To the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29 NIV)
It is likely that everyone has heard the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’m sure that most people abide by that saying most of the time. But, it is also one of the hardest things to do. James said, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 4:8 NIV)
James, also, relates the tongue to a spark of a fire that can set an entire forest ablaze. The words we say can be extremely harmful. It is amazing how often we are aware of the hurtful things that we think and still we voice them aloud. Be it gossip or a truth, our tongue can do unspeakable harm to an individual, an organization or to ourselves.
You have heard, “Think before you speak.” It is always wise to weigh the possible perceptions that could be taken before you make a comment. I will never forget when, as a counselor at Camp Blue Haven, we were doing a skit about the pain and hurt that a cut-down can cause. We had done this skit time and time again and it was always very effective. One night, I decided to call the counselor next to me “fat”. It was meant as a realistic example but the woman standing next to me did not take it well and our relationship never recovered. The words we say can so easily cut to the heart.
It is sometimes startling the things one person will say to another. In frustration and anger, it is easy to say things that are inappropriate. Whether airing dirty laundry to a third party or chewing out someone who has upset you, the result can destroy confidences and mutilate friendships.
When your tongue lashes out to another individual, the pain is contained between you and the receiver of the lashing. However, we live in an unprecedented time. We now live in the age of e-communication and social media. It is as though people forget all of the filters they ever learned when their fingers touch the keyboard. Just as you cannot retract your spoken words, you cannot pull back an email from cyberspace.
The only saving grace you have when you speak harshly to someone, whether it is in person or through email, is that it remains between the two of you. It is not so when you enter the realm of social media (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.). All of a sudden, you are announcing your personal conflict to the world. So many people use social media to vent their frustrations or to bicker back and forth with family members. In what manner is God honored? What kind of light have you cast upon yourself?
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 4:9-10 NIV) Sometimes, our praise to God is void because it is issued from such a forked tongue. If our tongue is to be an instrument of praise, then we must control its use, both verbally and written.
Everyone is guilty. No one has escaped the snare of the unbridled tongue, nor has anyone been free from the brutality of a good tongue lashing. It is among Satan’s most terrific devices. You may never fully tame the tongue, but it must be reined in.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18 NIV)