Progress Toward Taming the Tongue
THE disciple James took to task the human tongue. By striking illustrations he showed how tremendous the job of controlling this little body member. If a man could control the tongue he would be able to bridle the whole body. Bits in the mouths of horses can turn their entire bodies. Small rudders on great ships driven by fierce winds can swing whole ships around. So the tongue is a little member of the body, but it makes great brags. As a mere spark can set a forest aflame, so the little tongue can be a fire to inflame the whole body and defile it. Beasts, birds, serpents, creatures of the sea, all can be tamed by man. “But the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed.” Why, “if anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.”
A fountain does not bubble out both the sweet and the bitter. A fig tree does not produce olives. Nor a vine figs. Neither does salt water produce sweet water. And yet the human tongue sends out of the same mouth both blessing and cursing. This should not be. Granted that as long as Christians are in the imperfect flesh the tongue will remain beyond taming to perfection, and admitted that this should stir us to mercy toward repentant offenders, yet it does not argue that wrong speech is to be lightly excused and indulged in loosely. We should be on guard to keep to a minimum the damage done by the unruly injurious tongue that is full of deadly poison. We should be able to show progress in our endeavors to tame the tongue, to curb its inflaming outbursts. As James declared, “It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way.”—Jas. 3:2-12, NW.
TONGUES WILD FOR GOSSIP
“Whoever observes all the Law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all. For he who said, ‘You must not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘You must not murder.’ If, now, you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of law.” (Jas. 2:10, 11, NW) With this rule in mind, now note another point of the Law: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” (Lev. 19:16) For the wise this points up the seriousness of gossip, and forestalls the folly of excusing it as harmless conversation. The Mosaic Law prohibition of talebearing is carried over to Christians not under that law.
“They also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses, yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not.” (1 Tim. 5:13, NW) The chief concern of Christians should be working their tongues in gospel-preaching, but some gadabouts prefer meddling: “Certain ones are walking disorderly among you, not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.” (2 Thess. 3:11, NW) The end of such course is shameful suffering as a busybody: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. But if he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame.”—1 Pet. 4:15, 16, NW; Prov. 20:3.
A talebearer is not a faithful friend. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17) But when a brother needs a friend most, when he is perhaps undergoing adversity due to inborn weaknesses and shortcomings, the faithless talebearer that poses as a friend and brother chooses this trialsome time to bruit abroad the faults and failures of the one being sorely tried. “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth a matter.”—Prov. 11:13, AS.
A person may foolishly and thoughtlessly act as a talebearer, but his being thoughtless does not lessen the damage done. Though not deliberately malicious, the gossiper may deeply wound with his words, words that are to him as dainty morsels that he cannot resist sharing: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds [dainty morsels, Da], and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” (Prov. 18:8) Not only will the whisperer strain his own relationship with the brother, but he may make it hard for the wronged one to hold his other friends. “A whisperer alienateth his friend.” “He that harpeth on a matter separateth chief friends.”—Prov. 16:28, m., Pr 17:9, AS.
Added to all this, the talebearer is wasting time that should be used for profitable work. If he does not rein in his runaway tongue and curb its wagging it will hasten him on to spiritual poverty: “In all labour there is profit; but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.”—Prov. 14:23.
Those who revel in rumors that impugn another’s conduct or integrity should restrain their excited tongues. Rumors frequently turn out to be lies. According to the slander and libel laws of the land, one who repeats an untrue derogatory statement is as liable for lawsuit as the originator of it. The rumor-spreader may be quoting from the public press, or from a letter, or what he heard firsthand, and he may give his source; but if it is a lie he can be sued and he cannot shift responsibility to his original source. After all, if only the starter of a rumor uttered it, it would die at its birth. It is the widespread publicity given by untheocratic grapevines that does the damage.
The tongue that gossips is often a tongue that lies. As it repeats its tales it exaggerates and twists to make the dainty morsels it peddles more spicy and sensational. The more breath-taking the news can be dished up, the greater its market value in the circle of gossipmongers. It sets to itching other feet that are eager to bear tales that may make mischief. Almost invariably discord is sown, and Jehovah’s hatred earned. Seven things listed as hateful to Jehovah are: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a mind with crafty plans, feet eager to go mischief-making, a false witness who tells lies, and him who sows discord within his group.”—Prov. 6:16-19, Mo.
“A mind with crafty plans.” Such a mind is frequently behind the tongue that flatters. “A man who flatters his fellow is spreading a net to trip him up.” Such double-minded men feel free to flatter with their tongues while working out their hidden purposes: “They talk with flattering lips and double minds. The Eternal [Jehovah] cut off every flattering lip, and tongues that talk so loftily—men who declare, ‘We give rein to our tongues; our lips are our own: who calls us to account?’” (Ps. 12:2-4; Prov. 29:5, Mo) To throw the unwary off guard, “their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” (Jude 16) Like Paul, true Christians will not stoop to false fronts to gain greedy ends: “At no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, (just as you know) or with a false front for covetousness, God is witness!” They know “flattering lips are fatal”.—Prov. 26:28, Mo; 1 Thess. 2:5, NW.
HYPOCRITICAL AND OBSCENE TONGUES
Hypocrisy is a close relative of flattery, and both are fatal to those who persistently practice them. “An hypocrite shall not come before him,” meaning Jehovah God. Through hypocrisy he may now enrich himself, but “what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul”? (Job 13:16; 27:8) Christ Jesus condemned hypocritical tongues that spoke for effect, when he said to the scribes and Pharisees: “You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep paying respect to me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” Taking God’s name on the lips is not the requirement, but the doing of his will. Routine Bible reading is not the goal, but observing its precepts in one’s conduct. The Pharisees were hypocritical even in their praying, more anxious to be seen of men for effect than they were concerned about being heard by God. (Matt. 6:5; 7:21; 15:7-9; 23:2, 3, NW) Such a one could never measure up to loving his neighbor as himself, for “an hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour”.—Lev. 19:18; Prov. 11:9.
An obscene tongue is akin to a hypocritical tongue, if it claims to be Christian. Is it not inconsistent to use the tongue to preach the clean and pure gospel of the Kingdom, and then when “off duty” to employ it in cursing and swearing and obscene jokes? The same Bible that commends preaching condemns obscenity: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people, neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, . . . for because of the aforesaid things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; and quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works which belong to the darkness, but, rather, even be reproving them, for the things that take place in secret by them it is shameful even to relate.”—Eph. 5:3-7, 11, 12, NW.
This deluded old world may think it necessary to swear and curse to prove manliness, may think filthy stories are required to prove one is no sissy. Actually, worldlings are afraid not to laugh in the wake of dirty jokes whether funny or not; they must guffaw lest they be considered innocent babes that missed the dirty point. But will Christians be pressured into cowardice and stoop to obscene jests for fear they will not be considered “regular fellows” by this wicked world? They are not so silly. They abandoned such things once—why return to the mire and vomit? Paul said: “In those very things you, too, once walked when you used to live in them. But now really put them all away from you, wrath, anger, injuriousness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” There must be some bridling of the tongue, lest one’s worship become futile.—Col. 3:5-8; Jas. 1:26; 2 Pet. 2:20-22, NW.
The tongue is but a tool of the mind and heart. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” So we must go to the root of the trouble when seeking to tame an unruly tongue. We must work to erase from mind and heart the urges that drive the tongue to make foolish talk. If the mind and heart are filled with what is good, they will not empower the tongue to gossip, lie, flatter, play the hypocrite, and mouth obscenities. The properly filled mind and heart will have no room for such follies.—Matt. 12:34; 15:18, 19, NW.
Not only will the Christian mind shut the mouth against sending out meddling talk, but it will close the ears to incoming gossip, and discourage backbiters by meeting them with a displeased countenance. “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” Or, “The north wind bringeth forth rain; so doth a backbiting tongue an angry countenance.” (Prov. 25:23, m.; AS) The discerning mind knows that criticizing and gossiping about others is an indirect way of exalting and bragging on self. To run down others brings a false and deceptive sense of superiority. Hence the Christian aids both himself and the talebearer by refusing to listen. Without refueling the fire dies out.—Ps. 141:5; Prov. 14:7; 17:4, 20; 20:19; 26:20, 21; 28:23.
Recall Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats. (Matt. 25:31-46) What the goats did to Christ’s brothers was counted as done to him. What we do to those brothers is counted as done to Christ. Would you gossip about your Lord? find fault with him? carry tales against him? Would you try to lie about him or to him? flatter him? play the hypocrite toward him? Or would you feel free to approach him with obscene jests? If you would not do these things with him, do not do them with your brothers. Do not commit the goats’ error!
So seek to progress toward taming the tongue by crowding out the evil with the good. “Brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NW) By studying God’s Word make your mind over, that it may make your unruly tongue over: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.” (Rom. 12:2, NW) By continual study gain more of such knowledge that will clothe you with a personality imaged after Christ: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality which through accurate knowledge is being renewed according to the image of the one who created it.”—Col. 3:9, 10, NW.
Until such changes occur fully through study and the aid of God’s spirit and allow for complete taming of the tongue, all of us will have to keep close watch over that little member, each looking to his own, keeping its fires banked and controlled. Keep words few and cool when circumstances are unsettling, as counseled: “Where words abound, sin is not wanting: he who controls his tongue is a wise man. He guards his life who guards his lips: he who talks freely—it is ruin to him! A man of sense is sparing of his words; the prudent will keep cool. He who is careful of his lips and tongue will manage to keep clear of trouble.” (Prov. 10:19; 13:3; 17:27; 21:23, Mo) Keep the tongue tamed down and bridled when tempers rise, clamping your hand over your mouth if necessary. (Job 40:4; Ps. 39:1; Prov. 30:32) If too weak in yourself to succeed in yourself, take up the psalmist’s prayer: “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”—Ps. 141:3.
Taming the tongue is so vital because “death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Misused in inflammatory outbursts and it is full of deadly poison, but “a soothing tongue is a tree of life”. (Ps. 34:12-14; Prov. 15:4; 18:21, AT) With it one acknowledges God and confesses Christ and “makes public declaration for salvation”. So with such glorious service and life prospects in view, let us progress toward taming the tongue as we press on to maturity.—Rom. 10:10; 14:11; Phil. 2:11; Heb. 6:1, NW.