It is not without significance that two of the Ten Commandments deal with speech—taking the name of God in vain and bearing false witness against another person (Ex. 20:7, 16).
Similarly, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned against the abuse of the tongue in “swearing falsely” (Mt. 5:33-37). Elsewhere, Jesus Christ gave a stern warning regarding the unseemly language that sometimes proceeds from a person’s mouth (Mt. 12:36-37).
The way one talks is a very revealing index to his character. The Scriptures describe different kinds of “tongues” (speech). Let us consider some of these.
The Hateful Tongue
Jeremiah spoke of those “treacherous” people who “bend their tongue like a bow.” He cautioned that no one should place trust in the person who “deceives” and “slanders,” nor with those who “have taught their tongue to speak lies” (Jer. 9:2-5). Jehovah hates the lying tongue (Prov. 6:17; cf. Acts 5:3-4). Some use their tongues to rip and gut others—even their brethren in Christ.
The Licentious Tongue
Solomon said that the mouth of the forbidden woman is a “deep pit” (Prov. 22:14). Note the perfume-drenched words (“fair speech”) of the dissolute woman who lures the unwary lad to his destruction (Prov. 7:14ff). Men have similarly taken advantage of vulnerable, lonely women by their deceitful language.
The Boasting Tongue
The vain Pharisee, in a dramatic presentation before the Lord, paraded his feigned accomplishments, but he was not accounted as just with God, in spite of his boasting (Lk. 18:9ff). It was Francis Bacon who said something to the effect that “a bragging man is scorned by the wise, and admired by fools.”
There are those with whom one can scarcely engage a conversation without being bored to tears with an incessant stream of self-adulating and dubious accomplishments.
The Impetuous Tongue
An inspired writer declared: “[L]et every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” (Jas. 1:19).
The poet Robert Frost once said that “half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”
A wise man wrote: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise” (Prov. 17:28).
Unfortunately, he frequently opens his mouth and removes all doubt! There are far too many people who talk in an attempt to discover the content of their thoughts.
The Obscure Tongue
Have you ever had a religious conversation with a person, and when the exchange was concluded, you had no earthly idea where he stood on any significant issue? Such folks slip and slide, flip and flop.
“What is your position, brother?”
“Well, I think there is much to be said on both sides of that argument.”
Some people simply cannot be pinned down on any point of truth.
The Critical Tongue
A wise man values constructive criticism; it’s just that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between constructive criticism and plain old meanness. But, as Solomon observed, “A rebuke enters deeper into one who has understanding, than [do] a hundred stripes into a fool” (Prov. 17:10).
A wise person can learn valuable lessons from his critics if he but will. On the other hand, there are those who have turned criticism into a recreational sport. Whenever they gather, like vicious piranha, they devour all flesh in sight.
In setting forth qualifications for deacons, Paul admonished that they must not be “double-tongued” (1 Tim. 3:8). The double-tongued person is one who has refined the art of duplicity. He will say anything to get you off his back, then say quite another to someone else. His word is not his bond. His tongue flaps like an irritating awning in a winter storm (see Prov. 8:8).
The Explosive Tongue
James observed that the tongue is an instrument that no man can control completely (cf. Jas. 3:8). But some make almost no attempt at the effort. At the least irritant they explode with expletives. One might be surprised to listen to the language of the man on Monday who has spoken so piously over the Lord’s table on Sunday! To those who operate in such fashion, the Lord’s says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant upon your lips?” (Psa. 50:16).
“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth” (Eph. 4:29), rather, put away shameful speaking from your mouth (Col. 3:8). Listen to the warning of the Judge of the universe:
I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt. 12:36-37).