When the tongue is not controlled, reputations are wounded. Affairs begin by reckless and wild words. Pastors are ruined and churches are split by men and women who cannot speak charitably. Children are scarred for life by harsh words spoken by parents. Consider how you have grieved God and harmed your neighbor. Consider how you have tormented your children and spouse. Consider how hellish has been your communication habits.
Pre-marital counseling is one of my favorite things to do as a minister of the Gospel. Both spouses are so loving, optimistic, and teachable. They are willing to read, do their homework, speak open and honestly, and confess their transgressions. They are desperate not to do anything that might mess up their budding relationship which is intended to resemble Christ and his Church.
Post-marriage counseling is not so much fun. Frankly, it is one of things that weighs most heavily on my soul and brings grey hair to my head. Not in my tenure as a minister has anyone requested a post-marriage check-up just to insure all is OK. No, the only reason people request a counseling session from me is because something is wrong. Usually, by the time they schedule their appointment, their marriage is in a disastrous state of emergency. And when they finally find themselves in the pastor’s office, they are almost always willing to speak. With great passion they criticize their spouse. Then they pontificate telling me how I should fix the other spouse. Sadly, few are optimistic and teachable. Few are willing to read, do their homework, and honestly address and confess their own sin. No, post-marriage counseling is not high on my list of favorite things to do.
Well, after twelve years of being a pastor and counselor, I can give you my list of marriage killers. Sexual sin and financial mismanagement would be high on the list, but these almost always comes after another sin. The sin of which I speak is sinful communication, and it seems that James, the Senior Minister in Jerusalem, encountered this same problem as well:
James 3:1–12 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
According to Pastor James, the tongue is incredibly powerful and beneficial when controlled. It can be used in a worshipful manner that pleases God and encourage those made in His image. The tongue has such potential to be constructive.
However, like wine and guns, the tongue can also be very damaging and destructive if used in an abusive and uncontrolled manner. The tongue is full of deadly poison, and if it is not used righteously, it can lead the way in sinning against God and neighbor.
James then shares the really bad news. Because no one is perfect, the tongue is impossible to control. He makes no exceptions when he states, “No being can tame the tongue.” And because of this, the tongue is “set on fire from hell.” It is a promoter of unrighteousness; it is a restless evil that first defiles one’s entire being then continues on to ruin one’s entire life.
What then is the solution? At this point, James is not being original. He plagiarizes Jesus who said, “… The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean ….” (Matthew 15:18-20) The key to the tongue is the heart. When the old nature rules, the tongue will prove this by engaging in sinful conversation. When the new nature rules, that which proceeds from man’s mouth will bring glory to God.
So what ought we to do with this information?
First, let us be honest and acknowledge how sinfully we use our tongue. Perhaps you are profane, impure and perverse in your manner of communication? Perhaps you are a liar; one who tells tales; one who keeps not his vows? Perhaps you are a blasphemous heretic spouting spiritual nonsense? Perhaps you are a great boaster and promoter of self; people around you are always invited to join in and sing your praise? Perhaps you are sour and bitter? Perhaps you are ungrateful and persistently complaining? Perhaps you are a slanderer, gossiper or busy-body? Perhaps you nag and have a horrible sense of timing. When the tongue is not controlled, reputations are wounded. Affairs begin by reckless and wild words. Pastors are ruined and churches are split by men and women who cannot speak charitably. Children are scarred for life by harsh words spoken by parents. Consider how you have grieved God and harmed your neighbor. Consider how you have tormented your children and spouse. Consider how hellish has been your communication habits. Consider the words of God, “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) Don’t read on … yet. Let this burn for just a moment.
Secondly, let us use our tongue rightly and pray for forgiveness. Jesus Christ never spoke an unrighteous word, yet he was crucified for your sinful statements. He will save your soul and take residence within you if you pray. He promised such in Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Use your mouth right now in a way that makes the Father smile and the angels sing.
Thirdly, call upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. Part of his ministry is to fruit you with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To add these characteristics to your speech would do you and your friends a world of good. Christ will save you from hell; his Spirit will save you from your sinful manner of communication. Perhaps you should pray and memorize the following verses today:
Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 141:3 Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Colossians 3:15-17 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Fourthly, let us practice using our tongue rightly. The best way to root out old habits is to replace them with something new. When one wishes to lose weight, the best thing to do is not to quit eating, but to start eating correctly. Christians are to put off old ways of living, and put on new and holy practices. So why don’t you try to do the following every day this week:
- Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone
- Encourage a friend to keep going
- Pay a compliment or congratulate someone on an accomplishment
- Pray for someone in your closet
- Pray with someone in person
- Express your gratefulness; show appreciation with words
- Read the Scripture with your spouse and children
Finally, let us confess our sins one to another. Go ahead and relearn the practice of saying, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?” You may have to pick your spouse up off the floor, but it will be well worth the physical exertion.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.