Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
There’s wisdom in the saying or idea that we should keep our thoughts to ourselves. Most often true. But add to that, we should bring our thoughts, especially when they’re disparaging of others, to God. And the psalmist’s prayer here is so helpful. One we ought to memorize and pray regularly, ourselves.
We little realize just how unruly and out of control our tongues can be. We might even say something which is okay, even good, yet add just a twist or something else which ruins it. How ruining our tongues can be.
And while we’re at it, let’s not forget nonverbal communication. We might not say anything bad, yet be saying plenty bad by our attitude. People can pick up our spirit, whether it’s anger, or a critical spirit. We’re told to guard our hearts in Proverbs (4:23). In this life we’ll never arrive to perfection, that is, to a perfect heart. So we do well to ask God to guard our tongues. While all the while we seek through confession of sin and prayer to have a better attitude. Non-condemning and prayerful, as well as being a servant.
But to the root of this discussion. Yes, we can’t tame the tongue. But the Holy Spirit can make the needed difference, so that we can indeed become different people, choosing to speak helpful, constructive words, rather than what is discouraging and destructive. So with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do much better. And often times, in fact probably more often than not, simply say nothing. In and through Jesus.