Changing Our Speech Habits

Old habits are hard to break!

That statement is much more than an old adage, for anyone who has ever tried to stop biting their nails, sought to break the nicotine habit, or tried to change their eating habits knows how difficult it can be to eliminate long-established practices from one’s life. And when it comes to the spiritual realm, old, sinful habits are just as hard to break as relatively insignificant things like biting one’s nails.

In the spiritual realm there are many sinful practices to be eliminated and many positive habits we need to develop, but for the moment let’s focus on the tongue and the difficulty often associated with changing bad speech habits. James spoke extensively of the difficulty it can present in the third chapter of his epistle.

“If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body….Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue.” James 3:1-10

Anyone who has ever struggled with his  language will readily attest to the veracity of James’ teaching, but in seeking to impress upon his readers the difficulties the tongue can present, the writer was not intending to excuse continual failure, for Eph. 4:29 says that no corrupt word should come from our mouths. How can we control this most challenging of members? I believe Matt. 12:33-37 holds the key when Jesus tells us the heart (or mind) controls our speech.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 Does your speech still occasionally turn to the vulgar, to lewd jokes and suggestive comments? Why does this happen to one of God’s saints? While there is something to be said for the difficulty of completely eliminating habits formed long ago, could it be that the mind is still being allowed to spend too much time feeding on the sensual and unclean? What kind of music are we listening to? Do our television viewing habits continually expose us to the kind of language and behavior we say we are seeking to eliminate? Could the speech of those whom we choose as companions be the issue here? Past exposures to the lewd and sensual take some time to drive from the mind, but if we continue to feed the beast, it will continue to rear its ugly head despite our efforts to cage it.

Instead of cursing and other vulgarities, could it be that our problem is more like that which James dealt with, viz. speaking evil of others? Do our words sometimes cut to the bone? Are we prone to lashing out with speech that would fit the definition of reviling (1 Cor. 6:10)? Why do we sometime struggle to break this habit of hurtful speech? Is it possible we are seeking to address the symptoms and not the real disease? Could it be that we don’t want to continue saying the hurtful things we say, but we have never fully committed ourselves to loving our neighbor as ourselves? Sometimes we don’t intend to say anything, but we allow resentments to build and we store up such bitterness in our hearts that it is bound to eventually find release in our speech. If we are going to control this aspect of our speech it will take a real commitment to love and forgiveness. Bitterness and wrath cannot continue to make their home with us if the old speech habits are ever to be broken and transformed into the speech God desires.

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers….Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph. 4:29, 31-32

Lets guard our hearts lest the wrong things proceed from our mouths.


Unless noted, all quotes from the New King James Version, copyright 1995, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc.