“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
One of the places where we must constantly fight the battle between the old nature and the new nature is in the way we talk and communicate. Scripture repeatedly instructs us to be careful about what we say and how we say it. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into default mode. We often feel the urge to speak unwisely, and it can have very negative consequences.
James 3.3-5 says, “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
This passage warns us that when it comes to how we talk, we must be aware of impulse and impact. Our impulse to talk is strong, and the impact of what we say is significant. If we are not disciplined in what we say and how we say it, we easily drift into default, and our impulsive comments and words can cause problems. Sometimes big problems. Interesting that James uses fire as the metaphor for the tongue, because often it is our most heated comments that cause the most trouble.
The passage in James goes on: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches literally speaks to the heart of the issue. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” the Lord says. “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt 12.34-37)
In other words, what we say is the fruit of what is on our heart. Before you say anything externally, you have first cultivated it in your heart. Every conversation you have is with yourself, and occasionally you include others. We speak from the treasure of our heart. If we nurture and cultivate our new nature in Christ, then we will speak in a way that reflects Christ. But if we feed and cultivate our old nature, then we will speak in a way that reflects sin and self-centeredness.
As always, it is a heart issue. If you desire to guard your tongue, you must first guard your heart. Our words reveal the true condition of our heart. You sometimes hear someone say, “He really spoke from the heart.” The truth is, we always speak from the heart. This is why Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 4 to put off the old nature (which has a heart for sin) and put on the new nature (which has a heart for God). It is a constant battle.
Psalm 19 provides a most appropriate closing prayer: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”