—Have you ever said something that you wish you hadn’t said? Of course you have. Everyone does it. Some do it more often than others.
—Have you ever wished you had something you didn’t say? Well, duh! This happens all the time, doesn’t it?
—Has someone ever said something to you that you wish they hadn’t said? Again, we all suffer from hoof-in-mouth disease from time-to-time, don’t we?
When James writes about this we are led to realize that looking carefully at how we are using our words is crucial. In a section of the Scriptures that many publishers have given the heading “Taming the Tongue”, the Holy Spirit moved James to write:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings, but no one 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 human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. —James 3:1-12, TNIV
Jesus spoke to this often in His teaching. One example is:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” —Luke 6:43-45, TNIV
To be sure, I’ve blown it big time on many occasions. While I cannot remember all of the circumstances, I remember the impact of one occasion in particular. When my family arrived home after our Sunday evening worship gathering, there was the ache in my heart over the realization that I had thoughtlessly said something that wounded another person. When it became evident that I’d done so, I apologized. But, the look on his face as he sat across the table from me, made it obvious that my humor had miss-fired. He was hurt deeply.
My brother accepted my apology. I have no doubt that he was sincere. Still, I ached for him. The feeling of regret was almost as strong as the frustration and anger I felt towards myself. As I sat in my favorite chair watching the Sports Machine, I kept mulling this mess over in my mind.
I remember wondering whether or not there was anything I could do to prevent this from happening again? As I did, a passage came to mind. It was, “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips,” (Psalm 141:3). I didn’t recall its location immediately. So, I had to use a concordance to find it. As I read this verse in its context another verse came to mind. It was, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You,” (Psalm 119:11, NASB).
That’s when the thought occurred to me: There should be plenty of counsel about this in the book of Proverbs. I’ll read through it and underline every verse I can find that addresses this matter. Needless to say, this project lasted well into the night. But, it was definitely worth it. Occasionally, I will pick up that Bible and slowly flip through the pages of Proverbs reading these verses afresh. I’m amazed at what a valuable exercise this is.
As a matter of fact, when I sat down to write this article, it was my intention to list these verses here. Now, I’ve changed my mind. Instead, I’d like to encourage you to do this exercise. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that many S.O. readers have already done something like this. If so, would you be willing to share this with us?
Note: Because there are so many possibilities when it comes to terminology, it really doesn’t work to use a concordance. Granted, you could come up with an extensively list if you searched for the correct words. This would not, however, be the same as prayerfully and diligently looking through your Bible page-by-page, verse-by-verse, for inspired counsel regarding how to communicate with others. Even if you haven’t been aching over something you’ve said of late, an ounce of prevention just might be worth a pound of cure!
© Bill Williams