BE CAREFUL LITTLE TONGUE
by Bob Wheeler
The Ninth Commandment reads “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20; NKJV). The primary reference, of course, is to the crime of perjury, in which a witness in a court trial lies under oath, potentially resulting in the false conviction of an innocent defendant, and thereby undermining the integrity of the whole criminal justice system. But as we read through the Bible it becomes apparent that the Ninth Commandment covers much more than that. What we say or speak in general has an impact on the lives of others, and therefore comes under the purview of God’s moral law.
“ . . .the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (Jas. 3:5). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, / And those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21). With the tongue we can deceive and mislead, insult and offend, provoke someone to anger or destroy someone’s reputation. The tongue can ruin a marriage. “It is better to dwell in the corner of a housetop, / Than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Prov. 25:24).
Even saying something that may be factually true can sometimes create problems. “He who a transgression seeks love, / But he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Prov. 17:9).
The apostle Paul elaborates further on the use of the tongue in his letter to the Ephesians. Here he tells us to “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth . . .” (Eph. 4:29). He also says that “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting” should “not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Eph. 5:3,4).
But, on may ask, what is so bad about telling an off-color joke or using a curse word? Whom are we really hurting? The answer Paul gives is interesting. First of all, what we are supposed to be saying is “what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (4:29), and “giving thanks” (5:4). In other words, we are supposed to be using our tongues for positive, constructive purposes.
But there is more to it than that. The real issue is what lies underneath. What comes out of the mouth reflects what is in the heart, and that is where the real problem lies. And so Paul makes a point of saying, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” (4:31,32). The reason we engage in trash talk is because of our underlying attitude: we are arrogant, self-centered and even downright hostile towards others; when we should be kind, understanding, and sympathetic. If we care about others we will be careful about what comes out of our mouths.
But a cynic might ask, why should I care about others? And again Paul gives us the answer. “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (5:1,2). First of all, consider what God himself is like. He is love itself, and is completely devoid of the carnal passions that often rule our hearts. He cares about us, and therefore He wants us to care about each other. Secondly, consider what Christ has done for us. He “has loved us and given Himself for us” (5:2). He made the supreme sacrifice on our behalf; how can we begrudge Him a little consideration for others? And, we are told, Christ’s sacrifice was especially pleasing to God the Father: it was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Or, to put it negatively, when we engage in trash talk because our hearts are filled with anger and hostility, we ‘grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (4:30). If we are born-again Christians we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. That means He sees everything we see and hears everything we hear. And He knows what is inside our hearts. And if what He sees is ugly and disgusting, it is revolting to Him and He is grieved that a child of God could contemplate such things. We will never experience the love, joy and peace of the Christian life as long as we continue in such a state. Therefore it behooves us to make sure that our hearts are right with God, and that will be reflected in what comes out of our mouths.
Our conversation ought to be a delight for others to listen to. It should encourage, inspire, uplift and edify. It should contain nothing tawdry, vulgar or inane. If you wouldn’t say it in the presence of Christ Himself you should not say it at all!