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Oh the power of the tongue! We are living in a culture today that seems to be hyper-focused on words and cancelling people for things they say – even things they said decades ago. The Biblical warning to tame your tongue seems so appropriate (and needed) these days.
Most times, no malice was intended at all and yet their words carried weight and had consequences, whether you agree with those consequences or not.
Words can hurt, words can have lasting impact, and yes – in some cases, words can wound us in ways that last longer than even physical wounds.
So let’s dive into the Word and see what the Bible says about how to tame your tongue and guard what comes out of your mouth by “crumpling your speech” like paper.
Tame Your Tongue Meaning
What is the meaning of taming your tongue?
Taming the tongue means putting a guard over your mouth and ensuring that what comes out is in line with God’s Word and His own heart and the good fruits of the Holy Spirit.
When we speak, it’s important to choose the words that will lift up and bring joy and life and hope. Your words can either be rooted in fear and anger or in peace, faith and love; they are dictated by your perspective on life and everything around you – and therefore they reflect your heart. (Luke 6:45)
In the Book of James in verse 3:6:
Taming your tongue means not giving in to idle words, expressions of anger or fits of rage. The tongue of the wise speaks with love, carefulness and kindness.
The Bible tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
This means that what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of what is in our heart, as I mentioned above.
If the overflow of the heart is love, then love and gracious words will pour forth. If the overflow of the heart is anger and haughtiness, then anger and great boasts is what will come forth. We brag, we spew negative words, we partake in gossip because we see ourselves as better than others.
Taming the Tongue
When we talk about speaking a careless word, I don’t just mean foul language, because I am the first to admit that I have been known in the past to spew a few words that I shouldn’t when I get hurt or frightened badly enough.
But it is something I have to watch out for because one stub of the toe and I can almost guarantee a word might try to slip through!
But in this instance, I am talking about things that are not so “obviously” wrong at first glance. I am talking about things that may not even occur to us when we speak.
I am talking about taming the tongue by not only avoiding speaking hurtful things deliberately but also by watching the words of my mouth by not speaking a harsh word in haste as a reaction or out of hurt or anger or maybe just an insensitive comment that wasn’t thought through.
It is about pausing and reflecting before speaking rash words and asking for God’s help when we struggle in this area.
In Proverbs 16:24 it says,
The Hebrew word for ‘health’ here is marpe’ which means “healing, health, sound of mind”.
Imagine that! God’s Word says that if we speak pleasant words, it is not only sweet like a honeycomb but it offers healing and makes one sound of mind!
I don’t think this implies this is just for the hearer either! I think it gives a sound mind to the speaker as well.
Why? Because we avoid saying something we wish we could take back, but can’t.
We avoid the stress, the pain, the drama and everything else like it when we avoid saying something we can’t take back.
Your words have the great power to speak good things and positive things and bless others or they can hurt and cause pain to others and that is why taming the tongue is so important.
James 1:19-26 says:
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry…we could all use more of that these days I believe.
The great sage Maimonides warned that wrong speech is a transgression that is equivalent to murder but actually even worse because it kills three people; the one who said it, the one who heard it and the one about whom it was said.
Silence is one of the traits I teach in Mussar and, in fact, Orchot Tzadikkim (The Ways of the Tzaddikim or Righteous – a book on Mussar) says “If you cannot find someone to teach you Mussar, remain silent, let you speak foolishness.”
How to Tame Your Tongue (and that pen!)
Have you ever written a letter (yes, a paper one) to someone you are upset with or who hurt you in some way?
Maybe you have written some long, angry letter that was 5 pages long telling them ALL about themselves and then read it over and ended up crumpling it and tossing it out?
A more modern version of this would be typing up an email and then, before you hit ‘send’, you read it over and delete it.
Maybe its an angry text that you type out and then delete it because you realized it sounded pretty harsh.
Words can be powerful weapons and when we allow unkind words or negative words to cause us to lose control of our tongues (or our pens or keyboards) we are not acting with the wisdom our heavenly Father desires of us. I need to always give pause before allowing the door of my lips to open up and allow the wrong things to waltz on through.
I myself have written posts on Facebook when I have been upset about a general issue like politics and then I read it after a bit and deleted it because I thought it may have sounded too harsh or I came off as complaining.
It’s crumpled paper of the more electronic kind but it’s the same concept.
When you are writing you have the luxury of reading it over again and starting over if you don’t like how it sounds. We don’t have that luxury when speaking to someone.
We can’t just hit a delete button and take it back. Once it is said, it is said.
The Power of Words – Words CAN Hurt Me…and You
We have all heard the childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”
Well, while I said that a lot as a kid, I disagree with that as an adult.
The power of words is that they CAN have a lasting impact on people and can do a lot of harm.
Ever wonder how powerful words are? Just look at the effects of bullying in our society today! Words DO harm!
I know this damage firsthand.
I have had things said to me in the past that caused a lot of pain and heartache!
They affected me for many, many years later. They affected me enough to write a blog post about it and to even recall it by mentioning it here. It has been 34 years and it STILL impacts me. Words can impact someone through the entire course of life – for good or bad.
So I feel like God is telling me to make it a practice now to crumple my speech like that paper we talked about.
I should carefully “re-read” what I am about to say in my mind and then “crumple” up anything that is too harsh or too reactive and replace it with something more positive and uplifting.
No one will ever mind if we ask for a moment to consider what we will say next. What they WILL mind is having something said to them that will do the opposite of healing, or giving soundness of mind.
The power of words is that they can cause us to wound others significantly.
You tame your tongue when you choose to speak words that uplift and encourage and “heal” instead.
Marpe’ also means “profit”.
Miriam Webster defines profit as “the advantage or benefit that is gained from doing something”.
So we gain an advantage by speaking words of kindness and sweetness. It goes along the lines of ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’!
Proverbs 15:1 says:
When things are becoming heated, whether in conversation or a post on social media, a soft answer turns someone’s anger in another direction, as the Book of Proverbs tells us. It’s very difficult to continue to argue with someone who refuses to argue back and is not feeding the wild beast that strife becomes.
However, being harsh in response to them, well that just takes a small fire and turns it into a blaze.
James 3:5:When things are becoming heated, a soft answer turns someone's anger in another direction. It's hard to argue with someone who refuses to argue back and is not feeding the wild beast that strife becomes. Click To Tweet
A Lying Tongue
In addition to speaking words that lift up and not tear down, the Word of God also tells us the sins of the tongue also encompass speaking falsehoods and gossip.
Our words should always be truthful and spoken with integrity. The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:37:
Ephesians 4:25 says:
When speaking about how to tame your tongue, it is not only what we say to others. God is also concerned with the words we speak to ourselves.
Why is that? Well, we have already demonstrated that our words DO have power. The have the power to tear down and the power to build up.
What we continually speak over ourselves comes to pass because we believe it to be true so we act as though it were.
You can easily get into agreement with what the enemy wants you to think about yourself rather than getting into agreement with what God’s Word says about you!You can easily get into agreement with what the enemy wants you to think about yourself rather than getting into agreement with what God's Word says about you! Click To Tweet
You act with a lack of confidence in yourself and that will flow over into whatever you do! It is a self-fulfilling prophecy! So choose words that uplift you!
Choose to see yourself the way God sees you and speak what the Bible says about you, by the power of His Word not ours!
So I challenge you this week to begin crumpling your speech a bit and find ways you can guard your mouth and, let’s be like the Proverbs 31 woman:
Bible Verses About the Power of Words
Colossians 4:6 CJB
"...let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual."
Ephesians 4:29 CJB
"Let no harmful language come from your mouth, only good words that are helpful in meeting the need, words that will benefit those who hear them."
Matthew 15:11 TLV
"It’s not what goes into the mouth that makes the man unholy; but what comes out of the mouth, this makes the man unholy.”
Proverbs 17:27-28 CJB
"A knowledgeable person controls his tongue; a discerning person controls his temper. Even a fool, if he stays silent, is thought wise; he who keeps his mouth shut can pass for smart."
Proverbs 21:23 TLV
"Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul out of troubles."
1 Peter 3:10 TLV
"For, “The one who loves life, wanting to see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit."
Psalm 34:14 (34:13 in some translations) TLV
"Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking treachery."
Proverbs 12:13-14 CJB
"The wicked is trapped by his own sinful speech, but the righteous finds a way out of trouble. One can be filled with good as the result of one’s words, and one gets the reward one’s deeds deserve."
Titus 3:1-2 TLV
"Remind the people to be submitted to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to slander no one, without fighting, gentle, showing every courtesy to all people."
James 3:1-12 CJB
"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely. For we all stumble in many ways; if someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who can bridle his whole body.
If we put a bit into a horse’s mouth to make it obey us, we control its whole body as well.
And think of a ship — although it is huge and is driven by strong winds, yet the pilot can steer it wherever he wants with just a small rudder.
So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze! Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness.
The tongue is so placed in our body that it defiles every part of it, setting ablaze the whole of our life; and it is set on fire by Gei-Hinnom itself.
For people have tamed and continue to tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures; but the tongue no one can tame — it is an unstable and evil thing, full of death-dealing poison!
With it we bless Adonai, the Father; and with it we curse people, who were made in the image of God.Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing! Brothers, it isn’t right for things to be this way.
A spring doesn’t send both fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it? Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers? or a grapevine, figs? Neither does salt water produce fresh."
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CJB – Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.