The Taming of the Tongue
By Leonard Ravenhill
Until recently, we were pretty much in the dark about the human body. But
then came the X-ray with its peeping eye...a marvelous instrument which has
saved us much human misery. It was able to show us the human heart, but it
couldn't show us the soul or it could show us the throat, but not the voice.
The brain, but not the mind. Nevertheless, medical science has done much to
help this outward man that perishes. If our eyes are getting dim, we can get
glasses. If our kidneys or heart fail, we can have a transplant. But as far
as I know, there is one member of the body that has never been transplanted.
If we used our arms and legs as much as we use this part, we'd be incredibly
stiff and sore. But this member never gets tired, and I've never seen one
with a splint on it. As you get older you may get dentures - but you will
always have the same tongue you were born with! There are artificial joints
made these days, but no artificial tongues.
My mother was pretty smart when it came to the tongue. She sprinkled
her daily conversation with wise sayings like "Keep your tongue between your
teeth" and "Think twice before you speak once." The Scottish people have
some proverbs, too: "Keep your tongue a prisoner and your body will go free"
and "A long tongue shortens friendships." My mother would also tell us,
"Remember, one day you'll answer to God for every word you say."
The Bible mentions many kinds of tongues:
a flattering tongue (Psalm 5:9)
a proud tongue (Psalm 12:3; 73:9)
a lying tongue (Psalm 109:2; Prov. 6:17)
a deceitful tongue (Psalm 120:2)
a perverted tongue (Prov. 10:31; 17:20)
a soothing tongue (Prov. 15:4)
a healing tongue (Prov. 12:18)
a destructive tongue (Prov. 17:4)
a mischievous and wicked tongue (Psalm 10:7)
a soft tongue (Prov. 25:15)
a backbiting tongue (Prov. 25:23)
James also talks about the tongue. He says it's a small part of the body,
and yet it boasts of great things. He calls the tongue a fire, the very
world of iniquity. James says it is untamable, a restless evil full of
deadly poison, used both to bless God and to curse men. But James also told
us that a man who doesn't stumble in what he says is a perfect man. (James
I wonder how startled James would be today to find out how much man
has "conquered." We've put men into big, fancy tin cans, and shot them off
into space. We've sent men into submarines without coming up to the surface
for months. Man has had the moon under his feet and he's left his footprints
on the ocean floor as well. We've also put some fantastic canisters up into
the sky, bouncing our voices off these satellites to countries around the
world. Look at how we've harnessed the wind with giant windmills, and made
the rivers and waterfalls drive our turbines. What incredible power man has
over his world! And yet, he has still not conquered his own tongue.
A Damaging Sword
In Psalm 64:3 the tongue is called "a sword." This sword has certainly
damaged, bruised, wounded, and killed more people than all the swords in all
the wars since history began. You've seen it many times. That newly married
couple - so lovey-dovey for days and days on end. But one day the fellow
lost his temper and slashed into the heart and affections of his wife with
uncontrollable anger and with words he might regret forever. But it was
said. The damage was done. How often we need to remember that old saying: We
cannot call back the arrow we've shot into the air, the water under the
bridge, or the spoken word. One of the earliest poems I ever learned was:
Angry words, O let them never
From the tongue, unbridled slip.
With the soul's best impulse
Ever check them,
Ere they soil the lips.
Angry words are quickly spoken,
Bitter thoughts are rashly stirred.
Fondest links of life are broken.
By a single angry word.
Is there something that could be numbered greater than the
incomprehensible amount of stars in the heavens? What about the sands by the
sea, every blade of grass, or we could add all of these things together.
There would still be something that would exceed them in number! It's the
things said by this little monster called the tongue. This uncontrollable
little red rebel that lives in a red cave guarded by two rows of white
soldiers called teeth. Think about how many words are being spoken today
just over all the telephones worldwide. And how about all the words slung
around the globe by our TVs and radios? The tongue has done more damage than
any other instrument in the human body.
We are responsible for the words that we speak. "And I say to you,
that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for
it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by
your words you shall be condemned." (Matt. 12:36-37) Our own words snare us.
(Prov. 6:2) We are ensnared by vows and promises spoken, but not kept. By
reckless criticisms and rash judgments. "How can you, being evil, speak what
is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good
man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out
of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil." (Matt. 12:34-35)
The human heart can be a snakepit, a dungeon of devilry, a foxhole of
filth, a pit of perversity. Actually, it's the manufacturing place of all
uncleanness and all sin. The showcase of the heart is the tongue. My simple
words cannot exaggerate the corruption of the heart. And the filth that
comes out of a filthy heart comes through the lips. But when I've said all I
can about it, the strongest thing is surely said in Proverbs 18:21 - "Death
and life are in the power of the tongue...."
A Rolling Story
A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a rolling story gathers something
fresh every time we say it. Every time we repeat it, something is added and
something is taken away until it's nothing like the truth. Some little bit
of gossip starts with a whisper, then it swells and becomes a tumult, and
somebody's left heartbroken. Do you wonder that Proverbs 10:19 says, "When
there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his
lips is wise"? Or Ecclesiastes 10:14, "The fool multiplies words..."?
How often we sing (full of self-pity) "Oh what needless pain we
bear...." Someone should write a verse about what needless pain we cause
when we lacerate people, wound them, and bruise them with our tongues. I
want to sound a word of caution about the flippancy of our language, and the
carelessness and exaggeration in the language used by preachers. What awful
things come from their lips these days that cannot be justified by
Just this week I spoke with a big, strong professional football player
who has now become a full-time evangelist...a very godly man. He broke into
tears as he told me about the slander and deceit used against him among
Christians. He said through his tears, "Mr. Ravenhill, I've suffered
character assassination." I said, "Friend, you're under a delusion that most
Christians are under. There's nobody that can assassinate your character.
Character is what God knows you are. Reputation is what men think you are.
They might have lied, wrecked your reputation, and made it almost impossible
for you to get into other pulpits, but remember this" (as you read this, you
remember it too): "The only one who can wreck your character is you. God
doesn't listen to gossip except to judge it. The only one who can lower or
higher you in the estimation of God is you by your obedience or by your
Products of the Tongue
Have the Christians of today improved over the Christians in Corinth?
They didn't have a Bible to read but Paul wrote boldly to them, "For I am
afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may
be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife,
jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance,
disturbances." These are all products of the tongue. Hey, friend, before we
go any further, make out your checklist. Have you been in unprofitable,
ridiculous debates, arguing just to win someone over? So very often we win
the debate and lose the friend. Paul said that among these professing
Christians there was strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slander,
gossip, arrogance, and disturbances.
After Jesus Himself, I believe that Paul was the greatest preacher who
ever lived. But when writing to the Corinthians, he said, "And when I came
to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom,
proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing
among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in
weakness and in fear and in much trembling." (I Cor 2:1-3) That doesn't
sound like the Apostle we think of, clothed with all the armor of God,
pulling down strongholds and putting the devil to flight.
But then he goes on in verse 4, "And my message and my preaching were
not in persuasive words of wisdom..." I doubt he was a fascinating preacher,
juggling with words that sparkled. His job was to glorify Jesus. If we
preach and people remember us, we've missed it. He says that his preaching
was not with persuasive words of wisdom, "but in demonstration of the Spirit
and of power." He didn't spend hours like some preachers, selecting the most
fascinating and flashy words. Maybe we might say "fleshy" words. His concern
was to project Jesus Christ only and Him crucified. There was nothing
flippant or fleshly about what he said, and certainly nothing foolish.
Paul warns us, "In reference to your former manner of life, lay aside
the old self...be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new
self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and
holiness of the truth...Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but
only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the
moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. Let all bitterness and
wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all
malice." (Eph. 4:22-31)
Paul also exhorts us, "There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or
coarse jesting, which are not fitting..." (Eph. 5:4) I've heard preachers
eating dinner together get into borderline jokes, and then someone pushes it
further until it's totally disgusting. I like humor, but I don't like
stupidity, filthiness, or coarse jesting. Oh how many silly, stupid things
are said. Dr. Tozer used to say to me, "Len, be careful. Remember, never,
never, speak lightly of the devil. Don't tell any jokes about hell." The
devil is not almighty, but we must not forget that he is mighty. All too
often Christians speak too lightly of the kingdom of darkness, as if to
treat the whole thing as unimportant. (Jude 9)
Muzzle Your Mouth
David says, "I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle." (Psalm 39:1) We usually think of
other parts of our body as being agencies of sin, but not our tongue. David
says "I will guard my mouth."
Colossians 4:6 says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned,
as it were, with salt." Not pepper! Sometimes anger gets in our speech and
spoils everything that we've said. Psalm 12:3 says, "May the Lord cut off
all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things." These surely are
stern warnings to believers.
Psalm 15 asks, "Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy
holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks
truth in his heart." So there you have it: walking and talking. Walking
uprightly, speaking the truth in your heart. And in verse 3, "He does not
slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a
reproach against his friend." I believe we sabotage a lot of our prayers
because we're doing what James says - one minute we're blessing God, and
then afterwards we're cursing men. Not blaspheming or using vile language,
but criticizing them. One minute our tongues are speaking about holy things,
and the next, unholy things. You see, the tongue is an index of the heart.
Do you wonder that I shudder when I look at a large congregation singing,
"Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise..."? Goodness
me, if they did have 1,000 tongues, there would be 999 times more gossip and
criticism and slander than there is now! Earth would be hell and the Church
would be as bad. Oh, no! If we can't control the one we have, how could we
manage 999 more? How often do we sing our great Redeemer's praise? For five
minutes in two Sunday morning hymns? And the rest of the week it's careless
and silly talk. Talk of anything but the deep things of God.
Showcase Of The Heart
Our words reflect what's in our hearts. If a man loves sports, he
talks sports. If he loves money, he talks money. If he loves art, he talks
art. I marvel at the slackness of speech among Christians and at how often
preachers are guilty of gross exaggerations in their reports about their
meetings, and at how carelessly they slander others. I was at a ministers'
conference some years ago and we drove back and forth in packed buses all
week between the hotel and the conference center. But never once among all
those ministers was the conversation about God or holiness or the coming of
Jesus. It was sports, or golf handicaps, or how big their Sunday School was.
It was just senseless chatter even among preachers. But preachers aren't the
only ones guilty of conversation which is unprofitable and unedifying.
Do you wonder that the psalmist in Psalm 51 cries "Create in me a
clean heart"? We've already considered the foulness of the human heart, yet
God can take that heart and make it pure and beautiful and eloquent for
Himself. There's nothing that gives us away as much as our speech. Our
speech shows where our hearts are.
You can't cover up your heart. If there's bitterness in our hearts, it
will come out through what we say and how we say it. If there's hatred,
hatred will come. If there's anger, anger will come. No wonder James says
that the tongue can't be controlled. The heart is engineering all that the
tongue is going to say.
The heart is the factory that produces all these vile things, and the
tongue is the showcase of the heart. Surely one of the most amazing things
about the transforming grace of God is that man loses his filthy language,
lying tongue, and unholy anger when he gets saved. There's little use
carrying a big Bible and wearing a lapel pin saying how spiritual we are if
we explode at the office, speak unkindly to our children, or if we're
critical and bitter and become known as somebody who carries on.
Stick Out Your Tongue
In the springtime my mother used to say, "Put out your tongue and let
me see what it's like." She'd say, "Oh, no! You're not in good condition,"
and then she had some horrible concoction that we had to take. I wonder, if
we had to put out our tongues at the end of each day if they would be
unclean with gossip, slander, criticism, or bitterness? Or do we have them
under control, as Paul says, "sound in speech which is beyond reproach"?
(Titus 2:8) Is our speech always with grace, seasoned with salt?
I helped at a funeral once where there were several teenage children.
They sobbed and groaned and carried on as I'd never seen anyone do at a
funeral. I said to my senior pastor, "Oh, how much they loved their mother!"
He said, "No, they're just crying in remorse. They were the most
disobedient, backbiting, sarcastic children ever. They always abused their
mother with their words. They gave her an awful time. They just cut her to
pieces with their tongues." Many of us suddenly feel this same unbearable
guilt when someone dies and we can't take back the words we've spoken or
heal the wounds we've made.
This is a day when people are screaming about ecology. We want pure
rivers and pure air. What about pure hearts? It's a pity we don't raise our
voice in the Church and call everyone to recite Psalm 51 and cry with David,
"Create in me a clean heart!" Or, as Wesley put it,
O for a heart to praise my God.
A heart from sin set free.
A heart that always feels the blood,
So freely shed for me.
A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My Great Redeemer's throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.
If Christ were speaking internally all the time, we wouldn't come out
with the rubbish that we utter so much.
When you get to my age, you look back and it's an awesome thing. I
think about the millions of words I must have said in 60 years of preaching.
Speaking at least 120 words a minute, I can speak 1,200 words in ten
minutes. In 60 minutes I've spoken 7,200 words and I've done this twice a
day sometimes and done it for years. Then there's all the words I've
What a day when all the great orators stand before the Lord. Oh, that
we might find men today whose hearts are burning with love and devotion, and
because their hearts are burning, their speech will burn - with love, with
adoration, and with hatred for sin. My prayer is, "Lord, teach me to hold my
tongue. Teach me to do as the psalmist says, set a watch at the door of my
lips that my speech may always be seasoned with grace. My tongue never a
sword. My speech always edifying, uplifting, and that which glorifies God."
For further study
Psalm 120:2-3 Proverbs 20:15
II Cor. 12:20
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I am back from a whirl-wind trip in California. I was in Cali about a week and a half. Jonathan came out with me. We had two weddings back to back ( fri & sat) My cousin Justin and friend Tawny. Jonathan was thrown into the craziness of my family right off the bat :). I was able to help Mandy with Ava- while her and Eli were off to Oregon to pick up their new car. Then we ventured down to San Diego, My cousin Nic graduated from UCSD Med School!!!! He was the recipient of the Leadership Award, Humanitarian Award and Emergency Medicine. He was also the speaker of his class- there were 17 of us that were down there to celebrate. We are a proud family for sure! We all showed up in scrubs and hats to his graduation... we were quite the site sitting in the front row! We had a great time as a family and I will follow up with more pictures of my time in Cali.
Jumping back into life, getting caught up at work and with people. Just wanted to check into the blogging world.
Jumping back into life, getting caught up at work and with people. Just wanted to check into the blogging world.