What the Bible Says About Taming the Tongue and How to Do It

This page/post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate, as well as an affiliate of other programs, this means if you purchase something using these links, I will receive a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you! For more detailed information, please visit our Affiliate Disclaimer page

Taming the tongue is an important theme in scripture. With our tongues, we can speak to build others up or we can speak to tear them down.  We can speak truth, or we can speak lies. Occasionally we say the wrong thing, even without meaning to or, we simply fail to say the right thing.

The childhood adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” but words can be powerful weapons that can motivate or destroy someone.

The Bible is filled with warnings about the power of our tongue. It can be both a blessing and curse because it holds great potential, but we must use wisdom in handling this small part of us wisely!

James warns us of the potential evil influence of the tongue. 

image of woman with hands covering her mouth

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.  Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:3-8 (ESV)

When we speak without thinking, it can feel as if our mouths aren’t really under control. Sometimes the words come out before you decide whether or not they should be said-and when this happens there’s no way to take them back! This is just one example of the importance of taming the tongue.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Matthew 12:34 (ESV)

We all slip up, but as Christians we should always be mindful of the words coming out our mouths. Even if it’s unintentional – because they represent Jesus Christ and are used to transform others’ lives!

James’ epistle is a book about living as Christ, and in chapter three he spends twelve verses teaching on taming the tongue.

Let’s break this down a bit:

What We Say is Important in Taming Your Tongue

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,  and set on fire by hell.

James 3:4–6 (ESV)

Words have a serious impact on other people. They can follow them their whole lives, penetrate deep into the heart and corrupt senses of self-worth with just one word. Everyone is created in God’s image — unimaginable worth yet hurtful language devalues the receiver. When we fail to practice taming the tongue that hurt can carry someone through a lifetime.

The first two images that James presents in this passage do not portray the tongue as inherently bad. A bit can steer a horse towards one direction or another, just like how our own words and actions shape us accordingly for good or ill- so long as we’re mindful of their power over ourselves

A ship’s rudder also has great potentiality; it steering abilities depend entirely upon what you want to do with them! The same goes for every tool at your disposal, especially the tongue, but even using texting, social media, or email!  if used correctly (i.e. responsibly), then each may serve to build up, rather than tear down.

The third image illustrates how volatile the tongue can be.

When we speak, our words can spread beyond our control and leave us powerless to stop the consequences or undo damage. A completely unfounded rumor might just ruin a person’s reputation even if it is proven false later on; speaking evil brings upon oneself more shame than joy because there are no redeeming qualities in doing so. In regards to taming the tongue, we should always avoid sharing rumors or gossip.

And when we speak evil, we defile ourselves.

James makes it abundantly clear: our words have power. And that’s why it’s so important for Christians to learn to control our tongues.

Keep Your Thoughts in Line, but Only God Can Tame the Tongue

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:7–8 (ESV)

Your tongue may have eight muscles that control the way it moves and what sounds it makes. It helps you to form words, but no matter how hard you try to control the tongue you will never have complete control of the words that it creates or utters. Taming the tongue requires the Holy Spirit.

Jesus shared about how if we want to keep from sinning according to God’s Law, we need to keep our thoughts in line, as well, not just our actions.  His point isn’t to give us more rules that we need to follow. His point is that we can’t overcome sin by our own power. We need Him. We need God. And that goes for hoping to tame the tongue, as well.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[ his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV)

God is the only one who can keep our tongues in check. We need to continually submit ourselves to God and hand him the reins. Taming the tongue comes only from Him.

Our Tongues Should be Used for Good

 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:9–12 (ESV)

We are called to be watchful and unmovable against the schemes of darkness, but if we let sin seep through into our words—the hate speech or lies talked about someone else- then it will only get worse. Sin is like a cancer that needs constant monitoring; when left unchecked for too long it can cause irreversible damage! We need constant prayer so that God’s grace may keep overflowing into us as He saves each one who trusts in Him completely from everlasting destruction.

Christian Leaders Should be Held to a Higher Standard

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

James 3:1–2 (ESV)

Leadership is a heavy burden and great responsibility. Leaders will be judged by their peers, the people they lead…everyone makes mistakes–but when someone in an influential position says something wrong it affects more than just themselves

They’re sending out negative messages that can have lasting effects on others

A leader is one who has been called by God to guide, teach, and lead others in the ways of Christ. They must always be careful with every word they speak because it reflects on them as representatives for Jesus Christ Himself.

God requires leaders that will stand up against sin while promoting purity among believers; these people have a responsibility towards both God’s kingdom goals and the people they lead.

James is telling us that our voices can be more dangerous than any other weapon. We should err on the side of caution when it comes to using them, because they have really clout and power in what we say! Taming the tongue removes a weapon that can hurt others.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

James 1:19 (ESV)

James’s point isn’t that we should never open our mouths. He wants us to understand the importance of listening more often than speaking so as not say something unhelpful or even destructive to another.

image of a woman being silly outside in winter

A Look at Bible Verses About Taming the Tongue

 “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:8 (ESV)

What is ironic about the tongue, is that:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 

James 3:9

The wildness of our language can be difficult to tame. It’s like expecting to find poisonous water and fresh coming out of the same fountain, but it goes against what God wants us to – tame our tongues – so we must rely on His strength in trying bridle this stubborn tongue with patience and God’s strength.  It’s like trying to manage a wild stallion!

 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
    and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

The form you have selected does not exist.

Words are powerful. They can bring great joy, or they could leave deep wounds where scars cannot be seen, but one small word has the ability to impact another’s life greatly.

The power of our words is vast and can have an impact on others in ways we never imagine. One word from us may seem like nothing at all, but that same little piece could be what sinks their ship or makes them soar higher than ever before! Think of the child who is told they could never amount to anything. 

“For whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;

1 Peter 3:10 (ESV)

We are not always in control of what our mouths say. The tongue wants to wander off on its own, but the brain needs guidance from God so that it can stay loyal and behave properly as part of this rebel body.

We are not always in control of what our mouths say. The tongue wants to wander off on its own, but the brain needs guidance from God so that it can stay loyal and behave properly as part of this rebel body. Click To Tweet

Peter is telling us that if we want to have a happy life and see good days ahead of us, then keep our mouth from doing anything bad. And importantly—don’t lie because God abhors a lying tongue!

haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,

Proverbs 6:17 (ESV)

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

James 1:26 (ESV)

James has a word for those who pretend to be religious but whose words reveal them as being untrustworthy: If someone really thinks they’re Christian yet lies and deceive; then that person’s religion is worthless. It’s one thing to say you’re a Christian but sometimes our words betray us; they reveal what’s in our heart. 

Jesus illustrates this point by saying But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:18) because it is For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19).

 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)

The next time you feel like bursting into angry words, stop and think. Will what I’m saying really have a positive or negative effect on the recipient? If negative, then maybe the best thing to do would be just let it go; we won’t regret losing our tempers when truly momentary regrets can lead us and the listener down paths full of pain later on in life.

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

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!

James 3:5 (ESV)

Gossip, secrets, and anger are all potentially explosive. One tiny bit of information can set a whole forest on fire – nothing packs more power than the human tongue! Taming the tongue is a critical key in our Christian walk.

The tongue is like a loose cannon on the wave-tossed ship. It can help you but also quickly turn against your best interests and those around them if they’re not careful with what’s coming out of their mouth!

 “A gentletongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 15:4 (ESV)

Solomon, the wisdom king knew a gentle tongue was one that gave life but when used in an evil manner it could break someone’s spirit. At least it breaks their resistance to perversion. 

The tongue and the words used can be profanity-laced or grace-filled. The choice is purely up to us.  It is a matter of personal choice and should be Spirit-led. Remember that:

 “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:2 (ESV)

 

What was on the tongue of the psalmist should be on ours as well:

“I cried to him with my mouth,
    and high praise was on my tongue”.

Psalm 66:17 ESV

And,

And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
    who sought to do me hurt.”

Psalm 71:24 (ESV)

There is no greater use for the tongue than this:

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:9 (ESV)

While we know the tongue can cause hurt and chaos if not used with kindness and the strength of God, it can also be used in many positive and powerful ways. Proverbs is filled with verses about the importance of using the tongue for good and the power of the tongue when used to bless and lift up others.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”

Proverbs 10:11 (ESV)

The lips of the righteous feed many,
    but fools die for lack of sense.

Proverbs 10:21 (ESV)

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing”

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)

We see that our words have the potential to be a fountain of life, nourish many and bring healing in just a few verses. I want my tongue known for using words which give rather than hurt!

These verses were written about the spoken word and the impact of what we speak toward other people.

Technology has changed the way we communicate, and our voices now carry greater impact than ever before. With just a tweet or Facebook update in real time you can potentially reach hundreds of thousands with your message! We are more capable than ever of positively impacting the lives of those around us.

Taming the Tongue with God’s Strength

1.  Each Day Dedicate Your Heart, Mind and, Yes, Tongue to the Lord

Pray that God would guard your mind from thoughts that lead to words of hurt or chaos. Offer all the words of the day ahead to Him with praise.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) 

When we choose praise, we are much less likely to slander, gossip, use fear-based words, and use words to hurt others. 

 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.’

Luke 6:45 (ESV)

2. Avoid Complaining

Complaining does little good.  Especially in front of friends, coworkers and particularly strangers. No one likes to hear complaining.  I can be downright uncomfortable and can harm others.

3.  Pray That God Would Give You Awareness of Your Words and Speech

There’s an old adage “Chew your words twice” and another “God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason:

Think before you speak. Listen to others carefully. Recognize your need for discernment and God’s help to allow you to be aware of your words.

If you’re meant to speak up, do it with boldness. If silence is what’s called for then be confident in your silence. Taming the tongue involves not just what to say, but when to speak, at all.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

Take responsibility for the words that come out of your mouth.

4.  Ask for Forgiveness if Your words are hurtful

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body”

James 3:2 (ESV)

We all make mistakes and occasionally say the wrong thing. Ask God to shine a light on any words that were unloving.  Ask Him for forgiveness and then ask for forgiveness from the person you spoke to them to. Ask Him for help in taming the tongue.

Commit to doing better and speaking in ways that model Christ.

5.  Practice Positive speech

Ask God to guide you to speak words that will honor Him and accomplish His purposes. Practice speaking words that encourage, edify, comfort, and inspire.

The goal is to speak life into others. Ask for guidance from the Lord on taming your tongue.  Practice Ephesians 4:29:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

To encourage means to give support, confidence, or hope. To comfort means soothe and console with a sense of freedom from pain while edifying may cultivate development by building up. And inspire is the energy that drives someone forward in their goals- motivating them along their journey.

How blessed we are to have the ability to communicate with others!  How you communicate can have an incredible positive or negative effect on others.

We are called to be different in many ways as Christ-followers but especially with how we communicate. It can often feel like a great challenge not falling into impatience, sarcasm or gossiping and negative talk; however, through positively impacting others by choosing words that build them up instead of tearing down – you really do have an opportunity an eternal impact! Through taming the tongue, we can help build the Kingdom of God!

If you are looking for more resources on taming the tongue, consider one of the following:

Taming the Tongue: How the Gospel Transforms Our Talk by Jeff Robinson

Taming the Tongue by Mark S. Kinzer

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Similar Posts

2 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful post! Our words have power. Proverbs 16:24 also says that “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.