Taming the Tongue

MP3 Audio: WS330363_Dn-Joseph_Be-Sober-Be-Vigilant-(over-the-tongue).mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

In our Epistle reading today, we read a verse which is very familiar to us on a daily basis, for all of us who pray compline.

Be sober! Be vigilant! Because your adversary, the devil, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.

If you were just having some fun, having a camping trip with your family at a nearby lake — you don’t really watch out for lions around here, do you? — Because we’re in Illinois, we don’t have wild lions running around, as far as I know. So your guard is not up. Sure, you might see some wild squirrels, some deer, maybe even a skunk or two! But you really don’t worry a whole lot about running into wild animals that are going to come and kill you and your family, and eat you.

If you were going on that camping trip in Africa, how might you prepare differently? You might still go on the camping trip. You might still have a cookout. You might still have fun and enjoy fellowship with your family. But you would prepare just a little differently, wouldn’t you? You would make sure that if any lion comes anywhere near your tent, that you’re gonna be ready! You’re not gonna let your guard down. You’re not gonna walk away for even five minutes, if you know that a lion might come in and attack one of your children. If you know that there are lions around, you will be sober! You will be vigilant! You will be watchful, knowing that there are prowling lions out there, just waiting to devour you and your family.

It’s not the only place in Scripture, that Satan is called a lion. In Psalm 91, we read this prophecy of Christ and of all those who follow Him:

“Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder. The young lion, and the dragon, shalt thou trample under feet.”

Here we have one verse in Scripture that brings all these images together and calls the devil a lion, a snake, and a dragon. And it says that those who follow Christ will trample him under their feet. This is not just a battle for our physical lives. This is not just a battle for the lives of our children. This is a battle for their souls! This is a battle for eternity.

You see, when the devil prowls about seeking whom he may devour, he’s not merely seeking to kill your body. His goal is to drag you, your spouse, your children, and everybody else that he can, into Hell! So be sober, be vigilant, and don’t let that happen!

With that sort of sobriety in mind, I want you to imagine something very difficult, something devastating, something upsetting. But don’t just listen to my words; I want you to form a mental picture of this happening. Jesus comes and He talks to you. I want you to imagine that this is real. Jesus walks up and He talks to you, face to face, just like you’ve always dreamed of. You’ve looked forward to this day all your life, and finally, Jesus is standing right there. And He is talking to you face to face. Jesus looks at you and He says,

“For years, you have said that you love Me, and you have said that you are a Christian. You are in church every weekend. You tithe a tenth of all your income. You’re working hard to bring the rest of your family into the church. You pray twice a day. You study the Scriptures diligently! I just want to make sure you understand . . . your religion is worthless!”

How would it make you feel, emotionally? After all that you’ve said, after all that you’ve done, if Jesus himself looked you in the eyes, and said, “Your religion is worthless”? It cuts to the heart, doesn’t it? It would be a fearful, scary thing to hear from the lips of God.

Now, according to Scripture, religion can be a very good thing. The book of James tells us about a pure and undefiled religion which is pleasing to the Lord. So how much would it bother you if Jesus told you that your religion is worthless? If Jesus looked at everything you say and do, and then He told you that your religion was without any value, how devastated would you be? In James chapter 1, verse 26, we are warned of a very dangerous sin — a sin which is so vile, so wicked, and so destructive, that it can render your practice of Christianity to be without value. James 1:26 —

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

I didn’t write this. This is the Word of God. This is Scripture. “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

As it is written in Proverbs 18:21 —

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

You see, it’s not just killing, and stealing, and immorality, that we need to guard against and be vigilant against. Satan would love nothing more than for you to be living in chastity your entire life, to never kill anybody, to never hurt a fly, to be a fine upstanding citizen who goes to church every time the doors are open — and still to go to hell because you would not control your tongue.

Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, is a roaring lion who walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

What part of the lion’s body is it that devours you? It’s his mouth! I’ve never seen a lion devour anything, with anything other than his mouth. But this lion is unique. Instead of using his own mouth to devour you, he uses yours. By getting a hold of your tongue, the devil devours your soul, and destroys your family and your church in the process. We are going to look at a number of Scriptures in Proverbs, in James, in various places, where we see from the Word of God itself — from the Scriptures themselves — just how destructive the tongue is.

In Proverbs, we’re told that the tongue is destructive to friendships:

“A perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

“A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge, shall the just be delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9)

“Without wood, a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers, and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” (Proverbs 26:20-22)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father. And with it, we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:8-9)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath;
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
(Proverbs 15:1)

All of these are quotations directly from Scripture, telling us that if you want to destroy a friendship, you don’t have to steal one thing from them. You don’t have to hit them one time with your fist. All you have to do is open your mouth, and you can destroy a friendship.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to your brothers and sisters, whether in your family, or in your church family:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges them, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” (James 4:11)

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, for you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9)

According to Scripture, you don’t have to strike one of your brothers or sisters. You don’t have to steal anything from them. You don’t have to physically hurt them in any way. If you want to destroy your brothers and your sisters, all you have to do is open your mouth and speak evil of them.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to a marriage:

“A foolish child is a father’s ruin; and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” (Proverbs 19:13)

“Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.” (Proverbs 21:19)

“A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16)

You want to tear a marriage apart? You don’t have to commit adultery. You don’t have to squander all the money. If you want to rip your marriage apart, all you have to do is open your mouth. Whether you’re the husband or the wife, all you have to do is open your mouth and be quarrelsome, be nagging, be negative — using your tongue to tear your spouse down, rather than build them up.

According to Scripture, the tongue can be destructive to your very soul:

“He that keeps his tongue keeps his life;
but he that opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
(Proverbs 13:13)

“A fool’s mouth is his destruction;
and his lips are the snare of his soul.”
(Proverbs 18:7)

“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

And then that verse that we already looked at:

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet, do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
(James 1:26)

Using nothing but this one little muscle, this one little tongue, this tiny part of our body — if we’re negative, if we gossip, if we speak badly about other people, we can destroy friendships. We can destroy our brothers and sisters, and family and church relationships. We can destroy our marriage. And ultimately, we can destroy our very soul. And with nothing other than our tongue, we can drag our own souls to hell.

Why are sins of the tongue so deadly?

When you sin with your tongue — by speaking badly about other people — you are sinning against the truth, you are sinning against humility, you are sinning against love, you are sinning against relationships, and you are sinning against the very concept of repentance itself.

Sinning Against the Truth

When you speak badly about somebody else, it is rarely just a simple account of some fact that you witnessed. You add to the story by judging their motives, and pretending that you know why they did what they did. Whenever you judge incorrectly, your gossip becomes slander. And when you slander, you are speaking lies. If you want to know what their motives are, then ask them.

Sinning Against Humility

The reason that you can so confidently believe that you can accurately judge the motives of others, is because you have a pride problem. You are way too sure of your own abilities. The truth is that you are not as smart as you think you are. You can misjudge another person’s actions. You can think that other person is rude, unloving, angry, or upset, and you can be dead wrong. Stop trusting in your cunningness. Stop trusting in your own ability to judge the hearts and motives of other people. If you want to know whether they have certain motives, then humble yourself enough to ask them!

Sinning Against Love

Scripture says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Love is patient, kind, and seeks for the best in others. If you are running off at the mouth, tearing other people down, you are showing them hatred instead of love.

Sinning Against Relationships

Christians are supposed to build close relationships between spouses, siblings, children, neighbors, and fellow members of the church. But sinning with your tongue tears relationships apart. Consciously use your tongue to build relationships up, rather than tear them down.

Sinning Against Repentance

Walking with Christ requires repentance. But if you are spending time focusing on the sins of others, that indicates that you are not spending enough time focusing on your own sins. Stop confessing other peoples sins, and start confessing your own.

A lot of times when we speak badly about other people, when we spend a great amount of time talking about how evil this person is and how evil that person is, how wicked that person is and how terrible this person is, it’s because we are terrified of being silent for long enough to turn our thoughts inward, and think about how well we measure up to Christ.

I can talk about righteousness. I can condemn sin all day long, as long as it’s somebody else’s sin. But if I stop focusing on anybody else’s sin, that doesn’t leave anybody’s sin for me to consider but my own. And that’s painful. That’s humbling. That’s not fun.

But you cannot repent of your sin, until you close your mouth long enough to discover your own sin. Focus on yourself. Our sin-detectors work very well when we are trying to seek out sin in others. What we need to do is take that same ability, and instead of focusing on anybody else, we need to take our sin-detectors and point them at our own hearts.

When you look at other people, you don’t know their motives. But in your heart of hearts, you can look at your own motives. When you look at other people, you don’t know for sure what they are thinking, when they do what they do. But you can look at yourself and you know what you are thinking. If you want to be a good judge of sin, if you want to have enough information to judge a person guilty of sin, the person about which you have the most information is yourself. You don’t have to guess what you’re thinking. You don’t have to guess what your motives were. You can turn your sin detector inwards. And if you see that you fall short in this way, or in that way, you can be confident that you have something that you need to repent of.

True Repentance Requires Action

We need to remember that repentance is far more than just saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Repentance means you literally turn around, you start walking the other way, you do the opposite. If you fall on your knees before God because you’re a thief, and you say, “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented of your sin, until you return that which you have stolen, and you start giving, rather than stealing.

If you have walked down an immoral pathway with somebody who is not your spouse, and you say “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented until you turn your back on that relationship, and you have gone back to your spouse, and you are living a godly, pure life with them.

And so it is with our tongues. If we’re cursing other men, if we’re gossiping against other people, if we’re saying negative things about other people, we can ask God to forgive us all day long. But we have not truly repented until we take hold of our tongues, ask others to forgive us for our slander, and not only cease to use our tongues for wickedness, and negativity, but start using them for the opposite. The people that you used to speak negative of, are you intentionally starting to speak positive things to help build them up, to help draw them closer to Christ? Have you started using your tongue to start building up relationships, building up your marriage? If not, then you have not yet repented.

It says in James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.” Let us take this admonition seriously. Be sober and vigilant with your tongue, so that Satan does not use it to devour you and your family.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:22-27, James 3, James 4, James 5, Orthodox Homilies, Proverbs 11:9, Proverbs 13:13, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 18:21, Proverbs 18:7, Proverbs 19:13, Proverbs 21:19, Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 26:20-22, Proverbs 27:15-16. Bookmark the permalink.

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