Over the last 50-some years of life, I’ve hurt a lot of people with my words, written and spoken. Each time it happens, I ask myself “When will you learn?!!” and vow to do better. Then it happens again…and again….and again. Just the other day I used the wrong word with someone I love very dearly and I know it hurt her. It was totally unintentional but had I took the time to think about my response I could have chosen a better word to use. In one careless milli-second, I caused pain for somebody I deeply care about with one little word. Whoever said “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me” was dead wrong.
I want Matthew 12:36 taped to the inside of my eyelids: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” If that doesn’t give me reason to choose every word carefully, nothing will. I’m already formulating my explanation to God about this one incident and all I can come up with is, “I was in a hurry and didn’t stop and think.” But, as I sit and contemplate that explanation, I know He’s not gonna buy it. God’s gonna look at me, shake His head, and, if I’m lucky, ask me to take another stab at it.
God will insist on the truth and the truth is my word only reflected what was in my heart. The Bible is pretty clear: our “tongue” issue is a heart issue. The real reason I used the word I did was because I was frustrated and didn’t want the situation I had been presented with messing up my good mood. It was a situation that we have dealt with for some time and I struggled to find patience to deal with it again. It was a poor choice of words, but, given my attitude about it, I suspect had I stopped to consider using a different one it would have been similar to what I chose. Instead of hurrying to respond to make sure my feelings were communicated, I should have prayed through the emotion until I was at a place where my response would have brought comfort rather than pain.
Matthew 15: 18 – “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”
During 2011, I used a Bible reading plan that included reading a chapter from Proverbs every day. Some days I would read two. There are 31 chapters, so over the course of a year I read each chapter more than 15 times. It impacted me in a lot of ways, but most significantly it made me very aware of how I have not been as careful with my tongue as I should be and how dangerous that little muscle is. I have used my words to intentionally cause someone pain, to make myself feel I’m better than someone else, to lie and to gossip. I say spiteful things to my spouse when I feel hurt by him. I’ve spent way too many hours apologizing for letting my emotions determine my response to people I work with and people I love.
James 3: 7, 8 – “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”
Last year my father-in-law died suddenly and I took some time off from work. Before leaving, I filled out leave forms so I wouldn’t have to deal with it when I returned. My first morning back, our work leader told me she needed some additional forms as soon as I could get them to her. I don’t remember everything I said, but I know I informed her that whatever forms she needed would not be forthcoming! I was so mad my voice was shaking. She responded by telling me that our manager had missed some and they had to be filled out. I relented a bit and told her I would get to them whenever I could and began working on something else. She hadn’t taken more than three steps away from my desk before God brought to my mind verses from the book of Proverbs. Our work leader has a lot of responsibilities and, when it comes to tracking attendance, she doesn’t always get what she needs. Knowing this, I realized my outburst had only made her job harder. I was embarrassed and the things I said made me look foolish. I took a deep breath and went right to her desk. I said, “I am SO sorry for my behavior. It was wrong and I hate that I made your morning and your job so much harder than it already is.” She looked at me and said, “That’s OK. I’m kind of used to it.” I told her it was NOT OK and I hoped she could forgive me. That was not an easy conversation but it changed our relationship. And it highlighted for me that I do not want to be known as the “fool” who can’t control her tongue.
Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
It is a daunting task to “tame the tongue.” James (Chapter 3) tells us it is not possible. So we must rely on the Holy Spirit’s power rather than our own. My go-to reaction is anger, frustration, impatience. As I look at my tongue problem, I have to be willing to admit my true heart problem. By nature and nurture, I am not the most loving person. As I work to turn this area of my life over to Christ, I have to remind myself how Christ loved me when I was not anywhere close to being the kind of person He wants me to be. He loves me even on those days when I choose to disobey Him. I have to learn to love people just as God loves me. I have to demonstrate His love to others by my actions AND my words. In order to do that, I can’t allow my emotions to determine my response – obedience and God’s truth are more reliable. I’ll know I’ve made progress when my words consistently communicate love and patience instead of frustration, anger or judgment.
James 3:2 – “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
One day on a break at work, I looked up verses that talk about the tongue and/or our words. I soon found that many of these verses also include the term “fool” (interesting!). So I expanded my search to include that term, also. In the span of about 15 minutes, I found more than 50 verses. My words about words will never measure up to those God has given us so I’ll direct you to some of the verses I found (there are many more). I would also recommend, as I often do, to read a chapter from Proverbs every day. Once you’ve finished, go back and read the book again. Keep it up for a year and you will have one more tool to use in your battle against the mighty tongue!
Proverbs 11:12 – “ Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.”
Proverbs 15:2 – “ The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”
Proverbs 15:4 – “ The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
Proverbs 18:21 – “ The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Proverbs 21:23 – “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”
Proverbs 10:19 – “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
Proverbs 10:21 – “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.”
Proverbs 12:18 – “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”
Proverbs 18:2 – “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Proverbs 18:7 – “A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul”
Proverbs 17:28 – “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”