Have you ever said something that you instantly wished you could take back? Of course you have. All of us have. In the heat of the moment, almost without thinking, we spit out words intended to tear down rather than build up. Then what happens next? In many cases, the person we’ve attacked retaliates – they fight back. And while we may have regretted our words at first, the advent of retaliation often leads us to toughen our defenses and raise our assault level. A back-and-forth ensues, sowing hatred in our hearts and damaging our relationship with the other person. And what started it? Thoughtless words. Or so it appeared.
“Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” – James 3:7-10
The tongue is one of the most powerful tools God has given mankind. We can use it to speak truth in love and give grace to all who hear us (Ephesians 4:15, 29), or we can use it to curse our fellow men and set on fire the entire course of life (James 3:9, 6). It would be easy to say, “Let’s just choose to use our words for good!” But how do we do that? If what James says is true, that “no human being can tame the tongue,” then where does that leave us?
Let’s take the example of those harmful words you wished you could take back. Where did they come from? By all appearances perhaps they seemed to come out of nowhere. They raced out of your mouth so fast that you couldn’t stop them. But they did have a source, and it’s not the source we usually like to blame. We can’t look outside of ourselves to find the source. We can’t pin the blame on what the other person did or said. We can’t even blame the hard circumstances we’re facing in life. And to see why that’s true, let’s take a quick look at Jesus.
If outside sources could be blamed, Jesus would have had every excuse to sin with His words. He lived among people who did and said terrible things, including some of His closest followers and friends. And He faced harder life circumstances than any of us ever have or will. Yet He never spoke sinfully (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ example discredits any claim we might make that the cause of our sinful speech is outside of us.
If we want to use our tongues for good, not evil, and follow in Jesus’ steps, we have to look within. We have to evaluate our hearts.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45
These words of Jesus give us the answer to where our words come from. Out of the abundance of our hearts, we speak. Whatever consumes our hearts will inform our words.
Do you struggle to speak lovingly? Do sinful words escape your mouth far too often? Ask yourself: “Who is ruling my heart?”
This is where we find that Jesus not only sets us an example of good communication, but He also provides us the perfect solution for our sinful communication.
If you are sitting on the throne of your heart, you will expect people and circumstances to all serve your supreme will. Because by occupying your heart’s throne, you are making yourself king or queen, and kings and queens expect the world to revolve around them. When people don’t act in a way that serves you, or circumstances don’t work out in a way that pleases you, these won’t be viewed simply as normalities of life, but as insubordinations to your sovereign rule. And as such, you will quickly be tempted to sinful speech like demeaning others or complaining about life.
When Jesus occupies the throne, everything is different. Your world revolves around Him. It becomes your delight to serve His will, to live in obedience to Him. And those people and circumstances that once seemed threats to your kingdom are viewed differently; now they are means by which God is doing you good and preparing you for eternal glory with Him. Everything changes.
The key to taming our tongues is being abundantly satisfied in Christ – head over heels in love with Him. If you have a heart for Christ, it will become like the heart of Christ; by loving Him we are transformed into His likeness. Whereas if your heart is consumed with self, you will increase in sin, and taming the tongue will be impossible.
We need Jesus – His example to us, His rule of our hearts, and His grace and forgiveness for all the times we will mess up. Godly communication flows from a heart consumed with Him.
While God is faithful to change hearts and minds in the lives of His children, we also understand that change is a process, and often times far from simplistic or quick. Habits of life and thinking tend to change over time as the Holy Spirit works in hearts. This process of change is called “progressive sanctification.” It can be helpful and sometimes necessary to seek help from other Christians who can faithfully lead and walk with us, providing biblical encouragement and instruction along the way for the implementation of God-honoring, Christ-centered change. If you are struggling with life’s challenges, we would encourage you to seek help from your pastor, a godly friend, or a biblical counselor who is committed to seeking answers from God’s Word. To find a biblical counselor you can contact us or visit biblicalcounseling.com to find a counselor in your area.
Born and raised in the Dallas area, Ryan loves calling Texas his home. He met his wife Jessica at Grace Bible Fellowship Church, where he serves on staff and is a counselor for Grace Biblical Counseling Ministries. Since 2013 he has been a member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and in May 2015 he graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a B.S. in Ministry Leadership.