By Michael E. Brooks
“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body . . . Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.” (James 3:2, 5 NKJV).
In the mission field, just like in congregations in the U.S., one must occasionally deal with accusations and rumors against preachers or other church leaders. Each one must be taken seriously and investigated, but many of these are quickly found to be false, based on some grudge or perceived potential gain for the accuser.
Many are made by non-Christians, but sadly some come from within the church. Each occasion reminds us of the power of the tongue, and the difficulty of controlling it.
Perhaps no part of the human body or nature has more avenues for both good and evil than the tongue. James’ teaching certainly supports this observation.
With the tongue one may curse, blaspheme, teach falsely, lie, gossip, malign, harshly criticize, hypocritically flatter, boast, worship false gods, speak obscenely or foolishly, engage in idle speculation, and tempt others to sin.
Conversely, with the tongue one may praise God, preach the Gospel, encourage others, and speak that which is true and wholesome, with much benefit to all.
The tongue is neutral, with equal power for good or evil. It is the mind directing the tongue, giving it words to speak, which determines its moral value.
Jesus taught, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts . . . wickedness . . . blasphemy . . . foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).
One’s words are a product of his thoughts, and that is part of his nature. The keys to a righteous tongue are purity of heart and self-discipline. If one does not think it, he won’t say it. Even if he has an impure or untrue thought, if he considers carefully before speaking, he will avoid evil.
James declared that anyone able to control his tongue could control all of his body. This statement reveals the absolute necessity of self-discipline. The operative word here is “control.”
One simply must think before he speaks. Only when we take responsibility for our words, and recognize that we will answer for them in judgment, will we be able to turn our tongues from evil and use them for good.
Too many feel that they are not accountable for their words, or that they cannot help themselves when it comes to their speech. Others may feel that words are simply not that important.
The teaching of scripture demonstrates that none of those excuses are valid. Evil words are a raging fire, James says, able to do great harm.
Our own experiences bear ample witness to that truth. Lives are ruined, hearts are broken, families and churches destroyed by false accusations and cruel rumors. No excuse for such behavior exists.
The false teachers in Crete were termed by Paul “idle talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10), and further described as “abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16).
Evil speech is a mark of evil hearts and ungodly lives. It is also a contributor to those characteristics.
In the same way, pure speech is a sign of faithfulness and godliness. One who uses his words to praise God and encourage others demonstrates that love and righteousness exist in his heart. It is that which comes from within, through actions and speech that testify to one’s character.
When I hear accusations against one whom I know to be a brother or sister in Christ, one reaction is to question the character and motive of the accuser. Often (though admittedly not always) such accusations tell us far more of the accuser’s true nature than they do of the accused.
If we are aware of this truth, how much more is God who knows our hearts perfectly? Let us guard our tongues and use them only for good.
By Michael E. Brooks