We were dazzled last Sunday by wisdom and authority as a sister shared with us about the tongue. Unlike cows, for example (we do not know if cows have deep thoughts, but they cannot speak to share them with us), we can communicate. Because we can communicate we can organise. Our words influence others – they can create negative as well as positive things.
In 1 Peter 2:9 it says that if you can’t bridle your tongue your religion is useless: or for the word religion ‘worship’. Your worship is worthless if you don’t control your tongue. Martin Luther was a great man of God. Yet his deep-seated anti-semitism was a defense invoked by Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials – they were only following Luther’s suggestions.
Your tongue is a spiritual wysiwyg – what you see is what you get. Dale Carnegie’s bestseller ‘How to win friends and influence people’ was full of advice such as ‘use your tongue positively: never complain; value people; admit when you’re strong’. He himself admitted he stole all his good ideas from Jesus. That wisdom is our birthright – Christians should be appropriating this wisdom!
Careless words (see Matt 12) can wound. Negative words spoken in your childhood can direct your future destiny. For instance, if you were trying to play the piano as a child and your father says: “You’ll never be any good at music”, that will probably be the case. We also reproduce what we experience. If we have been mocked and bullied as a child, we will be in the habit of taunting and mocking others. Every plant that has not been sown by God He wants to uproot.
Bad habits of the tongue
Grumbling and negative speaking is the Devil’s radio frequency. We can talk ourselves out of blessing, just as the children of Israel talked themselves out of the Promised Land and wandered in the wilderness. Grumbling is literally the opposite to worship. God does not dwell in the grumbling of His people! 1 Thess 5:18 says to give thanks in all circumstances.
As the English, we should beware of stoicism, which is Greek philosophy, not Christianity. Rather, we ought to be honest with each other, and bear each other’s burdens. This is not the same as grumbling. We can still weep with each other and worship God.
Criticising other believers is like partnering with the devil, and can sow disunity in the Body.
Also, when we withhold saying kind things or praising others we are missing out. One man said he doesn’t like to praise others because it might lead to pride. But by that logic, pointing out other peoples’ mistakes should lead to humility – and that doesn’t work! However, one negative word from a teacher can crush a child’s confidence, and it might take that child’s mother a large number of encouraging words to repair the damage. Be generous, and take every opportunity to build each other up.
The hint in James 3 is that we can’t easily change our speech habits; every creature can be tamed, but not the tongue. This is because, as Jesus teaches, the mouth speaks ‘out of the overflow of the heart’. For example, do you allow your opinions too free a rein? If someone else disagrees with us, do we get defensive about it? Have you ever asked Jesus: “What is your opinion on that?” Jesus never expressed His own opinions, but only the will of the Father. This is why He spoke with such authority. Our opinions can be like strongholds which He may want to demolish before we have more authority.
Prov 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts. We should be careful what we listen to, as it goes from our heads to our hearts very quickly, for example television programmes, newspapers, other people, books that we read.
A sudden wicked thought in our heads is not a sin; but if we harbour it and allow it to take root, then it is. We are called to take it captive and make it obedient to Christ. We don’t have to blab out every thought that enters our minds. The context of the verse in 2 Cor. 10:3-5 is of spiritual warfare. The mind is the first defence in the spiritual battle.
A cruel trick of the devil is to mimic our own voice. For example you look at yourself in the mirror and the thought enters your head: “I’m so ugly”. The devil puts it in first person so we think it’s ourselves. Watch out for this trick and don’t listen to the lies.
Jesus was the only perfect man – he could control his tongue! The temple guards who were sent to arrest him couldn’t bring themselves to do it because they said no one spoke like him! Peter said of him ‘you have the words of eternal life’.
Fasting from negative words for a whole week would make you happier! It would be a useful exercise to try. The world certainly gives us enough to grumble and complain about – but it focuses us on the world. Phil 4:8 speaks of focusing on whatever is lovely, noble, true and pure, anything admirable. In Psalm 103 David commands his own soul to bless the Lord. We all know that God has done good things for us. But if we regularly thank him for specific things – start articulating what he has done – it will always lift our mood.
God is not condemning us in our speech, but he wants us to come into our inheritance. He wants us to move into joy and more power. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.