“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” Proverbs 12:18

What is the tongue? Is it the physical words we say? Have we distanced the tongue from the keyboard? Have we believed that what we say through our fingers on social media is separate from that which we speak to others in daily life?

From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So, the tongue is connected to the heart and through our words we present ourselves to the world. That is to say, from our hearts we present ourselves to the world.

I was reading Psalm 34 this morning and when I came to verses 13-15 I stopped. “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” David is basically addressing the fact that both words and deeds can be harmful to us and to others. Our hearts inform our thinking, our thinking informs our words and actions. For a verse that seems rather straightforward I am suddenly struck by the number of choices highlighted therein. These are active words: “keep” and “speaking,” as well as, “depart” and “seek.” Action denotes responsibility. So, what is my responsibility where my words and deeds are concerned? And, how does this relate to the way in which we “speak” to one another in writing as opposed to in person?

In James 1:26 it is written, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” That is a strong word, “useless.” The idea behind this verse is that true reverence to God is revealed through practical living, as exemplified in pure speech, pure love, and pure character. James goes on say, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Another strong word, “unspotted.” Yikes! Well, that kicks me right out of the game! I feel very spotted. What does it mean to be unspotted?!

The Greek root for the word unspotted is “aspilos,” which means unblemished. This sounds really intimidating. “Just remain unblemished.” #nobigdeal, #impossible. Before you allow panic to set in, consider this: the Bible tells us that we can live in the world and not be of the world. We can make the choice to resist the dominant influences that lead us toward sin that are in the world. Only through faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can we do that with any degree of success. Even then, we ourselves will never be able to boast of being unspotted. Only Jesus could do that. So, when we accept His saving and atoning work on the cross, God sees us through the blood of His son who absolutely was and is spotless. We have the choice as to whether or not we will accept His gift. Ahhh. More choices.

A godly person with a foul, deceitful, gossipy mouth is a contradiction in terms. Such people are deceiving themselves—but no one else. James doesn’t immediately say what the remedy of the tongue is but he says, in effect, “All right: you want to follow God’s way? Here’s how. There are people out there who need your help; and there is a messy world out there that will try to mess up your life as well. Make sure you focus on the first and avoid the second.”

The Bible also says of the tongue:

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Proverbs 25:15

“Likewise, 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.” James 3:5-9

When I read this last passage my eyes widened and the first thing that came to my mind was, “Dang! James is NOT joking around about the danger of our words!” There are also other scriptures that speak of the tongue breaking bones and perverse tongues being silenced.

Have you ever been in a room where people are speaking poorly about another person who is not present? Gossip, negative words and harsh judgments are all being bandied about on the breath of stories, half-truths and sometimes lies. The environment in the room because heavy. Sure, there is something to be gained from being a part of the group who gossips. If not, no one would ever do it. Being a valued member of the group and having something to add, especially if it is witty or funny or extra shocking brings a feeling of importance for a fleeting moment. It also shows your allegiance to the group in which you sit: loyalty of calamity against another person that acts as a shield against these same tongues kicking your name around a room in your absence. Right? Of course not. Whatever momentary pleasure or comfort comes in slicing another person’s name with your own tongue is rooted in ugliness. The ugliness of your own feelings of self-worthlessness, fear and pride.

Conversely, have you ever been in a room where people are lifting up one another? Or, better yet, speaking highly of those not in the room? The atmosphere is such a room is light, joyful, encouraging. These conversations bring hope and good news into the air, like bubbles filled with fresh air that pop above the heads of those who speak and listen. It is energizing. People who practice speaking highly of others with the motivation of truly lifting others up are often more confident as a result of their positive outlook. Sometimes you come across a person who speaks highly of others for other motives, perhaps not pure or truly giving, and those people always reveal themselves. Even so, gentle, joyful, peaceful people speak gentle, joyful, peaceful words and it is delightful to be around!

Lest I accidentally communicate the idea that words themselves hold power, I want to go back to what the Bible says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45  It is the heart that is the source of life, to the point that we are warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Another active word: “Guard” your heart. Another choice we get to make. So, the focus of our hearts sets the direction of our tongues. Guard your heart and your words will be subject to what you have put into your heart. You won’t always get it right . . . I do not always get it right . . . but if we remember that we have a choice as to how we speak to others, we can use our tongues circumspectly and not as a weapon of our own anger, self-righteousness and fear. It isn’t the words themselves that create the heavy environment in the room or the lightness in the air, it is the hearts of those speaking that invoke either goodness or darkness.

Okay, “real talk” time.

The way in which we speak to one another on Facebook and on other social medias is often divisive. I include myself in this “we” so please understand that I am not pointing my finger at anyone else. This is something that I am learning through my own mistakes and under the grace of the Holy Spirit who quietly instructs me. I have had to apologize to more people in the past two months than I have had to apologize in my life for things I said on Facebook. What happens is I see something someone has written. I disagree with it. I become indignant that the other person could possibly disagree with my point of view. I tell them why they are wrong in as nice and Christian way as I can (read sarcasm) and then if they argue at all, I get really annoyed. And usually I say something I wish I hadn’t said. Or . . .

I say something insensitive, or without thinking it through—without thinking first how my words might possibly hurt another person or people—and then receive backlash from my comments.

Certainly, it is okay that we disagree with one another. It is also okay if we are passionate about different issues and ideas and letting that passion lead us to action. It is okay for our passions to prompt us to take on positions of leadership within a certain cause or movement, irrespective of whether other people agree. It’s all okay! And while we are making our choices about what we support, what we believe, why we support and why we believe let us also remember our other choices: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

What good do we do if we gather one group into our corner and shut the rest out with our tongues? If we nurture some and break the bones of others by the way in which we represent them with our mouths? “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1

I encourage you to join me in making wise choices concerning our words. I also encourage you to apologize and ask forgiveness if your words have hurt another person or people. It is better that we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness than to continue the thread, the comments, the fight, the offense, and to divide instead of love. After all, what is the better fight: doing everything you can to make sure you’re right, or doing everything you can to show someone love?

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4: 20,21