Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

How to Tame the Tongue

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Do some damage control. We might have to start by doing some damage control. Some of the best words we can ever say are “I’m sorry.” Proverbs says in chapter 12 verse 15 that “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes…” Since we all in what we say, saying “I’m sorry” a lot is an absolute necessity for a relationship to remain close. If you’re in a marriage or a close friendship or if you’re a parent and these words aren’t on your lips a lot then something is probably very wrong. Taming the tongue means doing some damage control.

Listen and think. We should listen and think before we respond. Prov. 18:13: “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” Also, Prov. 15:28: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil things.” Both of these verses suggest that we listen before we respond and we think through what we say before we say it. Often times as we do that we’ll have some doubts about what we intended at first to say. A good rule of thumb is, if in doubt, don’t say it. There is a sense here that we should slow down in our speech. Sometimes we’re impressed with the one who has a quick response, but usually that’s a recipe for disaster, especially when emotions are out of control.

Deal with the source. Proverbs also suggests that we go to the source of our words. The source of what comes out of our mouths is what lies beneath the surface. The real issue is our heart. Prov. 4:23-24: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put devious lips far from you.” It would be a mistake if you somehow got the idea that the way to respond to this is to go out and try really hard to control your tongue. The real problem is not with our tongue but with our heart. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” When I shake a salt shaker, what comes out? Salt. Why does salt come out and not something else? Because there’s salt inside. What else could possibly come out of the shaker than what’s in it? You see, whatever is in your heart comes out of you—especially when people shake you. When I give in to the temptation to say something harsh or cruel, I realize that the problem isn’t with my vocal chords—the problem is with my heart. I see who I am by the words I speak. It’s the same for all of us. Your words reveal who you really are.

In order to change our words, we must change our hearts. But how do we do that? When my dad had a heart attack years ago, his doctor told him he needed bypass surgery. Obviously, my dad couldn’t perform the operation on himself, but neither could the doctor if my dad didn’t cooperate. He had to submit himself to the surgeon so the surgeon could do his job. In the same way, if you want a changed heart, you have to submit yourself to God so he can change you. In the Psalms, David wrote, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” (Ps 51:10). That’s where you start. To change your heart, give it to God. Submit it to him. The key to taming the tongue is to keep our heart yielded to the Lord. That’s impossible unless you have Jesus dwelling in your heart, but when we invite Christ to come into our lives he comes in and he begins a process of transformation from the inside out. From that point on we have a choice to yield to the Spirit or yield to the flesh. Going to the source means yielding to the Spirit; it means repenting of my bitterness, jealousy, selfishness and lack of faith which gave rise to harsh words in the first place.

As I think about the powerful impact that our words have on our relationships I’m reminded that one of the great themes of Scripture is the idea that God himself has spoken to us. Our God is a God who speaks. But, how does he speak to us?  Hebrews 1:1-2a says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. But in these last days he has spoken to us through His Son…” You see, the preeminent way that God has spoken to us is through the One who is called the Word of God, Jesus Christ. He is the “Word made flesh.” He’s the communication of God to us. He’s the one who expresses to us the heart of the Father. And what a word that is! Sometimes we question how important our words really are. We say, “Oh, mere words, what can they do?” But if anything should convince us of the importance of words in our relationships it is this fact that when God chose to speak to us he chose to speak in one word—his Son. This wasn’t a careless word, was it? This was communication at its best.

As God’s beloved children who have his Spirit dwelling within, we have the privilege of imitating his gracious speech. No one can tame the tongue; you can’t, I can’t. But there is One who can. Will you come to him and ask him to heal your tongue?

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