No One Can Tame the Tongue


As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I knew better than to allow such nastiness and negativity to take over, yet I seemed powerless to stop it. The hurtful words flew like an arrow, straight and true, piercing the person I love most in this world. And in that instant, a battle broke out as we hurled both blame and insults like sworn enemies instead of treating one another as husband and wife.

When two people—no matter how much they love one another—are tired and stressed, there are bound to be arguments. With both of us working full-time and doing deputation, “tired and stressed” wouldn’t be a stretch. Still, the disagreement wouldn’t have erupted like it did if I had kept my mouth shut. I should have. I had just finished writing a beautiful devotion about love and how I planned to incorporate it into my life this year. As the negativity rolled about in my head, I tried to replace it with the truth: Love is kind. It isn’t easily provoked. But despite my attempts to hold my tongue, I spewed my cruel words like a dragon breathes fire. What is wrong with me?

According to the Bible, the answer to that question is this: the same thing that’s wrong with everyone else. In continuing our series on the Negatives in the Bible, I want to move on to the phrase “no one.” Let’s begin with this:

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
— James 3:8

Wow! That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? No one can tame the tongue. Not you. Not me. Not the “saintliest” of saints or the sweetest old lady at church. No one! Why? Because the tongue is unruly. It doesn’t take instruction. It does what it wants and says what it feels like saying. Or does it?  Yes and no.

As I read this morning’s verse, I was heartbroken. “Great! So you’re telling me no matter how hard I try to watch my words, it’s impossible. Good to know! (Insert sarcasm.)” Seriously, though, I found this news discouraging. Over the past decade as a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher, I’ve instructed many to guard their tongue and pay attention to their words. Could it be I’ve been teaching it wrong all along? Again, the answer is, yes and no.

The tongue cannot be tamed. The Bible makes that clear. However, the heart can, and what’s in the heart comes flowing out of the mouth.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
— Luke 6:45

Rewind to the, ahem, discussion I had with Jason a few days ago. The thoughts were rolling around in my head long before I said them, which means the bitterness and resentment had already poisoned my heart. It was only a matter of time before they spewed from my lips. The problem, then, wasn’t my tongue. It was my heart. I had allowed past hurts and perceived injustices to eat away at me until I was harboring “evil treasure.” And once my heart was full to overflowing, all that evil treasure came pouring out, and it was ugly!

So, how do we keep this from happening? How do ensure our heart is full of good treasure? The first thing we must do is spend time with God. Read and meditate on His Word. Allow it to become a part of our lives, not just a few words we read in the morning before starting our day. No, we must allow it to sink in, all the way to the heart. Only then will it change us.

We also need to stay in constant communication with God. It’s challenging to think evil thoughts and nurse our hurts when we’re talking with the Lord. I know we’re all busy, and it seems like it’s too time-consuming to stop and pray, but I’m not talking about ceasing from our daily tasks. We can pray while we work. Use the drive time or the time waiting in the grocery line. Steal away the minutes we use in frivolous activities like social media. We can always find time to pray, and it will do us a world of good.

While we’re at it, let’s praise and worship God. Again, it’s nearly impossible for negativity to find a hold when our hearts are focused on how good God is and how much we’ve been blessed. Praise focuses our hearts on the positive in life and even has a way of making the bad look good.

Lastly, we need to pay attention to what comes in through our eyes and ears. The music we listen to, shows we watch, and people we hang around with impact our hearts. We must guard against allowing garbage into our lives because when garbage goes in, garbage comes out, and its favorite exit is the tongue!

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
— Proverbs 4:23