Show Love and Respect by Controlling Your Tongue
“Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—EPHESIANS 5:33.
1, 2. What important question should all married people ask themselves, and why?
SUPPOSE you received a gift-wrapped package with a label that read: “Handle With Care.” How would you treat that package? Surely you would take every precaution to avoid damaging it. What about the gift of marriage?
2 To the young women Orpah and Ruth, the Israelite widow Naomi said: “May Jehovah make a gift to you, and do you find a resting-place each one in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:3-9) Concerning a good wife, the Bible says: “The inheritance from fathers is a house and wealth, but a discreet wife is from Jehovah.” (Proverbs 19:14) If you are married, you need to view your mate as a gift from God. How are you treating the gift that God has given you?
3. What admonition of Paul do husbands and wives do well to heed?
3 Writing to Christians in the first century, the apostle Paul said: “Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) Consider how husbands and wives can heed this admonition with regard to their speech.
Beware of “an Unruly Injurious Thing”
4. How can the tongue be a force for good or for bad?
4 The Bible writer James says that the tongue is “an unruly injurious thing” that “is full of death-dealing poison.” (James 3:8) James was aware of this vital truth: An unruly tongue is destructive. Undoubtedly, he was familiar with the Bible proverb that compares thoughtless words to “the stabs of a sword.” In contrast, the same proverb says that “the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Indeed, words can have a powerful effect. They can hurt, or they can heal. What effect do your words have on your marriage mate? If you asked your spouse this, how would he or she answer?
5, 6. What factors make it difficult for some to restrain the tongue?
5 If hurtful speech has crept into your marriage, you can change the situation for the better. However, effort will be required. Why? For one thing, there is the imperfect flesh to contend with. Inherited sin exerts a negative influence on the way we think about and speak to one another. “If anyone does not stumble in word,” James wrote, “this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.”—James 3:2.
6 In addition to human imperfection, family environment plays a role in the misuse of the tongue. Some people were raised in homes where parents were “not open to any agreement, . . . without self-control, fierce.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Often, children who grow up in such an environment display similar traits when they become adults. Of course, neither imperfection nor deficient upbringing provides an excuse for harmful speech. Being aware of these factors, though, helps us to understand why restraining the tongue from speaking what is injurious is particularly challenging for some.
‘Put Away Backbiting’
7. What did Peter mean when he admonished Christians to “put away . . . all sorts of backbiting”?
7 Regardless of the cause, using hurtful speech in marriage could indicate a lack of love and respect for one’s spouse. For good reason, Peter admonished Christians to “put away . . . all sorts of backbiting.” (1 Peter 2:1) The Greek word translated “backbiting” means “insulting language.” It conveys the idea of ‘shooting people with words.’ How well that describes the effects of an unruly tongue!
8, 9. What can result from using insulting speech, and why should marriage mates avoid doing so?
8 Insulting speech may not seem so serious, but consider what happens when a husband or a wife uses such speech. Calling one’s mate stupid, lazy, or selfish implies that his or her entire character can be summed up by a label—a demeaning one at that! This is surely cruel. And what about sweeping assertions that highlight a mate’s flaws? Are not such statements as “You’re always late” or “You never listen to me” really exaggerations? They are bound to elicit a defensive response. That, in turn, may trigger a heated argument.—James 3:5.
9 Conversation that is laced with insulting speech puts a strain on a marriage, and this too can have dire consequences. Proverbs 25:24 says: “Better is it to dwell upon a corner of a roof than with a contentious wife, although in a house in common.” Of course, the same can be said of a contentious husband. Over time, cutting words from either mate will erode a relationship, perhaps causing a husband or a wife to feel unloved, even unlovable. Clearly, it is important to restrain the tongue. But how can this be done?
‘Bridle the Tongue’
10. Why is it important to control the tongue?
10 “The tongue,” states James 3:8, “not one of mankind can get it tamed.” Nevertheless, just as a rider bridles a horse to control the animal’s movements, we should do our best to bridle our tongue. “If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship is futile.” (James 1:26; 3:2, 3) These words show that how you use your tongue is a serious matter. It affects more than your relationship with your mate; it affects your very relationship with Jehovah God.—1 Peter 3:7.
11. How might it be possible to prevent a disagreement from escalating into a heated argument?
11 You are wise to take note of how you speak to your mate. If a stressful situation develops, try to defuse the tension. Consider a situation that arose in the life of Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, as recorded at Genesis 27:46–28:4. “Rebekah kept saying to Isaac: ‘I have come to abhor this life of mine because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob ever takes a wife from the daughters of Heth like these from the daughters of the land, of what good is life to me?’” There is no indication that Isaac responded harshly. Instead, he sent their son Jacob away to find a God-fearing wife who was not likely to become a source of distress to Rebekah. Suppose that a disagreement arises between a husband and his wife. A subtle shift from “you” to “I” can prevent a minor disagreement from escalating into a heated argument. For example, instead of saying, “You never spend time with me!” why not say, “I wish we could spend more time together”? Focus on the problem, not just the person. Resist the tendency to analyze who is right and who is wrong. “Pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another,” says Romans 14:19.
Put Away ‘Malicious Bitterness, Anger, and Wrath’
12. To control the tongue, for what should we pray, and why?
12 More is involved in restraining the tongue than watching what we say. After all, our words are a product of the heart rather than of the mouth. Jesus said: “A good man brings forth good out of the good treasure of his heart, but a wicked man brings forth what is wicked out of his wicked treasure; for out of the heart’s abundance his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) Hence, to control your tongue, you may need to pray as did David: “Create in me even a pure heart, O God, and put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one.”—Psalm 51:10.
13. How can malicious bitterness, anger, and wrath lead to abusive speech?
13 Paul urged the Ephesians to avoid not only the hurtful words but also the feelings behind them. He wrote: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.” (Ephesians 4:31) Note that before citing “screaming and abusive speech,” Paul mentioned “malicious bitterness and anger and wrath.” It is the rage that boils within that threatens to erupt in an outburst of hurtful speech. So ask yourself: ‘Do I harbor bitterness and wrath in my heart? Am I “disposed to rage”?’ (Proverbs 29:22) If this is true in your case, pray for God’s help to overcome these tendencies and to exercise self-control so that you can avoid letting your anger erupt. Psalm 4:4 says: “Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.” If tempers threaten to flare and you fear that you will lose self-control, follow the admonition of Proverbs 17:14: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” Momentarily step away from the situation until the danger passes.
14. How can resentment affect a marriage?
14 It is not easy to deal with wrath and anger, especially when it stems from what Paul called “malicious bitterness.” The Greek word that Paul used has been defined as characterizing a “resentful spirit which refuses reconciliation” and a ‘spite that keeps a score of wrongs.’ Sometimes hostility hangs like a dense fog between a husband and his wife, and the condition may persist for a long time. Cold disdain may result when a grievance has not been fully resolved. But harboring resentment for past wrongs is futile. What has happened cannot be undone. A wrong that has been forgiven should be forgotten. Love “does not keep account of the injury.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5.
15. What will help those accustomed to using harsh words to change their manner of speaking?
15 What if harsh language was common in the family in which you were raised and using it has become your custom? You can make changes in this regard. You have already set limits in a number of areas of life in which you will just not allow yourself to act in a certain way. Where will you choose to set the boundary when it comes to your speech? Will you stop before your words become abusive? You will want to adopt the limit described at Ephesians 4:29: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth.” This requires that you “strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe [yourself] with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.”—Colossians 3:9, 10.
“Confidential Talk”—A Must
16. Why is the silent treatment damaging to a marriage?
16 Little is accomplished—and damage can result—when a husband or a wife resorts to what has been called the silent treatment. This is not always a matter of punishing one’s partner, as it may result from frustration or discouragement. Yet, refusing to talk to each other only heightens tension and does little to solve the problem at hand. As one wife put it, “once we do start talking again, we never discuss the problem.”
17. What should be done by Christians experiencing marital stress?
17 When marital tension persists, there is no shortcut. Proverbs 15:22 states: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk, but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” You need to sit down with your spouse and discuss the matter. By all means, listen to your mate with an open mind and heart. If it seems impossible to do so, why not take advantage of the provision of elders in the Christian congregation? They have knowledge of the Scriptures and are experienced in applying Bible principles. Such men are “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.”—Isaiah 32:2.
You Can Win the Battle
18. What struggle is described at Romans 7:18-23?
18 Bridling our tongue is a struggle. So is controlling our actions. Describing the challenge that he faced, the apostle Paul wrote: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is fine is not present. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. If, now, what I do not wish is what I do, the one working it out is no longer I, but the sin dwelling in me.” Because of “sin’s law that is in [our] members,” we are inclined to misuse our tongue and other parts of the body. (Romans 7:18-23) However, the battle must be fought—and it can be won with God’s help.
19, 20. How can Jesus’ example help husbands and wives to bridle their tongue?
19 In a relationship that is characterized by love and respect, there is no room for thoughtless, harsh words. Think of the example that Jesus Christ set in this regard. Jesus never used insulting speech with his disciples. Even on the last night of his life on earth when his apostles were arguing over who among them was the greatest, the Son of God did not scold them. (Luke 22:24-27) “Husbands,” admonishes the Bible, “continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.”—Ephesians 5:25.
20 What, though, about a wife? She “should have deep respect for her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) Would a wife who respects her husband scream at him, using abusive speech? “I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ,” wrote Paul, “in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) Wives are to be in subjection to their head as the Christ is to his Head. (Colossians 3:18) Although no imperfect human can perfectly imitate Jesus, striving to “follow his steps closely” will help husbands and wives to win the battle against misuse of the tongue.—1 Peter 2:21.
What Did You Learn?
• How can an unruly tongue damage a marriage?
• Why is the tongue difficult to bridle?
• What helps us to control our speech?
• What should you do when experiencing marital stress?
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