Controlling the Tongue

By Colonel Genevera Vincent

I remember as a child repeating the words of the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s very interesting that the words were often repeated through tears and sobs as a defense against an unkind word spoken or name calling. The defense was very weak as there is no shred of truth to the adage. Words are indeed powerful and can hurt deeply! Because words are powerful, we need to choose them carefully.

Rotary International has what they call, “The Four-Way Test” …of the things we think, say, or do…

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build good will and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

I love this four-way test and I believe that if we all incorporated it in our lives, a lot of damage could be avoided.

Incidents from childhood and even adulthood may be foggy preventing us from recalling all the particulars of the incident, but we often will remember words spoken…both negative and positive. As children of God, it is very important that we have good control of the tongue. That may come easy for some people, and it may require great discipline for others. I am sure we all wish we could take back unkind words spoken. While we can’t take back words once they are spoken, “I’m sorry” is undeniably powerful and often life giving!

We have all no doubt heard it said that we should listen twice as much as we speak. There is such truth to that statement, and we would do well to heed its warning. I believe words come from a deep place within us and when we are personally troubled by the words we speak and wish we could take them back, we may need to ask deeper questions:

  • Why do I react with words the way I do?
  • Is there something from my past that I am still holding onto that causes me to say the things I say?

If we want to flourish, and be deeply rooted in the spiritual disciplines, we need to exercise great control and wisdom with our words. The Bible says a great deal about the tongue and words.

In Matthew 15:11, Jesus said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth. That is what makes him unclean.” The disciples asked Jesus to further explain to them what he meant by that, and his response was, simply put, eating something without washing your hands does not make a person unclean, but the words spoken from his lips does, because words essentially come from the heart. It is out of the heart that evil thoughts, murder, adultery etc. come.

There is much wisdom to be gained from the Proverbs. I am quoting several Proverbs here that we might need to sit with for a moment or two, drinking in the truth and sitting quietly, ask ourselves, “How are these Proverbs showing up in my life? Are they showing up at all? What do I need to do to ensure that my life and words reflect Jesus?”

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)
“He who guards his mouth, and his tongue, keeps himself from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23)
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” (Proverbs16:23)
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

James also speaks about the importance of control of the tongue. He refers to it as taming the tongue. He says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (3:6) Taming the tongue may not always be easy but it certainly is essential for the child of God. We want our words to matter, to heal, to edify, to be life giving. I am grateful that with the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, it is possible to tame the tongue and for our words to be encouraging and uplifting to our fellow man and honoring to God.

I think we would all admit that at times we get it wrong, no matter how well intentioned we are, no matter how close we walk with God. We must admit that sometimes we are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. It’s bound to happen; we are human after all. None of us will be perfect, this side of eternity. To flourish in the spiritual disciplines requires us to admit when our words are not edifying and apologize when necessary. An apology is truly life giving!

I pray that as we seek to control the tongue, we will, with the Psalmist David say, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my tongue” (Psalm 34:1). With God’s praise on our tongue, we can’t go wrong! With God’s praise on our tongue, we will flourish!