The Trouble with the Tongue
Is it a sin to talk too much? Well, that depends. When we read the warnings in Scripture concerning the power of words we may be tempted to stop talking all together! However, we quickly realize this is not the answer. That would be too easy. The right response is the hard road of self-discipline and love. The hard road is the application of wisdom in the restraint of the most powerful muscle in our body. That got me thinking about the dangers of talking too much. There are many and include the following 8 warnings.
- Excessive talk may open the door to sin. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (21:23). “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (13:3). These verses seem to say the more you talk, the more you will sin. The reason for this is found in the sobering truth of James 3:8: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” We must discipline ourselves to refrain from speaking when it is not necessary. This is one mark of wisdom. “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (17:27, 28).
- Excessive talk may fuel gossip. Webster’s Dictionary defines a gossip as, “a person who chatters or repeats idle talk and rumors.” Idle talk and rumors define the content of gossip. However, it is important to realize that the accuracy of the information being chattered about is not the issue. It could be true or false. The issue is there are some things that simply don’t need to be, and should not be, repeated because the negative effects of gossip are numerous. It destroys friendships: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Proverbs 17:9). It causes strife: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20). It leads to the betrayal of confidences: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19 NASB). It hurts others deeply: “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body” (Proverbs 18:8). The Puritan, Thomas Watson, said: “The scorpion carries its poison in its tail, the slanderer in his tongue. His words pierce deep like the quills of the porcupine.”
- Excessive talk may be the enemy of listening. I am sure we have all been guilty at one time or another of not listening because we were rapidly forming a response in our mind while the other person was still talking. Proverbs identifies this as foolishness: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (18:13). “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (29:20). This is also supported by the words of James in the New Testament: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James. 1:19). Notice the relationship between quick listening and slow speaking. It seems the discipline of quick listening strengthens the discipline of slow speaking, and vice versa. So, if I make a conscious decision to listen intently, I will not be so hasty to speak. And if I use more care in speaking, I will become a more skillful listener.
- Excessive talk may feed boasting. To boast is to glory in having or doing something. Boasters are different from gossips in that they talk excessively about themselves rather than others. Proverbs warns against this: “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (27:2). “Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?” (20:6) “Whoever falsely boasts of giving is like clouds and wind without rain” (25:14). Boasting is grievous to God because it is fueled by pride. We need to carefully heed James’ warning: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16)
- Excessive talk may lead to flattery. It would be foolish to try to improve on Kent Hughes’ definition of flattery: “Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.” The Bible always attributes corrupt motives to flattery. “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5). The harlot seduces her prey by means of flattery (Proverbs 2:16–18, 6:24, 7:21). In the past when I have encountered a flatterer, I have wanted to ask, “Just what is it you want?” Beware of those who give excessive, untrue, or insincere praise.
- Excessive talk may be idle talk. If we fail to restrain the use of our tongue, we may find ourselves involved in a lot of useless talk. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.” In other words, all talk and no action eventually leads to want. Jesus’ warning against idle talk should have a sobering effect: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). The accounting we shall give at the Judgment Seat of Christ is a powerful deterrent to careless speech if we will heed it.
- Excessive talk may give birth to profanity. Profanity, or what most of us grew up calling “swearing,” is inconsistent in the life of a child of God. “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing” (James 3:9, 10a NASB). If we sing praise to God on Sunday and curse men on Monday, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10 NASB). “It is inconsistent for a fountain to send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water, or a fig tree to produce olives” (James 3:11, 12). Therefore, our new-creature-status in Christ should be reflected by the abandonment of profane talk (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- Excessive talk may destroy many. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:5, 6). The National Interagency Fire Center reports that in the year 2000 fires destroyed 8,422,237 acres of wildland, costing federal agencies (us) over 1.3 billion dollars to suppress. We can measure the destruction of trees and wildlife, but the devastation caused by an uncontrolled tongue cannot be estimated. Just one spark is all it takes! Taming our tongue is extremely difficult, but not impossible. As we exercise discipline in the restraint of our tongue, the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of self-control (Galatians 5:23). As we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, we will become more and more like the perfect (complete, mature) man who does not stumble in word (James 3:2).
Let us take our sins of the tongue to the cross in repentant confession and pray we become more like that spiritually mature man. It would be good for each of us to also make the psalmist’s prayer our own: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)