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Trouble with the Tongue
Taming the Tongue; Self-Control

Main Point of Discussion: Words cannot be “taken back,” so we should be very careful of what we say.

Vital Info Before You Get Started: (The following should help you contextualize this important issue so you can have a great discussion about it with your kids.)

  • The Activity: A Lesson from Toothpaste

  • Say, There are really two problems when it comes to hurtful words. First, somebody gets hurt when we lose control of our mouths. Secondly, no matter how hard we try, or how “sincere” we may be, we CANNOT take back what was said. Maybe this image will help you understand what I mean.

  • Pull out a tube of toothpaste.

  • Say, Let’s say this tube of toothpaste is our mouths, and the toothpaste inside is a hurtful word, or a lie, or a piece of gossip. Squeeze the tube really hard, shooting toothpaste out of the tube. Point to the toothpaste on the floor or table and say, See that mess? It’s a lot like the mess we get into when we lose control of our mouths. The mess alone is a big enough problem, but there’s another really big issue: No matter how hard you try, you CANNOT put the toothpaste back in the tube. The same thing is true with our words: You cannot put them back in your mouth. Hurtful words can’t be taken back. We need to be really careful about what we say.

Three Simple Questions:
    Q: Why do you suppose it’s so hard to control our tongues?
    A: We’re emotional people and very sinful and selfish.

    Q: How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should respond to the toothpaste analogy—that we can’t take back our words?
    A: With sober reflection. What we say can be so damaging to others—the toothpaste activity should help us think twice about how we say what we say.

    Q: How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about our speech to actually living out those opinions?
    A: Ask forgiveness from those we’ve wronged with our speech. Ask God’s forgiveness, too. Pray for change.

Where to Take It from Here:
Wherever it feels natural. If these questions lead to a longer discussion on the topic, wonderful! (There’s a guide just after this paragraph that helps you do just that.) If your kids are barely uttering grunts, don’t get discouraged—the next time it feels right, keep engaging them.

For Deeper Discussion: (If your kids seem into diving in deeper, the following discussion guide can help take you there.)

CLICK HERE if you want to look at a quick training article on small groups and drawing questions out of young people—you may find much of the information applicable as you go through this subject with your family members.

Parent Note:

Above all, don’t appear as if you have a “canned” discussion in your head and rattle off questions like a teacher giving a pop quiz—your kids get enough of that in school. This is a guide, primarily—not a verbatim script. Just familiarize yourself with the content here and start a conversation in the most natural, unforced way you know how.

More Discussion Questions:

  1. HAVE ALL YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS ANSWER: As we begin, everybody take a second to share the brand of toothpaste you use (or your favorite).

  2. ASK ONE FAMILY MEMBER: True or False: A “typical” teenager swears about 60 times each day. (False. According to research done by Timothy Jay, from The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, most teenagers swear between 80 and 90 times every single day. By the way, roughly 75% of teenagers report hearing “adult language” in school settings.)

  3. ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: Do you think most young people can control their mouths (e.g., by not lying, not swearing, not gossiping, etc.)?

  4. Read the following passage from the Bible:

      James 3:2-12 (NIV)
      We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

      When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

      All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

      With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

  5. ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: In verse 8, we are told that no one can tame the tongue. Why do you think that is?

  6. ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: James makes the point that only fig trees can produce figs, and only springs can produce fresh water. What then should the tongue/mouth of a Christian produce?

  7. HAVE ALL YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS ANSWER: What are some “real world” ways this week we can reveal our love for God in our conversations with people?

Wrap Up:
Everyone single one of us has been hurt by someone else’s words at some point in our lives. They might have lied to us, gossiped about us, or said something that was just plain mean. Sometimes those words cut really deep, and we carry them with us for far too long.

Likewise, we’ve all said hurtful things to others, and many times as the words were coming out of our mouths, we wished we hadn’t said them! Even though we know the pain that harsh words or lies or gossip can bring, we blast others with our sinful mouths.

It’s so easy to tell the difference between people who have learned how to control their tongue, and those that haven’t. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I guess people living 3,000 years ago could even tell the difference!

Actually, the Book of Proverbs has a ton to say about…what we say! Check out what Proverbs 6:1-3 instructs us to do if we have sinned with our tongues:

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor's hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor!

Did you catch that? He says if you’ve ever hurt someone with what you’ve said, go and humble yourself and ask for forgiveness.

I don’t think it can be any clearer for us. So let me leave you with this challenge: At some point during this coming week, before we meet together again, go to a person that you have sinned against with your words and humbly ask them to forgive you. Admit that what you said was wrong, and tell them that you intend to NEVER speak that way to them, or about them, again.

Close in Prayer

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