How can one control one's tongue according to James 3:1–12 in the Bible?

Quick answer:

To control one's tongue, one must develop the habit of pausing before speaking to consider whether a possible comment is true, useful, and respectful and to adjust one's tone.

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In James 3:1–12, James comments on the importance of controlling the tongue—that is, of controlling one's speech. We've all had moments when we've spoken without thinking, when we've said exactly what was going through our mind without stopping to consider whether it was true or whether it would hurt someone else. In cases like these, we quickly realize how powerful and dangerous a weapon our tongue can be. The tongue, of course, refers to our words, so when we're talking about controlling our tongue, we mean controlling what we say and how we say it.

While James doesn't offer specific advice about to control the tongue, a good first step might be a simple pause. If we just take a moment before we speak to stop and hold our tongue for a few beats, we can actually prevent ourselves from saying things that afterward we wish we could take back. To pause, however, means to develop self-control, to monitor ourselves and to take charge of our reactions. This also requires practice so that the pause can become a habit.

The next step in controlling the tongue could be to use the pause to think about whether what we are about to say is true, useful, and respectful. If these three conditions aren't met, then most likely we shouldn't be saying anything at all. Let's think about an example. If we are on the point of spreading a juicy piece of gossip, a pause will allow us to think about whether it is true (if it isn't, then we should definitely hold our tongues), if it is useful (if the other person can receive any benefit from knowing it), and if it is respectful (if it's gossip, it probably isn't). By pausing and thinking, we would probably decide not to speak.

Finally, we should use our pause to adjust our tone, especially if we decide to speak. Sometimes our words can be innocent, but our tone can be scathing or dripping with sarcasm, and this will only cause conflict with others. So before we speak, we should consider how we speak because the kind of tone we use can convey as much of a message as the words we say and perhaps even more.

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