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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

With Tongue in Check

By David W. Argue
Feb. 13, 2011

Everything inside me was recoiling. My pulse had quickened, and my face had flushed. My eyes had narrowed.

I had been losing an important argument and felt I must reinforce the fact that my words should be taken seriously as right and true. To try to make up for the slippage, I used forbidden words. I blurted them out, like the strike of a desperate creature.

I swore.

I was young, but not so young as to be instantly swept into the constricting grip of guilt for what I had just said.

The response of my parents was to instruct me to go immediately and brush my teeth and wash out my mouth — with soap. The words I had just spoken had dirtied my mouth and something restorative and instructive must take place.

I obeyed, feeling the biting taste of my sin — but I also remember being grateful for something I could do that might undo the impact of what I had just spoken.

As I loaded the toothbrush and began the scrub, there was time in that humbling act to offer up my heart to God with something like, “Help me to control my tongue. Forgive me and change my responses as I clean up my mouth.” It was a repentant and restorative enactment — in both word and deed. It went below bristles on enamel and into my soul. That one experience wrote indelible truth inside of me.

That experience has brought an ingrained watch into my being. It put my tongue in early check.

However, other tongue trip-ups have been and are my continuing challenge.

Too many words
Occasionally words are spoken so plentifully that they far outstrip clear thinking. When we allow that to happen, we will often say things we regret. It is easy to speak beyond clear understanding and thus inflame a conflict — to go beyond absolute certainty into speculation, exaggeration, self-commendation. Too easy, as well, to offer opinions about others that fracture relationships.

How often we can win a word joust and then have to retreat to our castles alone — having just lost another friend.

James, the earthly brother of our Lord Jesus, had much to say on the matter of checking our tongues and wrote: “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:2, NIV).

Our stumbling begins rather predictably when words start tumbling. “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). Unchecked, its power of “death” can accelerate, quenching the life of the Spirit in us and those around us.

The tongue in check, however, can have a powerful influence for good in every part of our lives. The tongue in check is the way to life.

Wrong, then excused words
Sometimes we speak destructively, then carefully excuse ourselves for what we just said.

For instance, consider the person who, after disclosing something that he should not have said, ends with this disclaimer: “Just reporting. Just the facts, that’s all” or “Just between us, you know” or “Just trying to manage a hard situation.” As though the accurate, or somewhat enclosed reporting of someone’s faults or sins gives us the right to say what we know could defame or wound another.

Not so. Whispers can still be slanderous. The way things really were can still be the way things should never be talked of again.

If God has not placed us in a position of functional authority over a person, we are not to weigh in with opinions and judgment over them.

One of the great focuses of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is on communication. In the 31 chapters, fully half of which address this subject, I found some recurring themes — as though the Wisdom Giver meant for us to especially get these truths.

Proverbs on keeping the tongue in check
Theme #1 — We all must avoid speech that destroys.
Lying, smooth talking, gossip, reckless words, harsh words, too much talking, quarrelsome words and hasty words all make up a dangerous use of our tongues. This is the tongue without proper check.

Theme #2 — Negative things regularly happen when destructive speech takes place.
Sin — which separates us from God’s presence — destruction, betrayal, piercing of hearts, ending of friendships, calamity, the careless speaker dubbed a “fool,” and even death to persons so involved. A frightening, endless string of possibilities of what can result from the utterance of “mere words.”

Theme #3 When the tongue is under check, it will produce speech that builds up, such as ...
• Words that are true, just, fitting and wise.
• Words that are kept inside — secrets.
• Apt and timely words — that have been weighed adequately before being spoken.
• Words that protect — covering over a sin, not exposing that failure to others who do not need to know.
• Words that drop a matter, keeping it silent.
• Words that avoid strife, that are gentle.

Among the most interesting verses in Proverbs that caught my eye was 25:15, which says, “A gentle tongue can break a bone.” In cultural context, I found that this has to do with persistence in godly speech, and gentle answers that in time, like water dripping on a rock, impacts even a hard, resistant object such as an entrenched, argumentative person. Persisting in gentleness will have its results. Guaranteed.

Keep this in focus: The words you speak are an index of the condition of your soul. When your heart is right, everything else will follow. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” (Matthew 12:34,35).

Have a bad time with your tongue recently? Repent, asking God and the one you damaged to forgive you. Get back on track with a clean heart and spirit.

Slow down. Think and pray over what you might speak — even postpone talking about a matter until you feel you have real wisdom and God’s heart in what you will say. Learn to put on the brakes in any situation immediately when the red light of the Spirit’s conviction starts to alert you to the danger you are in. I have found a scheduled time to prepare for a difficult conversation is very helpful.

Learn the wisdom of not talking. Keep confidences, protect relationships, walk in the freeing humility and clear spirit of a tongue in check.

Paul wrote to the church these words: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). “Seasoned with salt” — timely, balanced, life-giving, preserving, nourishing, desirable, relationship-building.

Of Jesus they said: “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). May our patterns of speech emulate our Lord’s.

DAVID W. ARGUE is a former Assemblies of God executive presbyter and an author, ministry coach, and pastor-at-large living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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