Bridling the tongue is no small task. Even those brothers and sisters who have been serving the Lord diligently for decades can find it a struggle to control their tongue. It is a never-ending challenge.
How we use our tongue is a matter of choice. As we read the book of James, we are reminded of the challenge that our tongue presents to each of us. “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10). James paints the picture of putting a bridle in a horse’s mouth in order to control its movements. He also describes ships being controlled by a small rudder (James 3:3,4). In comparison to the horse, a bridle is tiny. The same is true about the size of a rudder in comparison to a ship. The little object controls the bigger one. What is the point for God’s children? Our tiny tongue has a huge influence on our much larger body, and by extension, our tongue goes a long way in determining just what kind of person we are. Our tongue/mouth is a major part of our character.
Lest we be tempted to think that, since controlling the tongue is so difficult, surely God will not hold us accountable for our speech, James also penned these sobering words: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26). What realities do we see in that statement?
First, it is possible for a person to think he is religious. The Greek word for “religious” means “fearing or worshipping God” [Thayer, word no. 2357 via e-Sword]. Second, it is possible for a religious person not to bridle his tongue. Third, it is possible for one who counts himself as religious to deceive his own heart. Fourth, if a religious person fails to bridle his tongue, his religion is useless. That is strong language, and it clearly establishes the fact that I might be a devout, religious person, but my religious activities and efforts are worthless if I do not bridle my tongue. Surely anyone who learns that truth will want to put forth his best effort to control his tongue, do you not agree?
The Psalmist wrote, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me’” (Psalm 39:1). Such a resolve sounds easy enough. In real life, though, muzzling/bridling/ restraining the tongue is a tough task. I cannot think of anything at which humans fail more regularly than in their efforts to bridle their tongue. Reckless tongues abound.
What do we hear from unbridled lips? Lies, profanity, outbursts of rudeness, gossip, secrets revealed, fleshly insinuations, and insensitive words.
That list is not exhaustive, but surely those items should get our attention and cause us to take the control of our tongue seriously.
What can influence a person’s ability to control his tongue? Anger issues, for one. We all know that when people are upset, they are prone to say things which they would not say under normal circumstances. Avoiding anger and what brings it on can help us refrain from speaking “out of turn.” Another influence on tongue-bridling is the intake of drugs, including alcohol, into our body. We understand that if someone has received anesthesia, he may talk out of his mind with goofy words. That
also happens when one uses drugs recreationally or consumes liquor. If I am responsible before my Lord to be a person of self-control, including my choice of words, does it not make sense to stay away from substances which affect my brain and tongue?
What to do? What can help us in our efforts to bridle our tongues? Perhaps these can get us started:
Hold myself accountable for my speech. God does. If my speech is inappropriate in any way, I must avoid the indefensible excuse, “That is just the way I am. That’s my personality.” If so, I need to change!
Pray about it. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Attempt to weigh my words carefully: think seriously before putting my mouth into gear. “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).
Control the intake. Making a strong effort to control what my ears and eyes “take in” (Psalm 101:3; Proverbs 4:34) can help me control what my tongue “puts out.”
Control the environment. If I seem to speak with looser lips when I am in certain places or around certain people, I need to be honest with myself and refrain from those situations. It is still true that “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
How we use our tongue matters. It matters to other people, it matters to God, and it needs to matter to me, too. The words which flow from my mouth can determine my eternal destiny. The Lord Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
— Roger D. Campbell