Speech is one of the great gifts of God. It is the means by which the thoughts of the heart are communicated. It is with the tongue that we offer prayer and praise to God. With the tongue we convince and persuade. With the tongue we comfort and bless, soothing the bruised, wounded soul. With the tongue we may make known the wonders of the grace of God. With the tongue also we may utter perverse things, speaking words that sting like an adder.
The tongue is a little member, but the words it frames have great power. The Lord declares, “The tongue can no man tame” (James 3:8). It has set nation against nation, and has caused war and bloodshed. Words have kindled fires that have been hard to quench. They have also brought joy and gladness to many hearts. And when words are spoken because God says, “Speak unto them My words” (Ezekiel 2:7), they often cause sorrow unto repentance.
Of the unsanctified tongue the apostle James writes: “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). Satan puts into the mind thoughts which the Christian should never utter. The scornful retort, the bitter passionate utterance, the cruel, suspicious charge, are from him. How many words are spoken that do only harm to those who utter them and to those who hear! Hard words beat upon the heart, awaking to life its worst passions. Those who do evil with their tongues, who sow discord by selfish, jealous words, grieve the Holy Spirit; for they are working at cross-purposes with God.
The apostle, seeing the inclination to abuse the gift of speech, gives direction concerning its use. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” he says, “but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Ephesians 4:29). The word “corrupt” means here any word that would make an impression detrimental to holy principles and undefiled religion, any communication that would eclipse the view of Christ, and blot from the mind true sympathy and love. It includes impure hints, which, unless instantly resisted, lead to great sin. Upon every one is laid the duty of barring the way against corrupt communications.
It is God’s purpose that the glory of Christ shall appear in His children. In all His teaching, Christ presented pure, unadulterated principles. He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Constantly there flowed from His lips holy, ennobling truths. He spoke as never man spoke, with a pathos that touched the heart. He was filled with holy wrath as He saw the Jewish leaders teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9), and He spoke to them with the authority of true greatness. With terrible power He denounced all artful intrigue, all dishonest practises [sic]. He cleansed the temple from its pollution, as He desires to cleanse our hearts from everything bearing any resemblance to fraud. The truth never languished on His lips. With fearlessness He exposed the hypocrisy of priest and ruler, Pharisee and Sadducee.
Guard well the talent of speech; for it is a mighty power for evil as well as for good. You can not be too careful of what you say; for the words you utter show what power is controlling the heart. If Christ rules there, your words will reveal the beauty, purity, and fragrance of a character molded and fashioned by His will. But if you are under the guidance of the enemy of all good, your words will echo his sentiments.
The great responsibility bound up in the use of the gift of speech is plainly made known by the word of God. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37), Christ declared. And the psalmist asks, “Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:1–5).
“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile” (Psalm 34:13). The wild beast of the forest may be tamed, “but the tongue can no man tame” (James 3:8). Only through Christ can we gain the victory over the desire to speak hasty, unchristlike words. When in His strength we refuse to give utterance to Satan’s suggestions, the plant of bitterness in our hearts withers and dies. The Holy Spirit can make the tongue a savor of life unto life.
The Review and Herald, May 12, 1910.