Taming the Tongue … Me? Really?

When I arrived at my parents house in Arkansas the other day, a manila envelope was sitting on the counter with my name on it. I chuckled a little when I saw it, because a very large stamp on the front of the envelope said in big, capital letters, “DO NOT FOLD.”  

It was folded in half.

Anyway, this envelope was from the American Legion National Headquarters Benefit Department. Curious, I opened it to see what they were selling.

I was surprised to find a very nice certificate that read as follows:

In gratitude for your war-time service
This certifies that
WESLEY WOODELL
upon meeting the strict requirements set forth by the
Congress of the United States of America
shall thereby be accepted for
Official Membership in
The American Legion

 This certificate had the seal of the American Legion on it, and was signed by Billy R. Johnson – the A.L. membership director.

“Well looky there,” I thought. “I’ve been nominated to be an official member of the American Legion due to my war-time service … what an honor!”

… there’s just one problem – I’ve never even been in the military, much less performed any type of war-time service (besides praying for friends and family in Iraq).

I did enlist in the Marine Corps in my early twenties shortly after the Iraq War began (I was tired of my parents and everyone else telling me what to do, so I joined the Marines), but didn’t make it past the physical because of high blood pressure. There must have been a mix-up somewhere that led to my getting this certificate.

I kidded with Airiel that I was going to frame it and hang it on my wall. “Who knows, maybe I’ll run for public office someday and this will help,” I joked.

What would hanging that certificate on my office wall make me … you know, if I were really trying to get people to believe I was an old war hero (and don’t say John Kerry)? It would make me a first-rate _____________?

You got it – a first-rate hypocrite.

I’m preaching next Sunday in San Francisco from James 3:1-12.

That means I’ll be getting up in front of a group of people in San Francisco to teach them about taming the tongue. I sort of feel like a hypocrite speaking about this, because my speech is something that I struggle with.

No, I don’t mean I cuss or use profanity or anything like that. I certainly used to, but don’t anymore. I don’t mean that I tell crude jokes either - I really don’t.

But here’s what I do struggle with: 1) Sometimes I say too much, and 2) sometimes I don’t say enough.

I find my tongue to be like that horse at summer camp that the counselors would always put the mean kids on that they secretly wanted to kill. You know, the horse that would randomly take off running through the woods scaring the little kid riding it half to death, or that other horse. You remember, the one that, no matter how much you tried, you couldn’t get it to get it to move. It’d sit there with this bored look on it’s face like it was just waiting to die and you were somehow hindering the process.

Let me explain: there have been times when I’ve really let people have it verbally when I shouldn’t have. I’m a passionate guy (no excuse), my tongue gets away from me sometimes, and folks have been left hurt and scarred by my sin.

But there have also been times when something really should have been said to someone in order to help them (like when they were involved in something that was killing them spiritually or hurting others), but instead I ignored the problem hoping it would simply go away and it ended badly for that person or others.

I googled “taming the tongue,” and found images like these:

As these images communicate, when a lot of people think about taming the tongue, they think about shutting up and that’s it.

But learning to “shut up” when you need to is only part of taming the tongue … you’re really dealing with two extremes. An untamed tongue doesn’t just say too much – it also says too little.

The trick to taming the tongue is to find balance between the two extremes like Jesus did.

Jesus held His tongue when He needed to, but Jesus also let people have it when He needed to as well. He didn’t verbally lash others for His own selfish pleasure or to be mean, malicious, or hateful, but because He loved them and wanted to see them change. Their own actions (or inaction) were destroying them and leading others to destruction as well.

He didn’t cuss them out, but He did use some fairly biting adjectives to describe them (brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, etc.), spoke frankly about their sin, what the result would be unless they repented (their destruction), and warned others not to be like them in their unrepentant state.

Ultimately, Jesus desired relationships with those He spoke with like this, but knew that in order for true fellowship to exist between them and Himself, they had to repent of their sins.

I can give you plenty of examples of situations I’ve been in where my untamed tongue has been revealed, but don’t want this post to become too long, and would really rather here from you instead.

Do you struggle with taming your tongue? Care to share any specific examples or stories with me? Any tips for someone struggling with taming their tongue?

Thanks for your help – if you give me some good stories or illustrations I may use them in my sermon.

I’ll be meditating on this issue for the next few days.

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7 thoughts on “Taming the Tongue … Me? Really?

  1. G says:

    only advice I can give is stay in the gospel, if you wanna handle things like Him then constantly meditate on Him, another aspect to your taming the tongue would be timing, yeah you should speak up and you will but when, Jesus had seen the money changers in the temple since he was a child, but it wasn’t until years later that he actually confronted it… not sure the lesson there but it seems to be one of timing

  2. Aaron Miller says:

    You know…I’ve never thought of “taming our tongues” in terms of the things we should be saying and sometimes don’t, but I think you’re absolutely right Wes. The nature of Christ is to have that balance of conflict and restraint that breeds his peace and healing. Although, I don’t believe that James refers to that “stuff we should say” here.

    I did find 3:7-8 interesting. “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. ”

    These verses sound hopeless to me. James is saying man can’t get control of his mouth…alone. Reading on we see in 13-18 that it is through the “wisdom” God provides that we can achieve the restraint Christ demonstrated.

  3. Mimi says:

    Forgive me if my thought come out a little jumbled up, but it’s late!
    I empathize with the struggle to tame the tongue. I used to dread hearing the words from my mother after a sever punishment, “I punished you out of love, and if I didn’t care for you, I wouldn’t yell at you.” I used to think, “Yeah….ok sure!”, but in my age have looked back and realized that she was telling the truth. I think a lot of times our natural reaction is harsh words, because we are so frustrated out of the feeling of helplessness when we want to help someone we love, and when it works it’s great! More often than not though, we can probably be more effective using love and kindness. I know it’s a bit out of context, bur the scripture we studied a couple of weeks ago in class comes to mind:
    2Peter 1:5-9
    When faced with a decision on whether or not to speak up, ask God first if you should, and if so, have faith in him to provide the right words. Have good intentions, exercise self-control when you want to whack them over the head, persevere when you want to just give up on a loved one, and always act/react with godliness in mind, showing brotherly kindness and love. Always remember that no matter how much that person is living in sin, that we are no better, and that the main goal here is to show, by example, how wonderful our God is! If we always try to reflect God and Jesus in our actions and deeds, who wouldn’t want to join us in His glory? Unless, of course, they have better brownies where they’re at =p

  4. WesWoodell says:

    G – great advice man.

    Aaron – I agree with James that no “man” can tame the tongue. It appears supernatural invervention is needed … that’s something I’m meditating on.

    Mimi – wise words. Those verses in 1 Peter are some of my favorites. I recently did a study of 1 Corinthians 5 and have found that it teaches if a person who has made a committment to Jesus is continuing to live in sin, we, as their brothers and sisters, actually do have a responsiblity to try to do something about it. It seems that a bit more than simply being an example for others is called for sometimes. I welcome you to read that chapter.

    I made a couple of posts here on the blog about it
    here: http://westcoastwitness.com/2009/03/19/a-few-quotes-from-that-we-may-share-his-holiness-by-tommy-south/

    And here’s a lesson that breaks 1 Corinthians 5 down: http://westcoastwitness.com/2009/03/22/hes-doing-what-with-his-step-mom-1-corinthians-5/

  5. [...] the Tongue: Principles From Proverbs Jump to Comments As I mentioned here, I’m preaching on the topic of Taming the Tongue based on James 3:1-12 this Sunday at Lake [...]

  6. [...] couple of weeks ago I told you I sort of felt like a hypocrite teaching on taming the tongue. I also shared a bunch of Scriptures from Proverbs on the topic of taming the [...]

  7. [...] While researching today’s topic, I stumbled across a very good post about taming the tongue from Wes Woodell on his blog West Coast Witness.  Wes is the founder of Campus Ministry United, and after reading much of his blog I found it to be filled with a ton of great Biblical teaching – check it out by CLICKING HERE. [...]

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