Your tongue is one of the most important parts of your body. It may be small, but you depend on it to speak, sing, taste, and eat. At the same time, as we saw last week, your tongue is one of the most dangerous parts about you (see James 3:5-10). In Proverbs 18:21, Solomon went as far as to say that "death and life are in the power of the tongue."
As a young boy, I knew this principle well. Whenever I said a bad word, my mom would bring me over to the sink and put a bar of soap in my mouth. That's an experience I still have yet to forget.
When it comes to our speech, we have hundreds of opportunities every day to get it right or to blow it badly. How can we make the most of these opportunities? In Colossians 4:6, Paul wrote, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt." In other words, let it be helpful and life-giving, filled with both truth and love. There are three kinds of speech that fit this category:
1. Real prayer. It only makes sense if you're going to open your mouth hundreds of times a day that some of those times be directed upward to God. Part of real prayer is praying honestly. Honest prayer is better than dishonest piety, and God is able to sift through and pick out the gems of even the gnarliest prayer. The other part of real prayer is praise—the highest use of the tongue. So instead of using sharp words, use sanctified words. When you feel the urge to take God's name in vain, make God's name of value instead.
2. Regular petition. If you have an issue, pray about it regularly. Remember: James said that "no man can tame the tongue" (3:8), implying that God is the only one who can tame it. If that's true, then you should ask God to help you THINK before you speak: Is what you want to say true? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind? A good rule of thumb is that a closed mouth gathers no feet.
3. Righteous rebuke. Psalm 141:5 says, "Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it." Righteous rebuke is the ability to warn a person through tactful criticism while also expressing love. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27:6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." If you want to be a true friend, you'll hold your friends accountable.
When it comes down to it, all words originate from the heart. As Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). So when my mom washed out my mouth with soap, it didn't cure the deeper problem. Words are an outward gauge of what's going on inside you. So what do yours say about you?