When I was in 6th grade, I called my teacher a bad word.
According to Bill Cosby, “Kids say the darnedest things.” I wish I could claim that moniker in that unfortunate moment, but I couldn’t as a 12-year old. I was certainly cognizant enough to know that just letting underdeveloped, unfiltered vocabulary flow out of my mouth was a poor choice, like picking Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round of your fantasy league. I had certainly been disciplined for ill-advised, out-loud musings in the past, but this was pretty funny — I actually made a kid pee his pants because he couldn’t stop laughing.
As the school day was winding to a close and our work was being turned in, the mood in the classroom was decidedly light as everyone was putting their stuff together to take to their lockers. Our teacher was in an especially good mood too, though I don’t really remember why. My buddy made a joke about getting to go home, our teacher made a sarcastic comment (in jest of course), and I called my teacher something that rhymes with “fast bird.”
Total silence. My teacher gathered her wits, told me to grab a dictionary (which was exclusively in book-form those days), and I promptly headed up to her desk. I was so red with embarrassment and confusion that I looked like a walking stop sign. It was…not ideal.
Here’s breaking news: sin still lives in me, and many of the struggles I faced as a 12-year old, I’m still dealing with. Even though I’m no longer a slave to my old nature through my co-crucifixion with Jesus, I find myself wandering from the mind-bending truth that I can experience real, joyful, uninterupted life and fellowship with God by abiding in Christ right now.
When a difficult moment strikes, I still struggle to keep my mouth shut.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless…
The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness…
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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Ja 1:26; 3:5-6; 3:8-12
Particularly jarring to me, James dismisses the worship of any Christian who doesn’t restrain his tongue. Long, beautiful prayers in public or private, preaching, and church attendance are worth little if the person who offers them has lips filled with slander, deceit, and cursing when he talks with others.
This man’s religion is vain; useless, and unprofitable to himself and others; all his preaching, praying, hearing, and attendance on the ordinances will be of no avail to him; and he, notwithstanding these, by his evil tongue, brings a scandal and reproach upon the ways of God, and doctrines of Christ
What hypocrisy! We speak marvelously of the Christian’s imputed righteousness and union with God’s beloved Son, yet we turn around and slander those to whom Christ’s righteousness was freely given.
We praise God for his unending mercies, yet we speak harsh words to our neighbor who forgot to chain up their dog.
We speak often of Christ’s glorious return, yet we pass on incredible conspiracy theories and chain letters about our least favorite Presidential Candidate in fear that he or she might win.
The tongue is terrifying: it destroys marriages, ruins fellowship in our churches, frightens our kids, gives our testimonies pock-marks — and worse yet, it cannot be tamed by man.
But, with God, all things are possible. As Christ said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” As we walk in fellowship with our Lord, as George Müeller said, “keeping God before our eyes” in dependence, He will work in us to will and work for His good pleasure.
He’ll teach us to stop trusting ourselves to get the job done. He’ll reveal how much damage we do when we sin through our words. Through the inexhaustible riches of God’s grace in Christ, when that moment comes again, I pray we’ll see victory and give Him the glory.
Sometimes, our greatest act of worship is keeping our mouths shut.