Four Ways to Tame Your Tongue

Imagine there was a monitor attached to the side of your head. At any moment, it would display the exact thoughts—unfiltered—running through your mind. Does that seem cool to you? If so, you’re deluded. It would be a disaster.

Our words are the clearest and best indicator of what’s in our hearts. Which is why Jesus said that every idle word would be brought into evidence at the judgment (Matthew 12:36). And that’s because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 ESV). What we think is buried in our hearts will inevitably come out.

But we don’t have to resign ourselves to having sour hearts—and sour tongues. Here are four practical tips on how to tame our tongues.

1. Be slow to speak.

This is a direct quote from James 1:19. Knowing the power of the tongue, and how closely connected our tongues are with the depravity of our hearts, the first thing we should do is be much slower to speak—and much more careful when we do.

The book of Proverbs says it like this: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19 NKJV), which means, if we have a disposition to talk a lot, we sin a lot. Martin Luther once wrote, “I have learned this art: When I have nothing more to say, I stop speaking.” (I kinda wish he would’ve walked that one out a bit more often.)

Before we speak, we have to ask ourselves, “Is there anything profitable that comes from me sharing this? Or am I simply delighting in sharing the faults or misfortunes of others? Is this building others up, or making me look good? Is there any reason I need to be the one saying this? And saying it now, to this person?” Our words have staying power. Long after we speak them, the wounds of our words will remain. Be slow to speak—we can’t get words back.

2. Be quick to say “I’m sorry.”

Don’t underestimate the power of these two words to heal. Given how much James and Jesus say that we sin with our words, we’d expect that someone with the slightest awareness of the depravity of their heart would apologize often.

Unfortunately, that’s not a common reality.

As followers of Jesus, we should be quick to say, “I’m sorry,” to make things right. Inevitably, we will say something we shouldn’t have. But it’s what we do afterward that speaks volumes to the true condition of our hearts.

3. Sow life-giving words.

James 3:18 says that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (ESV). James is telling us to replace our destructive words with life-giving ones. Our words are seeds, which sow either beauty or ugliness, either encouragement or discouragement. So choose to sow words that can create goodness and life in others.

Here’s a fun challenge for you: This week, choose one person to speak blessing and encouragement to. Just one person. And try to say something intentional to them every day for a week. Then watch the difference it makes in their life.

If you like how it feels, you can graduate to doing this with more than one person. Cultivate a fountain that is life-giving.


4. Receive peace.

To speak peace, we have to be at peace. The reason some of us sin with our lips is because our hearts are at war. What’s in our hearts is not peace, but turmoil—insecurity, fear, and anxiety. There are 1,000 reasons you might have those negative feelings coursing through your veins. More often than not, we lash out at others because we’ve been the target of vicious words ourselves. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people.

But there’s a way out.

The way we move forward is to replace the hurtful words we’ve heard from others with the healing words of Jesus. Replace the words of criticism, comparison, judgment, condemnation, fear, and anxiety with his assurance of unconditional love and empowerment.

Jesus says, “You’re safe with me. I’ve never stopped loving you. Before you were even born, I had a plan for you. I’ve always been there, every second, by your side, weaving it all for good. I’ve got you!” This is what he says for believers in Psalm 139, Romans 8, and other places in Scripture. Embrace those words and dwell on them. Be at peace.

Our tongues can do tremendous harm. But they can also do tremendous good. If we follow the Spirit, we can be slow to speak and quick to apologize, speaking life-giving words and offering peace to others.