The Uncontrolled Tongue
By Virginia Brandt Berg
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You know, there’s a very small thing around my house and your house, and it gives more trouble than all the sickness or financial difficulties and storms of life. It’s just a little thing, about three or four inches long and a few inches wide, but oh, it can cause complete havoc and it can wreck a whole day when it gets loose.
I think you’ve guessed what it is: a tongue that’s out of control; an unkind tongue or a bitter tongue, a tongue that says hard, critical things. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a man or woman that loses control of a tongue—everybody suffers. It only proves God’s Word to be truer than ever, as we read from that precious passage in the third chapter of James:
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
“Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet they are turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
“Now every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same time sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”1
You’ll notice particularly these words, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing … these things ought not to be.” I received some time ago a letter, it’s been quite a little while now, someone that wrote:
“Have you any suggestion to make regarding a difficulty of this kind? I can’t understand why it is that at the office I can be so kind and patient with everybody, and it seems that I never get out of humor. In fact, at the office I have the name of being a pretty good fellow! But for some unknown reason, at home I lose my temper easily. I get out of patience with the children, especially one that upsets me greatly. I get along so well at the office, at my church, and other places away from home. I hold a respected position in my church, and in all these places it seems so easy. Why is it? What’s to blame at home that so gets me upset?”
Well, I had to answer, and I was compelled to be very frank, that the real test of a man isn’t on the street or in the office or in the church, but it is at home. You can ascertain just what kind of man he is, and if he has something real insofar as his religion is concerned, right in the home—what he is there.
Someone has wisely said, “At home a man lays aside the mask, and there you may judge whether he is a hero or a humbug.” Now I might say that I have found in the years of service that this is a common failure, this lack of kindness and courtesy. Peter said, “Be courteous,”2 because he knew, as you do, that there are many Christians who rather pride themselves on their brusqueness of manner. I’ve heard them say, “Well, I’m very frank and very outspoken.” The truth was that they were very rude and discourteous many times.
Such a characteristic can severely sour a family life. The husband may in his heart dearly love the wife, but if his voice is sharp and his tone is bitter, he’ll deeply wound her and hurt all the family relation. And if his wife isn’t sweet and gentle, but is sharp-tongued and domineering, she can easily break up the home. She can easily upset any day and send the husband off to work with a sad heart.
Are there frequent quarrels and dissensions in the home? That doesn’t just happen. Someone is to blame. Maybe we’d better take a better look at ourselves. There’s a little favorite poem of mine by Margaret Sangster; she’s written so many beautiful things:
If I had known in the morning
How wearily all the day,
The words unkind
Would trouble my mind,
That I said when you went away,
I had been more careful, darling!
Nor given you needless pain;
But we vex “our own”
With look and tone
We might never take back again.
For though, in the quiet evening,
You might give me the kiss of peace,
Yet it might be,
That never for me,
The pain of the heart should cease.
How many go forth in the morning
That never come home at night;
And hearts have broken,
For harsh words spoken,
That sorrow can never make right.
We have careful thoughts for the stranger,
And smiles for the sometime guest;
But oft for “our own,”
The bitter tone,
Though we love “our own” the best.
Ah! lips with the curve impatient,
Ah! brow with that look of scorn,
’Twere a cruel fate
Were the night too late,
To undo the work of the morn.
Oh, how very true; it’s those thoughtless, unkind words that leap from our lips! Well, you say and I say, “Is there some remedy for this? Is there some way that one can overcome this, all this bitterness, this unkindness? Is there some way that it can be overcome?”
The trouble isn’t fundamentally with the tongue; it’s with the heart. Words are only the conveyance in which the quality of the heart goes forth to other people. Jesus teaches that our words reveal our heart character. Whatever the quality of the heart, it will possess and accompany the words exactly.
Someone has said there is an invisible stream of soul quality that flows through our words, and there’s no way under the sun to change that quality except to change the spirit from which the words flow. There must be a change of heart. You can never control your tongue yourself. I have seen people try to do it. The Word of God tells you this, as I just read a minute ago, “The tongue can no man tame.” But God can tame it! He’s all-powerful; nothing is impossible with God. You can have the victory. Again, the scripture says with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.3 And so you can open your heart to Him and yield yourself completely to Him.
Ask Him to come in and fill you with His Spirit. It’s the indwelling Christ that will then speak through you, and your words will be as the apostle said, words “seasoned with salt.”4 Read God’s Word faithfully until you come into such an abiding relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that, as Jesus said, “My words abide in you.”5
Christ is the only true source of all love, kindness, and sweetness. As He takes possession of your whole life, He takes possession of your tongue, and His words will abide in you. Then the bitter, sharp, critical spirit is gone. He’ll give you of His life, and His life will flow through you, and out of you “shall flow rivers of living water.”6 This He spoke of the Spirit which shall dwell in you.
God cannot fail His Word. Trust Him to do it. Believe His Word; it’s never failed. I can’t fully explain how this transformation takes place, but it does, as His love flows through you, takes possession of your tongue, and your tongue becomes a stream of blessing to all about you. If you have wounded any heart today, take this to heart and pray about it.
Our Father God, we pray Thy blessing upon each hungry heart, each seeking soul. We ask especially for these who have such a battle regarding the control of their tongue. Forgive, dear Lord; cleanse and fill with Thy love. Fill us fully with Thy Spirit. We pray that they shall seek Thee and find Thee in all Thy satisfying fullness. In Jesus’ name, amen.
From a transcript of a Meditation Moments broadcast, adapted. Published on Anchor October 2018. Read by Irene Quiti Vera.