Do you know that God does not want you to beat yourself up because you’re not perfect? The greatest of biblical heroes had their flaws, including successes and failures with regard to controlling their tongues.
We read in the book of James: We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. James 3:2 Notice the word ‘all’. All means all – that includes you and me. It is clear from his letter that even he struggled to maintain control of his tongue. This should give us a measure of comfort – not excuse, but comfort in realizing that everyone faces this challenge. You are not alone in the effort to control your tongue and neither am I.
The word for ‘stumble’ comes from a Greek word which means ‘to slip, to sin or to fall’. Sinning with the tongue is a major theme in the letter of James and it is a serious issue. Lest we rationalize or dismiss our failures with the tongue, we must understand that we grieve the Holy Spirit with coarse, judgmental or sarcastic language, causing damage to our own soul and often to others as well.
Therefore the scripture gives us a mandate to deal decisively with our power of speech.
In the first of the psalms called the Psalms of Ascent, we read these words:
Save me O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? Psalm 120:2-3
The psalms of ascent, Psalms 120-134, were sung by the Israelites who made pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year in the days of the Temple. As they approached Jerusalem, they would begin to sing these psalms. No matter where in Israel they came from, they always ‘went up’ to Jerusalem for this awesome city is nearly three thousand feet above sea level.
The children of Israel were assembling to worship the Lord and observe His festival. They knew that purity of heart, sincerity of intention and a repentant spirit was vital to the worship they would give to the Holy One of Israel and indeed, necessary to sanctify their act of obedience in traveling to Jerusalem. To come simply as an annual ritual with no heart intent was indeed a waste of time! And so, the psalms of Ascent were all about God getting their attention and calling them to a closer relationship with Himself.
The first verse of this psalm says, ‘I call on the Lord in my distress and He answers me.’ Psalm 120:1 Reflecting on their heart attitude and repenting as needed, was the first order of business as they approached Jerusalem. Sin causes stress – or distress – whether or not we realize it. This first of the Psalms of Ascent brought that truth to their consciousness.
What does God have to do to get your attention?
Sometimes He does so through what other people say to us or about us. Criticism can be painful, even if it is true. At times we may be lied about or lied to. That also hurts and our reaction is a measure of our spiritual maturity.
What is a lie anyway? I like this definition from RT Kendall: A lie is the postponement of the truth which will eventually come out.
So if you’re lied about or lied to, relax. Bite your tongue. Give it to the Lord. He WILL take care of it in His time and in His way. See it as a great opportunity to strengthen your character. Who you are under fire is who you really are. And there is nothing quite so intense as being under fire for something you didn’t do or say! ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.’ Romans 12:19 Let Him do it – He does it so much better than we ever could.
‘Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.’ Psalm 141:3
One of the best scriptures to pray each morning is the one above: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Have you ever been around someone who reeks of garlic? It can be pretty overpowering, even nasty, making it unpleasant to be around the person.
A friend of mine said once, ‘When your tempted to snap back at an insult or criticism, especially if its unwarranted, think GARLIC!’ What comes out of your mouth in an impulsive and/or angry retort is as nasty as the overwhelming ‘garlic breath’ of someone else.
Words have power either for good or for evil. Let us learn to discipline our tongues so that all our words will be words of life.