Point of Reference
by Fred Price
How important is it for us to control our tongues? Before you answer, think back on how much hurt, frustration and anger you’ve experienced or seen in church, school and work as a result of what someone has said. The good and bad achieved through the spoken word is at times surprising, prompting James to lament that, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing... this should not be. ” James 3:9,10
The Bible addresses the problems of back-biting, gossiping and cursing in many different places throughout scripture, always warning against such behavior and promising punishment for those who engage in it; again, none more straight-forward than in James. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26 We must intentionally guard how we respond and what we say, purposefully considering how we express ourselves. It is so easy at times to just begin talking, saying whatever comes to mind; heedless of the consequences and impact it may have on others; sometimes intentionally, oftentimes unintentionally. The writer of Proverbs warning, “Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.” Proverbs 10:19
Part of the Christian experience is learning how to control what we do and say. James making an interesting analogy when he says, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise 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 person, sets the whole course of his life on fire,...” James 3:3-6
That’s not to say we’re incapable of saying good things but that the good we do say can be so quickly compromised by the ungrateful, disrespectful and thoughtless things that we express as well. Right or wrong, people will often remember and judge our entire lives and actions by what we have said more than what we have done, because words at times can be more directly aimed at a person. Again, James speaks to this issue of how we can more effectively relate to others by being “...quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19.
James seems quite pessimistic about our ability to control what we say, stating that in his opinion, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.” James 3:7 He is correct in that none of us has been able to guard and control everything said during every moment and situation, but we can listen to what we say, pay attention to how we respond, control the words we use and the emotion with which we use them – if we want to! We must take ourselves, our witness, and our words seriously. It is important, with real consequences for those we speak to as well as for ourselves. Matthew records Jesus speaking to the religious leaders of His day, those who should have had the most good to say but did not. His chastisement of them can and should speak volumes to us as well. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit....(As) Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word that they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:33-37
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good, he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:8-12
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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