Ethics: Tongue (Part 2)

We are social creatures.  We like to talk.  The Bible warns, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).  We must learn to control our tongues (James 1:26).  The tongue is a wonderful tool, but we need to use it responsibly, “would that we all felt as keen a sense of responsibility for the use of our tongues as the policeman does for the use of his gun or the physician for use of his powerful medications!” [Rubel Shelly, What Christian Living is All About (Studies in James), p. 51].

The tongue can be used for good or bad.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).  Someone has written, “A careless word may kindle strife / A cruel word my wreck a life / A bitter word may hate instill / A brutal word may smite and kill… but… A gracious word may smooth the way / A joyous word may lessen stress / A loving word may heal and bless.”

Let’s continue our study of the tongue…


We’re warned, “do not associate with one who flatters with his lips” (Proverbs 20:19).  A flatterer is not sincere.  Such a one uses praise to seduce (Proverbs 2:16; 7:5) or gain (Daniel 11:21, 32, 34; Jude 16), or to set a trap (Proverbs 26:28; 29:5).

Our words should be genuine.  Our lives should be “without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9).  We are to possess “sincere (unfeigned – KJV) love of the brethren” (1 Peter 1:22).


Many rashly respond, speaking without much thought.  The Bible speaks of this when it says, “Do you see a man hasty in his words?  There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20); Again, “He who answers a matter before he hears it.  It is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).

We need to: (1) listen (Proverbs 18:13).  May we be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James. 1:19).  “Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue, to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak” (Socrates).  (2) be careful when angry.  “Anger is just one letter short of danger.”  When angry, we should be cautious and not allow our anger to lead us into sin (Ephesians4:26).  Thomas Jefferson wisely said, “When angry count to ten before you speak; if very angry a hundred.”  (3) watch your tone (Proverbs 15:1; Colossians 4:6).


A woman, who was a bit, “rough around the edges” once asked me over lunch where in the Bible cussing was ever condemned.  In her mind, it wasn’t condemned in the Bible.

However, we should consider the following points: (1) Our words are to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31; 6:20).  (2) We are to rid ourselves of “filthy language” (Colossians 3:8 NKJV cf. Eph. 5:4), “obscene language” (Colossians 3:8, McCord) and “coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4 NKJV), “crude joking” (Ephesians 5:4 ESV).  (3) Brother Marion Fox told me that many of the things which are of a shocking nature when said are not technically sinful in and of themselves; but should be avoided because of their being offensive in our culture, a hindrance to one’s influence, and because they simply do not edify.  “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).


It seems to be the American way; just think Mohammad Ali and his “I am the greatest.”

Such bragging is provocative.  It is self-exalting.  It is contrary to the proverb, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).  We’re to be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5).


We’re taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:2).  What does it mean to blaspheme?  The word literally means hurtful speech.  “It appears that the law of blasphemy, as it was understood among the Jews extended not only to the offense of impiously using the name of the Supreme Being, but to every usurpation of his authority, or arrogation by a created being of the honor and power belonging to Him alone” (Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists, p. 64).  This appears to be correct (Matthew 9:2-3; Luke 5:20-21; John 10:31-33; Matthew 26:63-66 cf. Isaiah 19:1).

Let us remember to (1) give credit to Him [ these did…(a) Joseph (Genesis 41:15-16); (b) Saul (1 Samuel 11:12-13); (c) Samuel (1 Samuel 12:16-18); (d) David (1 Samuel 17:32-37); (e) Elijah (I Kings 17:36-38); (f) Elisha (2 Kings 2:14; 4:43); (g) Daniel (Daniel 2:27-28); (h) Peter (Acts 10:24-26); (i) Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8-18; 1 Corinthians 15:10) – cf these did not… (a) Moses (Numbers 20:12); (b) Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-32); (c) rich fool (Luke 12:13-21); (d) boastful of James (James 4:13-17)].  (2) hallow His name (Matt. 6:9).  Many today casually and without respect use His name.  They do this by directly using His name, “O my God!”  “Jesus!” etc.  They do this by euphemisms for God: gosh, golly, gad, egad, good grief.  They do this by euphemism for Jesus: gee, gee whiz, jeepers, jiminy Christmas / cricket.  True many don’t use these words meaning to be disrespectful.  They may not know what they mean.  However, words do have meaning.  Let us sanctify Him and honor Him.


Lying has been going on since the garden (John 8:44).  The Psalmist said, by hyperbole, of man, “They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3).   Dr. Frank Luntz has written, “As the Josephson Institute, which publishes a report on high school student ethics puts it, ‘There’s a hole in our moral ozone and it’s getting bigger’… stealing: 35% of boys and 26% of girls admitted stealing from a store last year… lying: more than 80% acknowledge they lied to a parent about something significant… cheating: two-thirds admitted cheating on a test” (What Americans Really Want… Really, p. 189).  Moreover, it is not just teens.  According to Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar, data reveals that 5% of Chicago Public School teachers cheated on the standardized test to boost their classroom scores. There were incentives. (Freakanomics, p. 22-36).

Things to remember: (1) God wants us to be honest (Proverbs 6:16-19; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8; 21:27; 22:15).  We’re told, “Put away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:25) (2) When we lie, God knows (Psalm 139:1-4; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Acts 5:1-ff; Romans 2:16).  Lying is man acting cowardly toward man, and illogically “brave” toward God.  (3) “Always tell the truth – that way you don’t have to remember what you’ve said” (Mark Twain).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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