Few areas in our lives test the depth of our self control more than our ability to control our tongue. Think back over your life to all of the moments when anger flared and without thinking you strike–it could be to a fellow employee, a friend, an mere acquaintance, a parent, your child, or your spouse. It doesn’t matter; the tongue is indiscriminate. It strikes with a vengeance and can leave an everlasting wound that may never heal.
As a child, I cannot remember the clothing I wore on a certain day or what I had for lunch, but I can remember when I was the object of ridicule during recess. While I remember this with clarity, I cannot remember all the times I was the source of ridicule for one of my fellow classmates.
A good friend of mine, a pastor I had the privilege to work with for many years, is a devoted counselor. He has spent many hours with couples on the brink of divorce or struggling with deeply-rooted interpersonal conflict within their family. He has a simple statement that is absolutely true–words mean things.
Too often we forget the power of our words. We fly off the handle and in a few seconds destroy someone with our words.
I’ve also learned another lesson from my pastor-friend: those whom God has called into leadership within His church need to exemplify self control when it comes to their speech. This can often be a tricky road to navigate for pastors and leaders. Many pastors are “Type A” personalities who are ready to charge hell, they are men of great authority and great influence. Yet, they are also flawed, imperfect human beings. As Terry Hotchkiss often reminds us, “The Best of Men are Men at Best.”
When a pastor or church leader loses his temper and strikes with the tongue, the destruction can be even greater. Perhaps this is why James begins his warning about the destructive force of the tongue by singling out teachers within the church. James says, in essence, God expects more of us because of our position, so it only makes sense that our church family expects more from us.
I know many pastors who wrestle with this aspect of their life and ministry. The key is that they wrestle with it. They recognize the sinfulness of their words and actions, and they openly fight against this natural born tendency. They do not let their life be ruled by angry outbursts and a continual cycle of destructive words followed by half-hearted apologies. Be on guard for a pastor or church leader who has a temper and continually loses it. This man’s lack of self control is a sign of his spiritual immaturity. I believe this is an indicator this person may not be ready for leadership within our Lord’s church.
Pastors and church leaders must demonstrate growing spiritual maturity and dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide both their words and their actions. They model this self control for their church, who likewise is striving to gain control of their tongue and harness its power for blessing and encouragement, not cursing and destruction.
May this be our prayer this week as we all interact with one another and with our families, friends, and co-workers. May we join the Apostle Paul in saying, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).–Chris Eller
This Week’s Core Virtue
Gentleness (Philippians 4:5): I am thoughtful, considerate and calm in dealing with others.
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