Keeping the Tongue Under Control
“Do not you people speak very haughtily so much, let nothing go forth unrestrained from your mouth, for a God of knowledge Jehovah is, and by him deeds are rightly estimated.”—1 Sam. 2:3.
1. How valuable is the tongue?
THE tongue is one of the most useful tools man possesses and a truly great gift from Jehovah God. Should not man’s highest expression, then, be in honoring Jehovah and attributing greatness to him? The Bible overflows with instances where faithful servants of God used their tongues in this manner, and such accounts are preserved so that we can read them and then use our tongues to repeat those expressions of thankful recognition of God’s goodness.
2. (a) How does Jehovah show he is pleased with words spoken to him and about him? (b) What especially pleases him?
2 Has there ever been a more joyful sound than a baby’s first words? And then, as the baby gradually matures, the parents tingle with excitement as words with meaning are spoken. How much more reasonable it is to assume that the heavenly Father is pleased to hear his earthly children express in words their appreciation of the gift of life from him! Prayers uttered to him by his children are music to his ears, because they are the means of communicating to him our hearts’ desires and yearnings. Even our speaking together with others concerning him brings reward: “At that time those in fear of Jehovah spoke with one another, each one with his companion, and Jehovah kept paying attention and listening. And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.” (Mal. 3:16) Just consider: for those thinking upon his name Jehovah makes an indelible record! But the use of the tongue to magnify that name, especially now when it is widely unknown, is a rare honor. Our exalting that name by declaring it abroad brings protection to us as name bearers. Our failing to do so may be disastrous. “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.”—Prov. 18:10.
3. What should be the earnest desire of every person? Will this someday be realized?
3 How every living person should want to let his God know how much he appreciates the gift of life, happiness, Jehovah’s love and Jehovah’s treasured counsel contained in the Bible! Eventually all who merit eternal life will give honor to the Supreme One of the universe and to Jesus, his glorious Son. “And every creature that is in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea, and all the things in them, I heard saying: ‘To the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.’” “All you peoples, clap your hands. Shout in triumph to God with the sound of a joyful cry.”—Rev. 5:13; Ps. 47:1.
4. (a) In what way is the present generation especially blessed? (b) Why is the Bible of particular value today?
4 Man is in a unique position today. The entire Bible, the written Word of God, has been preserved for man’s use and edification. That Word is available to practically every man today in his own language. Paul, the most prolific Bible writer in our Common Era, says why: “For all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) Why of particular value today? The same Bible writer says that they are “for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” While it is true that Paul wrote to the early congregations at Rome and Corinth, he also wrote for this day, as is indicated by the Bible translator Dr. Richard Weymouth, who records Paul’s words as follows: “It was recorded by way of admonition to us who live in the last days of the world.” Also, The Emphatic Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson, with an interlinear word-for-word English translation, says: “These things occurred to them typically, and were written for our Admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”—1 Cor. 10:11.
5. Show how these “last days” are important.
5 We have now arrived at the time of the world’s history when “the ends of the ages have come.” This is the time that God’s prophets envisioned. (Heb. 11:10; John 8:56; Dan. 12:8, 9) It is the time for which Jesus instructed us to pray. It is the time for the old “systems of things” to vacate and give way to God’s glorious new order of things in store for righteous mankind. It is the time for peoples and nations to acknowledge the Eternal One, who says: “Give in, you people, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.” (Ps. 46:10; 2:10-12; Luke 11:2) It is time for the stranglehold that Satan, the prince or ruler of the world, has held over mankind to be broken. How can this unholy power be broken? Can man destroy the demonic influence that is so all-prevailing? It is God’s war against his ancient enemy, the Devil. He will completely humiliate the Devil by means of his executive Son-King, Jesus Christ.—John 12:31; 14:30.
6. (a) How can we be successful in combatting the evil forces of Satan? (b) What example did Jesus set? (c) What aids have been provided?
6 But man today has the privilege and duty to wage a war against the Devil and his demonic forces. And man can do so successfully by taking advantage of the weapons provided for a spiritual warfare, since “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things.” (2 Cor. 10:4) The man Jesus set us the example. He was able to withstand the Devil by drawing from the written Word of God, saying, “It is written.” (Luke 4:1-13) He used no literal sword, no earthly weapon. He used his tongue, his properly educated, properly controlled tongue, to put the adversary to flight. We must do likewise, relying on the Word of God, “the sword of the spirit,” to make our defense. But there are other weapons or aids to assist us in the fight “with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours.” The apostle Paul identifies our equipment as the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of the good news of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, along with prayer. In our own strength, we are no match for the invisible forces of evil. But with the divinely provided aids we can succeed.—Eph. 6:11-18, Knox.
7. Explain the connection the “sword of the spirit” has with our tongues.
7 So equipment is available. God’s Word, the Bible, “is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Our using this “sword” consistently in the “fine fight of the faith” will result in our getting “a firm hold on the everlasting life” and in our being safeguarded by Jehovah now. So let us learn how to use this “sword,” so as to be “always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” That means using our tongue, a properly controlled tongue.—Heb. 4:12; 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:15; Ps. 31:23.
8-10. (a) How did the shepherd lad David set us a good example? (b) Is there any excuse for losing one’s temper?
8 What control the shepherd lad David had! He had only five smooth stones and his sling as contrasted with the weighty coat of mail and fifteen-pound spearhead of the nine-foot-tall Goliath. But with unerring skill, with complete control, although running as he threw the stone, he vanquished his foe, by hitting the mark. The smooth stones were undoubtedly beautiful, but in his shepherd’s bag they would be valueless unless he knew how to use them effectively. The Bible would be just as useless to us if we did not learn how to use it. More needs to be done with it than merely having it on our bookshelf to admire as a beautiful book, written in beautiful language and style. The words and righteous principles enunciated therein must be made ours and applied. They must be firmly embedded in our hearts and minds, ready to be spoken by us when the occasion arises.
MAKING USE OF KNOWLEDGE
9 The control of the tongue means more than having knowledge; there must be a proper use of the knowledge, as noted above at 1 Peter 3:15, “doing so together with a mild temper.” The Bible shows that God’s servants have been directed to speak for him, sometimes words of denunciation. There are rare instances in which they lost their temper, and, when they did, they suffered for it. The members of the congregation at Philippi were hard put to it to cope with the conditions prevalent there. Consider the instruction they received about the proper use of their tongues: “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world, keeping a tight grip on the word of life.”—Phil. 2:14-16.
10 Jesus, too, was one who had occasion to use hard words when talking to that “crooked and twisted generation,” to the stiff-necked and rebellious people of his day. Yet of him it was said: “Never has another man spoken like this.” (John 7:46) This statement could not likely apply to one who spoke carelessly, thoughtlessly, purposelessly. It would apply to one who had his tongue under control, one who chose his words, one who had something worth while to say and knew how to say it. Do your words elicit such comments from others? Do you think before you speak? A motto that has decorated many a business executive’s desk reads something like this: ‘Don’t open your mouth before putting your mind in gear.’
11. (a) What occasioned the expression, “Never has another man spoken like this”? (b) What made Jesus outspoken?
11 Who so described Jesus’ words? His flesh-and-blood relatives or neighbors? It was men sent to arrest him. It was officers sent by the Jewish priests who were irked because Jesus ignored their threats and continued boldly to declare his Father’s word. It was when they returned empty-handed and were asked: “Why is it you did not bring him in?” that they replied: “Never has another man spoken like this.” They were so impressed with his manner of teaching, grace or charm having poured through his lips, that they forgot their mission. They were so stricken with the quality of his message, with his complete mastery over his tongue, that their religious employers charged them with having been led astray, and reminded them that “not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him.” (John 7:45-48) Jesus was not an outstanding orator, for he had not been trained in the rabbinical schools. But Matthew reports that, after Jesus had given his sermon on the mount, “the crowds were astounded at his teaching; for he taught them like an authority, not like their own scribes.”—Matt. 7:28, 29, Mo.
12, 13. (a) Why was Jesus’ speech so effective? (b) Why was he confident?
12 The Pharisees heard with annoyance when Jesus used his tongue as his Father purposed, but his disciples heard with happy ears and were richly blessed. Jesus never lost control of his tongue. He maintained self-control even when he angrily upbraided the false religious leaders. He was never vulgar, lewd or immodest in his speech. Never did a rotten saying proceed from his mouth.—Matt. 13:15, 16; John 8:43-45, RS; Matthew 23; Eph. 4:26, 29.
13 Jesus did not speak to win popularity with the leaders. He spoke the truth with boldness and thus furnished a proper example for his disciples. He had supreme control of his tongue and a firm conviction that his Father would support him in his proper use of his tongue, as he confessed: “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me; he did not abandon me to myself, because I always do the things pleasing to him.”—John 8:28, 29; Acts 4:31.
14-16. (a) Is our imperfection any bar to having our tongue under control? (b) Do we really have any excuse for not bringing our tongues under control?
14 What an example for us to follow! We do well to follow his steps closely to ensure Jehovah’s approval. But do you argue that it is asking too much that we should, as did Jesus, a perfect man, have control of our tongues, when the Bible says: “With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me,” and that God would not expect sinful man to have such perfect control? True, we may not achieve perfect control now, but we should not listen to the subtle suggestion of the Devil that we may as well give up without trying. He knows we are imperfect, and will use every means to cause us to sin with our lips. His knowledge that Jesus was perfect did not deter him from tempting Jesus. Having expressly come down to earth from his heavenly position to settle once and for all time the Devil’s challenge, Jesus may have been inclined to ‘blow his top’ and ‘tell off’ the Devil. Did he? Calmly and dispassionately he used the Bible to answer by saying: “It is written,” and thus he squelched the Devil’s attempt to overcome him.—Ps. 51:5; Luke 4:1-13; Deut. 8:3; 6:13, 16; 1 Pet. 2:21.
15 Or one may think he is too old to change. When one realizes that long-held practices are wrong, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the responsibility that new enlightening information may bring by saying, “I’m too old to change.” One is never too old to change his ways. If he continues to pursue a course in conflict with God’s Word, the Bible, he would be displeasing to God. So when one’s manner of speech is seen to be repugnant to one’s Creator, one must make a decision. Will one face the facts even though it may involve a radical change? It calls for initiative, courage and humility to bring one’s life into harmony with the righteous principles of the Bible, but it is rewarding, as it will cause God to look favorably upon one. And it is vitally important to make such a change if one expects to live in God’s new system of things.
16 Not being perfect is all the more reason why we must diligently apply ourselves to the job of bringing our tongues into subjection so they will not do the bidding of the Devil but will bring honor to God and to ourselves. And we do not have to be ‘skilled in speech’ to provide that bulwark against the Devil’s attack. Paul is an excellent example of one who successfully contended against the tendencies that the ‘fallen flesh’ has to be influenced by the old system of things: “Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I browbeat my body and lead it as a slave.” And he was not concerned as to what his neighbors thought of his determined upright course of action: “Just as we have been proved by God as fit to be entrusted with the good news, so we speak, as pleasing, not men, but God, who makes proof of our hearts.”—2 Cor. 11:6; 1 Cor. 9:26, 27; 1 Thess. 2:4.
17. What determines the type of speech we will utter, according to Jesus’ words?
17 It is readily seen that the tongue, in order to be an obedient servant of the trained mind, must be captured and enslaved. The tongue reflects the mind and the heart. Jesus knew this, as he told the Pharisees: “You brood of snakes! how can you, bad as you are, utter anything good? For the mouth says only what the heart is full of. A good man, out of the good he has accumulated, brings out things that are good, and a bad man, out of what he has accumulated that is bad, brings out things that are bad. But I tell you, for every careless word that men utter they will have to answer on the Day of Judgment. For it is by your words that you will be acquitted, or by your words that you will be condemned.”—Matt. 12:34-37, AT.
RESISTANCE TO ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES
18, 19. In view of the “critical times” in which we live and the careless manner of speech, what is required of parents and children alike?
18 One has only to listen to his fellow worker or fellow shopper or fellow student, or to read the newspapers or magazines, or to listen to the radio, to be bombarded with ‘careless words,’ words of ‘no moment.’ Foul and disgraceful language is spoken everywhere one goes and it fills the pages of popular books. Yes, at this time of the ‘meeting of the ages’ there is a persistent effort to glorify loose speech and a crooked tongue. It is so common that people are inured to it and listen without annoyance. As Solomon pointed out: “The evildoer is paying attention to the lip of hurtfulness. A falsifier is giving ear to the tongue causing adversities.”—Prov. 17:4.
19 But bear in mind that this, too, is something the righteous person must war against. He must refuse to become a party to this filthy campaign. He must keep holding the pattern of healthful words. This is the time the apostle Paul calls “critical times hard to deal with,” when it is so urgent to use our tongues to the praise of God. (2 Tim. 3:1) The home today has become contaminated with disgraceful speech. Father picks it up at work, mother while shopping or at the club, the children at play. Without thinking every member of the family gets into the rut and adopts this manner of conversation. Children are not born with vulgar speech, but without home training they soon adopt ‘gutter slang’ as part of their everyday vocabulary. Parents, for your own sakes, as well as for the sake of your children, determine to divest your minds of things that are not upbuilding and fill your minds with things beneficial and upbuilding. Then the tongues of your children will speak worthwhile thoughts, drawing them from educated minds.
20. (a) Where may we go for counsel on protection for the mind and speech? (b) With what can the mind be fed?
20 There is no better place to go for instruction than the Bible. Consider, for example, this counsel from Philippians 4:8: “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 [gracious in the telling, of good repute], whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” Based on this and the rule that Jesus set out (that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks), the tongue is brought into line with righteous principles when the mind is properly filled with righteous thoughts. Only by guarding the mind can parents and children be protected from the polluting speech originating in the mind. Clean thoughts produce clean speech; filthy thoughts, filthy speech. For the speech to be clean, the mind must be guarded against all impure intrusions.
21, 22. (a) How may the counsel in the Bible become our possession? (b) Can a lazy man expect to become enlightened?
21 The Bible contains a storehouse of things true, serious, righteous, chaste, lovable, virtuous and praiseworthy. But these must be sought after. Contrary to what some perhaps well-intentioned persons may say, however, these things may not be located by closing your eyes, then opening the Bible at random and putting your finger on the answer. The holy spirit does not so direct people. Who sits down and waits for his ‘daily bread’ to appear miraculously, or who chooses to be fed intravenously three times daily? Most people say they ‘live to eat.’ So they must work to provide the food and then sit down to the table and eat it. Spiritual food, which Jesus said was more important than “bread alone,” must likewise be diligently sought for, worked for and then chewed and digested. To prove this, consider Solomon’s words at Proverbs 2:1-5: “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.”
22 Really, a person who never works for his living, but is content to ‘live on the dole,’ does not have a true appreciation for what he receives. Paul reminded the congregation at Thessalonica that he did not look to them for food free, but labored and toiled so “as not to impose an expensive burden upon any one of you. . . . In fact, also, when we were with you, we used to give you this order: ‘If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.’” It is a joy, therefore, and no lazy man’s way, for one to do as did the “noble-minded” Beroeans, who carefully examined the Scriptures daily.—2 Thess. 3:8-10: Acts 17:11.