Man being mad at his fiance

Demonstrating Self-Control with Our Tongue

The Bible is full of counsel on the need to get control over what we say, or how we say it.

Proverbs 10:19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Here is a more straightforward translation,

Proverbs 10:19 New Living Translation (NLT)

19 Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

10:19. Use words sparingly because the more you talk, the more likely you are to stumble into something foolish. Constant chattering eventually leads to sin, but a wise person knows when to remain silent.[1]

The apostle Paul counsels us,

Ephesians 5:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But sexual immorality,[2] and all uncleanness, or greediness, must not even be named among you, as is proper among holy ones; And there must be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

5:3–4. The opposite of imitating God and giving oneself up for him is living in sexual immorality, impurity, and greed (note the same Greek words for impurity and greed in 4:19). Paul says that it is not proper for these things even to be named among the children of God. These are sins of “deed.” In addition to sinful deeds, there ought not to be sinful “words.” Obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking ought not be part of the speech patterns of Christians. Rather, we ought to speak from a heart of thankfulness to God.[3]

James offers us,

James 1:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 If any man thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

1:26. This verse describes a person who considered himself to be religious but did not listen well to God’s Word. The person focused on the externals of religious action such as public prayer, fasting, giving, and worship attendance. James did not belittle this action, but he added that inner control of the tongue must accompany outward performance.

Keep a tight rein on his tongue sometimes described the bridle used with a horse. The tongue is compared to an unmanageable horse which needed bit and bridle to tame its excesses. Controlling the tongue is so important that James devoted most of chapter 3 to its use.

James leveled two accusations at the person who practiced outward religion without inner control. First, he deceives himself. This repeats the idea of verse 22 in different words. What a pity to find after a lifetime of pseudo-religion that you have only been practicing self-deception!

Second, his religion is worthless. Peter used the same word—translated as empty—to describe useless pagan practices his readers had followed before they became Christians (1 Pet. 1:18). Religious practices without inner control have no more saving power than paganism.[4]

THE BATTLE FOR THE CHRISTIAN MIND (1)James 3:1-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment. For we all stumble[5] in many ways.[6] If anyone does not stumble in what he says,[7] he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot wills.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the world of iniquity;[8] the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life,[9] and is set on fire by Gehenna.[10] For every kind[11] of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord[12] and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God. 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a fountain send forth from the same opening both sweet water and bitter? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh water.[13]

Romans 13:12-13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 The night is well along; the day has drawn near. Let us therefore throw off the works belonging to darkness and let us put on the weapons of the light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

13:12–13. These two verses are paralleled thematically in Paul’s writing in 1 Thessalonians 5:4–11 and Ephesians 5:1–20. The need to come out of the darkness and into the light behaviorally is what every believer must do in light of the imminent Day of the Lord. Positionally, the believer has been justified and declared holy by God, as Paul has clearly shown. But when Christ returns, when salvation is at hand, he will not come for his own in the realm of darkness on this earth. He will come looking for his own in the light.

“We do not belong to the night or to the darkness,” Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:5). Therefore, do not be like those of the night, those who are asleep morally, who participate in orgies and drunkenness … debauchery … dissension and jealousy, and who practice “sexual immorality … impurity … greed … obscenity … foolish talk [and] coarse jesting” (Eph. 5:3–4). Why? Because all of those things will be made visible on the day of our salvation. Better to come out of the darkness now and be found pure and holy when the light of the glory of God shines on all people at the end of this age. Light and darkness are incompatible in the spiritual realm just as they are in the physical realm. They cannot be in the same place.

To come out of darkness means to put on the armor of light. Because of the contextual parallels between the 1 Thessalonians and Ephesians passages, the armor of light is without question the “armor of God” found in Ephesians 6:11–18 (see a shorter version of the armor in 1 Thess. 5:8).

What did Paul mean by the night is nearly over; the day is almost here? Was his reference to time literal or metaphorical—or both? Without question, it was, at the very least, metaphorical. To Paul had been revealed things that the prophets of old had not seen or understood, and he was in a position to know that the light destined to shine on the Gentiles was now shining (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). Even Matthew realized that “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16, quoting Isa. 9:2). Matthew was, of course, writing after the death and resurrection of Christ, which all recognized as being the watershed event between the testaments—that display of power and light which separated the ages.

But how soon would the day, the age to come, appear? The NIV Study Bible represents the position that Paul had no timetable in mind: “These texts do not mean that the early Christians believed that Jesus would return within a few years (and thus were mistaken). Rather, they regarded the death and resurrection of Christ as the crucial events of history that began the last days. Since the next great event in God’s redemptive plan is the second coming of Jesus Christ, ‘the night,’ no matter how long chronologically it may last, is ‘nearly over’ ” (Barker, note on Rom. 13:12).

But is there evidence to the contrary in the New Testament? And must we conclude that, if the early church did anticipate a prompt return of Christ (in their lifetime), they were mistaken—any more than the prophets were mistaken about their lack of understanding? The New Testament writers could certainly be excused if they thought that Christ would return soon. Given their limited knowledge of the world (i.e., what it would take to fulfill the Great Commission; cf. Matt. 24:14), and their failure to anticipate the sluggishness (carnality? disobedience?) of the church to enter fully into the task of completing its mission after their demise, one can read an expectation of a soon-return of Christ into their words.

In fact, in light of the plain meaning of the many words they wrote to others, a strong case can be made for their anticipation that Christ might return while they were still alive (see “Deeper Discoveries” for further study).

The doctrine of imminence—the any-moment return of Christ—is an eschatological doctrine, not a chronological one. Regardless of when Christ returns on the calendar, the church is warned by Paul to be found in the light, not in the darkness. And the way to do that is the message of his last verse.[14]

Ephesians 5:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Be Filled with Spirit

15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise16 buying out[15] the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Throughout this book, we have repeatedly spoken of the horrific dangers and deceptions that lie within the world that is under the influence of Satan. God recognizes that we are imperfect, knowing that we have human weaknesses that he originally did not intend, meaning that he is aware of how difficult it is to walk in godly wisdom. He is aware that we are all missing the mark of perfection, that we are all mentally bent toward evil, that our natural desire is to do wrong, and our heart (inner self) is treacherous and we cannot even know it. It is for this reason that he makes allowances for our imperfection. Jesus Christ offered himself as a ransom, covering our Adamic sin and our human weaknesses when we stumble at times, but only if we demonstrate trust in him.

We need to walk[16] not as unwise but as wise. What does Paul; mean by ‘wise’ and ‘unwise’ in this text? God has made known to us his plan of salvation, which was a mystery up until the time of Paul’s writings. At that time, he had lavished upon them/us, “in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.” (Eph. 1:8-9) Yes, God has afforded his people wisdom, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” (Eph. 1:17-19) It would take a wise person to understand and appreciate the mystery of salvation, and the fact that they are required to bring their life into harmony with God’s magnificent plan of saving the world of mankind who are receptive to accepting Christ. To be wise also means that these ones fully grasp the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21), and are carrying that out to the best of their ability. Therefore, the wise accept, value, and see the significance of wisely walking worthily with God. On the other hand, the unwise are those of the world of mankind who are alienated from God, living their life in the moment, walking in the desires of the flesh, because they see God’s Word as foolish.

Turning our attention to verse 16 of Ephesians 5, we see that the wise know how to buy out the opportune time from the world, by living in the world, but they do not use it to the fullest extent, unlike the unwise. Why, because they know that the world of wicked mankind is passing away. The wise one buys time back from this wicked world. Some of the areas that can be bought from are watching less television, less time playing on the computer, other forms of entertainment, not always working overtime, or maybe even not taking a promotion that would cause him to miss Christian meetings so that he can focus on the better things. Some of these better things are personal family time, family Bible study, personal Bible study, religious services, sharing the Good News with others, congregational responsibilities, and so on. Notice below that you were formerly the unwise, but are now the wise.

Colossians 1:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the accurate knowledge[17] of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge[18] of God;

Once an interested one comes to a congregation or is found by a member of a Christian congregation, he must be filled with the knowledge of God. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) He must acquire faith in the things that he has come to understand as true (Hebrews 11:6), as well as turn away from his sinful ways (Acts 17:30, 31), and turnaround in his life course. (Acts 3:19) Then his love for his heavenly Father should motivate him to dedicate his life to God. At this point, he would go to God in private prayer, giving himself over to doing the will of God. (Matthew 16:24; 22:37) From his knowledge of Scripture, he would now strive to be as his master Jesus Christ, taking on the Jesus’ qualities and having a biblical worldview. Ephesians 5:1; Hebrews 5:12–6:3; 1 Timothy. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:21

Jesus asked a critical question while he was here on earth, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:18) It is possible for this faith to exist now. We need not be halfhearted in our faith, with one foot in the door of the congregation, and one in the street of this world. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21) This can only take place if we take in the knowledge of God, value it with our lives and apply it daily in our walk with God.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 You well know that we kept exhorting and consoling you and testifying to each one of you, just as a father does his children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

“Not only did Paul express the nurturing tenderness of a mother; he also demonstrated the strength of a father’s love by encouraging, comforting, and urging these people toward godly living.

Encouraging is a heartfelt term, not a one-time shot in the arm just to make a person feel better. It is the strong support and trust that imparts courage to others. Paul wrote it in the present tense, implying that it was continual in his leadership style. People need to be infused with courage again and again, as a matter of practice, to be emboldened in what they know is right.

Comforting is the gentle empathy which comes and stays alongside someone as they experience failures and distresses in life. Urging comes from a solemn and earnest view of a situation, asking someone to do or be something for the highest good. Urging has a clear view of what is right, leading a person through the maze of emotions and conflicts which can confuse an issue.

Why did Paul live among them as a father, inspiring them to be courageous, standing with them in difficulty, addressing serious issues? So that they might live worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. What does it mean to live worthy of God? To gain a fuller understanding of this, we must view God and ourselves accurately.

God determined to create for himself a people who bear his character and nature. It was his intention even before he created Adam. Despite the dark rebellion of Satan and his subversion which penetrated all the created order, God has constantly pursued mankind, revealing his personhood, justice, love, and mercy. He involved himself with his world in order to demonstrate his glory and, after man’s rebellion, to bring back to himself what was rightfully his.” (Larson 2000, 26)

1 Thessalonians 4:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 so that you may walk properly toward outsiders and have need of nothing.

“First Paul made an assertion of faith: We believe that Jesus died and rose again. This is the bedrock of our faith. Paul then tied the truth of Christ to the unknown future. Whatever Christ does, his people follow. Wherever Christ is, his people are there. Christ died and rose again. Christians who die (fall asleep) will rise again. Christ will return again. Those who have died will return with him. All of this is carried out by God’s power.” (Larson 2000, 58)

1 Corinthians 3:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

“Paul proved his accusation that the Corinthians were worldly and immature. He offered as evidence their jealousy and quarreling. The Corinthians had divided themselves into quarreling parties, employing the pretenses of human arrogance and worldly wisdom to fight one another. This behavior revealed that they lived by the principles of the world rather than by the teaching of the Spirit. They acted like mere men, not like people in Christ who had the Holy Spirit.” (Pratt Jr 2000, 47)

Galatians 5:16, 25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

The Bible does not define what it means to live (literally, to walk) by the Spirit. Scripture never explicitly explains this figure of speech. Other passages in the Bible help us gain a clearer understanding of what it means. The Holy Spirit works in us to do at least four major things:

1. He illumines our minds to understand the truth of Scripture. The natural man (one not born again) cannot understand the things that come from the Spirit of God, but the regenerate person, with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, understands what God has freely given us (see 1 Cor. 3:10–16).

2. The Spirit empowers us to be changed into the character of Jesus, to live the life Christ would live if he were in our shoes. By the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, “we … are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).Philippians 2:13 reinforces this: “it is God who works in you to … act according to his good purpose.”

3. The Spirit convicts us of sin. We all do things we ought not to do. We all fail to do things we ought to do. The Spirit convicts us of both kinds of wrong, convincing us that we ought to correct our wrongs. The Spirit can do this through the power of changed inner convictions (we realize we ought to do or not do something) and by making us feel guilty and/or remorseful about our actions.

4. The Spirit works in our hearts to cause us to want to do the things God wants us to do. “It is God who works in you to will … his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

From these scriptural truths we can extrapolate several things that are true of walking/living by the Spirit. Living by the Spirit means that we:

1. Pray to God and ask him to illumine our minds to truth, empower us to change, convict us of sin, and place godly desires in us.

2. Read the Scriptures so that the Holy Spirit has something to work with in illumining, convicting, empowering, and changing us.

3. Live by faith, meaning we believe the truth we understand, maintain faith in God’s promises, acknowledge God’s complete goodness, and accept the fact that everything he asks of us is asked so he can give something good to us and/or keep some harm from us.

4. Obey him. Our faith is manifested by obedience. If we believe God, we obey him. If we do not obey him, it is because we do not believe him. We trust and obey. As we do these things, we walk in and live by the Spirit. (Anders 1999, 73)

Philippians 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 Only to what we have attained, let us go on walking[19] in the same.

“As followers of Christ, we are responsible to live out or put into practice what we have learned. We are not perfect, but that is no excuse not to run the race and seek the prize. God is calling us to the victory stand. We must run as hard as we can to cross the finish line.” (Anders 1999, 246)


[1] Anders, Max. Holman Old Testament Commentary – Proverbs: 13 (p. 211). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah; Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality.–Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

[3] Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 170.

[4] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 267.

[5] Or “make mistakes.”

[6] James does not exclude himself from the rest of the Christian congregation, as all are prone to stumble while walking with God. James presents an obvious truth in that we all stumble in many ways. The fact we all stumble in many ways is confirmed in Romans 2:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of human imperfection, weakness and leanings toward bad, all, including teachers, fall short or miss the mark of perfection. (Rom. 7:19-23; 1 John 1:8) In all likelihood, aside from thinking, what we say is the most frequent way we fall short, and the one way that will damage our relationship with God and our fellow humans. It is for this reason that teachers in the congregation and all Christians should be very cautious about the biblical truths that they share. – (Calloway 2015, 75-6)

[7] Lit., “word

[8] Or “unrighteousness

[9] Lit., “the wheel of birth (existence, origin).”

[10] geenna 12x pr. the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, once celebrated for the horrid worship of Moloch, and afterwards polluted with every species of filth, as well as the carcasses of animals, and dead bodies of malefactors; to consume which, in order to avert the pestilence which such a mass of corruption would occasion, constant fires were kept burning―MCEDONTW

[11] Lit., “nature

[12] Gr., ton Kurion

[13] And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” (Gen. 1:11-12) On this Kurt A. Richardson writes, “Grapevines produce grapes, not figs; and fig trees produce figs, not olives … Back to the principle at hand, those who truly praise God do not curse their brothers. James did not refer to a thoroughly new constitution of the person but to true faith that does what is natural to it, both toward God and toward other human beings. Such faith praises and blesses.” (Richardson 1997, 160) The point that James is conveying is that if grapevines produced figs or fig trees produced grapes, they would not be producing what God had purposed. Therefore, the misuse of the tongue is contrary to its naturally intended purpose. Another aspect of this could be that the fruitage that comes from a person’s mouth will identify whether he is acting contrary to design or not. Jesus said, (Calloway 2015, 84)

Matthew 7:17-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

[14] Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Romans, vol. 6, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 401–402.

[15] (an idiom, literally ‘to redeem the time’) to do something with intensity and urgency (used absolutely)–‘to work urgently, to redeem the time.’–GELNTBSD

[16] Believers are to walk in love, please God by avoiding evildoers, and walk in wisdom. The church is enabled to do this by the empowering (filling) of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, believers can together praise God, constantly offer thanksgiving in all things, and mutually submit one to another. – (Dockery 1998, 581)

[17] Epignosis is a strengthened or intensified form of gnosis (epi, meaning “additional”), meaning, “true,” “real,” “full,” “complete” or “accurate,” depending upon the context. Paul and Peter alone use epignosis.

[18] Epignosis is a strengthened or intensified form of gnosis (epi, meaning “additional”), meaning, “true,” “real,” “full,” “complete” or “accurate,” depending upon the context. Paul and Peter alone use epignosis.

[19] The believers were to remain steadfast. What they achieved to this point was to guide them into the future as the standard by which they would walk collectively. Here Paul used another relatively rare term, which the NIV translates “let us live up to” (stoicheō). Generally it means an orderly walk ora disciplined walk. It has overtones of a collective discipline, of all walking in the same row or by the same measure. Two emphases appear in this sentence. First, they were to remain true to what they had. Second, they were to remain true with a collective discipline that was to characterize the entire church. This meant that they would not follow the infatuating teachings of Paul’s opponents, and it also meant that they would seek to implement in their own lives what they already knew to do. That included knowing Christ and looking forward to the resurrection. – (Melick 2001, 142)