A simple game of charades can reveal to us how helpless and useless we are when we cannot use our tongues. There are many situations in which we can find ourselves voiceless, and our human nature is to resist or disdain our situation as long as we are forced to be silent. The fact of the matter is that we depend on being able to use language to convey our ideas, and when we can’t, frustration can quickly follow. While we rely on the use of our tongues, we also find ourselves spreading evil with our mouths. Our tongues are tremendously important and yet incredibly dangerous; this is no secret. The problem is not simply with our tongues or even our brains, which bodily control our tongues, but the problem is with our hearts. Therefore in order to be a godly example in how we talk, we must have our hearts focused on God.
Jesus had many encounters with the religious leaders of His day, but one of his sharpest and most profound encounters is recorded in Matthew 15. In this chapter, a debate arises about why Jesus let His disciples break the traditions of Jewish elders from days long past. Jesus’ response is both powerful and wise. His response cuts the Pharisees’ idea of the works based righteousness right to the ground. This encounter left the disciples, especially Peter, wanting an explanation. Jesus’ reasoning is in line with the rest of His teaching ministry; righteousness is not a matter of our actions or appearances but rather a matter of the heart. To illustrate He shares how our tongues actually work, they are servants to our hearts.
Jesus’ words from Matthew 15 may not sound revolutionary to us since we have heard them many times, but for the disciples, this would have been a completely new way of looking at things.
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. Matthew 15:18-20
This moment of teaching was to teach the disciples, and us, that the words and ideas we share are always the product of our hearts. Certainly some people have found ways to hide the intentions of their heart in their speech for a while, but eventually, something will come out. Our tongues are waiting to do the will of our heart, whether for evil or for good.
Even though taming the tongue is a matter of changing the heart, we are still prone to be works-based in how we strive to keep our speech pure. We often get this idea that we need to filter our words as they are on the way to our lips and out into the world, but I do not believe that this is the proper measure to take. This is simply a surface fix and does not deal with the root of the problem. The fact that there are hurtful words and negativity waiting to come out of our mouths, indicates that our hearts are not in their proper place to begin with. Furthermore, it is much more comfortable to live with the solution of filtering our words at our lips rather than filtering our heart because that means we never have to deal with, and correct, what is truly going on in our hearts. All of this points to the truth of Jesus’ words and leaves us with nothing more than to love the Lord with our hearts.
A heart set on loving God is our only answer for taming our tongues. As we continue to progress in godly living, inch by inch, our hearts will be changed in order to reflect more Christ-likeness. Therein is the solution for being godly in our speech; love the Lord and your words will follow. Loving the Lord is a plain biblical idea, but sometimes we make it out to be more difficult than it is. At its core, loving God is when we lay our fleshly desires down and take up His desires for His glory, our lives, and the world around us. Practically, this means being obedient to His Word, spending fellowship with Him and putting others before ourselves. These are a few good principles to begin conveying what it looks like to love God, but this is not an exhaustive list. Once a love for God is in place, then a godly example can come out of our mouths.
In his epistle, James writes a chilling truth about our tongues and our salvation. "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless" (James 1:26).
The problem was never that we could talk our way out of salvation by sinning with our tongue, but rather that our words come from our heart, and if our words are bad then so is our heart. So it is with every aspect of our lives. Every outward expression we give is because of an inward reality in our hearts. This is true of our words, but also of our actions, our perseverance, and how we use our resources. These areas and all other areas of our conduct are simply the fruit of what has been growing inside of us. Our heart is the source of everything that we do. Let us not fall into the foolishness of changing outward appearances, but rather let us be changed on the inside through the gospel of Jesus Christ.