Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
I cannot say this any plainer than James said it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…no human being can tame the tongue…it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). Jesus teaches us that your mouth is simply the outlet for our heart, and if it is true that our tongues are untamed, hellish, poisonous devices, then our hearts must be in a sad state indeed. Your mouth, dear friend, not only tells everyone what you think; it tells everyone who you are.
I have dedicated my life to the taming of my tongue, and I want to urge the practice on you as well. It isn’t as if this discipline is without reward, James writes, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). Ah! If only I could stop saying sinful things, I would reach perfection as a man! And so would you. It cannot be that easy, can it?
If a tamed tongue makes a perfect person, then perhaps we should all take a vow of silence. If we didn’t say anything, then wouldn’t we be perfect? Alas, a perfect tongue is not a silenced one. The function of the tongue is to praise the Lord who made us and to speak truth, love, and encouragement into the lives of others. No, a silent tongue is not perfected. We were made to express ourselves in beautiful, God honoring, family building ways. The silent tongue only appears perfect to the legalist. A legalist believes that ceasing to sin outwardly is a sign of progress. Jesus says that progress is like white-washing a tomb fulll of dead men’s bones, or cleaning the outside of a cup and leaving the inside full of filth. No, silence will not do the trick for those seeking perfection.
To perfect our tongues, we must repair it at its source. Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt. 15:18). If we can get our hearts right, then we will not have to take a vow of silence. If the heart is right, then our mouths will become a fountain of living water, and we would be a perpetual source of blessing to all who might hear us. It is true that words can be harsh, after all, Jesus called people sons of the devil and Paul called them dogs, evil-doers, and mutilators of the flesh. But within a chapter those harsh things, Paul writes, “For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). His fiery words were tempered with a pastoral heart.
Here is how we might work towards perfection. Before we utter a word, or type a comment, or make angry eyebrows, we ought to think about whether this thing we are doing is helpful to others and acceptable before the Lord. That is, do we really have the best intentions for our listeners? If we feel compelled to offer corrections, which is our duty when a brother or sister errs, are we seeking their good? Are we seeking reconciliation, edification, and encouragement for others? If we can remember this, even when we really are talking to sons of the devil, we will make great strides in our quest to becoming more like Jesus.