September 14, 1999
Exercise buffs may try to change it, but so far the strongest muscle in the human body is the tongue. Perhaps God created us that way for a reason, but could it be our tongues are the strongest because they get the most exercise?
While not fanatical about exercise, I have been using light hand-held weights for the past few years. Constant repetition is sufficient to firm up some of my flab and improve my endurance. Exercise might do the same for my tongue, but is that a good thing?
Talking too much is generally not my problem yet I can put my foot in my mouth as easily as anyone. Sometimes my conscience nags me for interrupting people, speaking out of turn, or not letting someone say what is on their mind. I’m not surprised that the Bible is filled with warnings about over-exercising this muscle.
Proverbs 10:19 is a good place to start: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” The implication is plain: those who hesitate before speaking are less apt to say the wrong thing and thus sin with their mouth. Who can argue with that!
Still in Proverbs we find: “The mouth of the fool gushes folly” and “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
My dad used to say something similar: “Better to be quiet and have people think you are a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” When we think of wisdom, the picture that comes to mind seldom includes lots of noise.
Other biblical warnings abound. One says: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Who hasn’t got in trouble because they spoke too soon? Or been annoyed by someone who finishes their sentences?
Another warning from the New Testament says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness . . . this should not be.”
When people get angry and curse others, they have not considered this truth from Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” While it may not be a lethal weapon physically, words can kill a person’s spirit and rob us of emotional vitality.
A New Testament writer says, “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.”
Those are strong words. That is why James also says, “no man can tame the tongue.” We need God’s help. He promises better control of this muscle to anyone who wants to change the way they think and therefore the way they talk.
(Of course not all talking is bad. Proverbs 15:2 starts with “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge” and verse four continues with: “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life.” Our speech can praise God and bless others, just as the Bible says. We are encouraged not to use corrupt words but talk so that others are built up and receive grace.)
One thing about exercise at home or in the gym; if your form is not correct, you can injure yourself. It is a little like that with the tongue; if we do not use the right words or have the right attitude as we speak, we can hurt not only ourselves but others.
Flabby muscles firm up and become more alert with exercise but just using our tongue does not necessarily improve anything. As 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.”
In this case, an old truism matches Scripture: if we cannot say anything nice, we are better to let our tongue muscle become atrophied.