Maurice Switzer said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” That phrase echoes Proverb 17:28.
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
I cannot tell you how many times my yap has not only proven me to be foolish, but mean, jealous, petty, and bitter. If only I would control my tongue, I would stop showing the world the worst of me. Now that I blog and through this blog teach people, and now that I mentor some, it is more important than ever that I use the filter God gave me called a brain and exercise the spiritual fruit of love called self-control.
In the third chapter of James, James addressed the same issue. Verses 1-2 read,
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
Believer, whether you set out to teach others or not, you do teach. You follow Christ and the world watches, and they judge. They judge you harshly because you claim Christ, they judge the pastors, the teachers, and church leaders even more severely. As a Christian every negative act you perform, and every negative word you speak is amplified by them so they can justify their non-belief. You and I have a responsibility to speak and act wisely so that what we do and say will not cause others to stumble or reject Jesus.
The tongue is small but powerful. Our words can build or destroy. Our words can encourage, inspire, augment, and increase. But they can more easily discourage, hurt, cut, and diminish. I have been on the receiving end of words that influenced me not to try, or hurt me deeply. I have been the speaker of those terrible words as well. James described the power of words with a few metaphors. He compared the ability to control our tongues to the bit of a horse. When a bit is placed in a horse’s mouth, the rider controls the entire animal. He also likened it to a ship’s rudder, the whole vessel is steered by the small part. We use the tongue to decide which direction we will take a conversation, a lesson, a day, and even a life.
James also compared the control of the tongue to a forest fire. In 2012 wildfires burned 9,326,238 acres, killed 11 people, and cost millions of dollars in damage. Many wildfires are started with something as small as a dropped cigarette. (CNN, 2014). That is immense damage from one little spark. Our words are that formidable. I can tell you stories of what negative words have done to me. I can share stories of kids being teased so ruthlessly that they committed suicide. I watched a program about a woman driven to such depths of depression from a co-worker’s relentless mocking that she got a gun and shot up a grocery store killing the man who joked with her every day. (Poole, 2015). Words are potent. More potent than we who are careless with them want to think.
Verses 6-8 read,
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
No human being can tame the evil poison tongue. Does that mean we don’t bother? We just say whatever comes to mind whenever we think it? Absolutely not. No human can tame it. But we do not rely on our human nature for our behavior, we rely on the Holy Spirit. He is conforming us to the image of Christ and the consequence of that transformation is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of our human nature is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and debauchery. (Galatians 5:16-26). When we follow our flesh we sin, we speak without love and self-control, we let bitterness take root and grow and sprout out of our mouths causing the terrible damage it will. But with the Holy Spirit our mouth should spring out the fruit consistent with His love. Verses 9-12 read,
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
The old saying goes, “What’s down in the well, comes up in the bucket.” And it is true. Your mouth speaks what is in your heart and spirit. If the Spirit is there, unquenched and working, then we will glorify the Lord. If we have quenched Him, then our human nature will speak. In Matthew 12:34-36 Jesus said,
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I cannot tell you how many careless words I have spoken. The amount of damage I have done with my vile tongue is incalculable. We must be vigilant to exercise love and self-control over the weapon of our mouths. We have to be conscientious and choose not to exercise the fruit of the flesh. We have to choose to glorify Christ. Verses 13-18 read,
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Self-control is just as important to the command to love another as any other fruit of the Spirit. It is the characteristic that lords over how we choose to behave. It is the one I too often hear excuses against and sometimes out of my own mouth. “You know how I am!” or likewise. The world may know how you are, but do they know how God is? Do they see Him when they interact with you? They should. We are supposed to exemplify Christ, for the world and for one another. I challenge you to exercise the self-control given to you by the Spirit, and choose to use your words to build, teach, encourage, inspire, and in other ways, love.
Works Cited CNN. (2014, May 16). Wildfire Facts. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/21/us/wildfires-fast-facts/
Poole, T. (2015). Unravled: Supermarket Slaughter. Retrieved from IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4341554/?ref_=tt_eps_cu_n