James 3:8 gives all Christians pause for thought as he says “no one can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” James then goes on to explain this and to support his assertion, adding that, “with it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James3:9).
The Apostle Peter also draws our attentions to the problems of the uncontrolled tongue, warning in First Peter 3:10 “For he that wants to love life and to see good days, let him restrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking *guile.” [Guile = Conspiracy; Deceit; Fraud; Hypocrisy]
Typically in Church sermons the human tongue is likened to the rudder of a ship, both being small in comparison to the vessel of which they are part, yet both being able to easily steer that vessel into both charted and uncharted waters. The Bible contains another apt metaphor which help one see the power of the tongue as God sees it. In James 3:6 we find the tongue being likened to a fire: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So the tongue is set among our members, spotting all the body and inflaming the course of nature, and being inflamed by hell.” Here, as the Life Application Study Bible says:
“James compares the damage the tongue can do to a raging fire – the tongue’s wickedness has its source in hell itself. The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle and hateful words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly, and no one can stop the results once they are spoken. We dare not be careless with what we say, thinking we can apologize later, because even if we do, the scars remain. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build. Before you speak, remember that words are like fire – you can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.”
This power of the unbridled tongue, as James 1:26 says, is sufficient to invalidate one’s whole religion. “If anyone thinks to be religious among you, yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is vain.” Vain, as James uses it here means useless; unprofitable to himself and others. In other words, with an uncontrolled and unbridled tongue, all preaching, praying, hearing, and attendance on the ordinances will be of worthless to him. Not only that, but because of an evil tongue, the speaker brings scandal and reproach upon the ways of God, and upon doctrines of Christ.
Just how serious this control, or lack of control of the tongue is for Christians, let us look back at Psalm 15 which still addresses matters of importance to Christians today in days of the end times: Who shall dwell in Your tabernacle? and Who shall dwell on Your Holy hill?
“A Psalm of David. Jehovah, who shall dwell in Your tabernacle?
Who shall dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour; in whose eyes the reprobate is despised, but he honours those who fear Jehovah; he has sworn to his hurt, and does not change it; he has not put out his money at interest, nor has he taken a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall not be moved forever” (Psalm 15).
The author gives us simple and clear answers to the questions of who shall dwell; and the tongue of the Christian is very important in the list of do’s and don’ts, of Psalm 15.
Let us now look at a longer list of the don’ts of the tongue as listed in the Bible. The following are 12 uses of the tongue which are explicitly condemned in the Bible:
Backbiting – The act of slandering the absent; secret calumny.
Psalm 15:3 “he does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour.”
Romans 1:30 “backbiters, haters of God, insolent, proud, braggarts, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.”
Deceiving – Misleading; ensnaring; beguiling; cheating.
Revelation 12:9 “And the great dragon was cast out, the old serpent called Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world. He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Defaming – Slandering; injuring the character by false reports.
Jeremiah 20:10 ” For I heard the slanders of many, Terror is all around! Expose! Yea, let us expose him! Every man of my peace is watching for my fall, saying, Perhaps he will be lured away, and we shall prevail over him, and we shall take our revenge on him.”
False Accusations – A false accusation imputes to a person what he has not done or said.
Titus 2:3 “Let the aged women likewise be in reverent behaviour, not slanderers, not enslaved by much wine, teachers of good.”
False Witnessing – A false witness testifies what is not true.
Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
Exodus 23:7 “Keep far from a false matter, and do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked.”
Gossiping – Prating; chatting; running from place to place and tattling.
Deuteronomy 22:13-19 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her, and hates her, and makes shameful charges against her, and brings up an evil name on her, and says, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity, then shall the father of the girl, and her mother, take and bring tokens of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city in the gate.
And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he hates her. And, lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, I have not found in your daughter the tokens of virginity. And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
And the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him. And they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the girl, because he has brought an evil name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not put her away all his days.”
Lying – Telling falsehoods.
Proverbs 6:17 “a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood.”
Revelation 21:8 “But the fearful, and the unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, will have their part in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Revelation 22:15 “But outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and makes a lie.”
Slandering – Defaming; injuring by maliciously speaking a false report; to tarnish or impair the reputation of one by false tales, maliciously told or propagated.
First Timothy 3:11 “Even so their wives are to be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”
Talebearing – When a person officiously tells tales and stories; impertinently communicating intelligence or anecdotes, and making mischief in society by officiousness.
Leviticus 19:16 “You shall not go as a slanderer among your people; you shall not stand against the blood of your neighbour. I am Jehovah.”
Proverbs 11:103 “One going with slander is a revealer of secrets, but the faithful of spirit keeps the matter hidden.”
Tattling – Talking idly; telling tales and stories.
First Timothy 5:13 “And with it all they also learn to be idle, going around the houses; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things they ought not.”
Vain Talking – Talk which is empty; worthless; having no substance, value or importance.
Titus 1:10 “For there are indeed many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision.”
Whisperings – The act of speaking with a low voice; the telling of tales, and exciting of suspicions; a backbiting.
Romans 1:29 “… being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; being full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, evil habits, becoming whisperers.”
Though the above 12 tongue driven habitual human characteristics are specifically and individually identified and condemned in the Bible, regrettable we find that Christians still both partake of them, not only in their secular life, but in their spiritual life. Worse, most of these 12 characteristics have become so deeply imbedded in our mannerisms and daily lives that we are often sublimely ignorant of our transgressions of the sins they represent.
In the Old Testament, the Lord asked the Hebrews to keep His laws ever before them, meditating on them day and night, such that the law would become so much part of their nature, that they would stop sinning – but they failed in this. For Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, such that when we transgress and sin, He can immediately tug on our subconsciousness and bring us into recognition, alignment and repenting. Galatians 5:18 makes this clear saying clearly: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Yet for many of us, we continue to confess ourselves as Christians, while our tongues betray us and our true inner natures.
Let us remind ourselves of the opening lives of Psalm 15 and the two foundational questions it ask us.
“Who shall dwell in Your tabernacle?
Who shall dwell on Your holy hill?”
As we have seen, the answer, if we are honest about it, excludes most of us, for most of us have been unable to curb our own tongues. But more than that, most do us are blissfully unaware of the dangerous position which we have left ourselves in! For Galatians 5:25 warns us, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” If we say that we are in Christ, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and yet we are guilty of possessing and unbridled tongue, then we do not live in the Spirit.
Our God is not a God who is in two minds. He expects this of His children too, as James 5:12 clearly says “But before all things, my brothers, do not swear; neither by the heaven nor by the earth, nor any other oath. But let your yes be yes, and your no, no, lest you fall into condemnation.” In God and in Christianity, there can be no shades of grey in our answers or in our actions; rather it is as James says, a case of either yes, or no.
In closing, let us remember the words of Jesus Christ himself in that salutary statement from John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” and the words from First Peter 3:10 “The Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy true life and have only good days, then avoid saying anything hurtful, and never let a lie come out of your mouth” (ESV).
Amen and Amen.