[Editor’s Note: Pastor Steve Howell is the Adult Education Minister at Tonganoxie Christian Church in Tonganoxie, Kansas. He’s a gifted teacher, preacher and writer and all around good friend. The following is an adaptation of one of his insightful sermons concerning Christian living in these last days.]
In the last segment of this series on words with consequences, we looked at “Option #1: Just Let It Ride” as a viable response to our problem with our tongue swearing and saying hurtful things. We learned this option is neither a good nor biblical solution. Let’s now check out the next option.
Option #2: Master It
If we can’t just say whatever comes to mind, maybe we would be better doing the opposite. Maybe “self-censoring” is the best bet after all.
Have you ever tried these self-censoring techniques?
- You count to ten before speaking when you are angry.
- You live by the motto, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.”
- You clean up your words with substitute words such as “snap,” “fudge,” and “gee-willikers.”
The main issue here is control. You find a reason to master your tongue and then change the words or don’t say anything at all.
Engaging in these techniques reminds me of a joke. There was a lady who had a pet parrot that would not stop cursing. She was at her wits end and so took the bird to her vet for advice. His advice was that every time the bird said something bad, she was to just put him in the freezer for 15 seconds. So, she went home and tried it out. The parrot started swearing like a sailor, so she put him in the freezer. After 15 seconds the parrot came out very contrite and declared, “I’m so sorry about my language. I’ll change and it will never happen again. Please accept my apologies.” Then, after a pause, he timidly asked, “By the way, what did the chicken do?”
If you try harder to watch what you say, even employing some tricks and having some forethought which is thinking before you speak, maybe you can avoid saying the wrong thing. There would be lots of benefits, such as how you’ll:
- Be more popular — You won’t stick your foot in your mouth.
- Have more control — You’ll only say what you should.
- Enjoy more happiness — Your words will bring joy to the world.
But, there is a fatal flaw to the “Master It” option, as James 3:7-8 reveals, “People have tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures. Yet, no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil filled with deadly poison.”
The flaw is that control is impossible!
James talks about the fact that we can control horses with little things like bits in their mouth, or massive ships with a relatively small rudder, but the tongue is like a spark that causes a raging forest fire. It is impossible to control. Even those who seem to have their tongues under control will inevitably lose it.
For example, do you remember in the movie “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie snaps? Facing down a bully who has been giving him a hard time, little innocent Ralphie goes crazy and attacks. He pummels the bully all the while screaming out a string of words that are deserving of a bar of soap in the mouth!
Another example, my wife’s dad who is a fine, upstanding guy who worked at a Marine Corps Air Station when he was younger. One time, Deb called her dad at the base and was put on hold while her dad finished what he was doing. Except, she wasn’t on hold, merely just waiting while the phone was set down. She heard her dad talking to someone in the background using quite a few choice words, and certainly ones that never came out when they were at home! “Sorry, kiddo,” he told her, “I didn’t know you could hear that.”
While we want to keep our tongue mastered, there just isn’t any way to completely eradicate every careless word, every insult, every snide comment, every sarcastic joke, every cutting critique, and every half-truth from our vocabulary. We have to tame our tongue, but it’s like keeping a wolf or a tiger for a pet. Even the most domesticated wild animal can still turn wild when things go bad. Our own tongue is far more difficult to control than a tiger!
So “mastering it” is also neither a good nor biblical solution.
Let’s look at yet another option, which we’ll do in the third part of this series on words with consequences.