September 20, 2010

The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet…how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. James 3:5, 6, 8-10

Bet you didn’t know that next Tuesday is Ask a Stupid Question Day (September 28 is the “official” day, although it’s sometimes “celebrated” on the last school day of the month). Neither did I, until I read about it last year. And I’ve been waiting all this time to write about it!

But what does it have to do with national parks, you may ask? Well, it seems a lot of people ask thoughtless questions at national parks. A 2007 article in the Sacramento (California) Bee lists some of them:

–at Grand Canyon: “Exactly why did you guys put it here?”

–at Denali: “How much does Mount McKinley weigh?”

–at Everglades: “Where are all the rides?”

–at Mesa Verde: “Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?”

–at Yellowstone: “How do you turn it [Old Faithful geyser] on?”

–at Carlsbad Caverns: “How much of the cave is underground?”

–at Yosemite: “Where are the cages for the animals?”

And from a blurb in the December 2009/January 2010 edition of Reader’s Digest, this gem, which stumped a ranger at Olympic National Park: “Do you have any trails that just go downhill?”

Okay, these comments are good for a laugh, but often the things that come out of our mouths aren’t so funny. I cringe when I remember remarks I’ve made over the years; I can feel my face turning red at the very thought of them, even if they were decades ago!

And then there are the unkind, insensitive and even cruel words that have been aimed at us…

Scripture has a lot to say about the way we talk. A single reading of James 3 should pull everybody up short. The Bible details the many ways our tongue lands us in hot water, tears others down and dishonors God—through obscene and coarse language and empty words (Ephesians 5:4-6); gossip (Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3); malice, slander and abuse (Colossians 3:8); bitterness (James 3:11); and lying (Exodus 20:16, Psalm 120:2, Proverbs 12:22, Acts 5:3, Colossians 3:9, to mention just a few).

For this last category, it would take a long time to find all the verses that addressed the subject . I’m sobered by the fact that lying is often grouped with what we might call the “big sins”—sexual immorality, idolatry, murder and sorcery (Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 21:27, 22:15). Kind of puts dishonesty in a more serious light, doesn’t it?

Jesus sums up the issue in a straightforward and frank fashion in Matthew 12:36, 37: “I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.”


So what to do? Thank God, when He points out a problem, He also offers a solution! He not only provides confession and cleansing from every sin (1 John 1:9), but specific direction on how to control our tongue and use it for good:

–through prayer:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:11)

–through Scripture:

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:16, 17)

–with humility and reliance upon the Holy Spirit:

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom…my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4)

-through love and forgiveness:

“And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14)

–through grace:

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

What’s striking about these verses is that in 3 out of 5 of them, the heart is the key component. Bingo! “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart,” Jesus bluntly declares in Matthew 12:34.  Take in good stuff, and good stuff will come out.

Lord, help us to fill our hearts and minds with what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy, so we can pass on to others in word and deed that peace You say will be with us as we dwell on and practice these things (Philippians 4:7-9).

And please don’t let us be found on anybody’s stupid speech list!


  1. Elise Daly Parker says:

    The questions are very funny…Really, laugh out loud funny! But the rest of your words and His word are a bit sobering. Truthfully, I struggle with my mouth, and certainly the things that come out of it are formed in my mind first. But what really convicts me is that it starts in my heart. Oh, Lord purify my heart.

  2. Beth says:

    Thanks Aunt Penny! Well-said! I love how you tie everything together so neatly! Your writing has a little bit of everything (including humor and seriousness) which encourages us to strive toward thoughtful speech.

  3. Nature Girl, April says:

    Wow! These really ARE stupid questions! (My favorite is ““Do you have any trails that just go downhill?”” Ha!

    So much is written about the tongue in the Word. But I remind myself that before anything hits the tongue, it’s on my mind. That’s why it’s so important to keep my mind STAYED on what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy,
    Good article!

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