My dad served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and he told me about all the slogans he saw on posters back then. One said, "Loose Lips Sink Ships," meaning, "Don't talk about what you know because it might reach the wrong ears, and you might be responsible for the loss of many lives by what you say."
Loose lips can also sink churches, or sink individual Christians, when we sin with our tongue. That's why the Bible says, "If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man" (James 3:2).
The issue of the tongue is a sensitive one that we all struggle with. In Proverbs 6:16-19 there's an interesting list of seven things God hates, and three of them are sins of the tongue. God says He hates a lying tongue, a false witness, and one who sows discord among the brethren.
James compares the tongue to the bridle on a horse, or the rudder on a ship – small things that can turn great things. And he compares it to fire. "See how great a forest a little fire kindles!" (James 3:5). Just like a forest fire, words can spread very quickly and destroy a life. Just get enough people talking about something – even if it's not true or has only a little bit of truth -- and you can destroy someone's reputation or character.
He goes on, calling the tongue "a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members [that is, the members of our physical body] that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (v. 6). That is heavy! You know, more sins are committed with the tongue than any other single member of our body. Here's a short list: profanity, lying, angry words, flattery, gossip, boasting. The tongue can destroy.
And James says that "no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly 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. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (vv. 8-10).
Not controlling the tongue is a real problem within the Church. The tongue can whisper, gossip, and slander, and it can bite, devour, gossip, curse, and ruin people. Yet, it can also loudly express our worship to God. Same source, two different things.
When people can't hold their tongue, when they just have to say something, to put a "spin" on it, or make it biting ... they become like the woman who was buried with this epitaph: "Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Arabella Young, who on the 24th of May began to hold her tongue." Get it? She was a blabbermouth her whole life, and the only thing that ended it was her death. James would say, "Brethren, these things ought not to be so."
Mature Christians restrain their tongue. We are accountable to use our tongue to speak truth, encouragement, and love into people's lives. Let's be that kind of Christian! Let's truly be followers of Jesus Christ in how we use our tongue.
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