by Rev. Christopher Lewis,
Nothing is Impossible Ministries
How many times have we heard the tragic news of a terrible forest fire sweeping through a forest, taking homes and sometimes even lives with it? It is always such sad news, and many times the fire is started by a little spark: somebody dropped a cigarette without putting it out, or somebody didn’t put out their campfire.
Similarly, another kind of forest fire sweeps through homes, workplaces and churches. It is also started by a small spark. It’s a different kind of fire though. It’s the kind of fire that is started by the tongue.
In the Bible, James 3:6 (NIV) says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That seems like a pretty bold comment, but in reality I think we all know that it is a metaphor that we can all identify with.
How many times have we been in situations where lives have been damaged and sometimes even destroyed by the power of the tongue? James says that if we could control the tongue, we could control the whole body, and I believe this is true. Thoughts in our mind become a reality when we speak them out, and once we say something it is really hard to take it back!
Have you ever regretted saying something to someone? Perhaps you said something in the heat of the moment, and later you would have given anything to take it back. However, the damage has been done. You cannot take your words back once they have been spoken.
At the church where I have recently been serving as interim pastor, we have done a lot of talking about the tongue lately. If we really want to have good relationships with each other, we all need God’s help in mastering the wild thing that sits behind our teeth! But how do we do it?
There are a lot of things that I think we need to learn before we even begin to tame the tongue, but I think two of the key steps we all need to take are the following:
1) Guard our hearts
2) Think before we speak
Yes, these seem like pretty obvious points, but how many of us actually put these points into practice? Let’s take a moment to consider them:
1) Guard our hearts
Jesus said it simply: “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45c) (NIV). Sometimes we say something stupid and we say, “I didn’t mean to say it. It just slipped out!” But what did it slip out of? It slipped out of our heart!
Nothing ever comes out of us that isn’t inside us somewhere in the first place. If we speak hurtful words to others, it is because there are issues of hurt or bitterness in our heart that need to be dealt with. If gossip slips out of us it is because there is something in our heart that delights in it. If we speak out lies, it is because our heart is dishonest. What comes out of us is what is in us in the first place.
So how do we deal with this? We need to start at the root of the problem. If there are issues in our heart that are unresolved, I believe we need to ask God to help us get victory over these issues. In some cases, we may even need to seek counseling to deal with these root problems.
We also need to be careful what we are putting in our heart. Many of us are familiar with the old computer science term that reminds us that no matter how intelligent the programmer, the right information can never come OUT of the computer if the INPUT is erroneous: “Garbage in, garbage out.” The same is true with the human heart. The things we watch on television, the music we listen to, the company we surround ourselves with…all these things will eventually influence the way we think and speak. Some people say, “I’m not influenced by others,” but that is never true. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a principal that cannot be avoided even by the most independent, intelligent soul.
So what are you feeding your heart with? Are you feeding it with good things, or are you feeding it with trash? You can be certain of it that whatever goes in will eventually come out…even if it just “slips out” one day in careless conversation!
2) Think before we speak
You’ve probably heard people say that when you are angry it is always a good idea to count to ten. Why do people suggest that? Because if you give your mind enough time to catch up with your emotions, it will often change what you would have said!
Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary in India for 55 years, gave her community some guidelines for speech that changed their lives. She told them that before they said something to someone they should always ask themselves three questions:
a) Is it true?
b) Is it kind?
c) Is it necessary?
If it’s not true, then of course we shouldn’t say it! However, even if it is true, it would do us all good to ask before we speak if the words we want to say are kind. If they are not, it would usually be best to keep our mouths shut. The only exception is in a case where it is absolutely necessary. For example, if we know that by not saying what we have to say that the other person’s life will be in danger or something bad will happen that could be avoided. But if we would run all our thoughts through this simple filter, I am convinced that a great deal of the things many of us say would go unsaid. Then, interestingly enough, we would eventually find that the people around us would be a lot more interested in what we did say whenever we spoke.
May God help us all to guard our hearts and to think before we speak. We can’t change what comes out of other people’s mouths, but we can make a start in changing our families, churches and communities by watching what comes out of ours!