Keep Thy Tongue From Evil

By Mike Willis

One of the characteristics of our ungodly age is its corrupt speech. Those who, unlike preachers, are forced to enter the secular work force of America are forced to live and work with people who take the name of the Lord in vain, curse man and God, and otherwise use filthy speech. One of the privileges which I enjoy as a preacher is being somewhat isolated from the temptations to use filthy speech. Inasmuch as so many around us use filthy speech, we need to be reminded of what the Scriptures teach regarding the use of one’s tongue. The psalmist said, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile” (Psa. 34:14). Again he wrote, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psa. 39:1).

Taking The Lord’s Name In Vain

One of the many sins which is practiced today with the tongue is taking the Lord’s name in vain. One of the Ten Commandments was this: “Thou shaft not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). Men show disrespect for the Lord’s holy name when they use it in a profane manner. They use His name to curse men. They use it as a form of exclamatory speech. They use it to express their anger. They use it in a light manner. We need to remember that “holy and reverend is his name” (Psa. 111:9). God will not hold men guiltless who so abuse His name today.

Corrupt Speech

Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt communications 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). The word corrupt, from sapros, means “rank, foul, putrid, rotten, worthless, disgusting.” It reminds us of the rotting which occurs in spoiled food. Some men’s mouths are garbage cans.

As Paul continued to describe sinful forms of speech, he condemned “filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and “jesting.” The different kinds of filthy speech condemned here are as follows: (1) Filthiness (aischrotes): shameful, filthy or obscene speech; (2) Foolish talking (morologia): this is the talk of fools, men who have no respect for God (Psa. 10:7 – “his mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity”); (3) Jesting (eutrapelia): coarse jesting. This last word implies “the dexterity of turning a discourse to wit or humor; and lastly deceptive speech, so formed that the speaker easily contrives to wriggle out of its meaning or engagements (Eadie)” (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key To the Greek New Testament, Vol. II, p. 190).

At one time or another most of us have been forced to be around someone who has the kind of speech described by Paul. In the course of a conversation, they will twist someone’s words around to make something filthy or dirty out of what was intended to have no such reference or meaning in the beginning. With them, every innocent phrase can be made into something dirty. The humorous stories which they tell for entertainment and amusement generally are filthy. Their jokes are vulgar and dirty. Their jokes are shameful and obscene speech.

Paul also mentioned that some things were so shameful that Christians should not talk about them. He said, “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret” (Eph. 5:12). Our society does not consider anything too shameful to speak about. The television talk shows use topics related to the most intimate relationships between a man and woman as entertaining conversation to be aired into millions of homes. There is nothing so intimate but that one of the television talk hosts is willing to conduct a program on it. Homosexuals, prostitutes, and other sexual perverts are invited to be present on the program and talk in intimate detail regarding their sexual conduct. If there was ever a nation who had lost the ability to blush, America would have to be it. We are like Israel, whom Jeremiah described saying, “. . . they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (6:15).

Wrath and Anger

Man frequently vents his anger through his speech. Paul described this kind of sinful speech as follows, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). One of the kinds of anger which Paul described is thumos, that violent form of anger which explodes and then subsides, forgetting what harm it has inflicted on others in its expression. Most of us have seen men of uncontrolled spirits whose anger burned like wild fire in sage brush, burning furiously and hotly, and then quickly subsiding. In their anger they were guilty of clamor (krauge), shouting.

Sometimes men persuade themselves that their anger is uncontrollable. They say, “When I get mad, I just can’t stop shouting.” They know better than that; this is simply an excuse to prevent taking responsibility for the abusive speech which they use on others. Such people can be in the middle of ranting and raving speech directed toward others – in the middle of the kind of anger which they say that they cannot control – when the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. What happens to this uncontrollable rage then? With the gentleness of a lamb and mildness of Casper the friendly ghost, they answer the phone with a polite “Hello.” Christians who are guilty of abusive speech of this nature need to repent of their sin. They need to realize that such sins separate men from God and cause them to go to Hell. They need to manifest, not simply sorrow for their sin and the pain which it has inflicted on others, but godly sorrow which worketh repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).

Tattlers and Busybodies

In 1 Timothy 5:13, Paul condemned another sin of the tongue. In advising the younger widows to marry, Paul commanded the church not to enroll them on their permanent roll for support lest these women become idle and guilty of sinful speech. He wrote, “But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Tim. 5:11-13). With the invention of the modern telephone, it has become a lot easier for idle women to wander from house to house and speak things which they ought not to speak. Many churches constantly have trouble among their membership because of women who are tattlers and busybodies, telling things which they ought not to tell and nosing into other people’s business. Some women know the intimate affairs of many households in the local church and go about telling their closest friends the choicest tidbits which they have most recently gathered.

Being tattlers and busybodies is not a sin on which women hold franchises.

Being tattlers and busybodies is not a sin on which women hold franchises. My wife reminds me that preachers sometimes are tempted in this direction as well. Gossip and rumor mongering should not characterize men who are striving to be men of God. Preachers luncheons should not be sessions in which the latest rumors which circulate,, among the brethren are aired.


The kind of speech which should characterize Christians is that which is with grace; it is edifying, giving grace to those who hear it. The tongue can be used to offer praise to God in song and in prayer. It can be used to proclaim the story of the gospel of God’s grace. With a soft word, it can turn away wrath (Prov. 15:1). A good word can make those with a heavy heart glad (Prov. 12:25).

Why would one who is professing to be a Christian and who participates in the public service of God’s worship want to use his tongue for sinful purposes, such as taking the name of the Lord in vain, coarse jesting, clamour, gossip and backbiting? We need to join with David of old in obeying the command to “keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile” (Psa. 34:14). “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psa. 39:1).

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, pp. 34-36
January 20, 1983