TAKING BACK YOUR WORDS
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
Try this with your family. Gather together as many tubes of toothpaste as you have children (this could get expensive), the same number of paper plates, a $20 bill, and a Bible. Instruct each child to empty their tube of toothpaste onto their paper plate, and to have fun making swirls, towers, and designs. Have a race to see who can empty their tube first. Then place the $20 bill in the middle of the table and explain: “You have three minutes. The first person to put all the toothpaste back into their tube wins the $20. Go!”
Parents, your money is safe. (Well, you spent some on the toothpaste.) After three minutes, put the money back in your pocket, throw away the “mess”, wash any hands that need it, and call them back for a family discussion. Ask questions like: “Which was harder, squeezing the toothpaste out or putting it back in? Why? How is this like words coming out of our mouths?” Then read passages such as these from the Bible: James 3:3-12; Proverbs 15:1, 2, 28; Luke 6:45; and Ephesians 4:29.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” (Proverbs 15: 1, 2, 28)
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
You probably noticed I didn’t include the James passage. Partly because it was lengthier, and partly because our Trinity women just completed a study of the book of James. They will recall the lesson of those verses. I would however, encourage you to read them, as it is the prime passage in the Bible on the power of the tongue.
Unkind words, rumors, gossip, lies, abusive and crude language slide so easily across that slippery piece of flesh between our teeth. Ah, but to take them back, that’s another story. When we use words to hurt or defame people, we can and should apologize, but we can never retrieve what we said. And, for those who are the object of our “slip of the tongue”, the memory of the pain it caused does not fade quickly. We adults can learn from the “toothpaste experiment” as well.
The Apostle James uses several metaphors to depict the damaging effects of our tongues. It’s like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship. They are both small members but wield great control. The tongue is like a small spark which can ignite an entire forest. We can control and train wild animals but we can’t tame the tongue. James concludes: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. Just one careless, bitter, hurtful word can do irreparable damage to another person’s character and spirit. And when repeated, quickly spreads its venom, destroying friendships as well as a church’s unity.
An untamed tongue, James also warns, reflects the hypocrisy of a person’s life. We use it to praise God and to curse our fellow man. This shouldn’t be. Fresh and salt water cannot come out of the same spring. The person who considers themselves religious but cannot control their tongue, James admonishes, they are deceived and their religion is worthless. That person has only tricked themselves. It is obvious to God and to others what they are really like. For, as Jesus said, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks”.
These are sobering words. May we allow God’s Spirit to help us in our weakness and to put a guard over our lips. May we determine to speak only that which is kind, encouraging, pure, helpful, and profitable. Instead of damaging and destroying, let us use our words to build up and affirm.
“The boneless tongue so small and weak
Can crush and kill,” declared the Greek
“The tongue destroys a greater horde”,
The Turks assert, “than does the sword.”
The Persian proverb wisely says,
“A lengthy tongue, – an early death,”
Or sometimes takes this form instead,
“Don’t let your tongue cut off your head.”
“The tongue can speak a word whose speed,
Says the Chinese, “outstrips the steed,”
While Arab sages this impart:
“The tongue’s great storehouse is the heart.”
From Hebrew hath the maxim sprung;
“Though feet may slip, ne’er let the tongue.”
The Sacred writer crowns the whole;
“Who keeps his tongue doth keep his soul.”