Dear Hyde Park Tongue Tamers,
This Sunday, our journey through the book of James takes us to the most vivid and practical section in the entire letter: How to tame your tongue (James 3:1-12). It is also a text for which I wrote a sermon that will be broadcast next week on the national radio program Day1. You can listen to the episode online here when it is posted in a few days.
I thought I’d share with you what I recorded in that broadcast. I imagined some creative ways to name the responsibility you and I have to control what we say, making sure that our words are used to create beauty rather than cause harm. And I thought I would share with you the heart of what I said, in the form of…
The Top Ten Tongue Twisters That Talk about Taming the Tongue
10. If liars lie in lairs of lies, in their lairs lay lots of liars.
This one is about slander and lies. It is an easy place to start, because, after all, this one is listed in our ten commandments. “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, or “thou shalt not lie”. James puts it another way later in this book, when it says, “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. Yet hearing the commandment and actually carrying it out are two different things.
9. If you attack behind their back, they’ll be back to bite you back.
This one is about gossip, which is a particularly tough one for many of us. I was once part of a Bible study where we decided at the beginning of our time that we would covenant together to cut down on the gossip. Boy, was that one tough. We discovered that it’s hard for Christians to keep from gossiping, as we have all sorts of ways to get around this one! My small group discovered that a classic way is to start a sentence with, “Keep so and so in your prayers, cause did you hear……” It is a slippery slope!
8. I need not your needles; they’re needless to me. It need not be needed to be needling me.
Watch the insults. There is no need to cut people down. That old cliché “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply untrue. Words do cause harm. They can hurt. And the bruises can last a very long time.
7. An oyster’s noise annoys me, see, When an oyster voices complaints to me.
This one has nothing to do with oysters, or the noises they make. This one is about grumbling and complaining. It cuts right to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We need to be people of great joy and enthusiasm and hope. Yet so many of us betray God’s image within us simply by how our words and actions suck the joy and life out of the world around us. There is seldom reason for grumbling and complaining in the body of Christ.
6. Ye have two ears to hear in here, so hear ye with your ears, and don’t pack your yaks like a yakking yak pack packs yaks.
This tongue twister is a simple reminder to listen more. It is one of James’ most vital pieces of advice. He says, “Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If there is any bit of homework we should exercise more, it is this: Try listening more. In each of your conversations, particularly ones that get tough or testy, listen with empathy. Hear the other person out. It’s amazing how much more sensible and more productive your exchange will be.
5. Classless cusses cause crass clauses across coarse courses.
This one is pretty simple. Cut down on the cursing. Yes, there are certain words of profanity that express meaning in ways that classier words cannot convey. But our Christian witness requires us to elevate our speech beyond that of the coarse and unrefined. Stay away from the crass; opt for the classy.
4. Love best builds and fills when its built and fills your will.
Use your words to encourage. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul writes, “and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Gal 6.2). Elsewhere, in Romans 12, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep!” Yet how many times do we put our own needs and our own emotions before others? Your tongue has a great capacity to build others up and give them the fuel they need to keep going. Give people the gift of encouragement.
3. Patient patients push a penchant for patience in a pinch.
Let your speech be graced with patience. Watch your tendencies to let your impulsiveness and impatience dictate what you say, lest you say something that you will later regret. Think before you speak, and measure your words carefully, especially in moments of tension and disagreement. When we let our unbridled emotions take over, we pay the price.
2. Would you bother to bother a brother if you offer one offer but proffer another?
Watch the hypocrisy. Make sure what you say is consistent with what you do. This principle was one of Jesus’ favorite accusations against the religious leaders of his time, especially in the book of Matthew. There was too much speaking, and not enough doing. Too much talking about the law, and not enough acting in love. When I was in youth group, we had a saying, “Your walk talks, and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks”.
So, here’s number one. And this one is given to you just straight and clear, no gimmicks, and no tongue-twisting.
1. Speak the Truth in Love
Taming the tongue is more than just keeping your mouth shut when you feel like saying something you shouldn’t. Taming the tongue also means saying something you don’t want to say but needs to be said. It would be wrong to think that the only way we need to guard our speech is to keep our mouths shut at all times. Sometimes, our speech can be used speak the truth to others, even when the truth hurts.
Sometimes not saying what you should say to someone who needs to hear it is as harmful as saying something you shouldn’t. (How’s that for a tongue twister?) Often, sharing the truth hurts. It is costly, and it is very painful. But when shared in love and genuine concern for other people, in the long run, it is for the benefit of all involved.
If you’re like me, you struggle with more than just one of the tongue traps on this top ten list. So, I hope you’ll join me this Sunday, as we ponder James 3:1-12, and commit ourselves to using our speech for love, rather than harm.
Grace and Peace,