Five Guidelines for Controlling the Tongue to Safeguard Church Unity

Few things stand to jeopardize our churches’ treasured oneness than our own runaway tongues. Thus the poet of sacred text prays, Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3)!


They most certainly do. Anyone aspiring to a do-your-best standard of peacemaking in his church will embrace these five principles from Scripture which can effectively set a guard over our tongues and govern our words:

One, respect them accordingly. Since Prov. 18:21 is true–Death and life are in the power of the tongue, treat your words with enormous respect. They can do great good. They can do enormous harm. At our Idaho place, I keep a variety of weapons–largely for hunting purposes. For obvious reasons, they command my complete respect every time I handle them. Treat your words with the same reverence.

Two, suspect them ruthlessly. James 3:8 warns, No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Read the rest of the chapter for more plain talk about the Mission Impossible that is controlling our words. That reality should sober us. Assume the worst about your speech right out of the gate. It will help check your words constructively before you let them fly.

Three, limit them considerably. The wisdom writer helps us again. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Prov. 10:19). Remember this rule of thumb–or should I say tongue?: the greater the number of words we speak, the greater the potential for sins we commit. James gets this too. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19). Perhaps overused but nonetheless true: God gave us two ears and just one mouth for a reason.

Four, choose them strategically. This can mean a lot of things. At the very least consider these guidelines. Always speak the truth, but do it in love (Eph. 4:15). Ask yourself before you speak, Will this build up and give grace or corrupt and tear down (Eph. 4:29). While never lacking graciousness in your word choices, recognize that love at times dictates sanctified sternness. We see this all over Paul’s letters. While reading one of them recently, I was struck by his counsel to a pastor on Crete to rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13). Their nasty habits required tough love for their own salvation good.

Five, keep them confidentially. Among the seven things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19), Solomon lists last, one who sows discord among brothers. Alexander Strauch does not overstate the case when he writes:

Gossip, or talebearing, is one of the common sins of discord. . . . Like a dreadful, contagious disease, it poisons people’s minds and creates chaos and misinformation. it is an ugly vice that drives people apart and destroys peace (If You Bite & Devour One Another, 71).

Keep confidences religiously!

The Psalmist sets us the example. Pray often for the Lord to act as guardian of your tongue and watchman over your words. Pray the same for the rest of the people in your congregation. Set a guard where it matters most, my dear fellow guardian of your church’s  peace.

Question: What other texts have helped you in your attempts to tame your tongue? You can leave your comment here.

A Different Kind of Christmas Gift


I have blogged before in praise of nurses and their most noble of professions. You can read that post by clicking here. Something happened the other day in HBO2 dive #31 which compels me to sing their praises yet another time.

Before describing the particular “gift” prompting this Christmas Eve post, let me just say this about the crew serving the Florida Hospital South deep wound unit day after day. These are as remarkably cheerful, professional, attentive, and compassionate professionals as you will ever want to encounter. I just wish they would stop calling me “Mr. Heffelfinger” all the time! It makes me feel so old. But their code of respect toward the patient will permit no informality whatsoever, while being as warm as they can possibly be at every turn.

Just before the chamber door shut, one of those dear ladies in blue scrubs approached my wheel chair with smartphone in hand. She asked, with something of a sparkle in her eye, if she could read me something. “Sure,” I said, wondering what she had to share with this jaw-broken patient. She later sent this text to my phone.

The Servant’s Reward
One day, when you are in Heaven,
someone will come up to you and thank you
for the way you touched his or her life.
The person’s words will take you completely by surprise.
Soon, another person will seek you out,
and then another, and another.
As you listen to each one’s story,
you will begin to discover all the ways that God used your life
when you were unaware of it.
You will find that it was most often not through the big things that you did,
but through the small and simple things–
a spoken word that was not planned,
a spontaneous act of kindness,
a loving attitude or a caring smile.
To your joy, you will discover that in all these ways and more,
God used you to deposit an eternal measure of His love
into many needy hearts.
~Roy Lessin~

She finished reading and just looked at me quietly smiling as much to say, and I think I got the message correctly, “It’s not lost on us what you do day-in-and-day-out here with your encouragements to us.” To be honest, I think the determination to bless my caregivers with thanks, affirmations, compliments and the like is more about me than about them. I can’t stomach the thought of being a trial to these all-star performers when I can be by God’s grace a treasure of a low maintenance, high-patience, why-complain-when-you-can-bless  patient in their care.

Besides, I know what God’s word says in the wisdom books in Prov. 15:23.

“To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

Her gift touched me. She went out of her way to reinforce just how important a gift a word of encouragement can be to others. Whatever 2016 brings in my trial by jaw journey, I hope never to forget this special dimension of a servant’s reward. Might you do the same with the Lord’s help?

A Way to Pray

A Way to Pray

When someone gifts me a book, I tend to pay close attention. Books change lives. A new title added to my library, prompted by someone’s concern that it might enrich me, makes me want to read the thing with very few exceptions.

That certainly was the case with my recent sabbatical when a dear friend of mine sent me this gem of a read. Most people know the Puritan Matthew Henry for his massive commentary on the whole Bible. Rarely do I prepare a sermon that I don’t reference this classic as part of my study. What I didn’t know until receiving a copy of A Way to Pray and reading its introduction by O. Palmer Robertson, is that the man never finished the commentary without help. He considered the publication of this work a greater priority.

A Way to Pray consists almost entirely of Scriptures arranged topically and put into the language of prayer to help guide the believer’s intercessory life. Robertson revised the 300 year old work to put it into language suitable to the modern day.

Here’s what Robertson says in the introduction about the significance of this approach to prayer:

Prayer in this form is nothing more and nothing less than what the old Puritans called ‘pleading the promises’.  God has made promises to his people.  His people respond by redirecting those promises to the Lord in the form of prayer.  How could a God who is faithful to his word fail to answer prayers of this kind?  He has promised.  He will honour that promise.  If Christians would join together and form their prayers with the maturity and insight provided by Scripture itself, the impact on the world could not be measured.”

Robertson also goes on to say, and this strikes me as no insignificant testimony, that, “Next to the Bible it has been the most read and the most influential book in my life.”

As I have begun to work through the various sections – praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, etc., I have found A Way to Pray to provide a richness to my spiritual disciplines which I regret not adding to the mix a long time ago. You can purchase a copy here. Or you can access a free online version here.

In working through the section on confession this morning, I prayed this from p. 54:

In the multitude of our words there never has been a lack of sin, for man full of talk will never be justified. While the lips of the righteous feed many, our lips have poured out foolishness and spoken perversity. Much corrupt communication has come out of our mouths. We are guilty of foolish talk and jesting, which are always out of place in your presence. We have spoken little of things useful for building up; others in the faith. We have failed to speak words that could minister grace to our hearers.

If we must give account for every idle word that we have spoken, we stand condemned. If by our words we shall be justified and by our words we shall be condemned, then woe to us. We are ruined, for we all have unclean lips and live among people with unclean lips. What would happen to us if you should turn our tongue against us?

Here’s to prayer that impacts the world beyond measure.