In 2018, untamed tweets often make headlines. James 3:1-12, one of our lectionary readings for September, addresses the human tendency to let words run rampant, even in the pre-Twitter world of the first century. “No one can tame the tongue, a restless evil—full of deadly poison,” he wrote. 

Lashon hara, the Hebrew term for gossip, backbiting, rumormongering, slander and other derogatory speech sins we’re all guilty of committing, literally means “tongue of the evil.” (No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth!) 

In this modern day, James would urge everyone to “Tame your tongue tweet.”   

James used the example of the horse and bit to help readers wrestle with the power of our tongues. His early readers knew the bit lies on top of a horse’s tongue. When the bit is attached to the bridle and reins, the rider can easily control the horse’s body and make it obey. Our tongues may be small, but they are mighty persuasive—and, therefore, powerful.    


In this modern day, James would urge everyone to “Tame your tongue tweet.”


The first sin committed after the fall was that of the tongue. When questioned about the forbidden fruit, Adam slandered God by suggesting God was indirectly responsible: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).  

Even the messianic prophet Isaiah, as he glimpsed God’s glory and holiness, was convicted of his sinfulness and related it to his mouth: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips …” (Isaiah 6:5). 

On the other hand, the idea that good speech manifests a noble heart is nowhere more beautifully portrayed than in the Psalms. David exulted, “O Lord … how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1).  

We can’t tame our tongues/tweets by taking an anger management course. Instead we should see our words as Hagnos, which means “holy.” Words matter, so let us think and speak clearly, whether it’s by talking or typing. Amen. 

William Flippin Jr.
Flippin is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Atlanta. He serves on the ELCA Church Council and as third vice president for the Georgia NAACP.

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