Most of my life, I’ve demonstrated pretty good self-control when it comes to eating, exercising, writing, meeting goals, and a list various things. However, one of my biggest challenges continues to be controlling what comes out of my mouth.
I still remember embarrassing my parents at age ten during a tour of the White House. We were in the dining room and the guide was telling us about the "dumb waiters." Not understanding, I piped up and asked my parents so everyone in the room could hear, "Why doesn’t the President hire ‘smart waiters?’"
Even though I’ve grown in leaps and bounds over the years in self-control when it comes to speaking, at times issues arise seemingly out of nowhere. Searching scripture to find help reveals numerous verses dealing with the mouth, tongue, and words. All seem to point to a central theme. It’s one Jesus clearly defines in Matthew 12:34 when He says, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." His statement indicates that my mouth is the best indicator of what’s going on in my heart.
Turns out, it’s an instrument to express what’s really in my heart. It’s actually not my mouth and the words coming out causing all the commotion when I slip and say something unkind or critical, it’s my heart. And most of the time, I’m not even aware there’s something in my heart that needs dealing with until it comes out. It must be why in Jeremiah 17:9 it says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"
Jesus continues to clarify why my heart is the real source of my words in verse 35-37 when He says:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Whoa! Those are powerful statements. So much so, I’m seriously taking note of my words to keep check on my heart. Here are some ways I’m learning to do so.
- What is the motive behind my statement? Pride, fear, anger, or something else? Are there issues in my heart hiding, provoking me?
- Are my words trying to accomplish something indirectly? Am I trying to prove a point, put someone in their place, or even silence someone from discussing things or confronting me? What can I do to change my heart and keep my words from going on the attack?
- Sometimes good thoughts meant with good intentions come out thoughtless and cause misunderstanding. Is my heart inpatient? Is pride causing me to think my statement is so good, I need to make sure it’s heard?
- Are critical words a sign of insecurity or disappointment in my heart? Is it seeking to feel right or superior?
- Is control ever an issue? Is my heart seeking to have its own way in a situation?
As a teen, I was drawn to the book of James, which has a lot to say about the tongue, such as if I can’t bridle my tongue, then my religion is vain and how the tongue is compared to a destructive fire, ferocious enough to change the course in life. Also, how "no man can tame the tongue. It is restless evil, full of deadly poison." If so, then where is my hope?
My hope’s found in Christ, in the fruit of self-control provided through His Spirit, described in Galatians 5:22-23. Its result only becomes outwardly evident in my life, when I allow it to develop inwardly to correct my heart’s attitudes, motives, and desires.
Self-control with my mouth is an ongoing process. But I can help by listening carefully to my words and continually examining my heart to see if anything has crept in and taken up residence. Heart to heart talks with my mouth keep a watch over it (Psalm 39:1).
I want to make sure Christ is the One dwelling in my heart (Ephesians 3:17) because if He is, then it will be evident by what comes out through my mouth.