To be double-tongued is to say one thing at one time to someone and quite another thing another time to someone else. Having a double tongue can also refer to hypocritically saying one thing and doing another. The idea of having a double tongue is related to the idioms speaking out of both sides of the mouth and speaking with a forked tongue. If Jane asks, “How do you like my dress?” and June answers, “It’s lovely on you!” then turns to a third party and whispers, “She looks like a moose in that hideous rag!” then June is being double-tongued. Rather than speak privately to Jane about issues in the relationship, the double-tongued will say what’s expected in the moment, but speak differently when the person is out of earshot.
A double-tongued person is untrustworthy because he or she will say whatever necessary to get a desired response, with no concern about whether or not it is true or whether he or she has the means to follow through. In 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul mentions being double-tongued as something that should not be characteristic of a church leader: “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain” (ESV). The NIV renders the words translated “not double-tongued” positively as “sincere.” Being double-tongued is a sign that someone lacks integrity, and integrity is of utmost importance for godly leaders (Titus 1:6–9).
People pleasers have the greatest difficulty with having a double tongue because they have such a strong desire to say whatever someone wants to hear in the moment. Bringing a smile to someone’s face, getting a hug or handshake, or receiving a word of gratitude is a sufficient enough reward for the double-tongued to continue their insincerity. They may intend, at the time, to follow through on their words but have not taken into account what that will require. Once people pleasers have received their reward, their motivation to follow through fizzles and they move on to other avenues of self-validation. Ananias and Sapphira exhibited a double tongue in their people-pleasing announcement that they had sold their land and donated all the money to the church (Acts 5:1–11).
Schemers are also double-tongued. These devious people are not concerned with making someone else feel good; they care only about their selfish goals. Schemers are always plotting ways to get what they want, regardless of the cost to others. They will promise the moon if it furthers their plans. Schemers are often pathological liars and can fool even the most cautious with their smooth, convincing words. First Peter 3:10 warns against this type of double-tongued speech: “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” Judas Iscariot is an example of a double-tongued schemer. Even after plotting with Jewish leaders to betray Jesus, he continued as a false disciple, joining with them even at the Passover meal (Luke 22:4–6, 21).
Gossips are often double-tongued because they pretend friendship to someone’s face but speak evil behind his back. Gossips usually embellish the story along the way to gain a bigger reaction from the hearer. They also pretend friendship with a person but reveal their true feelings to others. John wrote about such a person, Diotrephes, who was disrupting the church with his slanderous gossip (3 John 1:9–10).
It’s possible to be double-tongued toward God as well. We may offer prayers that sound spiritually admirable but that do not express the reality of our hearts. Jesus condemned people who try to sound spiritual when praying but are filled with pride and deceit (Luke 18:10–14).
Having a double tongue is just another way to be a liar. God strongly condemns all kinds of lying and warns that liars will be harshly judged (Revelation 21:8). People who are habitually double-tongued should keep in mind the words of Proverbs 21:23: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”