Stress Points: Loose Lips Sink Ships
Think about your tongue for a minute. Most of the time, most people are able to just ignore their tongue, but once in a while it pops out and creates serious trouble.
One image in my mind is a freeze frame from a movie: a little boy with his tongue frozen to a metal pole in midwinter. That’s trouble. Here’s another pack of trouble caused by the tongue (from Daryl). A woman was working in a post office somewhere in California. One day she licked the envelopes instead of using the sponge on the counter. As luck would have it, she cut her tongue on one of the envelopes. A week later she noticed an abnormal swelling of her tongue. She went to the doctor, who found nothing wrong. Her tongue was not sore, just swollen. A couple of days later, though, as the tongue continued to swell, it become so sore that she couldn’t eat. She went back to the doctor and he x-rayed her tongue and found a lump. He prepared her for minor surgery, and when the doctor cut her tongue open, a live cockroach crawled out! Apparently there were roach eggs on the seal of the envelope the day she cut her tongue and the eggs hatched inside her tongue. I don’t think she ever licked another envelope again.
Normally, when we think of our tongues getting us into trouble, it’s not about
tongues licking; it’s about tongues wagging.
A husband and wife were shopping in the mall one day, and they went separate ways. After a few hours the husband started to get worried but he didn’t know where to
start looking for his wife. So he sat down by a beautiful woman on one of the mall benches. He smiled and said, “Talk to me. . .Quick!”
“Why?” she said.
“Because every time I talk to a beautiful woman, my wife appears!” (internet)
The tongue is a very small part of the body. But oh, what power it has! James gives us several word pictures that illustrate the power of the tongue. It’s like the bit that is put in the horse’s mouth. Such a small thing, yet it controls the whole animal. Or like
the rudder of a ship. So small, and yet it points the ship where the captain directs. Perhaps the most picturesque image is that of a fire. How small a spark ignites a giant forest. It made me think of our forest fire last year. It burned many hundreds of acres. And it was started by one illegal campfire in the park. One little campfire caused all that inferno.
And so it is with the tongue. One word, one conversation, can ignite a whole chain of events, ruin someone’s career, destroy a friendship, split a church, start a war.
In Proverbs 26 it says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal is to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.”
Now, there’s the real problem. Gossip is tasty stuff. It is exciting to hear, and dangerously fun to pass on.
A young priest was in training to hear confessions, and an older priest was listening in so that he could give him some feedback on how he was doing. After they
had listened to several confessions, the older priest took him aside and suggested that after people shared their sins, he should find something other to say than, “Wow!”
Gossip is tasty stuff. And so easy, so natural to want to share with your friends. In fact, it is really hard not to share. There is something built into human beings, it seems, that just wants to get involved with a delicious secret especially if it may just destroy someone else.
The tongue is a restless evil, James tells us, full of deadly poison. With it we bless
the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
It’s true, isn’t it? On Sunday you sing God’s praises. What are you saying Monday morning, or on the ride home?
There was a man who had spread some gossip about his rabbi, and he felt remorseful. So he went to the rabbi and confessed. He asked what he could do to make things right. The rabbi said he would give him two assignments. First the man was to take a feather pillow up on the highest hill in the town, and tear it open, letting the feathers fly in the wind. The man was eager to find relief for his guilt, so he immediately went up on the highest hill and watched the feathers fly. Then he went back to the rabbi, and said, I’ve completed my assignment. The rabbi said, “Now, go and collect all the feathers.” The point that the rabbi was making, of course, is that once spoken, the words
cannot be taken back.
James compares the tongue to a wild animal that can’t be tamed. We tame lions and tigers and bears. Elephants and raptors and mice. And dolphins. I saw a brief news piece on TV this week about how the Navy has recruited some trained bottlenose dolphins for important work in the Persian Gulf. The dolphins use their sonar to find
mines, then they mark them with flags, so that both military and humanitarian vessels can pass safely. They are also trained to spot enemy divers and let the Navy know that they are in the water.
We can train wild animals. But who can tame the tongue?
Nobody. Nobody! It’s humanly impossible.
So, what are we to do about this tongue that cannot be tamed, that speaks the words that cannot be taken back?
Once again, I am going to borrow a principle from Alcoholics Anonymous. What’s the first step that alcoholics or a drug addicts take toward recovery? They acknowledge that they are powerless over their addiction. So, like the verbosity addicts we are, we need to acknowledge that we are powerless over our tongue. We have given our power away.
You see, this is not really about the tongue, per se. Your tongue pretty much does what you tell it to. So, it’s really more about your control center. Your will. There are choices to be made.
If you want to follow Jesus, you’ve got to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow. That means making some changes, making some tough decisions. It means putting what Jesus wants above what you want or what seems to come naturally. Remember, it’s humanly impossible to tame the tongue. You cannot do it on your own. It depends on the grace and mercy of God. But these are gifts that God gives freely.
That’s what James means by the wisdom that comes from God. God wants to help you live a productive and positive life. A life marked by justice and integrity. But you have to choose to give God control instead of giving your incorrigible tongue free
reign. If you are allowing your loose tongue to run rampant, you are not surrendering to God’s wisdom. Instead you are living simply on your own steam, and the result will be (according to James) disorder and wickedness of every kind (and that includes gossip). But if you open yourself to God’s wisdom, and trust God to give you the strength, then the result will be righteousness and peace.