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 How Must We Govern Our Tongues?

Adapted from the sermon of Rev. Edward West, A.M., Christ Church Oxford

Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Volume 2

The Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

What speech is prohibited by Ephesians 4:29?  Corrupt, Greek sapros: something rotten.  This means anything unprofitable, idle, empty.  This can be seen more clearly when compares the rotten speech prohibited with the profitable speech required. If profitable speech builds up and gives grace, then corrupt speech must tear down and ruin.

What is speech which builds up? Speech which does good to the one who hears – even if it is merely a matter of bringing good cheer to another.

What does it mean to minister grace? That it be seasoned with salt, it conveys some wisdom, some charity, some blessing upon the other.

Therefore, What should be the aim of our speech?

1) Our speech should always aim at some good use.

2) Our speech should promote others in the course of grace.

3) Our speech should meet the situation and need: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. Proverbs 15:2 (ESV)

I. OBSERVATION. That our very lips are under God’s laws.

If we would be Christians of integrity, we should look to both our words and our deeds: Christ must be in our heart, our hands and our words: If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. James 1:26 (ESV)

What then shall we do about our tongues? First we need to realize the nature our tongue:

A. The tongue will easily accept government:  many are others right in their character and conduct who have great difficulty in governing their tongues:  7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:7–8 (ESV) How is this so?

1. The tongue demonstrates the pride of heart: This is so because our tongue is peculiar to human beings – it is the point on which we differ from animals (I once heard Steven Pinker state the distinction between animals and humans lay with our language ability).

To prove the point consider what people will do – they think their words will win them status, change the mind of others, get them out of trouble, “ those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” Psalm 12:4 (ESV)

Even someone who lacks all other power will backbite, slander, spread tales and reveal secrets.

2. The tongue never seems to tire: he tongue is always ready and never weary, that it must be continually watched:

James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, The tongue is volatile, ready to strike out all directions:

a world of unrighteousness. Verse 8 also states that the tongue is “full of deadly poison” – the tongue is propelled by powerful engines, unrighteousness and poison.  All sorts of wickedness seek expression through the tongue: (1 Peter 2:1).

The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. Not only does the tongue gain strength from our heart, it gains fuel from our circumstances.

B.  The tongue does not even realize its own sin: we sin so easily, so quickly, so often by speech that we scarcely notice. The tongue is never in fault, if we might be judge, and that its own advocate; even they that are severest in censuring others’ words, have always something to say for their own. 

1. The ease of speaking – this especially troubles some people who speak so often and so easily that sin in speech is not seen by them or others.

2. The wounds of words cannot be easily seen: a sword would draw blood, but a word wounds without sight.

3.  Sins of the tongue give great pleasure when committed: That drowns all sense of evil in it: it cannot be sin that tastes so sweet.

4.  Those who hear the sin (and are not the one attacked) will applaud the sin: Think of “sweet” it is to hear a secret revealed, a slander unleashed, a story spun. Our society spends millions to hear slander, learn secrets, and relish contempt.