capable to righteously represent the most high God, He said, Who hath made man's mouth? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say (Exodus 4:11-12).
May we be diligent in the teachings of the Scriptures, that we may know how ye ought to answer every man (Colossians 4:6), and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
We have heard time an again what an effect this new tongue has had on people who have not yet believed, especially when it is in harmony with our walk. Let us be careful to guard our every word and action for we have become an epistle of Christ known and read of all men (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).