One of the most disheartening things about the current state of our country is the unharnessing of the tongue. The idea that I can say anything to anyone, without thought, is contrary to the way I was raised. The adage that if I can’t say something nice, I don’t say anything at all, was drilled into my childhood. Backtalk was not tolerated. A haughty attitude wasn’t either. Confrontation was avoided. And while it may have been unbalanced in the sense of suppressing my feelings at times, overall it was a good general guideline to treat others with respect and if I couldn’t, to keep my mouth shut. This idea forced me to look for ways to respect those with whom I disagreed in order to enter into respectful dialog, either that or to disengage with them all together.
In this day and time, the tongue (and I count what fingers type as part of the tongue) has been unleashed in the name of having a voice. All the years of not speaking up has led to an overflow of opinions being shared and speaking whatever thought comes into our heads because it is our “right to free speech.” True. We have the right to say whatever we want, but though everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial, not everything is edifying. That is not in the constitution, it is in the Bible.
I find myself disoriented by the bubbling up and spewing of what feels like poison. It is contrary to my sense of decorum, but more than that it is vile. Even more concerning is the attempt by some to align many of the words I hear and read with the heart of God. If what I hear is the representation of him, then I certainly don’t want to follow his ways. I guess that is my dilemma, listening to friends and foes alike say they know him and are following him, when words and actions are contrary to what he says.
- Ephesians 5:19 – Sepak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
- Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
- Proverbs 10:19 – Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.
- Proverbs 15:4 – The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
- Matthew 15:11 – What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
- Psalm 141:3 – Set a guard over my mouth, Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.
- Proverbs 12:18-19 – The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
- Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
- Proverbs 6:16-19 – There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, and heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
- Proverbs 18:2 – Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.
- Proverbs 18:5 – It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.
- James 3:3-6 – When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.
- James 3:8-9 – But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
- Proverbs 18:21 – Life and death are in the power of the tongue.
After first reading, I think of all the people who need to hear these words. I think of the fools and liars I know of and I wish they would read them and understand their plight…but I never consider myself to be one of them. I don’t think of the log in my own eye, because I am so worried about the speck in the eyes of others. Maybe you are like me after reading these passages. Instead of holding up the mirror of scripture to see my own reflection, I use it to tear down the (name of political party) or (name of candidate), or my (family and friends). Does my reflection look anything like those verses? Or am I ignoring what I see and bulldozing others with my words?
Yikes! I wonder if I will ever be able to slow myself down enough to ask a few questions before I speak. Is what I am about to say soothing or is it poison? Is it edifying or unwholesome? Is it a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song? Is it for building others up or tearing them down? Does it crush the spirit or heal it?
There is power in words. Speaking them. Writing them. Words do not just fall out of the air. They are the overflow of the heart. They are spoken intentionally. Chosen. Sometimes they are spoken carelessly perhaps, but never accidentally. They can bring hope and encouragement, or they can be weaponized. In the current place we find ourselves as a country, many are choosing the latter. Aiming their barbs at each other with the ferocity of rabid animals, they tear and shred, they claw and slash, until what remains are two bloody and dismembered corpses which are unrecognizable. No one wins. Everyone loses.
I don’t want to be one of those corpses. I believe we are accountable for our words. The passages above are abundantly clear on how God feels about our tongues and for whose purposes we use them. As tempting as it is to jump into the fray, I want to choose life. I want to slow down my tongue (and fingers) long enough to choose rightly. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, is simply not true. Words hurt. Sometimes even more than sticks and stones, because words puncture the heart and stay there long after bruises have healed. My prayer is to be an instrument of peace in the use of my words, will you join me?