[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 #2: Master It” as a viable response to controlling our tongue from swearing and saying hurtful things. We learned this option like the first option is neither a workable nor biblical solution. Let’s now check out the third option.
Option #3: Purify the Source
Maybe the key to controlling our tongue isn’t the tongue at all. Maybe the key is to work on what drives the tongue in the first place.
The tongue usually reflects the mind, unless you’ve got a bad case of Tourette’s that is. What goes in plays a big part in what goes out.
Let me give you a non-verbal example. A few months ago a woman named Jill had taken the church bus to an event. Afterwards, she set to getting the bus cleaned up and ready for the next user. She went to a gas station to fill it up. After she got on the road, though, the bus was just not running well. It responded sluggishly. It was pouring out an odd-looking exhaust. It just felt like the motor was off. After examining everything, the diagnosis was simple. Instead of filling the bus with diesel, it had been filled with unleaded gas. Oops! The problem wasn’t the motor at all. It was just that the fuel that was going into the motor was not the kind it needed. The results were bad because the fuel was bad.
I think our tongues are a lot like that bus. We feed it a lot of thoughts, emotions and reactions. So, if the source is bad, we can try to control the tongue all we want, but some of it is going to escape and make us say things that we’ll regret.
If you work around a lot of people who say inappropriate things, you’ll have a harder time not saying those things on your own. If you listen to music with crude lyrics, they may influence your vocabulary. If you watch celebrity gossip shows, the odds are that you will struggle more to avoid gossip on your own.
James 3:6 warns us about the dangers of the tongue when he teaches, “[the tongue] is a world of evil among the parts of our bodies, and it completely contaminates our bodies. The tongue sets our lives on fire, and is itself set on fire from hell.”
When we have a bad source — the allowing our lives to be controlled by the desires of the flesh or the influence of things that God opposes — we can’t help but say the wrong things. But, if we work on the source, even an uncontrolled tongue will say things that are innocuous.
James goes on in the following chapters to describe the type of people we should be. In James 3:17-18, he reveals, “The wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure. Then it is peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good deeds, impartial, and sincere. A harvest that has God’s approval comes from the peace planted by peacemakers.” These attitudes purify the source.
Can you imagine saying something you’d regret if you just had a gentle attitude? Can you imagine flying off the handle if you are full of mercy? Can you speak evil if you are a peacemaker?
If the “wisdom that comes from above” is just not in you, then you will be filled with bitterness and as a result you will say bitter things. When you are filled with anger, you will say angry things. But, if you are filled with love, then you’ll speak loving things. If you are filled with joy, then you’ll say joyful things.
The key to purifying what you say is to have a mind and heart that are transformed and a spirit that agrees with God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. To achieve this you must walk daily in step with the Holy Spirit.
How do we walk in step with the Holy Spirit? Ephesians 5:4 reveals the heart matter with, “it’s not right that dirty stories, foolish talk, or obscene jokes should be mentioned among you either. Instead, give thanks to God.” And, we should live as children who have the light of the Holy Spirit within us, as the passage continues on a few verses later in 5:9, “Light produces everything that is good, that has God’s approval, and that is true.”
The light that is supposed to fill us and the mind of Christ we should have and the fruit of the Holy Spirit that should define our pattern of living, these are things that can’t happen just by our own willpower. It all comes from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is his sacrifice on the cross that wins victory over sin. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live holy lives.
So, if you want to have control over your tongue, then you need to surrender control of your life fully over to Jesus Christ. You may not be able to fully control your surroundings and remove all negative influences, but you can control whether you have given your life to Christ and whether His Spirit lives in you.
Once saved, you still control whether you listen to His guidance and counsel. You decide to whom you submit to. If you have the Spirit and you listen to his guidance and you submit to Him, then you will be filled with that “light.” You will have fewer inclinations to speak in ways that would grieve your Heavenly Father and more inclinations to say things that would instead please him.
The most practical and therefore the most biblical solution to gaining control over your tongue then is to purify the source.
In the fourth and final part of this series on words with consequences, I’ll give you five things you can do with your tongue to keep it on the right track.