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!



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