How many times have we spitted out words that we wished we could take back. I once heard a memorable story about a pastor and his gossipy church member. The woman received some astonishing news about her pastor, which she quickly passed on to others. Later, the woman found out that it was completely untrue, but the damage had been done. The pastor’s reputation had been smeared. The woman came to her pastor in repentance. The pastor forgave her but also reminded her that our words are like a bag of feathers that have been thrown into the wind. They scatter near and broad. It would be almost impossible to find each and every feather and place them back into the bag they came from. The same is true for our words. Once they’ve left our lips they are like feathers gone into the wind never to be completely restored.
Most of us can say we’ve never been in this woman’s situation, but we’ve all said things that we wished we could take back. Our tongues are dangerous. Although it is a small member of our body, it is capable of doing the most damage. James described our tongues this way, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Here James points out the tongue, but the real root of the problem is the heart of man. It’s what is deep inside us that will spew out of our mouths. Our words are merely a reflection of what is inside our hearts. If our hearts are corrupt, our speech will be too.
When someone makes us angry, it comes so natural to retaliate. Our first defense is our tongue. Why is it so hard to zip our lips and walk away? One reason is we are afraid that we may look weak for backing down. As followers of Christ, we must live humbly before others. Humility isn’t attractive to the world. They identify it as a character weakness rather than a virtue to be obtained. However, Jesus displayed this very quality when he was wrongly accused before his accusers. There were many false accusations against him, and yet he kept silent. He was physically harmed and belittled and yet he didn’t rebuke them in anger. We learn something impeccable through Christ’s response: He trusted God’s ultimate Judgment. Jesus knew God would have the final say over his life. Nothing could or would happen that was outside God’s sovereign will for his life and that is precisely why Jesus didn’t attempt to avenge himself. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’ says the Lord.” The same is true for our lives. We don’t need to defend ourselves or lash out against our accusers, but rather rest in the knowledge that God will always have the final word over our lives, and that’s really all that matters.
So how do we tame our tongue effectively? James says, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (v.1:19). In other words we must be more eager to listen to counsel more than we are to spew our words out hastily. As children, my sister and I could not get away with saying hurtful words to each other or about anyone else. My mom would always say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Everything we say affects the people around us, especially if we have younger children. They learn our ways through our actions—whether good or bad. If they hear mom and dad talk badly about others, they will think it’s okay to do the same. We must set a standard in our lives by setting a restraint on our tongues.
If we want to be Christ-like we have to get a hold of our most dangerous member. Although it is much easier to do harm with it, it’s much more powerful to do good with our words.