Control your tongue

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 HCSB

Gossip by Norman RockwellNotice what this verse does not say: “the one who doesn’t speak at all is wise.” God isn’t suggesting here that you become a mute.

However, it is true that more spoken words likely leads to words that displease God. Wisdom, according to Proverbs 10:19, is found not in silence, but in the ability to control what you say.

Consider a few other passages of scripture that address the words proceeding from your mouth:

  • Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit. ~Psalm 34:13
  • Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you. ~Proverbs 4:24
  • Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? ~Ecclesiastes 5:5-7
  • But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. ~Colossians 3:8
  • Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. ~Colossians 4:6
  • Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. ~1 Timothy 4:12
  • If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. ~James 1:26

As you pray and study God’s word today, ask him to reveal any area of your speech that is displeasing to him. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you control your lips.


What’s the gossip?

Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. ~Proverbs 26:20-22 NIV

GossipAre you a person tempted to gossip? Or perhaps you are one who thrills to hear the words of a gossip? The Lord compares gossip to fire in these verses, as well as food. As you share gossip, it’s as if you are adding fuel to a fire. Or it is like delicious food that deeply satisfies you when you hear it. And the result is strife, kindled by the fuel of gossip. People who trade in rumors and innuendo are considered to be troublemakers – quarrelsome.

If sin weren’t attractive and enticing, would you be all that enthralled by it? Probably not. For some, gossip is almost irresistible. Almost, because God himself promises in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that you can resist the temptation to gossip:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

If you are a person given to talking too much about other people, ask the Lord to purify you of this habit. Pray today that God will give you the eyes and ears to see and hear this in your own life for what it is, and agree with the Lord that this behavior is sinful disobedience.

Pray for inner strength to resist the temptation to speak of others, unless your words meet God’s standards for your speech in Ephesians 4:29:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

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Hold it!

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. ~Proverbs 17:27-28 NIV

Mouth SpeakingAccording to this passage, a person who possesses knowledge is characterized by using words carefully and by an even temperament. Thus, you might even believe that a fool is actually a  wise person – if only he can keep his mouth shut!

In James 1:19-20 and verse 26, the Lord reaffirms the message of Proverbs 17:27-28.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

If you are quick to hear, you will always have the benefit of other people’s experience and mistakes. The knowledge and understanding referred to in verse 27 are godly wisdom – the words of scripture. A follower of Jesus should regularly be listening to the living, active words of the Bible.

If you are slow to speak, you will say fewer things you regret. It’s better to listen carefully to the wise words of God, rather than risk saying something foolish yourself.

Most importantly, the Lord reminds you that your anger never accomplishes God’s purposes. Being slow to anger includes the self-discipline that helps you refuse to show your rage. Even Moses was punished by God when he struck a rock in anger, rather than simply speaking to it, as he had been instructed (see Numbers 20).

As you invest time with God today reading the scriptures and praying, ask him to help you develop the kind of character he wants displayed in your life. Pray about how you use words, and how you control your emotions. Ask the Lord to fill you with his knowledge and understanding, that you might be truly wise. Pray for the self-discipline to simply hold your tongue.

Love to talk?

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. ~Proverbs 18:21 NLT

Calvin Coolidge

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge earned his nickname, “Silent Cal.”

Your words are powerful. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), the 30th U.S. President, understood this principle. He earned (and may even have cultivated) the nickname “Silent Cal.” A man who knew how to control his tongue, he once remarked, “The words of a President have an enormous weight, and ought not to be used indiscriminately.”

Coolidge also once quipped, “Nothing I never said ever did me any harm.”

A long-time elected official serving in local, state and national offices, by the time he became President, Coolidge had a reputation as a skilled and effective public speaker. But in private, he truly was a man of few words. Dorothy Parker, a well-known author and satirist at the time, seated next to him at dinner, said, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” His famous reply: “You lose.” When Parker learned that Coolidge had died, she reportedly remarked, “How can they tell?”

In the Bible, God spoke things into existence. Nine times in the first chapter of Genesis, the scripture records that “God said,” and something suddenly existed that had not existed before the Lord spoke.

Jesus addresses this subject in Matthew 5:21-22. Here he makes it clear that the words you use can have eternal significance:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

In Colossians 3:16-17, the apostle Paul instructs Christ-followers how to speak:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

“Silent Cal” was right: Things you never say really won’t do you harm. Ask the Lord today to help you tame your tongue.

Don’t fuel the fire

Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood. ~Proverbs 26:20-21 NLT

“Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.” ~Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Are you a person given to gossip?

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines “gossip” as:

  1. Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature.
  2. A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts.
  3. Trivial, chatty talk or writing.

embersAccording to this verse, gossip causes quarrels. And the arguments all seem to evaporate when the gossip ceases.

Your speech is important to the Lord. Consider the wisdom offered in 1 Peter 3:10:

For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”

Since gossip leads to quarreling. it should be considered an evil of the tongue. By dealing in rumors, you may be adding fuel to the fire of a quarrel without even realizing it. If you are the one whispering intimate or private rumors – or even facts – stop.

Think before you speak

Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything. ~Proverbs 13:3 NLT

Taming the TongueThis verse is a simple promise of a blessing, coupled with a warning against talking too much. The formula is an easy one: Discipline yourself to control your tongue, and be careful to think before you speak.

Easier said than done?

The New International Version translates Proverbs 13:10 as, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Two different Hebrew words, natzar and shamar, are translated “guards.” Both are commonly used to mean “protect,” “keep a watch over,” or “maintain.”

A free and impetuous talker expresses – unexamined and unconsidered – whatever comes into his or her mind. Perhaps you know a person who speaks without thinking. Often it seems they speak words that are hurtful, harmful, careless, or even self-destructive.

In what ways can careless words cause you trouble? Here’s a partial list, gleaned from various Old and New Testament scriptures. Sins of the tongue include:

  • arrogance (1 Samuel 2:3)
  • boasting (Psalm 94:4)
  • bitter remarks (Ephesians 4:29-32)
  • complaining (Numbers 11:1)
  • debate (Romans 1:29),
  • despising others (Proverbs 11:12)
  • disrespect to parents (Proverbs 20:20; Deuteronomy 27:16)
  • false accusations (Exodus 20:16; Titus 2:3)
  • filthy language/sexual innuendos (Colossians 3:8)
  • flattery (Psalm 12:3)
  • flattering titles (Job 32:21-22)
  • foolish jesting (Ephesians 5:4)
  • foolish talking (Ephesians 5:4)
  • harsh fathering (Colossians 3:21)
  • hasty or broken vows (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)
  • hypocritical worship (Isaiah 29:13)
  • long, repetitive prayers (Matthew 6:7)
  • name calling (Matthew 5:22)
  • ostentatious praying (Matthew 6:5)
  • questioning God (Romans 9:20)
  • slander (Proverbs 10:18)
  • speaking against a leader (Ezekiel 33:30; 3 John 1:9-10)
  • speaking evil of dignitaries (Ecclesiastes 10:20; Judges 1:8)
  • speaking evil of a brother (James 4:11)
  • swearing (James 5:12)
  • taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7)

Are your words carefully considered before they escape your lips? Ask the Lord to reveal to you any ways in which you might improve your speech today.

What did you say?

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions. ~Proverbs 10:11 NLT

Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding, but those lacking sense will be beaten with a rod. ~Proverbs 10:13 NLT

Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster. ~Proverbs 10:14 NLT

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. ~Proverbs 10:19 NLT

The words of the godly are like sterling silver; the heart of a fool is worthless. ~Proverbs 10:20 NLT

The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense. ~Proverbs 10:21 NLT

The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice, but the tongue that deceives will be cut off. ~Proverbs 10:31 NLT

The lips of the godly speak helpful words, but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words. ~Proverbs 10:32 NLT

What did you say?In chapter 10, the book of Proverbs shifts emphasis from avoiding immoral behavior to contrasting godly and ungodly words. Excerpted above are eight verses from chapter 10 that fit this theme of words.

These eight verses compare the words of a wise, godly person with the words of a wicked, foolish person. Proverbs 18:21 says, in part, “The tongue has the power of life and death…” You can see both at work in this chapter: some words lead to life. Others lead just as inevitably to death.

Verse 19 sums it all up nicely: too many words can be careless. Excercise discretion by keeping it to yourself.

What words are coming out of your mouth? Or appearing in your emails, tweets and Facebook posts? You have the power – literally – of life and death in your words. Ask God to help you choose wisely today.