The Bible warns us of the power of the tongue: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (Jas. 3: 6).
Though the tongue is but an insignificant part of the body, it is hard to tame. An unrestrained tongue that speaks rashly, maliciously, carelessly or foolishly sows discord and divides churches, families and friends.
The Book of Proverbs warns us repeatedly of the snare of an ungoverned tongue: “… Grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15: 1); “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour …” (Prov. 11: 9); “ … but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov. 13: 3); “A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue” (Prov. 17: 4); “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 18: 8-9).
As Christians, we must use our tongue wisely. “Christians must not suffer their tongues to run at random in their ordinary discourse; it is not sufficient that they do not speak to evil purposes, but they must speak to edifying purpose; that which has a tendency to make the hearers some way or other either wiser or better, this the apostle calls that which is good to the use of edifying” (William Burkitt).
In what ways can we govern our tongue so that we speak “that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4: 29)?
1. Pray specifically for God’s help
Because of man’s depraved nature, he is not able to tame his tongue by his own effort: “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3: 8). But the Bible tells us that we can “do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philp. 4: 13). Pray daily for God’s grace to be conscious of our words. Acknowledge our need to depend on Him alone.
Knowing his propensity to speak evil, the psalmist David prayed that the Lord might keep his lips from sin: “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141: 3). He was specially concerned that he should not speak maliciously against King Saul – “the Lord’s anointed” – though the latter had been relentlessly seeking his life (I Sam. 24: 6).
“David feels that with all his own watchfulness he may be surprised into sin, and so he begs the Lord himself to keep him. When Jehovah sets the watch the city is well guarded: when the Lord becomes the guard of our mouth the whole man is well garrisoned. ‘Keep the door of my lips’– God has made our lips the door of the mouth, but we cannot keep that door of ourselves, therefore do we entreat the Lord to take the rule of it. O that the Lord would both open and shut our lips, for we can do neither the one nor the other aright if left to ourselves. In times of persecution by ungodly men we are peculiarly liable to speak hastily, or evasively, and therefore we should be specially anxious to be preserved in that direction from every form of sin. How condescending is the Lord! We are ennobled by being door keepers for him, and yet he deigns to be a door keeper for us” (The Treasury of David).
Like the psalmist, let our prayer be: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19: 14).
2. Resolve not to transgress with our lips
In another psalm, David expressed his resolve not to speak evil of his enemies: “Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Ps. 17: 3). The psalmist was determined that the Lord Who knew his motives “shalt find nothing” worthy of condemnation.
Like the psalmist, let us purpose in our heart not to sin with our lips. Left on our own, we are prone to speak rashly, carelessly and foolishly especially when we are provoked to anger. When offended or hurt, we often hit back with unkind and grievous words.
The Lord Who is the great Searcher of hearts, knows our thoughts and intents. If He were to examine our hearts and our words, can we say with the psalmist that He “shalt find nothing” to condemn us? Let us check our heart’s motives before we speak. Do we speak to gain the praises of men? Do we speak to put others down so that we can exalt ourselves? Do we speak out of a revengeful heart to get even? Do we speak out of love? May the Lord grant us grace to keep our lips from sin. (… to concluded)