How do you tell a mature Christian from a new believer? How do you tell a mature Christian from the world? It is by the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in her and the way she expresses Him. It is the self-control she exhibits in choosing to communicate the Holy Spirit and not her flesh, the desires of her old self. One of the clearest exhibitions of maturity, of love through self-control is the ability to command and restrain the tongue. How often have you hurt someone by saying some flippant thing? How often have you been hurt by some careless word? Verses 1-3 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. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well
No person is perfect, yet as we follow Christ, walking in the Spirit through our lives we are being made perfect (Hebrews 10:14). The closer we come to the perfect image of Christ, the more we look like Him and therefore the more control we wield over the tongue. James talks about putting a bit into a horse’s mouth and by that small piece the entire beast is guided. Words work like that. If we control our words, we can control ourselves. The easiest sin to commit and somehow the hardest to omit is to speak what we should not, to curse (be it ourselves or someone else), to glibly hurt someone, or to obfuscate. And more often than not our glib words motivate follow up in choices and actions. To control the tongue is to control ourselves. Verses 4-6 expand the metaphor.
Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 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.
Do you know it is possible to tame your tongue? It really is. It is not easy, especially at first but with practice, love, faith, and trust in God it can be done. But it cannot be done by us alone. It is only possible with the Lord God in us. Verses 7-12 say it this way,
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. 9 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.
A person without the Holy Spirit living in her would have no desire to tame her tongue. Being outspoken is seen as a strength in the world, but it is a weakness in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are people in the political realm who are gaining power and momentum due to the inane and shocking things they say. The current presidential candidates vying for their parties’ nominations are the ones who were willing to sling mud, say awful things, and use their tongues as weapons. My favorite candidate was one of the first to drop out of the race. He did not get the votes he needed because he refused to participate in the backbiting, insults, and war of words.
The Holy Spirit in us means we have His heart as the spring to draw from. We pull from God’s nature which is love and not our own which is pride. We choose to use our words to build one another up, teach the Gospel, lead people to Christ, and otherwise love our neighbors. Jesus told us we would know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:20). He also said that we would be known as His disciples (followers and students) by our love for one another (John 13:35). Is it love to belittle someone or curse them? No! It is love to edify, encourage, exhort, and elucidate. When the Holy Spirit gives me a word for someone, it is always something loving, always something which lifts the person up closer to Him. When He speaks to me personally or through someone else it is the same, He lifts, lights, and lightens. I will even dare to say that if the message does not elevate, enlighten, or ease then it is not from God. We recognize His voice and there is no condemnation in Christ (John 10:27, Romans 8:1). Like Jesus, we are to use our words for God’s purposes not our own prideful will.
If the Holy Spirit is living in us, then we will look more and more like Him. Our desire becomes to be the new creation who is the image of Christ. If we lack in some area (and we do while we are still walking he earth) then we ask Him and He will be happy to bring us closer to Him and give us what we lack. James 1:5 says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
If you can’t control your tongue, it is best to be quiet until you can. God’s wisdom expressed by His believers glorifies Him and brings people to Him. Controlling what comes out of your mouth is a sign of maturity and wisdom. Proverbs 17:27-28 read,
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
We do not prove who we are in Christ and who Christ is by superfluous speech and brandishing words. We prove who Jesus Christ is by our self-control, love, and wielding the Sword of the Spirit. Verses 13-18 reads,
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.
James doesn’t pull any punches here. If you are not controlling your words, the words that are coming from you are demonic! They are not from the Holy Spirit but from Satan and are being used for his purpose to steal, kill, and destroy not for Christ’s purpose to give life (John 10:10). What fruit are your words producing? Are they causing disorder and disunity or are they causing righteousness and peace? Are your words hurtful or merciful?
Believer, God’s wisdom shows through your ability to control your tongue. Compare your words with verses 17-18 are they pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, merciful, and produce righteousness and peace? Are they from the Spirit who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in you? (Galatians 5:22-23). Are your words loving, patient and kind; not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude; irritable or resentful? (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). If not, be quiet and learn to tame your tongue.