The 18th Century preacher, John Wesley, dressed sharp in his day. One Sunday morning he wore a bow tie with long ribbons that hung down. After his sermon, a lady approached him and asked if he was open to some criticism. He said, “I guess so.” She said, "The ribbons on your tie are too long and inappropriate for a man of God." And she took out her scissors and cut them. A hush fell over the crowd. Then Wesley asked to borrow the scissors. As she handed him the scissors, he asked, "Ma’am, are you open to some criticism?" She answered, "Well, I suppose.” He said, "Good. Now stick out your tongue!"
Years ago I had a routine mammogram.I always go first thing in the morning because they say not to wear deodorant. For the unfamiliar, here’s how it works: the tech smashes each breast down inside of an archaic vise grip, and just when you think your breast can’t get any flatter, she tightens the vise two more notches. Good times—not to mention the invisible curry cloud preceding me as I enter the room.
So the radiology tech put the lead apron around my waist, and started asking the usual questions: Are you wearing any deodorant? When was your last period? Any chance that you are pregnant? Since I answered all questions correctly, I expected my imaging to begin.Nope. More questions. Do you have kids? Well how long have you been married? Well then why don’t you have kids? Have you ever been pregnant? Why not? Is something wrong with your husband?
I kept thinking, “Stop…talking.” (A paraphrase.) Because as much as I relished the unsolicited fertility counseling, I feared one of us would end up on the news. I just wanted to put on my deodorant and go home.
People have used some harsh words against me. And by people I mean women. Not sure if you’ve heard of the movie Mean Girls. Even Hollywood agrees women can be mean. With our tongues, we women nag, shame, gossip, and wound.
Thank heavens I’m not that annoying with my words…Except for the fact my husband says I’m quick with my tongue.I love it when he shows me the truth about myself.
The devil says our words aren’t that bad…I don’t yell like my mother, or lie like my boss. It’s not gossip because I’m bless-her-heart-concerned about her.
James 3:3-8 addressed the early Jewish believers. (In case you missed that, James addressed believers—not unbelievers.) James illustrates three destructive attributes of the tongue: it is powerful, polluted, and poisonous.
James says the horse’s bit and ship’s rudder, both small trivial objects, steer or control large objects. This small organ has huge impact. Last year the Northern California fires destroyed almost 200,000 acres. We would never toss a lit match out a car window while passing a national forest. But we toss fiery words out of our mouths as we pass through life; and then seem astonished when everything around us burns down. In other words, sin spreads like fire from our words to the rest of our lives. God used words to create the heavens and the earth. God spoke…it came into existence. Words have power.
The word translated ‘hell’ is “Gehenna”. This small area south of Jerusalem was used as a garbage dump, and a place for human sacrifices—akin to the lake of fire. James says evil words come from hell itself. James goes on to say one can control a wild animal easier than one can control this beast called the tongue.
By the way, harsh words don’t motivate other people to change. How ironic that we use our tongues to control others, when the Bible says the tongue needs controlling. This has implications for married women, as many men prefer the bar over sitting at home with a nagging wife.
But James says the tongue is impossible to subdue. So how do we get our tongues under control? By yielding—trusting God with our circumstances and relationships. But why don’t we trust him? What feels threatened? Our self-esteem? Our security? It’s challenging. But if we say we believe the gospel, then we must believe God can change our words.
But the devil says our words are neutral. Untrue. Our words either glorify God or glorify Satan. The devil pats us on the back for cussing less than our foul-mouthed neighbors. But our neighbors do not set the bar for holiness. God does. The devil says angry outbursts carry no consequences. Untrue. Like a venomous snake, bitter words bite and kill. Our words matter to God.
So instead of bursting forth without thinking, perhaps we ought to bite our tongues, and ask God to reveal the internal threats that compel us to lash out. Because words don’t evaporate, and we will eat the fruit of the words we speak.
In a world of discouragers, believers have a duty to encourage others. Pastor Paul David Tripp puts it well. “Our words ought to be like silver boxes with bows on top.” Only humans can communicate with words. We’ve got to use this God-given gift responsibly. Remember, taming the tongue is God’s idea, and only He can tame it.