Monday, September 12, 2016

Just Too Tough to Tame

We’ve all heard the phrase, “too tough to tame.” It’s been used as a title for numerous books, including romance novels! It’s a description sometimes used of dominating, relentless athletes. Sometimes it’s applied to executives, shrewd businesspeople or wily politicians. NASCAR refers to the demanding Darlington Raceway in South Carolina as “the track too tough to tame.”

But of all things, do you know what’s the toughest to tame? The tongue.

In the New Testament book of James, there’s a whole section subtitled in some Bibles, “Taming the Tongue.” It states, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:3-6). Talk about not mincing words!

The tongue can cause a little spark
that results in a great fire.
The passage notes many kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures can be tamed, “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:7-10).

Isn’t this true? Have you ever been victimized by someone else’s tongue? Have others suffered wounds because of yours?

We see evidence of the untamed, untamable tongue every day: TV and radio talk shows, where biased and bombastic tongues wag out of control. In the news, when the “offending” and the “offended” seem equally outspoken, interested only in self-expression and not with the lost art of listening to others. If there were some proven way to tame the tongue, most political campaigns would have to be disbanded.

Some of us have friends that delight in sharing the latest and juiciest gossip, even if disguised in the form of “prayer requests”: “Please pray for so-and-so, whose wife just ran off with such-and-such.” Runaway tongues meet nimble fingers on social media, where negativity and criticism run without restraint. If you can’t say (or comment) something bad about someone then don’t say anything at all, has become today’s prevailing philosophy.

I’ve been guilty of this myself. Caught up in the fervor of reading social media posts of those that are for or against something, whether it’s a political candidate, cause, or controversy, there’s nothing easier than adding a snide comment either in agreement or opposition. Email is another way of linking tongues with fingertips, expressing feelings in haste, only to realize too late we’ve already leaped when we should have looked.

The Bible was written long before the advent of social media, the Internet and email, but it was already warning against the reckless use of speech, whether pouring directly from the mouth, or in the form of words appearing on a page, smartphone, or computer monitor.

Ephesians 4:29 offers perhaps the soundest advice of all concerning what we say to others:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Admittedly, this is an exhortation I need to meditate on – and apply – on a much more consistent basis. As I’ve mentioned before, remembering Proverbs 10:19 has kept me from causing needless harm many times: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” But there are still times when I slip, when I blurt out words that fit the “unwholesome talk” description. At such times, “Oops!” isn’t a good enough excuse.

So what’s the remedy for a wild, unruly tongue? It can never truly be tamed, but keeping some “words to the wise” in mind can help us avoid a lot of trouble. For instance:
  • “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips” (Proverbs 4:24).
  • “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).
  • “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
  • “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
So in these days when verbal assaults seem dramatically and tragically on the rise, perhaps we can do our part to speak – and write – in ways that prove to be sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Are we seeking to build up and benefit rather than tear down and destroy? Rather than being part of the problem, with judicious words we can become part of the solution.

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