During the Cold War era, “the bomb” was a phrase that touched everyone’s lips. Students practiced bomb drills in school. People built shelters in their backyards out of fear that the Communists might drop the bomb on their city. And while the Cold War is over now, the fear of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the hands of terrorists lives in the minds of the post-9/11 generation. And for good reason. But another WMD should cause us concern, as well—one that each of us has the personal ability to deploy.
The Word of God says in James 3:5-7, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. 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.” James, writing almost 2,000 years ago, describes for us a weapon of mass destruction.
What makes the tongue so dangerous? The most obvious reason is that nearly all of us use it every day. Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written in her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, that while we are talking with people face to face less than ever before, we are now talking more than ever. Turkle writes, “These days, being connected depends not on our distance from each other but from available communications technology.” We are a culture that, in her words, is “always on.”
Even when we are not talking with physical people in a physical space, we are constantly “speaking” on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, and the list goes on and on. There have never been more opportunities for us to set the world on fire, to unleash our own personal weapon of mass destruction on the world. Have an opinion about the most recent celebrity dust-up? Bam! You can immediately let all of your “followers” know. Have a passive-aggressive jab you want to make about your idiot cousin’s Instagram pictures? You can drop a WMD on him with a few quick taps on your phone. And it can get much worse.
Because we are sinners, our mouths are not instinctively full of the praises of God or the encouragement of others or thanksgiving for God’s provision. Describing the sinfulness of mankind, the apostle Paul makes special note to say, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13-14).
So what is the solution? Do we cut out our tongues? Take a vow of lifelong silence? Deactivate all our social media accounts and destroy all our digital devices? No, none of this would work. Jesus reminds us in Luke 6 and Matthew 12 that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Today we might say, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the fingers tweet.”
We don’t need new tongues. We need new hearts. We need hearts changed by the gospel in order for our speech to be salted with grace, love, hope and joy.
If you struggle to control your tongue, consider the condition of your heart. There is wisdom to be found in the words of God: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge” (Prov. 17:27). But when you refrain from speaking, do more than just stop talking. Use the silent space that God has provided to ask Him to fixate your heart on the beauty of Christ. That way, when you do speak, you will sound more like Jesus.
The transforming work of the gospel disarms the WMD that is the human tongue. May the words of our mouths be shaped by the gracious transformation that Jesus Christ, the perfect Word of God, has made in our hearts.