The concept of taming the tongue is found in James 3 where God declares, through the apostle James, that “no one can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). The lengthy discussion about the tongue in this chapter is both convicting and illuminating. Among the things this chapter reveals about the tongue: it is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts (verse 5); it is a fire and a world of evil that defiles the whole person (verse 6); it is set on fire by hell (verse 6); and it is an unrestrainable evil and full of deadly poison (verse 7). Is it any wonder, then, that God declares that taming the tongue is impossible?
When Adam sinned, God imputed that sin to mankind, so, whether or not we want to believe it, every human being is born with a wicked heart and an evil sin nature (Romans 3:10–18). Lurking within each of us are varying degrees of hatred, bitterness, jealousy, and pride, and the tongue takes hold of these and other destructive tendencies and strikes out, often with a push from Satan. We see this every day among strangers, friends, siblings, and, worst of all, among husbands and wives, the very people who, next to their love for the Lord Jesus, should have the most love for each other (Ephesians 5:22–33).
What is to be done, then, to tame the tongue? If God has declared that “no one” can tame the tongue, how can we even begin to do so? While many people have quit smoking or drinking by the power of the human will, the problem of the heart and tongue cannot be solved by human will power. It takes the power of the resurrected Christ within us to control the tongue, and that power is available only to those who turn their lives over to Him (Romans 8:10–14). As with so many things in life, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
There is only One who can control the tongue. Only by God’s Spirit living within us can we hope to gain control over our tongues. He convicts us when we sin with our lips, and that conviction drives us to repent and pray for more filling of the Spirit so we can avoid further sin. As we cling to Him and yield to Him in obedience, He controls us more and more, including our tongues.