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Galatians is an awesome book of the Bible filled with such insight into our freedom in Christ. I love all the passages that teach that we are free in Christ and no longer slaves to the law. For this former Pharisee, that’s groundbreaking. There are other parts of Galatians though that cut me deep with conviction. Galatians 5:13-15 is just such a passage. It says: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
I don’t know about you, but that last verse makes me cringe. It makes me cringe because I have often been guilty of biting and devouring others and because I have been bitten and devoured myself. Painful stuff. What in the world causes people, especially Christian people, to bite and devour each other? What makes us think that it’s okay to tear someone up with our words? Why is this sin so acceptable when so many others are not?
Maybe we ignore this depravity because we view it as too hard to control. After all, James 3:8-10 says, “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” James also says in verse two of this same chapter: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” Sounds like poor James had been in church awhile.
Another translation of James 3 says that the tongue is a “restless evil.” Have you ever had to deal with a restless toddler? How fun was that?! When you need a toddler, or young child to be still, the more restless they become. This is especially true if a new boundary is being established. So it is with our tongues. When we are determined to tame our tongue, the more restless it becomes. At this point, we often give up thinking that it is of no use to deal with, or we start to make excuses that what we are saying out loud is true so it can’t really be wrong to say it, or we didn’t really hear God tell us to stop hurting people with our tongues. We can also convince ourselves that we aren’t really hurting anyone. After all, we only told our friends, or wrote an anonymous post. We make excuses because it’s easier to deny the truth than to deal with our restless toddler, better known as our words (written or spoken).
So, if our words cause such pain, but it’s imperative that we change, what can we do? Is there hope?
I believe there is. When God gives us a command in Scripture, He always provides the resources. After all, Jesus Himself said some things are impossible for men, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). When we are submitted to the Holy Spirit, He abides in every part of us, including our tongues. When He abides with us, His fruit shows in us…even in our speech.
Colossians 3:1-3 says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” These verses clearly say that when we are in Christ, we are dead. Our new lives are hidden in Christ. So, I ask you, “Can a dead man bite?” I think not. Our tongues are a restless evil, but when they are put to death, no more harm can take place. Dead men, no matter how powerful when alive, have no power once they are put to death. Was Dorothy scared of the Wicked Witch once she melted into oblivion in The Wizard of Oz? No! Why? The Wicked Witch had no more power of her. She was dead. So it is with our tongues. Once we allow God to crucify our flesh, we are dead and now we have new life. We can still speak only because new life has been given to us. We are free in Christ to then use our new lives for His glory (Galatians 5:1, 13).
We must ask ourselves minute by minute if we are allowing our new life to shine in our tongues. We must ask ourselves if the Holy Spirit has the reins, or have we tried to take matters into our own hands once again? A good litmus test for this is Colossians 4:6. It says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” If my speech is graceful, the Spirit has control. If my tongue is fiery, I have let the dead man rise again. If I have a tough situation where I have no answer, when that beautiful answer filled with wisdom pours forth, it is not my old man coming to my rescue, but Christ in me. In order to have a tongue of grace, Christ must be in control.
Our world needs to see grace in action, not bitten, scarred up individuals who have been beaten and bruised by their own kind. Who wants to be a part of that? When we have tongues of grace, strangers notice. Our families notice too. Our spouses, our children, our moms and dads will all notice that we are not the same. They will pay attention to our teaching, our testimony and our words of love because they will want to hear what we have say. They won’t be dreading what comes out of our mouths next; they will want to hear. Why? Because having a tongue of grace is a rare thing in this world. Philippians 2:13-15 tells us that we will shine like stars in a dark world when we simply don’t complain and fuss. It’s crazy that such a small thing can have such a testimony, but it’s the truth. Our tongues are the key to our testimonies. Let’s give them to Jesus. Let’s allow Him to change us into beautiful women and men of God who are determined through His Spirit to have a tongue of grace.