Emile Seckinger has a blog named, “Pay Attention to the Details.” In one of her posts, she points out ten deadly uses of the tongue that are addressed in Scripture: telling untruths, stirring up division, dishing the dirt, passing along false information, breaking confidences, spreading curses instead of blessings, using God’s word in a self-serving way, spewing sewer speech, habitually speaking strife, spreading pessimism.
Whoa! This list makes me wonder if I should ever open my mouth!
In the New Testament book that bears his name, James calls on Christians to avoid behaviors that do not reflect the love and life of Jesus. Like Emilie, James warns against the misuse of our tongues. In chapter three he writes this:
The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)
James goes on to say that the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” and that “no human being can tame the tongue.” Is James presenting a hopeless situation? How on earth can we get control of our tongues if we’re incapable of doing so?
Throughout his letter, James has been showing us that we are to both hear and do the word of God (which he calls “the perfect law that gives freedom”). He shows that we do so, not through our own efforts, but through our relationship with God, where, by the Spirit, we participate in Jesus’ own love and life.
And here’s the good news: Jesus has perfect control of his tongue, which means not that he is mute, but that he never tears down or condemns. Rather, he speaks only what is redeeming and life-giving. What James is showing us is that as we abide with Christ, he “rubs off” on us, and by the power of his Spirit, our tongues fall in line.
I don’t have the power needed to tame my unruly tongue, and neither do you, but Jesus, at work in us by the Spirit, does. And so we join with David, who in Psalm 19:14 (ESV) prays these words: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
This is Greg Williams, speaking of life.