14th March 2012

Hung By The Tongue

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
James 3:7–10 (NIV)

When I read this scripture the old children’s rhyme comes to mind, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ How wrong that statement is. A broken arm or leg is visible and generally attracts sympathy. But the emotional damage inflicted by words is unseen, insidious and invisible, yet just as real and may cause far longer-lasting pain.

We have probably all had the experience of wounding a family member or a friend because we let our words tumble out before we put our brain in gear. Maybe at work we have harshly corrected someone without realizing the damage our words can do. Even in church we can offend a fellow Christian by our wrong use of the tongue, perhaps by a direct criticism, or maybe by gossiping behind the person’s back.

Sadly, in our society today, we have comedians who seem unconscious or uncaring about the damage their words can do. Jokes about children with disabilities are simply not funny. Our society has become coarser in the last 50 years and the wrong use of the tongue has become less shocking. Swear words, that 50 years ago would not have been used in front of a woman or a child, except by a small minority, are now used constantly and are many comedians’ stock in trade. To be shocked by foul language on TV, in public places, or in the visual media, is to be considered old-fashioned and a bit of a prude.

How interesting then that the Bible was so far ahead of its time in recognizing the damage the wrong use of the tongue can cause. Here is a challenge for Christians, indeed for everyone—can we control our tongues and use our words wisely, to uplift, to edify, to encourage?

Do we use swearwords without thinking, do we constantly rebuke and correct? Do our words have all the emotional impact of a Sherman tank on the feelings and emotions of others? Do we think before we speak or just let our tongue run wild? How much damage has our tongue done?

I can think of examples in my own life when I have been hung by my tongue, what about you? Controlling our tongue and using words wisely can make a real difference in your family, among your friends and in all your contact with people. We may not be able to clean up our society, but we can clean up our own circle.

Who knows, if enough of us did, maybe we could even have enough impact to change our society for the better!

Father, help us to control our tongues, to avoid using words to wound, to learn to use them to encourage, to strengthen and build up the people we come into contact with.

Study by Keith Hartrick

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