Christians have a reputation for speaking out against the things they disagree with. We are quick to ban amusement parks or chain stores that exhibit beliefs contrary to the wisdom found in the Bible. I suppose these types of stands are merited every so often. Many times, however, I am chagrined by the level of rhetoric that is exhibited by my brothers and sisters. It seems to me that when we speak up for God’s Word using the careless speech of the world we are doing God an injustice. I’m not exempting myself from this mistake as I often engage my tongue before engaging my brain. It’s for this reason I was convicted last night as I read the Bible.
James writes, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body” (James 3:2). I stumbled over that verse and then went back and read it again. I then underlined it and put an asterisk next to it. James is saying that a mature Christian recognizes he must control the speech of his tongue if he hopes to conquer the more advanced sins of the body. Too often we place the cart before the horse. We attempt to adopt godly and pious lifestyles in every area except the speech of our tongues! Nothing is more unbecoming than a Christian who claims to believe in Christ yet spreads rumors, engages in gossip, or, worse yet, espouses false doctrine. As Christians we need to conquer our tongues first!
James explains that the tongue directs the rest of the body much like the bit guides a horse (James 3:3). If we truly want to be more like Christ, it must begin with our speech. James is very explicit. He teaches that even the smallest of sinful speech can ignite like a forest fire (James 3:5-6). How many times have we been drawn into webs of deceit by the smallest of lies? One small lie often leads so a slightly bigger one that is followed by yet a bigger one – eventually, we find ourselves in the middle of a big sham.
James makes it clear that it is a travesty that so often Christians “… bless our Lord and Father” and “… curse men who are made in God’s likeness” with the same tongue (James 3:9-10). It shouldn’t be this way. We should guard the words that come out of our mouths.
The Apostle Paul writes that it is necessary to silence deceivers and idle talkers with false tongues before they damage the reputation of Christ to others (see Titus 1:11). Ultimately, our speech is a matter of salvation for others and ourselves. We can use our tongues to advance the Gospel of Christ or hinder it.
The choice is easy on paper yet difficult in deed. We must practice and perfect careful speech should we desire to be more like Christ!