Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Speak No Evil

Words are cheap. We can't see them. Like Snapchat messages, the appear and disappear. They can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misapplied. Teaching children how to speak is important--not just word order and proper usage, but proper choices as well. "Watch what you say." "Say what you mean." "You shouldn't have said that..."

For years this passage in James bothered me,

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:8-9).

No one can tame the tongue. No one. Really? Then why does the Bible teach so much about our words and controlling what we say? Why all the instruction if it's impossible?

Using the Bible to interpret itself, I discovered that

The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips. (Proverbs 16:23)

Jesus says it more clearly:
For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matthew 12:34)

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (Matthew 15:18)

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

When you and I are surprised by what comes out of our mouth in a heated situation, the truth is we really did mean it. Maybe we didn't intend for it to come out, maybe we hoped to keep it inside, hidden, and silent. Maybe we regret those inescapable words. But Jesus teaches that we said what we meant. It was already there, in our heart and mind.

In that case, it's true. We can't tame the tongue. We can work to change habits and patterns, but sarcasm, anger, crude language, and cutting remarks will find their way to the surface. They can't be quieted. When stirred, they rise to the surface and burst.

The answer is to harness my heart. Words and actions are a vehicle for my desires. What I want, value, and treasure is communicated outwardly. It has been said that "My actions betray my beliefs." The same is true of words. Snippets of words can be controlled and managed, but the whole of my speech reveals my heart. And there's more bad news,

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

That's the struggle. Not only is the tongue unstoppable, the heart is deceitful, sick, and wicked. We need a new one. But there is a way. There is hope.

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Recognition of my sinful, wicked state, of my selfishness, arrogance and pride is the first step. The second is a humble plea that God would forgive and cleanse. He will, and He does, when we come believing that Jesus Christ already paid the price of our sin against Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10).

At that time we are given new life, a new heart, the very Spirit of God to fight the desires and sin that remain. Daily, hourly, as we renew our mind with the Word of God we replace our own desires with God's. Then, when difficulties arise, our plans are thwarted, and others sin against us, we respond with a different heart. Our words are different, not because we've wrangled them, but because they come from a different source altogether.

Put it into context and this is what you have:

If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:2-18)

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