I can’t tell you how many family members of mine have shared advice with me over the years about watching my words. There’s a grandmother’s advice that “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” My dad once told me that sometimes it is best “To just sit there and let people think that you’re an idiot, rather than to open your mouth and prove it.” (I’m sure these weren’t original thoughts with my family. You may have gotten the same helpful hints from people close to you.) What we say can help situations and people, or our words can hurt.
In writing to early Christians, James spent more than a little time talking about the tongue.
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. (James 3:5-10)
Over the years, I have tried to tame my tongue (and keep situations constructive) by keeping quiet. But when it comes to not saying something in most instances, I am usually like the comedian who said “I had the right to remain silent, but not the ability.”
When I do, however, stop to think about the power of the tongue, and how I would like to use this God-given appendage for good, I am sometimes smart enough to apply what I have learned as the “Rotary Four Way Test.” It says, “In all that we think, say, or do, we need to ask ourselves: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Taming the tongue turns it from a harmful to helpful tool that can be used for God’s glory.
Dear God, help me this day to think before I speak, and to make all my words praiseworthy rather than problematic. I ask for this strength and wisdom, in Jesus’s name. Amen.