Many are the evils of an ungoverned tongue. The apostle James aptly calls the tongue “a fire, a world of iniquity …an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3: 6, 8) because of its powerful, devouring influence in the lives of those who are affected by its unrestrained use. Though “a little member”, the tongue “boasteth great things” (v. 5).
The unbridled tongue is a dangerous and powerful weapon. As Christians, we must not use it in a sinful way to hurt or slander another but to honour God and minister to those around us. Let us continue with our study on how we can speak “that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers”.
3. Learn to think and speak well of others
Our words reflect what is in our heart: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Lk. 6: 45). It is therefore important to cultivate kind thoughts of people so that we can speak well of them. Note the apostle Paul’s exhortation to focus our minds on that which is true, honourable, fair, pure and amiable: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philp. 4: 8). One whose thoughts are directed to things that are pleasing to God will not speak negatively of others.
To speak well of our neighbour, we need to cultivate a loving heart towards him: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19: 16-18).
Love covers a multitude of sins and helps us to overlook our neighbour’s faults: “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10: 12). “Love is the great principle of harmony; it disposes men to cover the faults of their neighbours, and deal leniently with them” (Family Bible Notes).
4. Seek forgiveness for our unloving words or attitude
We have all, at one time or another, been guilty of speaking negative words which have hurt others: “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man ...” (Jas 3: 2). Sadly, words once spoken cannot be withdrawn. In such a case, the damage is sometimes irreversible: “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Prov. 18: 19). Nonetheless, let us learn from our failure to restrain our tongue. Seek forgiveness quickly. Put away all evil speaking from our lives. Resolve to be reconciled to our brother.
5. Be slow to speak
Another way to govern our tongue is to be “slow to speak”: “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1: 19). When we speak hastily, we may speak foolishly, offensively or inappropriately (Prov.29: 20). We may not have considered the issue or situation fully and reacted with rash words. We may have failed to think through our motives, and whether our words are loving, kind, necessary and true. It is prudent to check ourselves before we speak.
6. Remember our accountability for every word we speak
God holds us responsible for the words that proceed out of our lips. On the last day, we have to give an account for every vain, thoughtless, unjust or malicious word we speak: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt.12: 36 cf. Eph. 4: 25; Ps. 15: 2).
“They might say, ‘It was nothing: we meant no evil; we merely threw out a supposition, as one way of accounting for the miracle we witnessed; if it will not stand, let it go; why make so much of it, and bear down with such severity for it?’ Jesus replies, ‘It was not nothing, and at the great day will not be treated as nothing: Words, as the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, will be taken account of, whether good or bad, in estimating character in the day of judgment’” (J F Brown Commentary).
Brethren, let us consider our words. Do they reflect a renewed and sanctified life? Do they bring healing or hurt? Let us resolve to speak kind and gracious words that honour God and edify our brethren. May we look to the Lord to help us guard our lips from sin.