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The Ungovernable Tongue

by Sister Shannon Shafer
Especially for our Young People

There is a member of the human body that the Bible has a lot to say about. 

James, in particular, put special emphasis on the power of the tongue. The first thing that he had to say about the tongue is in James 1:26. He said, “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.”

To bridle something means to restrain, guide or govern, to check, curb, or control. James, through divine inspiration, wanted to get the message across to the Judean Church and to us who read the Bible today that we must govern our tongues; an inability to do this indicates that our religion is useless.

To be sure, James had experienced his share of interactions with so-called “Christians” who were argumentative, brassy, teachers of false doctrines, and expressive of hateful and angry attitudes. He wanted it to be made clear that true, authentic religion will give one the power to govern the tongue.

 As Henry Halley put it in his Halley’s Bible Handbook: “The tongue is the main expression of our personality and usually calls forth an immediate reaction, of one kind or another, in others.”

In what ways can the tongue be used negatively?

To tell a lie: Proverbs 19:5, “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.”

Killing a person’s spirit with words: Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

Gossiping: Proverbs 18:8, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”

Filthy talk: Colossians 3:8, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”

Cursing: Psalm 10:7, “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.”

In what ways can the tongue be used positively?

To encourage someone: Acts 27:25, “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.”

To rejoice: Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”

To sing praises to God: Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Express kindness: Proverbs 31:26, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

Pray: 1 Timothy 2:8, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

James 3:5-6, “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.”

The tongue is like a fire, an instrument of punishment, a propellor of violence, an expressive force of passion, and a devourer. What it kindles and what it burns can never be restored to its rightful state.

Hurtful or inconsiderate words can be apologized for, but can we heal the wounds that they have caused?

Let us consider the power of the tongue and handle it with great care. What we speak we can never take back again. Here are some helpful ways that you can govern your tongue.

Really listen before answering. James 1:19, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

Ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say helpful, encouraging, or positive?” Proverbs 15:28, “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”

Keep in mind that there is a time to keep silent, and a time to speak. It is not always wisdom to express your feelings or opinions. Ecclesiastes 3:7, “…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”

Know that a soft answer turns away wrath. Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

Remember what Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”