The Tongue: How to Discipline a Fire (Part 1)

I’m sure all of us could give several examples of what awesome power the written or spoken word has in our lives or in the lives of others in positive and negative ways. Nations have risen and fallen based on how certain people used their tongue either in what they said that should not have been said, or in what should have been said but was never said. Lives have been elevated and lives have been torn apart by human speech.

The Power of the Tongue

We all understand how at one minute, goodness can flow from our mouths like a “sweet river,” and a few seconds later, we can construct a cesspool of words that can rip a person to pieces, threaten to destroy a relationship, damage a marriage, bring division to a family, or do serious harm to a church or ministry. I believe that is why the Holy Spirit inspired James to write the following words:

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. …The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God, from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:1-10)

I’m glad God gave us this passage and warned us about the potential of the tongue.

The Tongue as a Spirituality Barometer

The first principle I have to focus on is remembering that controlling the tongue is a true test of my spirituality! I have to remind myself of what James wrote in James 1:26: If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Like a skilled surgeon, James cuts right to the heart of the issue of genuine Christianity.

Jesus made some very direct statements to challenge us in this area: “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, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:33-34). Jesus makes it clear – my tongue will eventually reveal what is in my heart! In other words, if you listen to each other long enough, we will know each other’s true heart.

If my tongue is habitually unbridled – though my church attendance is perfect, my bible study is consistent, my prayers are genuine, my giving financially is generous and faithful, and even if I consider myself to be religious … I have deceived myself, and I really need to change!

I can think of it this way: My words are a mirror of my inner man. This is especially true when I’m under pressure – because pressure doesn’t make me what I am, pressure reveals what I am and shows me ways I need to change and grow! James is not talking about perfection, or saying that those who sometimes fall into this sin have a worthless religion (we all need to grow and change in many ways). James is saying that if my tongue is habitually unbridled – though my church attendance is perfect, my bible study is consistent, my prayers are genuine, my giving financially is generous and faithful, and even if I consider myself to be religious … I have deceived myself, and I really need to change!

I have to be honest and ask myself some convicting questions:

  • How would others rate my ability to control my tongue?
  • If I could replay all my spoken words in the last month, could I play that on Sunday morning and let the whole church hear what I have said?
  • Do I talk too much or speak to harshly?
  • Do I say things behind a person’s back what I would never say to their face?
  • In what way(s) do I function as if I view it as my job to set everybody straight?

One of the motivating factors that should help me to control my tongue is what Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”

Have you had some measure of success in allowing God to control your tongue? What principles or techniques have been helpful to you?

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