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Think Before You Speak

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Of all the members of the human body, the tongue is undoubtedly the more difficult to control. Holding it proves to be an ongoing challenge for many. It leads us to many and various sins.

The tongue is not being spoken of here as the system of vocal or graphic signs used by a group of people to communicate with each other. What is referred to is the fleshly and muscular organ in the mouth used when speaking, tasting or chewing. But it is the role it plays in connection with utterance that is of interest in biblical studies. The tongue helps produce speech and express our thoughts. It also helps communicate emotions; in short it participates in the process of conveying that which is deep seated within us.

The Bible discusses the tongue considerably. On the one hand, it deals with it positively. When the word of God urges Christians to sing with grace in their hearts to the Lord, it indirectly teaches that the tongue is primarily used for singing praises to God. And to worship God is something absolutely good. Also, Proverbs 31:26 says that the virtuous “opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness”. This admonition shows that it is within women’s power to utter kind and wise words. A third example that can be listed concerns the role of the tongue in baptism. Romans 10:9 explains that one expresses his faith in Christ through his mouth. This does not mean that a prospect Christian cannot express his faith who is dumb. Of course, he can verbally articulate his thoughts by means other than speech.

On the other hand, the tongue can do bad things. It is possible to sin in words. The Psalmist’s statement in Psalm 39:1 proves it. He said, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me.’” There is a catalogue of sins involving the tongue which are found both in Old and New Testaments. Here are a few of them:

  • Slandering (Leviticus 19:16)

  • Lying (Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 21:8)

  • Gossiping (Exodus 23:1)

  • Blaspheming (Colossians 3:8)

  • Speaking angry words (Ephesians 4:26)


All these sins, the list of which is not complete, are rebuked by the word of God. I personally loathe one in particular. It consists in using the name of God in expressing surprise. It is a new social phenomenon. You often hear people say, “Oh, my…” (and they utter the name “God”). This way of using the name of God irreverently is now common in the secular world and is making inroads in the church. It goes against the law of God that says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). If we respect our parents’ names, as I suppose we all do, how much more shall we honour the name of God. In the run-up to the inauguration of the new Covenant, Jesus taught Christians to call God’s name with deference. During a lesson on prayer He taught, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:10). The term "Hallowed" is the past participle for "hallow" which comes from the Greek hagiazo – it means "to make holy" or "sanctify". It’s right that man should sanctify God’s name and thus show adoration for His Person for at least two reasons: God created man in His own image and He continually provides for his physical and spiritual needs (Genesis 1:27; John 1:4).

Remarkably, the entire third chapter of the Book of James, in the New Testament, addresses the issue of the misuse of the tongue. In this passage, James says forthrightly that we all sin in words against others (James 3:2). There is in all of us, whether young or old, rich or poor, an innate inclination to use our tongue inappropriately. We can use it, for example, in the case of a church, to unfairly criticize brethren we do not like much but say nice things about those we get along with regardless of their faults. Harsh and unwise words easily come out of our mouth, especially in the heat of an argument, unless we have some measure of control over our tongue. Hence James speaks of the need to bridle it in the way horses are by means of bits (James 1:3).


Slandering, gossiping, backbiting and every other sin of this kind stroke mistrust, bitterness or resentment among brethren and thus impact on the cohesion of the church.

How to prevent that from happening? It is vital that we take time to think before speaking. Always think of the consequences of what we are about to say might have. Each of us need to make into a principle of life the old adage that advises, “turn your tongue seven times before speaking”. Perhaps the best way to avoid hurting others with our tongue is talk less and listen more. It might also help if we convince ourselves that blessing and cursing cannot proceed out of the same mouth. James asks, “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (James 3:10). It is logically impossible would be the simple answer to this rhetorical question. Sweetening our lips with the holly name of God and songs of praise to Him and then profaning them with foul words uttered against others are two things irreconcilable.


Constant Coulibaly      

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