"For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless God and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so." - James 3:7-10
It is one of the most multifunctional parts of the body but it also is the body part that can cause the most dysfunction in our human relationships. The tongue assists in giving taste to our food and aids in our digestive health. It helps in the cleansing of our teeth and is an essential player in the articulation of our speech. But, it can to do little to cure the afflictions of foul mouth and foot-in-mouth. It has no shut-off switch when an impulse from the brain triggered by an ill-willed or unbridled soul wants to speak its mind.
The tongue gives us the capacity to speak words. The Yale law professor and best-selling novelist Stephen Carter, writing on the loss of civility in our society, puts it this way: “Words at their best are tools of morality, of progress and of hope. But words at their worst can wound. And wounds can fester. Consequently, the way we use words matters.” And it seems often our words express prejudice or hate or untruths. Our tongue is often used to shout down others, preventing u from listening to them and the stories of their lives.
In Proverbs we read that “Rash words are like swords thrust, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” And often the tongue of the wise sees the best course of action in communicating is to keep silent. A healing tongue blesses God and brings blessings to those made in the likeness of God, not cursing or prejudicial talk or angry put-down that demeans God’s creation. We who are called to follow The Word made flesh need to be mindful of that little part of our flesh that can create separation or wholeness. May the words that roll off our tongue be gracious, compassionate and healing.
God who nourishes our souls through your Word, feed us that bread of heaven that makes our words pleasing in your sight. Amen.
Bob Naylor has served in parish and national staff ministries and now is the lead consultant for a clergy and church coaching and planning ministry, In Church Imagining. He is the author of a recently released book by Pilgrim Press, What Church Leaders REALLY Need to Know.