You may remember a poem by Carl Sandburg in which he said your tongue can get you into trouble. Well, actually he once wrote: “Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go it is not easy to call them back. They wear long boots, hard boots, they walk off proud; they can’t hear you calling — Look out how you use proud words.” Good advice from an American poet, largely unheeded by folks in American life today.
As children, we were taught to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” Funny, then, that most of the injuries I remember from childhood came from something somebody said. Hmm… In the Bible, the Book of James also says you should watch your tongue because it is such volatile and powerful force in our lives. When you think about how much impact words can have, that’s certainly true. But is it our tongue that’s at fault, or something else?
Small Object, Big Results
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:3-6, NIV)
Apparently swearing or using profane language was pretty common in New Testament times. There were also liars and charlatans who used language to fool people or to mislead them. Funny, but not much has changed since. People still operate that way today. The means of corrupt communication has been multiplied a hundred fold, but lies and language are still hurt everyone. And they are still the gateway to evil.
Every day you hear half-truths, advertising promises, spin, and outright lies, and your mind is continually bombarded with corrupt communication. And yet Jesus said that it’s not the stuff we hear that really gets to us: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
One of the things that makes language so significant is that it is a reflection of our hearts. If curse words or vulgarity roll easily off a man’s tongue, what does that say about his heart? If a man can use God’s name as an expletive, what does it say he feels about God?
I think James is basically telling us two things: 1) be careful what you listen to. If communication is corrupt, then it can only add the wrong kind of abundance to your heart. And 2) be careful what you say. Words take on a life of their own, and I have learned several times the hard way that the impact can be far greater than the intent. How we say something is also almost as important as WHAT we say.
The Tongue Wags Both Ways
Proverbs 25:11 says “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” It would seem that we have the ability to confer wealth through mere words, and to offer incorruptible beauty to someone by saying something to edify them. Consider therefore, carefully the things you have to say, and offer some free jewelry to the people you meet today. Carl Sandburg’s advice was good about what NOT to say; the Bible has great advice about what we OUGHT to say instead. Just sayin’…
Mind Your Tongue
What we say can lift, or play, or even make somebody’s day,
But it can also spread some dirt, or criticize, or wound and hurt.
James says tongues can be a flame that burn with anger, pride or shame,
And cause disruption, pain and grief instead of loving, sweet relief.
Consider what you say to folks–the kind of words, the kind of jokes–
Don’t pile your words on what is broken; offer good words, fitly spoken.
The Bible says that you can start by putting treasure in your heart,
So Spread some joy with words today. That’s really all I have to say.
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