The above graphic has made its rounds on social media. Before you say anything you need to make certain that what you say is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind. The idea behind these lessons is actually founded in the scriptures. James 1:19 reads, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” The “Think” image is meant to fill in the blanks. James is not just telling us to not to be quick to speak. He is implying that we need to think about what it is we are wanting to say. The “Think” image gives us five things that we ought to think about before we say something.
Now, I could just explain what it means to be truthful, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind. But, the problems with our tongues does not stem from whether or not we realizing that calling someone fat is not kind. The problems with our tongues does not stem from whether or not we know the difference between the truth and a lie. The problem with our tongues does not stem from whether or not we know how to build someone up with inspiring words or cut them down with hurtful remarks. Intellect is not the issue. Application on the other hand is.
Why is it so hard to control our tongues? Why is it so hard to think before we speak? Why do we often feel the necessity to say the 1st things that come to our minds? Is it because we have trained ourselves to be more watchful? Again, in the book of James, it reads, “…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8).” A dog can be tamed. You can train it to not mess in the house. You can train it to do tricks, and most importantly, you can train it to not attack strangers that come to the house. I have seen dogs so good with little children, that a child could torture that dog, and he wouldn’t so much as bark to get the child to leave him alone. The tongue is not like your family dog. James is saying that your tongue is more like a ship on the open seas (James 3:4-5). When a rudder is used you can guide that ship to where it needs to go. But, if there is no rudder that ship will be tossed here and there by wind and sea. Our tongues will never be tame. Our tongues should never be free to be used to say whatever, whenever. We need to train our tongues. We need to be actively concerned about what we say. And I might add, that in today’s social media world; that includes what we might post on twitter, Facebook, or in a text message. Think before you speak should also mean think before you post, send, etc. For once it is out there, there is no taking it back. As you look at what you feel like saying or typing ask yourself, what would you say if someone said that to you or about you. Is there any other way a person might perceive what you are writing or saying?
Of course, my greater concern is not whether or not we have been trained in how to use our tongues. My greater concern is that we have been trained incorrectly. I am afraid that most of us have already learned bad habits. We have learned them from our parents. We have learned them from our peers. We regretfully may have learned them from spiritual leaders. If this is you, and I suspect it is most of us, we have to learn to break the pattern. This is James’ big point in James 3. Fresh water and bitter water don’t come from the same source. Likewise the words of a God fearing person should never sound like the words of a person without faith. Our words should never be confused with being hateful, hurtful, thoughtless and degrading.