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How can I learn to control my tongue?

Taking responsibility for your words

5 min

You probably know the pain of regretting words you have spoken: words of pride, dishonesty, envy, gossip, or anger. Although you can seek to restore bruised relationships through repentance and forgiveness, spoken words can never be retrieved. Scripture warns, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

The Apostle James calls the tongue “a fire, a world of iniquity” that “defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). He also tells us that as believers, we are hypocrites if we do not learn to “bridle” our tongues: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). But is it possible to control the tongue? Consider the following insights as you make your prayer, “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

1. Rely on God’s strength to aid you.

By human effort alone, no one can tame his tongue. “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Only by the grace of God in your life can you seek to control your speech. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

2. Dedicate your heart and tongue to the Lord each day.

You face new circumstances and new conversations every day. Regularly acknowledging your need for discernment and God’s grace helps you remain conscious of your words. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

3. Put your heart in tune with God’s Spirit by daily reading His Word.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16–17).

4. Meditate on Scriptures that address the power of words (see below).

By studying Scriptures about the tongue, you will gain insights into the power of your words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21). Memorizing and meditating on these verses will strengthen your resolve to speak with grace. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).

5. Assume responsibility for every word you speak.

God desires that you speak the truth (see Ephesians 4:25 and Psalm 15:2) and that you keep your word (see Matthew 5:37). He will hold you responsible for what you speak. “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).

6. Ask those around you if you use words that are offensive.

Your family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances can observe the effects of your words and attitudes. Ask them about your speech patterns and evaluate the observations they share. (See Proverbs 27:6, 17.)

7. Commit to giving a good report and, when necessary, follow Biblical principles of correction.

“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people . . . . Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:16–18). “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Matthew 18:15).

8. Fulfill past promises and think carefully before making any new promises.

You need to fulfill the promises you have made, even when doing so requires unforeseen sacrifice. God will bless the one who “sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” (Psalm 15:4). Jesus said, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay” (Matthew 5:37).

9. Ask for forgiveness for any unloving words or attitudes.

“For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man . . .” (James 3:2). When you speak words that you shouldn’t have spoken, seek forgiveness. “Let all . . . evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

10. Learn to speak words that will encourage, comfort, inspire, and edify.

Ask God to guide you to speak words that will honor Him and accomplish His purposes. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

Your words indicate what is in your heart. (See Luke 6:45.) In your efforts to control your tongue, follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). When the thoughts of your heart are focused on what is good and true, your words will reflect it, bringing honor to God and to others.

Your words indicate what is in your heart. (See Luke 6:45.)

Twelve “Tongue Tamers” from Scripture

Along with the Bible verses mentioned previously, the following verses are a few of many more that address the power of words and your responsibility for what you speak. Memorizing and meditating on these Scriptures and others can help you remember to speak with wisdom and discretion.

  • “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Proverbs 13:3).
  • “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 29:20).
  • “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13).
  • “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
  • “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
  • “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Proverbs 15:23).
  • “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).
  • “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. . . . A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit” (Proverbs 15:1, 4).
  • “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:28).
  • “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Proverbs 18:8).
  • “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (I Peter 3:10).
  • “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

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