My daughter-in-law has suggested a rule for family gatherings:
The older boys are not to tell funny stories during dinner. This is for my safety. They are stand-up-comic funny, and I’ve been in danger of choking with laughter. One actually is a performer, and when they get together they are dynamite—hence the rule. While I appreciate the humor, I’ve been concerned with their tendency toward the risqué. When they were teens I imposed a fine of a quarter for every inappropriate word. At some point I also tacked on the wall the passage in Ephesians exhorting us to not allow “foolish talking, nor coarse jesting,” to be named among us (5:4).
Recently, after one particular gathering, I was praying, and more than normally concerned about their slips. A short time later, my performer son called to talk about a meeting I’d had with a new friend of his. He casually mentioned the guy felt contrite for using an inappropriate word in front of me. My son said, “I just told him you swear more than I do, Mom.”
What? He wasn’t joking. When I caught my breath and quizzed him, I found he was referring to a particular phrase I had used, a long time ago, under extreme provocation. It was unintentional—believe me—and really quite mild. Now I was taken aback, having just come from a session of prayer over his speaking habits. Apparently the Lord also has a sense of humor.
The old childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” couldn’t be further from the truth. Words are far more powerful than we, by our careless use of them, seem to grasp. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary; how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!”
“‘For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. . . . But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned'” (Matthew 12:34, 36-37, NKJV)
That’s a heavy admonition. As I’ve learned more about the power of words, I’ve understood better why God would have us guard our tongues. James’ epistle confirms this. “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so”(James 3:8-10, NKJV).
Have you ever blurted out something you wish you could take back?
Whether an inappropriate word or an unkind one, we often wonder, “Where did that come from?” Like James, we think this ought not to be so. It is tempting to blame it on the culture around us—TV or a bad-mouthed neighbor—but Scripture clearly states that the fountainhead of our words is our own heart. Another way of putting it comes from computer lingo, “Garbage in; garbage out.” We can’t feed on junk and expect purity and wisdom to flow from our mouths.
How we program our hearts involves more than turning off the TV or not listening to gossip, however. We need to feed on God’s words. The more we do that, the more His truth, kindness, and love will be our response, even in moments of extreme provocation. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11, NKJV).