Taming the Tongue

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from trouble.” Proverbs 21:23

Just last week I found myself in a very vulnerable position in which God began to teach me truth about living a Christ-centered life. It was eight in the morning, I had yet to have my first cup of coffee, I was reclined back in the dentist chair with my head below my feet and two sets of hands were in my mouth when I heard the dentist say, “Donald you’re going to have to learn to control your tongue. With as many times as you’ve been in here this last year I would’ve thought you’d have tamed that tongue by now.”

Wow! What profound words. It was as if the voice coming from behind that bright light and spectacles was God saying, “Donald, you’ve been a Christian for a while now. I would’ve thought you’d have tamed that tongue by now.” These words did not come as I was losing control of my tongue through speaking. I was not lying, boasting, gossiping, or speaking evil. In fact, I was physically being prevented from saying anything at all. Yet in the midst of my tongue being restrained by the dental assistant, the point was made. God was concerned with the actions of my tongue, the words coming from my mouth, just as He was with my actions of my life and the fruit I produced.

The believers’ life is one that is called to be brought into submission to the Spirit of God. In Mark 12:30 we see the two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… and love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet often it is the tongue that takes us away from doing just that. The tongue can harm our relationship with God and our relationship with others. It can dictate life!  Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

In James chapter 3 we find that the man who can control is tongue can “bridle the whole body as well.” James describes the tongue as a bit in a horses’ mouth or the rudder on a ship. Both objects (the horse and ship) have immense power behind them but their direction is dictated by something small … as with the tongue. The same can be said with the human life, even the life of those who follow Jesus Christ. The tongue often dictates our actions, our efforts, and our power. Our words have profound effects on those around us and to those at whom they are directed. Yet because they come from such a small part of our body we often neglect our words.

As the dentist neared the end of his work in my mouth he said, “Now Donald, hold really still and keep that tongue out of the way. Keep it as far back as you can because it can ruin all that we have done so far.” James ascribes the image of the destructive power of the tongue to that of the flame to a forest fire. As the song says, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”, the same is true with the destructive power of the tongue. As my tongue could have ruined all the dentist had done by knocking something out of place or allowing moisture to get into the wrong spot, so can our tongue destroy all that has been accomplished in and through us. Our reputation, our motives, our love of God and obedience to His words can all be brought into questions and even destroyed by that which our tongue produced. Our credibility with the gospel message can be permanently damaged by such a small part of our body. James says, “From the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing.”

What does that mean for us as believers? After all, James does say that “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” Does that mean there is no hope? Far from it! If you read further in James you see he makes a distinction between that which comes from man and that which comes from God in heaven. Paul would describe this as our human (flesh) nature on one side and Christ who lives in us on the other. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, “I have bee crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

So, as believers, Christ lives in us and we are dead to our old selves. This is true with the tongue as well. The “fleshly” nature of the tongue no longer controls us but through the power of our risen Lord it can now be put into submission to Him and controlled. Yet, often we do not fully submit our tongue to God. We may lay it at His feet but we often pick it back up. I encourage you to live out your life with every part of you, even your tongue, in constant submission to the One who lives in you.

I didn’t know the extent of the damage my tongue could have caused as I sat in the dentist chair and I still don’t because I choose to obey the dentist and keep my tongue as still as possible. I pray the same for each of us as we seek to live out our lives in submission to the Lord. 1 Peter 3:10 says, “Let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” May we be people who mean to love life and see good days for the glory of God as we tame our tongues and keep them from deceit. Let us keep our tongues out of the way and allow God to work in and through us without the hindrance that is so often spoken of in Scripture.

P.S. As I finished writing I was invited to participate in a “lunch meeting” at Panda Express. Here is the fortune that came out of my cookie, “The Superior Person is Modest In Speech But Exceeds In Action.”

No Joke!



He Must Increase

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

As Christians we often have an attitude contrary to the words of John the Baptist in this passage. We take on the mind-set that for Christ to increase we must increase as well. The perception of our participation in the work of God has been inflated to the point where Christians view the advance of God through their own blessing or position. We do not understand how our decrease could be advantageous to the increase of the working of God around us. Yet, that is what this passage calls us to.

It is hard to grasp the understanding and calmness of John the Baptist in this passage. In the preceding verses his disciples come to him with the concerns that people are going to Jesus instead of John for baptism. There is an attitude of concern and maybe even competition on behalf of his disciples. Isn’t John “The voice calling our in the wilderness” (John 1:23), doesn’t he call the people to “repent” (Matt. 3:1-2), and isn’t he the one referred to by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 40:30)? They had heard him testify about Jesus but they could not see how fewer people coming to John for the baptism of repentance and purification, and more seeking out Jesus could advance the Kingdom of God. What would this mean for them?

John the Baptist makes it clear that all authority, power, position, reputation, and even message is given from heaven. He then sets himself apart from Jesus, elevating Jesus in verses 31-34. For, Jesus comes from heaven and testifies about what He knows, baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). John the Baptist, being only a man, can only testify to the things of earth which he knows, baptizing with water for repentance (Matt. 3:11). He makes it clear that he is only a messenger while Jesus is the Son of God. The Father gives “all things” into the hands of Jesus and it is only those “who believe in the Son” who have eternal life. John the Baptist is telling his disciples that their message and baptism pale in comparison to that if Jesus. Thiers is for purification while His is for salvation. It is the working of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the lives of people that is important and not John or his disciples. He says, “I must decrease so I can point more people in the direction of Jesus and not retain them with my message.” For John the Baptist, it is not about his message or the blessings he receive but about pointing others to the Son of God.

Often as Christians we claim to know that our role is to be pointing others to Jesus and the salvation only He can bring. Yet, there are many times we allow our message, our position, and our desires to be in opposition to people coming to Jesus. I do not say this lightly or with the presumption that this occurs out of malice intent or even with the knowledge of our opposition, though at times it may. We allow our lives for Christ to become a distraction to the gospel message.

As Christians we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, yet we still struggle with our human nature and earthly desires. John the Baptist was aware that while he knew his role was to prepare the way for Jesus and point people towards Him, he did so from an earthly point of view. We also must be aware of this. It is our human nature and earthly desire that does not understand how our decrease could promote His increase.

I am aware that often my thoughts, troubles, and desire can distract me from God. Often it can be good and right things that are distractions. I can get so focused on myself, my calling, and my blessings that I get distracted from God. Sadly this may even hinder others from focusing on God. Oswald Chambers says, “The more you realize yourself the less you will seek God.” Yet, we must seek to live with the attitude we find in John the Baptist, we must seek to decrease so Christ can increase.

Once we put our trust in God and become followers of Christ, a whole new world of opportunities and blessings open up to us. We must fight against the desire to see these opportunities as “rights”. As children of God we are endowed with rights and responsibilities, yet we must use our right to relinquish our rights to God and allow Him to choose for us and direct us. Otherwise it becomes more about us and less about Him. We increase and He decreases.

Often we seek things we feel are our rights as believers or things we believe God desires for us, yet we seek ourselves over God. It may be the single person who desires to be married, the married couple who desires a child, or one called to vocational ministry who seeks a position. Things which are good and desirable, yet our desiring can be a hindrance to Gods working and presence in our lives. Chambers says, “Whenever right is made the guidance in the life, it will blunt the spiritual insight. The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough.”

May you be encouraged in your life of faith and may that life be lived in pursuit of pointing others to Christ above all. May you decrease so that He may increase. As Christ pours out His blessing upon your life, may you never seek the good things of God above God himself. As John the Baptist was in complete surrender to the will and nature of Christ, I pray the same for all of us as we seek to live a life of faith and obedience.