Suggested Reading: James 1:19-27
A couple of years ago, a Pittsburgh couple got into trouble for selling their neighbor’s dog on Craigslist. Two dogs had wandered into their backyard and the couple had initially called the police asking what to do. The police told them to take the dogs back. The couple took one of the dogs back but decided to sell the other on Craigslist (I guess it was rather valuable). After giving several false statements to the police and covering their tracks, the couple almost got away with it. What got them into trouble was a slip of the tongue. Apparently, they had discussed selling the dog in front of their five year old. When the police stopped by one last time to question the couple, their five year old mentioned something about mommy giving the dog to a lady from the internet. All the money they had earned from the sale and all of their hard work covering their tracks was wasted because they said something they shouldn’t have in front of their young son.
Our tongues can be very troublesome things at times. James, the half-brother of Jesus addressed this problem in James 1:26, saying, If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself (HCSB). Our tongues are not only very troublesome things but very powerful things. We can spend years building relationships with people, caring for them and extending friendship and love, but destroy nearly all of those efforts with a few misplaced words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, Life and death are in the power of the tongue (HCSB). Wanting to let us know just how powerful the tongue can be, Scripture described the creation of the world with the words, God said, “Let there be light”.
We let our tongues “slip” far too often. We speak before we think, allowing thoughtless words to inflict pain on others. We allow harsh, vulgar terms to escape our lips which destroy much of the work we’ve already done in building our witness. But more than that, failing to control our tongues demonstrates our own lack of maturity. Claiming to follow Christ while we continue to let our tongues wag freely means we are only fooling ourselves about our walk with Christ. We can do all of the good things we want to hide the true condition of our hearts but our tongues will eventually blow that disguise away, revealing who we truly are.
Jesus told us that "What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart" (Matthew 15:18), which means that controlling your tongue requires that you focus on what is going on inside you. Controlling your tongue means that you guide your thoughts and feelings rather than letting them guide you, that you practice self-control when things you don’t want to exist inside try to bubble out of you, that you allow the Holy Spirit to reform and reshape you from the inside so that what comes out of your mouth is different because you are different.
Don’t dismiss slips of the tongue as aberrations and exceptions. Deal with them immediately. Examine your heart and your thought processes. Otherwise you’ll just end up deceiving yourself.