The Untamed Tongue
Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
Luke 12:1-3 NRSV
The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell… no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
James 3:6-10 NRSV
I used to be a high school teacher. Often I would remind the students that the reason we have two ears but one mouth is because we need to listen twice as much as we speak. They would mostly just roll their eyes. Yet we do often speak too quickly, too flippantly or too duplicitously. It is so very easy to reply to another’s heartache with a dismissive platitude, to respond to someone’s naivety with impatience and disbelief, or to mock someone’s opinion or feelings because they don’t match up with ours. We also, too often, find ourselves saying one thing in church, but another behind closed doors, on the golf course, at dinner or on Facebook.
It’s no surprise when James starts out talking about our wayward words, he quickly moves onto the subject of wisdom and the gentleness borne of it (v. 13). Cultivation of wisdom is the antidote to an untamed tongue. For not everything we want to say needs to be said! Much of what we think we ‘should’ say is, truthfully, more about serving our own needs (and ego) than helping anyone else’s.
Wisdom calls on us to slow down, to cease from words that self-justify our views or decisions, and to seek God’s direction for that thing that
be useful to say, but now will be spoken with humility and gentleness. We start by practicing saying nothing at all and instead holding in those pressing thoughts and opinions. We start by remembering that we are always standing on holy ground for the Spirit of God lives in us. For as Proverbs 9:10 reminds us: “
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries