Controlling the Unguarded Tongue

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He gave His disciples — those standing before Him and those, like us, who would follow — that He wants us to use our words to spread His message of forgiveness and redemption, yet all too often we use our words to let someone else know the extent of our displeasure with them. Not the same thing. Not what He said. Not pleasing to God. Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He said this: “You will be my witnesses.”

And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (James 3:6 NLT)

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words. (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.


How many of us have heard the nursery rhyme that ends with these words: “but names can never hurt me”?

Most of us.

Now, how many of us believed it?

I never did. Anyone else?


Years gone by, when a playmate’s taunt got to me, I got defensive. Then some adult (usually my dad) would recite that little rhyme, with the admonition not to let the little stuff get to me.

Well, it did … and it wasn’t little stuff, either.

Instinctively, I sensed with my little-boy brain what the grown-up me has come to know:Behind whatever the “mean” words were was a mean feeling. It came from the other person’s heart and merely shaking it off  was not enough for me.

Jesus spoke about the heart to His disciples when the Pharisees complained that they were not ritually washing themselves before eating. Our LORD looked sadly at the speaker, then searched the faces of each of the synagogue leaders gathered before Him.

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” our LORD declared, enunciating each word for effect, “but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)


WORDS NOT ONLY CAN HURT, they can set into motion a whole set of actions and reactions that quickly spin out of control, often to the speaker’s surprise.57.Ritual-handwashing

Here’s an example:

“That’s not what I said!”

“Yes, it is. I was right here. I heard it.”

“Well, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Maybe you didn’t, but that’s what you said. How was I supposed to know what you meant?”

Or these examples:

“Did you hear that …”

“You know what really galls me?”

“You’re about one inch from getting a piece of my mind.”

“You’re such a brave woman. I could never wear that shade of green this time of year.”

“You know what the matter with you is?”

While many of the bromides thrown about are not intended to hurt, many are.

Try this. Cue up FaceBook and scroll through the offerings. Don’t comment on anything, just go through the list of what your “friends” are posting. Now look at some of the comments posted in response to the original posts and the responses to those comments.

57.Girl-cryingDon’t count them, but just notice the number of times someone uses the occasion — maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace — to lance someone.



Let’s compare the types of words many of us hear every day … and maybe even we say … with how Almighty God wants us to talk.

Try to hear our conversations against the backdrop of Jesus, who said that a person’s speech marks his or her character, because the words come from the person’s heart. They reflect what the speaker is feeling.  (Matthew 15:11)

Or listen to the apostle Paul remind us to say only those things that will benefit someone else, not harm them. He said: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

Or Solomon, the wise king of ancient Israel, writing that we’re responsible for what we say, both the good and the bad. He said: “What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words.” (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)



God left it to James to “tell it like it is.” James is such a good choice because he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger half-brothers. (Imagine growing up with God as your older brother! James never caught on to who Jesus was until He was resurrected from the dead.)

James tells us that the “tongue is a flame of fire.” He said it is “a whole world of wickedness, corrupting the entire body.” (James 3:6 NLT)

That’s pretty serious.

57.Tongue-fireIf we go back to the Gospels and watch how Jesus handled his accusers, we see that He never, ever sunk to their level rhetorically. He modeled love, patience, and understanding. Yes, He had the advantage of being divine, but He also was fully human.

Speaking just for myself, I find the standard set by Jesus very difficult to match. Even when I graciously hold my tongue, I am still frustrated because I often do not have a replacement sentence immediately available; you know, a sentence that would encourage my accuser or signal forgiveness and fellowship. Instead, I remain silent and pray that my silence will be a form of reaching out.


IN THE END, OUR MASTER HAS GIVEN US the words to say … and a mission to fulfill.

After His resurrection and immediately before His ascension into heaven, our LORD told His disciples (and, by extension, all of His followers down through the ages — including us), what that mission is. 

He wants us to go to our neighborhoods, and our communities and states, and throughout our country and even to the ends of the earth with a message of hope and redemption.57. JESUS - Ascension 2

He said our mission is to share the fruit of the Holy Spirit: words of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 (CSB) directs us to spread the word, to tell everyone the world over about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”

Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He says it this way: (Acts 1:8 ESV), “You will be my witnesses.”


PRAYER: O LORD, our God, hear our prayer. How often we grieve the Holy Spirit with our words. We use our words to reduce others, to put them down, to spread rumors about them, to malign them. Oftentimes, we don’t actually say the words out loud, but we say them to ourselves. That’s just as grievous to the Spirit. Guard our tongues, O LORD, and help us see how hurtful our words can be. Our LORD and Savior told us to use our words to tell others about Him and His love for us. We undermine that message with our sinful talk. In Jesus’ loving Name we pray. Amen

Confessing Our Sin to One Another

Confessing our sins to one another, while biblical, can sound off-putting, much like displaying our dirty laundry. However, it’s God’s call for our lives for healing, not for torture. God already knows our sin before we confess it, but confessing it to Him earns the forgiveness we need to be in right relationship with Him. Likewise, confessing our sin to those we’ve harmed restores our right relationship with them and the family of believers. Mutual prayer strengthens our bond with one another. That’s where the real healing takes place.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NIV)

You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (Matthew 21:22 NLT)

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.


Well, that’s not going to happen.

Those are the so-called famous last words of someone whose faith wasn’t strong enough 56. Prayer-Partners-menor developed enough to understand how much healing occurs when we unburden ourselves to one another (man to man or woman to woman).

There is a reason God put those words in His Bible, and it wasn’t just to give us another entry on our Bible verse memory flash cards.

What’s more remarkable is who God called on to give us those words. It was James, Jesus’ half-brother. James was the oldest of the pesky younger brothers who failed to understand during childhood and adolescence that their “perfect” older brother, the goodie two-shoes, was actually God, himself.

Talk about having some sin to confess.

How about, “Jesus, my Lord and Savior, please forgive me. I’m the one who told our father — actually, my father, I guess he wasn’t yours — that it was you who spilled the sawdust from his workbench into the cake Mom was baking for his birthday. Actually, it was me. I did it. I’m sorry.” Pause. “You knew? How?” Pause. “Oh, right, of course you did.”



Severals years ago on a Sunday morning, I was given several opportunities to place my father on our small group’s prayer list. My mother had passed shortly before.

I chose to skip each time the offer was extended, choosing instead to lift prayer for other members’ aging parents, marital and financial issues, and probably even their sick pets,
56. Prayer_corporate-prayeras well.

I simply wasn’t willing to “give” my father the healing power of corporate prayer. Now, I was not a Christian at the time — still a seeker — but still the irony of my father-less prayer circle should not have been lost on me.

At lunch that day, I received a text message from one of my brothers telling me that Dad had been diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer.

I was crushed. It wasn’t so much my sadness for my difficult dad’s physical trauma — it was the weight of my own failure to extend the blessings of  God’s healing grace, not only to my father for his illness, but also to me, for my hardness of heart.

That afternoon, I picked three close friends from the prayer circle and “confessed” in an e-mail my sin and my father’s need.

Immediately, the Holy Spirit went to work. Among other things, He led me to contact Dad’s local church across the country and inform them of his condition. Without his being able to tell them, there was no other way anyone would know, at least for awhile.

One person I shared this story with said, “Thank God you called his church.”

“Yes,” I replied. “Thank God.”


AS THE NEXT FEW YEARS PASSED, I became a Christian, confessing my sins and telling the Father I believe His Son is the Christ and that I need Him to reign in my heart. Please send me the Holy Spirit. Thank you very much!

I also became more comfortable with the notion of confessing sin to another man. I also learned why the confession-acknowledgement ritual could not be man-woman because their mutual interest would interfere with the information that would need to be shared.

The verse in James to confess your sin “to each other” and subsequently pray “for each 56. God-Knows-Our-Sinother” implies a mutuality here, wherein each person confesses sin to the other. Unless one man’s (or woman’s) heart is unduly burdened and needs immediate relief, this is not a one-way deal. This is a  sharing among believers.

The larger point is that (a) God knows of our sin even before we confess it, (b) our confession of sin to God grants us forgiveness from the eternal consequences of sin, but it is only in (c) where we are granted forgiveness from among our peers that the real healing takes place.

Let us not forget that God is not our peer and that sin confessed to God, while necessary and liberating, still remains secret in the eyes of our friends and family.


ONCE I CONFESSED MY SIN, the Holy Spirit was able to use the opening in my heart to inspire me to appropriate action to help my dad, to relieve his suffering, even though he lived across the continent from me. Absent my confession of sin, I have no reason to believe I would have thought on my own of seeking help for him. The confession softened me.

Of course, the example drawn here in which confession was given is different from 56. God-Collects-Your-Tearsmany of the examples we tend to face in that I was not confessing to the one against whom I had sinned. Still, the principle of emptying oneself in submission to Divine authority is the same.

Once we learn the confession part of forgiveness and the healing power of joint prayer, we can see how much easier it is to grant forgiveness.

The practice of confession to one another requires humility, especially because there’s no guarantee the other person will grant forgiveness. Still, confession must be given.

More recently, I’ve taken to heart the maxim that the partner who is stronger-in-faith should confess first. That can be taxing over time but probably is a worthwhile practice. God is calling on the stronger partner to act according to his greater faith.



Yes, He requires us to act according to biblical principles that seem easy when Jesus did them but difficult for us to emulate, but He doesn’t leave us helpless.

He gives us grace as our reward.

David was not only a warrior and ancient Israel’s greatest king but also a musician and psalmist. After a battle won for Israel by God’s intervention, David wrote these words, but they may comfort us in so many circumstances today:

“Those who sow in tears will reap with sounds of joy.” (Psalms 126:5 NIV)


PRAYER: Dear LORD, You are so merciful in giving us a way out of our sin. Not only have You shown us Your grace by offering us forgiveness when we repent, but You’ve shown us that by confessing our sin to fellow believers, we can experience further healing. LORD, protect us from the arrogance of pride that prevents us from taking advantage of this gift. Thank You, LORD, for Your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ Name. Amen


Keeping Faith Against Pushback

Adversity is always with us in this world. When the first century church was splitting, with factions declaring they were following one evangelist or another, Paul chastised them with words much like this: “None of us changes hearts and claims them for the Lord. All of us are called by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word of God, and God uses each one of us according to the gifts he’s given us. We’re not the ones changing people’s hearts. We’re not the ones making a difference. We don’t accomplish anything on our own. It’s the Holy Spirit’s work.”

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

And the king [King Josiah] stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. (2 Chronicles 34:31 ESV)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9 NASB)

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NLT)


Well, me, too, but let’s take a look at the mess King Josiah faced.

Haven’t heard of him? Let’s change that.

Six hundred years before Christ was born, Josiah became king of Judah (the southern 55.KingJosiah-BoyKingportion of Israel) at the age of 8. The Bible says he “did what was right  in the eyes of the Lord,” which means he purified the land of totems to pagan gods and cleaned up the Lord’s Temple.

About 10 years into his reign, the priests came across a book of writings from Moses. This book was given to the Israelites in the desert after God freed them from slavery in Egypt. In it, Moses told the Israelites of God’s rich blessings if they worshipped Him and remained faithful.

If they worshipped other gods, however, then God’s wrath would be upon them.

Remember this: the priests found this book of God’s instruction shoved in a dusty back room of the Temple, covered, no doubt, with dust and cobwebs.

Josiah knew his kingdom had been disobedient and that JUDGMENT was on the way.

A prophetess confirmed for Josiah that not only was God angry with the Israelites, but there was nothing Josiah could do to prevent judgment. God’s actual words: “My anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched” (v. 25).


But God in His mercy gave them a break: Because Josiah was faithful, humble, and showed remorse for his people, there would be peace in his time. Judgment would come following Josiah’s death.



What would you do?

I know what I would do. I would cave.

I would figure no matter what I did or said to serve the Lord, no matter how helpful or encouraging I was, no matter how loving, forgiving, and worshipful I tried to be, it would make no difference. No one would benefit. Nothing useful from me. No souls saved. No fruit born.


Friends, there’s a reason we’re writing about Josiah and not about me — and here it is.

55.KingJosiah-ReadsScrollThe Bible tells us, the king marched over to the Temple and called the elders of his country to join him, and he stood in his place. His place. This was not a pew in the back of the room, where he could hide in the shadows, slipping in when the service was half over only to leave early.

This was a prominent spot, from which he could command the people’s attention.

From that spot, Josiah “made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” (2 Chronicles 34:31 ESV)

With firm determination, knowing the odds were stacked against him, he did all he could do — he declared his love and devotion to the God of heaven and earth and ordered his subjects to join him in obeying God’s commands.

We’re told the people obeyed their king “as long as he lived” but reverted back to their old ways once the new king took over.

The result? God’s judgment was swift, and the populace was taken into captivity.


SOMETIMES THE ROAD IS SO PITTED AND TORN, the headwinds so strong, even the bravest among us turn back.

44. Cross_on_BibleSome 650 years after King Josiah made his stand, the apostle Paul faced a similar test. Paul dealt with crippling divisions in the church, where believers split up, siding with different evangelists. Paul would have none of it.

He had the right answer for the argument about which evangelist — Apollos or Peter or Paul, or anyone else, for that matter — was the most influential.

Paul said, “None of us.”

None of us?

“None of us,” he said. “All of us are called by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word of God, and God uses us each one of us according to the speaking and writing and service gifts he’s given us. We’re not the ones changing people’s hearts and claiming them for the Lord. We don’t accomplish anything on our own. “

Then who does?

“It’s the Holy Spirit of God,” Paul said. “It’s the Holy Spirit, not man, who works in people’s hearts and changes them.” (1 Corinthians 3:3-9, paraphrase mine).



55.Holy-Spirit-Descends-BibleEvery time a door opens, and the Lord gives us an opportunity to enter in to give God glory, there will be a competing wind, trying to blow us back. The enemy hates God’s rule and is dedicated to gumming up the works.

We might never have the influence that King Josiah or the apostle Paul had, we might not have our names in the Bible as they did, and no pastor may ever cite to our lives as one might to theirs for a biblical lesson to ponder.

But God didn’t call us to that role. Paul noted that it was by “the grace [of] God” that he became an apostle for the Lord, but even so, he was just beginning the pathway. “I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it,” he said. (1 Corinthians 3:10 NIV)

We’re all builders on that foundation laid down by others before us, just as long as we heed Paul’s words to build only on the foundation laid by Jesus Christ. (v. 10-11)

Every time Christ’s people try to make a difference in the world, they will face pushback from the enemy.

Oh, it is so easy to quit.



“It’s raining pretty hard. Maybe now’s not a good time.” “Oh, my, look at all the traffic. Probably should wait.” “I’m feeling tired this week, and my back’s been acting up. I should rest.” “I’m not sure I want to commit right now to something regular. Let the young folks (retired folks, folks without children, folks with children, married folks, single folks, employed folks, folks on vacation) step up this time.”

(Those excuses, reworked slightly, were said recently by someone I know well.)

We may not want to, but too often, too easily, we say:

  • “Why bother? It’s not worth it.”
  • “This is not how I want to do it.”
  • The odds are long, the payoff uncertain. I don’t see what difference I can make.”
  • I don’t like the deal, Lord. Better not count on me.”

We’re not likely to cite Cain, but we all know his comment to God about Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 NIV)

Short answer from God … to me and you: “Yes, you are.”


GOD WON’T LET US DOWN. He knows the obstacles in our way. So, He’s given us some words to cheer us up and keep us in the game.

The Holy Spirit inspired them, Solomon wrote them, and we can live by them:

In spite of many daydreams, pointless actions, and empty words, you should still fear God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:7 GW)


PRAYER: Heavenly Father, sometimes we are so ashamed of our faithlessness, our weakness, our willingness to quit. The Lord Jesus said the road would be tough and only a few people would find their way and persevere. O LORD, help us be mindful of the Kingdom’s work and how you left the job in our hands, with the Holy Spirit’s counsel and power. The Lord Jesus urged us to abide in Him. He promised us He would abide in us. Without Him, Heavenly Father, we can do nothing. With Him, we can do more than we could ever ask or imagine. May we rely on the LORD with all our heart and understanding, knowing that as we acknowledge You, You will make our paths straight. In Jesus’ loving name we offer this prayer. Amen

%d bloggers like this: