Thursday, February 1, 2007


“If any among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26)

In a culture that goes beyond codifying “free speech” to exploiting it, it is tempting to think of those who speak their minds and always say what they think as being fearless and unpretentious. But, on the contrary, God calls them fools (Prov.29:11). Worse, James says, it’s a sure sign that either such a man or woman has no religion at all, or what they do have is not worth much. There are those among us, saved or lost, who cannot reason with you so instead resort to talking you down. As the Psalmist describes them, “[They] have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” Who indeed? Certainly not God.

James continues his discussion of the tongue in chapter three, using especially graphic language to describe this lethal, “little member.” You will see it referred to as being set on fire of hell, full of deadly poison, and encompassing a world of iniquity. We are often warned of the explosive danger of firearms, but it seems to me that “tongue control” is far more important than gun control, especially since inflammatory and abusive language often leads to violence. We ought to have a bridle on our tongues, James asserts. In other words, being “tongue-tied” is not always a bad thing.

I still have my baby book that my mother kept when I was born. I was her last baby, and as far as I know, the only one of the five she did this for. (We’re talking about a 64-year-old book here!) One of the entries is a notation that at five months they had my tongue clipped so I wouldn’t be “tongue-tied.” (There are some, I fear, who would question the wisdom of that decision!) And I will admit, I have not always used my loosened tongue wisely. We are told in Mark seven about a man with a speech impediment who had the “string of his tongue” loosed by Jesus. Obviously, I think of myself when I read this story. However, for an actual role model I look to Zacharias, of whom it is said, “[H]is tongue was loosed, and he spake and praised God” (Lk.1:64b).

Frankly, I do not aspire to “a thousand tongues” in order to praise my Redeemer, as the song-writer has said. I know the potential for harm that lies within the one I have. Rather, my prayer would be that my tongue, which cannot be tamed (Jms.3:8), would be bridled when necessary and loosened only by the Spirit of God. In my case, it may have been clipped, but it still needs to be tied.

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