Christians have been called out of sin and into holiness. Like a mirror, Christians have been called to reflect the glory of God to the world. However, how often have you seen Christians reflect the glory of their selfish ambitions or the glory of their sinful natures? How often have you, Christian, found yourself mirroring a broken and vile image—the image of your fallen nature, the image of your cosmic rebellion against God? If you are not a Christian and find yourself frustrated with the hypocrisy you see in Christians, join the club! Christians are (or at least should be) equally disgusted with the hypocrisy they exhibit at various times and places.
One of the things that causes moral hypocrisy in the life of a Christian is a lack of self-control. Lack of self-control is a catalyst for open and active sin. The command of God to demonstrate self-control in our lives seems daunting. How many times have you intended, yet failed, to hold your tongue? Yet it is in this area of life—the life of the tongue—that if we do not demonstrate self-control, we will harm both non-Christians and fellow Christians alike. The tongue causes more hurt than anything else in the church. Factions are often created in the church by hurtful speech. Even churches who are unified in doctrine and creed can be divided as a result of a lack of self-control of the tongue. When the tongue is allowed to run rampant, like a serial murderer escaped from prison, there is the probability of more casualties. Self-control polices our tongues.
The Beginning of Self-Control
The Bible warns very gravely of guarding our speech. James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his epistle, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (Jam. 3:2). Do you see how crucial your speech is to the rest of your behavior? James can say this because our speech reflects our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). He would later say, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt. 15:18). If you want to guard your speech, guard your heart. Take an inventory of what you are feeding your heart. What are you watching? What are you hearing? What are you reading? What fills your mind on a daily basis? Answers to these questions will help gauge how carefully you are guarding your heart. Are you striving to purify your heart or are you flippantly allowing it to be defiled? God empowered self-control begins with actively guarding the heart with the sword of truth.
The Nature of the Tongue
If you are not sold on the corruption of your tongue from your own experience, then allow James to educate you on the powerful nature of the tongue (speech). James compares the tongue to three things: (1) A bit in the mouths of horses, (2) a rudder for ships, and (3) fire. James is conveying the fact that the tongue in relation to our speech, though small and even subtle, is very powerful and has the potential to destroy our entire person if not controlled. Jesus conveyed similar language when he said that it will be by our words that we will be judged (Matt. 12:37). James wrote earlier that control of the tongue is an example of true religion (Jam. 1:26). This is sufficient evidence that our words carry distinct power. They have the power to build up and the power to tear down. They have the power to save our souls and the power to destroy our souls. Why? Once again, Scripture over and over depicts our words as the perfect reflection of the condition of our hearts. Do you desire to know the condition of your heart? Listen to your own words.
Motivation to Be Self-Controlled
The tongue is humanly untamable, a restless evil, and full of deadly poison (Jam. 3:8). What is most evil about our tongues? Hypocrisy. “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” (Jam. 3:9-10). Fellow Christian, we do so much harm to both others and ourselves when we use our tongues in praise to God on Sunday morning and then use our tongues to curse others throughout the week. In the words of James, “these things ought not to be so” (Jam. 3:10). Christian, let your speech be consistent with the new heart you have been given.
While our speech can hurt our witness to the lost, it can also hurt fellow Christians. I fear that while we may be careful what we say at church events to visitors or non-Christians, we become lazy with our tongues with fellow believers. In the church, there are many ways that we can harm one another with our tongues. Here are some examples that exist within the confines of small groups and various ministries:
- Misrepresenting the truth
- Always talking about ourselves
- Putting down others’ ideas
- Correction without love
- Cursing/Inappropriate language
I know that I have used my tongue to harm other Christians in many of these ways. This is not something we should gloss over. We should pursue the control of our speech, so that we can point fellow Christians and non-Christians alike to Christ. Self-control is a demonstration of satisfaction in God. Self-control says that I am more satisfied in obeying God than I am in gratifying a selfish desire to elevate myself over others. If you are like me and you struggle with self-control in various areas, especially with your speech, ask God to grant you such control.
One professor once taught me, “Self-control for a Christian includes God-control through the Spirit.” This is so encouraging. We are not alone in our efforts to control our speech. We are not alone in our efforts to guard and purify our hearts. Instead, we must strive to work in sync with the God who is committed to our final sanctification when we will one day only use our tongues for one purpose—the perfect reflection of the glory of God. Mirror God’s glory today through what you say.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. –James 4:8-10
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.