“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things” (James 3:3-5a).
How many of us have blurted something out in the heat of the moment and immediately wished we hadn’t said it? It happens all too often when we put our mouths in gear while leaving our brains in neutral. How many have been hurt by the same type of careless speech from others?
We read in the book of James, an extended passage on the tongue. Now, this is not an anatomical treatise on the tongue’s physical workings; it is a discourse on the way we use our tongue to speak words. This passage ties together the condition of our hearts with the tenor of the words that come out of our mouths; the heart being the source of those words.
“See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:5b-10).
James warns us about the power of the spoken word; power to build up or power to tear down. Our words can encourage others or we can ruin someone’s life with a different set of words. What determines the words that come out of our mouths? Sadly, our default human condition
Source of Words
Jesus had some important things to say concerning the words that come out of our mouths; their source and their effects. He said that the words we speak are formed first in our hearts [minds; what we truly consist of] and then exit from our lips:
“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34b).
He also informs us that the words that we use, what we say, reveals the true condition of our heart; and it is this heart condition that either shows us to be His followers or shows us to still be in rebellion against Him:
“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18; Mark 7:20).
Jesus says that we speak words that are born within our hearts, our true self. If our hearts are good, cleansed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, then we can speak words that are truly good, edifying, encouraging, holy, and wholesome. However, if our hearts are evil, our natural speech will be evil, blasphemous, hurtful, and malicious:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
We need a new heart
Since our heart (our innermost being) is the source of our words, good or evil, it follows that, in order to have good speech, we need a good heart. How do sinful human beings get a new heart? God promised in the Old Testament that there would come a time when those who became His followers would receive, as it were, a new heart:
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
We read, in the Psalms, the heart-cry of the writer for a new heart, when he pens:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
And we read, in the New Testament, that we are absolutely new creatures when we repent of our sins, are forgiven, and become dedicated followers of Jesus Christ:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Therefore, we are taught, by God’s Word, that one’s speech reveals the condition of one’s heart; good speech reveals a good heart while evil speech reveals an evil heart. We are taught that God provides a remedy for this evil heart condition. That remedy is found in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus paid for our sins with His life, death, burial, and resurrection; and anyone who trusts Him for the forgiveness He offers will have his or her heart cleansed, renewed, and made whole again. And it will show by the manner in which we speak.
*All Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible
Article by Robert Driskell