It was a long day. We’d finished errands for the night and decided to grab a bite to eat. A few bites into my meal, I noticed the two teens on our left showing each other pictures on their phones and giggling. A sneaky sideways glance at Clayton told me we were both struggling not to smirk. We didn’t want to embarrass the young couple sitting at the table 2 feet away, but when they left, Clayton couldn’t resist educating Joseph, “That’s how teenagers flirt.” “Weird!” Joseph responded.
A quick sense of quiet rested on our table until we were unable to ignore the three women to our right venting complaints about their “deadbeat” husbands. When they had sufficiently buried their reputations, they started in on the students, parents, and teacher drama in the schools where they worked. Their conversation was making me tense and angry, and I was starting to lose my appetite. I wanted to move and find peace.
Perhaps they needed to vent. I know what it’s like to just want to get it out. If you could just tell someone, you’d feel better, right? But do you ever feel like “venting” worked you up more than it helped? Have you ever poured it all out only to become more anxious, wondering if that person was going to tell the next person, and the next, and the next....and paranoia sets in?
Have you ever regretted something you said? We all suffer from wasting our words on unedifying conversations. The Bible says, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:5-8)
These verses make it seem like the tongue is unconquerable, but I believe we can tame it using three simple actions: hate it, starve it, outsmart it.
Alexander was emperor of Russia when he watched the power of Napoleon’s army taking over Europe. He hated the idea of him moving in and taking control of Russian lands, so he went to extreme measures. He ordered his armies to abandon and destroy their own cities and villages so that when Napoleon’s army reached them they would have no resources (food, shelter or supplies). Napoleon’s army continued to advance, so they battled, but when they could no longer hold out, the Russians retreated to Moscow and also destroyed this precious city and then vacated the premises.
Napoleon arrived to an abandoned Moscow expecting Alexander to return, give up and give in. But Alexander was holding out because he knew the worst weather Russia had to offer would soon release it’s wrath on Napoleon’s army. Napoleon was left with no other choice than to trek back to France through a snowy blizzard with no food, clothing or supplies. So many men died of cold and starvation that Napoleon’s army lost it’s power. Alexander had outsmarted Napoleon by starving his army.
When we are weak, our tongue can become a fire that destroys our lives, our testimonies, and the lives and reputations of others. We have to treat this dangerous object like Alexander treated Napoleon’s army. We must control and contain the words we want so badly to spew out of our mouths until we are confident that what comes out will not be destructive. We have to starve ourselves and remove any fuel or food that would feed our need to slander, gossip or tear someone apart.
I know it’s hard. This is super hard for me, and sometimes when I keep things bottled up, I feel like I might explode, like I cannot handle it any longer. But the more I learn to tame the tongue, the easier it gets to discover what needs to come out and what needs to remain silent.
The next few words in James help me to determine what is conversation worthy: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:9-10,17-18)
The message on our tongue, the words we use with one another, is one of the hardest to swallow because we are naturally insecure and selfish. We want people to like us, to be there for us, to agree with us, to support us, etc. But wouldn’t you rather people trust you because you use wisdom to prove you are trustworthy and reliable rather than manipulating people into loyalty through gossip? It’s a hard challenge, but I believe the Holy Spirit is powerful enough in us to conquer our tongues and use them to benefit the kingdom of God rather than tear it apart.
I hope this message is as challenging for you as it is for me. If you know someone who needs to hear this, send it their way! Grace and Peace to you.
© 2016 by Sharie King. All rights reserved.