A conversation with a good friend got me thinking about this message from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference.
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. 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. 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.
The mature person is able to “bridle” his tongue. The person who can do this is master of the whole body. The spiritual masters of the past understood this to have a double reference. The control of the tongue has both negative and positive aspects. It involves the ability to restrain the tongue in silence. But it also means being able to control it in gracious speech when that is required. Sanctification in any area of our lives always expresses this double dimension—a putting off and a putting on, as it were. Speech and silence, appropriately expressed, are together the mark of the mature.
Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 48
The tongue is “set among our members, staining the whole body.” How careful you are as you put on a dress for a wedding, especially if it is your own. How nervous about that new silk tie during dinner. The spot need only be a small one, but it ruins everything. So it is with the tongue and its words. No matter what graces you may have developed, if you have not gained tongue mastery, you can besmirch them all by an unguarded and ill-disciplined comment. Graces are fragile; therefore guard your tongue lest it destroy them.
Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 51