He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.Proverbs 13:3
The Scriptures have much to say about the use (and non-use) of our lips/tongues. The letter of James is probably the best place where it is all brought together: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, …”, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James1:19; 3:5-10).
Who of us has not experienced the truth of these warnings at some (or even many) times in our lives? We have all heard the expression: “Every time he opens his mouth he puts his foot in it”, and the corollary: “He only ever opens his mouth to change feet”. Perhaps it can be said of us!
The danger our lips/tongues can get us into is so great, and the propensity we have for getting into this danger is so much a part of our fallen nature, that King David gives us a model prayer that is good for us to pray often: “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3).
Back in the old days, my mother had a good adage for me to apply as a test to anything I wanted to say: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” and it is amazing how many times it has required me to keep my mouth shut – or at least to wish, too late, that I had!
Perhaps a relevant extension of all this teaching in Scripture is the need for us to also be careful, discerning and selective about what we LISTEN to. The Apostle Paul implies this in his warning to Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). And LISTENING to GOSSIP can be as harmful as passing it on!