Whoso keepth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles (Prov. 21:23).
It is our duty to keep watch over our souls. Failure to guard our words leaves the soul vulnerable to troubles.
What to Guard Against
Keeping watch over the mouth and the tongue means guarding against improper speech.
(1) Words of Guile. "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile" (Psa. 34:13). To speak guile is to utter words of deceit. It is said of Jesus that he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:22). On one occasion Jesus complimented Nathanael by saying, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" (Jn. 1:47). We are taught in God's word to lay aside "all guile" and "all evil speakings" (1 Pet. 2:1).
(2) Rash Utterances. First thoughts are not always the best thoughts. "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon the earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Eccl. 5:2). Reckless words spoken in haste are like the piercings of a sword. The fellow who speaks rashly may have a lot of indigestion caused by his having to eat his own words!
(3) Spouting of Slander. The Bible warns against slander, backbiting, and malicious gossip. David said to the Israelites, "Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off" (Psa. 101:5). "He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool" (Prov. 10:18). Paul warned against backbitings and whisperings (2 Cor. 12:20). Slander slaughters! Carnal weapons have slain thousands, but tongues have slain ten thousands.
(4) Filthy Conversation. "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" (Eph. 4:29). Some punctuate their speech with profanity and pollute it with vulgarity. With the mouth they spew forth so much filth and garbage that they are odious to others. The flavor of their speech is about like the odor of a garbage dump on a hot summer day.
(5) Untimely Words. Remarks that are suitable for certain times and places may be altogether inappropriate in other circumstances. Blessed is the man who knows when to speak his mind and when to mind his speech! A "word fitly spoken" is not a untimely word (Psa. 25:11).
(6) Harsh Criticism. Some never show any charity when they begin criticizing others. They act as if they can carve their way to success with cutting remarks. One should be careful of what he says, "for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter" (Eccl. 10:20). How often have harsh and unjust criticisms returned like a boomerang. One's tongue may be so sharp that he cuts his own throat with it!
Bridle the Tongue
James reminds us that just as we put bits in the mouths of horses, and we turn about their whole body, we need to bridle the tongue. "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" (Jas. 3:3-5)
The person who talks all the time is never taken very seriously. He keeps on talking even when he has run out of anything to say. If he would hold his tongue he could hold his friends.
There is "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccl. 3:7). In some situations it takes real self-control to keep quite. "The silence of a man who can speak wisely and eloquently is a revelation of self-control, and often adds more to the dignity of his character than words can" (W. Harris).
Enormous influence is exerted through the power of speech. That influence can be either good or bad. We need to heed the admonition of the children's song:
Be careful little tongue what you tell,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little tongue what you tell.
"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" (Jas. 1:26). We may suppose that we are serving God acceptably because we regularly meet with the saints for worship, we pray, and we read our Bibles. But do we guard our speech? Are we allowing an unbridled tongue to make hypocrites of us?
No one can place a sentinel over one's mouth and tongue but the person himself. This means guard duty every day. Speech control is important.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 22, p. 681