The headlines are ever full of the consequences of reckless words. Someone has said, texted or tweeted something that now comes back to bite them. Politicians are forced to eat their words with profuse apologies. Others are shamed for past opinions. The tongue is certainly the most dangerous part of our body. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Words can make or break lives, relationships and churches. The line between information, gossip and slander is easily crossed. No-one can tame the tongue – except God, by His grace.
James Fraser of Brea has some concise, helpful rules for seeking to tame the tongue by God’s grace. He says, I have found by Scripture and experience how much it concerns us to watch our tongues. It is the thing by which we may do most bad or good to others. It influences the whole body. Religion is most evident in bridling our tongue (James 1:26). These are some rules I have set myself in the use of speech and words.
1. Speak No Sin
Speak nothing sinful. For example avoid lying, swearing, cursing, scolding and backbiting. Avoid saying anything that may dishonour God or wrong your neighbour (Psalm 34:13).
2. Speak to Edify
Do not speak idle words that do not profit or edify. These includes frothy words, foolish talking and jesting. Rather let your words be seasoned with grace, as with salt (Ephesians 5:4; Matthew 12:36).
3. Speak Sparingly
Do not speak much; be sparing in discourse. Be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). There is sin “in the multitude of words” (Proverbs 10:19).
4. Speak with Restraint
Speak soberly both in what you say and how you say it. It is said about the prostitute that “she is loud and clamorous” (Proverbs 7:11). Some are said to “speak great swelling words” (Jude 16). This is contrary to Christ whose voice was not heard “in the streets” (Matthew 12:19). A meek, quiet spirit is calm in words. Speaking in a loud, violent, earnest way is evidence of a proud, disordered and unmortified heart.
5. Speak Without Haste
Do not speak rashly or hastily. Do not be impetuous in speaking. Take due consideration before you speak. Do not come out with everything you think of. The heart of the righteous thinks carefully before answering (Proverbs 15:28).
6. Speak Reverently
Speak with weighty seriousness, reverently and gravely especially in religious conversation. Christ spoke “as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29). What we say and how we say it, should reveal that we “have been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Do not be superficial or careless.
7. Speak in Faith
“I believed, and therefore have I spoken” (2 Corinthians 4:13; Psalm 116:10). It is wrong to speak of things which we neither know nor believe. Uncertainties are not fit material to speak about: we should declare “that which we have seen and heard” (1 John 1:3).
8. Speak Prayerfully
In speaking, it would be good to be looking up in prayer to God in heart saying “O Lord, pardon” as though we had spoken amiss. When you are called to speak pray, “O Lord, open my mouth, and help me to know what to say and give a word in season”. Seek a blessing, “Lord, bless what I am to say to my neighbour”. This is what Nehemiah did (Nehemiah 2:4).
9. Speaking Wisely
Speak wisely and in a way pertinent to the time, people and intended purpose. This is called “speaking words in season.” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16).
10. Speak in Fear
It would be good to always have a bridle in the mouth so that no word could get out without permission (Psalm 39:1). It was bad to say “Our lips are our own, who is Lord over us?” (Psalm 12:4). As there is eating without fear, so there is speaking without fear.
11. Speak with Kindness
Do not let your neighbour’s faults be the subject of your talk, even though it may be true. We are not to backbite with our tongue (Psalm 15:3). Show your neighbour himself his faults, not others.
12. Speak Without Self-Praise
Do not speak of yourself or your own worth. Let someone else do it, not your own mouth, either directly or indirectly (Proverbs 27:2). Let your actions (rather than your lips) praise you. A proud heart hunts for the esteem of others by speaking about its own actions.
(I have added these last two, because professing Christians usually go wrong in these).