Can We Really Tame Our Tongues?

Can We Really Tame Our Tongues?

Doesn’t it seem at times, that modern life has become a circus?

Sometimes we’re the juggler, trying to manage all the family, career and life responsibilities, or the tightrope walker, trying to walk that line between living for Christ and the constant pull of the world. Other times we are the strongman, wrestling with heavy burdens and temptations that are never-ending. And don’t forget the clowns that surround us everywhere! Their insanity drains our time and energy, but we simply must deal with them.

Yet, against this backdrop, God is there as a ring master, making order out of all the chaos – to the extent we turn it over to Him. And one of the best ways we can experience victory with Him is to become a lion tamer and take control of that most vicious of beasts – the human tongue!

We know how difficult it is to tame a real lion, even one raised from a cub. Just remember the tragic account of Siegfried and Roy, the famous Las Vegas magic act featuring white tigers. In 2003 one such tiger, Manticore, bit Roy in the neck and dragged him offstage, ending his career and nearly his life. Which makes us ask – can a lion, or the human tongue, really be tamed?

“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:2-6).

Lions are strong, magnificent creatures, but dangerous. They can turn on you suddenly, and in a split-second, cause untold damage. Yet when they are under the control of the lion tamer, they are beautiful to behold.

Just like our tongues.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

Taming the tongue is vital so we don’t stumble, experience unnecessary relationship damage, or get pushed off the course that God set for our lives. And I will confess, I am often a person who has a tongue that causes stumbling! It gets me in trouble… a lot. Like the time when I congratulated a congregation member on her “baby bump” only to discover she was not, in fact, pregnant. 

As humorous as that may be (years later), it’s an embarrassing illustration of why we need to tame our tongues. Even casual words spoken can cause us to stumble in life, and experience unnecessary damage.

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5).

Indeed, what comes out of our mouths in an absent-minded moment can cause great damage.

Our words can have unintended consequences: weakening our marriage relationship, creating division between friends and distrust among colleagues, and alienating our children. They can cost us our jobs, our reputations, and untold opportunities.

What comes out of our mouth can cause us to experience a lifetime of regret, especially if they knock us off the course God has for our lives.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6b).

In other words, our lives follow the direction of our words. If we are always saying things like: I’ll never…I can’t…my life is over…I won’t recover…I don’t get any breaks… Don’t be surprised if that is exactly how your life turns out! Just as absent-minded words spoken to others can damage the course of that relationship, what we constantly say about ourselves and our lives has a profound effect on our own minds. And these self-imposed limiting beliefs and crippling mindsets can completely alter the course that our lives take, away from God’s intent. Which, by the way, is amazing.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

But if the masters Siegfried and Roy ultimately failed in taming their lion, well-fed, well-treated, and raised from a cub, how can we hope take control of the wild beast of the human tongue?

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8).

No man can tame the tongue; but God can, if we allow Him to T.A.M.E. it.

T. Take It Slow

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

This verse is not talking about the speed of our words, but the speed of our response. It admonishes us to be strategic, thoughtful, and discerning when we speak with others.

As a matter of fact, the best explanation of this idea I’ve found comes from the Message translation of the Bible. It says:

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue…” (James 1:19 MSG).

As they say, we have two ears and one mouth, so it only makes sense that we would do more listening than talking!

A. Ask God for Help

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalms 19:14).

“Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalms 141:3).

We need to pray these Scriptures as we ask God for His strength to tame our tongues. But somewhere along the way we appear to have lost our understanding of the power of prayer.  Too often, we forget to pray without ceasing, and simply try to work things out on our own.   However, prayer is the foundation for prevailing.

“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

Therefore, if we don’t pray and don’t seek for God’s assistance, we will usually not prevail over anything that challenges us, much less the taming of our tongues!

M. Make the Decision

“Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (Psalms 17:3).

The greatest gift that God has given to each of us (other than Jesus Christ Himself) is the power to “choose.”  The power to choose right from wrong. The power to choose to be kind, rather than ugly, to help or ignore, to give or to take, to love or to hate. All of these options are wrapped up in this gift that God has given to all of us.

When you and I make a decision, when we yield our will to God and do what’s right, when we choose to do something according to His will, spectacular things began to happen. That’s why Deuteronomy 30:19 says:

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

There is power in your choice. There can also be blessing and life in making the right choices. And so, if we are going to tame our tongues, we must do what David did – pray and decide in advance to avoid sinning with our mouths.

E. Enlist the Help of the Holy Spirit

“But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Again, this verse does not mean that it is impossible to control the tongue, it just means that man can’t do it by himself. Thankfully, we haven’t been left to live life and do the hard things by ourselves; we have been given the Holy Spirit as our comforter and helper.

“Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses” (Romans 8:26).

The Holy Spirit acts as the bit and bridle for our mouths. When our minds are tempted to disengage and start running our mouths without care or constraint, if we stop long enough to pay attention to that still small voice, we’ll likely hear Him say… No! Don’t go there, and certainly don’t say that.

He will cause us to remember that a kind word turns away wrath. He encourages us to stand strong on the promises in the Word:

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

So, when your untamed mouth starts down the path of destruction – be a lion tamer and stop, listen to, and yield to the Holy Spirit instead. He is the good Ring Master in this crazy life circus. If we follow His directions, He will prevent us from stumbling, and experiencing unnecessary damage and will direct our course in the direction that God has planned for our lives.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/lolostock

Frank SantoraFrank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit Photo by Michele Roman.