Controlling the Tongue (Part 1)

Posted on August 2, 2010 by


I’ll be honest. I have not always used my tongue in the most positive, and constructive of ways. I could append my guilty plea with the excuse, saying, “it wasn’t me, the devil made me do it”, but such trifle excuses remove personal responsibility from the case. So what am I to do? Repent, seek the counsel of the Scriptures, and then implement that wisdom on a consistent basis.

As in all spiritual quests, the journey is quite personal. Spiritual progress is a tailor-made phenomenon, for no two people are exactly the same and all have individualized challenges. It is the struggle of overcoming, and harnessing the impulses of our body, and conform these impulses to the teaching of God as revealed in the Bible that unites all men searching for spiritual solutions to their plight with sin.

Perhaps, the most pervasive struggle is the use and misuse of our tongue. This series is focused on providing an encouragement and to provide ammunition in the battle over the tongue.

A Warning by James

When the brother of the Lord addressed the church spread across the Roman Empire, James provided one of the lengthiest sections committed to illustrating the danger and misuse of the tongue in the New Testament (3.1-18).

The passage connects two main themes articulated to resolve a number of problems facing the Jewish-Gentile church. On the one hand, a section affirming that faith and action must go hand in hand in order to be genuine faith (2.14-26); and on the other hand, James makes the connection that a wise and understanding person is not only demonstrated by a “good conduct”, but that because of a behavior saturated in heavenly wisdom, such a person can contribute to the diffusion of quarrellings (3.13-4.12).

James argues, therefore, that all members should act in a spirit of humility grounded in recognition of God (4.4-10; cf. Jas. 1.27); otherwise, they will continue to be guilty of sins exasperating the church climate of James’ audience (4.17). So James addresses the use of the tongue and the need to minimize the “heat” amplifying the problems, and to maximize “light” in order to diffuse the internal strife.

James halts the multiplication of teachers by affirming that a teacher should be a mature Christian, and that a mature Christian teacher is to be able to control the tongue (3.1-2). The reason? Because, despite the tongue’s apparent insignificant size, it actually wields a large span of control over a person’s influence and ability (3.3-5a).

Furthermore, its destructive power (unrighteous use) can destroy lives presently and eternally (3.5b-6), but its most consistent problem is found in its duplicity (3.7-12): “with it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

Therefore, James warns against “would-be teachers” who are too immature to enter the fray of “church problems.” Such matters are to be left to those who have demonstrated a pattern of life guided by wisdom and understanding (3.13). Such individuals will ideally refrain from acting “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic”, and instead will act on “the wisdom that comes from above” (3.14-17).

The Powerful Use of the Tongue

A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (3.18)

Despite the great dangers of the tongue, James says that it can form the foundation needed to resolve conflict – physically, socially, and spiritually. Imagine just how much better people and churches we would be if we constantly sowed the seeds of peace within the congregation, and among our congregational neighbors. Imagine how “church relations” would be like if we did not always degrade our language when dealing with problems.

In James’ approach to church conflict, he highlights an important trait of the Christian involved: it must be a mature Christian who can win the battle of control over the tongue. And since maturity is the issue, we see then that there is a learning curve, and therefore this takes time.  But we must avail ourselves to this development. It may not always be a perfect use of the tongue, but the tongue must not be allowed to run wild. This is a decision all Christians can make; and so, what we are saying is this: the control of the tongue is an absolutely obtainable spiritual goal.

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