In Hatfield, Massachusetts there is an epitaph that reads Here lies as silent clay, Miss Arabella Young, Who on the 21st of May 1771, First began to hold her tongue. Apparently Arabella learned to hold her tongue a little too late. Now she’s become a legendary gossip.
Sharing a bit of juicy gossip or spewing out words in anger will usually end up causing us a lot of regret. Our tongues are dangerous. It is the smallest member of our body, and yet capable of causing the most damage. An untamed tongue will often accompany slander, crude humor, lying, murmuring, boasting, gossip, belittling others, outbursts of anger, flattery, profanity etc. James described our tongues this way, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Although James points out the tongue as the problem, the real trouble stems from the heart of the person. Our words are merely a reflection of what is inside our hearts. Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). If your heart is angry, your words revenge. If your heart is prideful, your words boast. If your heart is jealous, your words slander. If your heart is arrogant, your words belittle. If your heart is unthankful, your words complain. Our mouth is simply a verbal expression of what is deep inside us—a showcase of our heart. Taming the tongue doesn’t happen by focusing on our words. Instead, we need to direct our attention to the state of our heart.
Jesus, our Example
How many times have we spitted out words that we wished we could take back. When we become angry with someone, we naturally want to retaliate. Our first line of defense comes from our smallest member. Why is it so hard to bite our tongue and walk away? Some people are afraid to look weak. In their minds walking away shows fear. They’re right. Some people will look at us as weak. However, as Jesus’ followers, we must be willing to look weak, otherwise we’ll never walk humbly before others. Humility is unattractive to the world. The world identifies it as a character flaw rather than a virtue to be sought after. However, we can identify this very character in Jesus. Despite the lies told against him, he remained silent. He didn’t retaliate with his words; he didn’t even defend himself.
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 and his accusers’ lives. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Trust God to take care of you. We don’t need to lash out against others with our words, instead rest in the knowledge that God will always have the final word, and that’s really all that matters.
In a small German village, a woman differed with her minister and became so angry that she began spreading ugly rumors about him around town. As fate would have it, she eventually became ill and called on the minister to pray for her. He came gladly, and she asked his forgiveness of her gossiping. "I will grant you forgiveness," the minister said, "but there's something you must do." "I'll do anything," the woman said. "As soon as you get well, go pluck the feathers from a black chicken and put them into a basket and bring them to me." When the woman got well, she did what the minister asked her to do and presented the basket of feathers to the minister. "You did well," the minister said. "Now take this basket of feathers and scatter them in the corners of the marketplace and from the towers of the church. Scatter them throughout the town. Then return to me." So the woman did. She walked from one end of town to the other, scattering the feathers. Then she returned to her pastor. "I have done as you asked," she said. "Very well. Now take your basket and collect all the feathers. Make sure not one is missing." "But that is impossible!" the woman said with a choking cry. "The wind has carried many of them away!" “So it is with your words," the minister said. "While I have gladly forgiven you, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done." Most of us can relate to this woman’s story.
Think before you Speak
So how do we tame our tongue effectively? We’ve all heard the saying “Think twice before you speak once.” I wonder what God had on His mind when He gave us two ears and one mouth. James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (v.1:19). In other words, listen patiently and don’t respond hastily. Otherwise our fleeting feelings will get the better of us. My mom didn’t let my sister and I get away with anything. If we became cross with each other, she quickly reminded us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” I find myself repeating these same words to my children.
Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). Our words are a powerful source and have the ability to destroy others or build them up. We are God’s children and represent His character to the world, and it’s through our actions and words that others see the love of God in the world today.
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