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Now that my life has significantly calmed back down, I have the time to think and reflect on things a bit more. And for the past several months, I have been studying through the book of Proverbs. Well, I’ve finally reached Chapter 15 (one of my favorite chapters), and I’ve paused here at the beginning of the chapter for over a week now because I’ve been working things through my head.

A lot of the proverbs make sense, and when I thought about how we use our tongue, I was reminded of James 3. So, all of the things the proverbs mention I generally know. A righteous person speaks words of wisdom and knowledge. They uplift, encourage, and edify others. We ought to control our tongues more (a fight that’s never ending for me) and not speak out of the sides of our neck at people. Yes, all of this I have known for years now, and I’m still working on all of these things. But over this past week, I was presented a different challenge with my tongue (which obviously gets to the point of my blog).

As the situation unfolded, and I had to deal with someone else who was being rash with their tongue (and also wrong about a situation), I decided that I didn’t want to respond to them at all. My thought was: “Oh you want to feel that way. Well fine, feel that way then. I won’t say anything at all.” Now, personally, I came up with a whole slew of stuff I wanted to say and wanted to get off my chest, but I figured I should take James’ advice and “bridle my tongue”. Well, this is where the challenge came in.

What does “bridling your tongue” really mean?

Choosing not to respond to the person and the situation was not godly, and it definitely wasn’t “bridling my tongue”. Actually, it was walking in sin, pride to be exact, manifesting itself in good ol’ passive aggressiveness. Can I say this: I HATE passive aggressiveness. But here I was doing it again, and fortunately, my husband called me out on it and exhorted me not to yield to the temptation.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things… – James 3:2-5a

So, in thinking more about James 3, we see he mentions bridling the tongue like we bridle horses or put rudders on ships, and it made me realize something. Bridling means that you control something as its moving, not that you control so that it isn’t functioning any more. You wouldn’t say that you control a ship if you’ve dropped the anchor and refuse to sail would you? You wouldn’t say that you control a horse if you’ve tied him to a fence post and he can’t move any more would you?

Likewise, controlling the tongue isn’t refusing to speak. Being in a situation and refusing to respond to people who are talking to you isn’t exercising actual control or really training your tongue. All you are doing is giving into deceptive, self-exalting pride and being passive aggressive, especially because you know your silence is making a statement to the other person.

So in my situation, I beat around the bush for a while, but I did initiate the response. I called on God to give me grace. I reminded myself to be humble and to esteem myself very lightly in my own eyes. I remembered God’s mercy in dealing with me, and I forged ahead into the situation. Granted, I bit my lip a few times, took a few deep breaths, but I continued to engage in the conversation and to actually bridle and train my tongue.

Let me tell you, it took a lot out of me, but I’m glad it did. Going through this took some pride out of me. It took some passive aggressiveness out of me. It took some selfishness out of me. It took some laziness out of me. Basically, actually dealing with this situation showed me how much I really need to grow in this area. It showed me how much work bridling my tongue really requires, and it exposed the lie I was holding onto regarding this.

Exposing My Heart

So when I considered Proverbs 15 again, I zeroed in on verse 4:

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

As children of God, we’re called to bridle (i.e. train and master) our tongues. We see here that a gentle tongue is a tree of life, offering comfort and edification to its hearers. Think again to training a horse. The gentle horses that we often love so much did not start that way. They were trained over time to become that way, and likewise, we have to be diligent in how we train our tongues.

But when you look at the contrast to this proverb, it gives us a sober reminder of our natural, sinful state: “perverseness in it breaks the spirit”. This perverseness is a disposition to cross or vex others. It is unaccommodating and acts in opposition to what is actually desired or proper to do in a situation. And this immediately made me think about being passive aggressive and how sinful it is to engage in that behavior. When you purposefully refuse to speak, withholding your conversation, or disregard others, you demonstrate the perverseness of your tongue and of your heart (Consider Luke 6:43-45). You show what you have on the inside.

And whether or not you realize it, your actions have an effect on others. It breaks their spirits through grief, adds to their guilt, disturbs them, wounds them, and saddens them. And to be perfectly honest, when we refuse to respond to people in various situations, being passive aggressive, if we are really truthful, we want them to feel these things. We want them to feel guilty about what they said or did. We want them to feel bad. We want our silence to have an effect on them that results in us getting what we want or being made to look like the “better person”. In God’s eyes (look at Proverbs 15:3), we are just being evil, and He sees us. In fact, God can rightly judge the intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). And the real deception here we don’t realize is that we are worsening our state as long as we continue in these things. That perverseness in our tongues not only affects others, but it will break us too.

I’m grateful for the challenge of this past week. I’m grateful for the guidance of the Spirit to pause and meditate on His Word while He uncovers areas of secret, yet really public and obvious, sin in my life. I’m grateful for the mercy He has shown me, and I’m even more grateful for the grace that He is giving me to overcome in this particular area. And considering that I have been on the receiving end of other people’s passive aggression and have felt the grief and pain from it, it causes me to walk even more humbly because I don’t want to cause that same pain for others, as I have done before.

However, I know that this will be an ongoing challenge for me. It’s really easy for me to slide into being passive aggressive. Whether the situation involves my husband or my daughter or even my mom, it’s incredibly easy to give into my own selfish, delusional pride and say nothing. Yet, I know now that I’m not actually obeying the Word of God. I’m not bridling my tongue. I’m not training myself. In fact, the only thing I would be doing is showing the perverseness in my own heart, trying to break other people down while being held captive by own sin.

From this point forward, I refuse to believe the lie. I refuse to give into the temptation, and I want to cast aside the delusional lie and hold fast to the truth. I have to learn how to actually bridle and train my tongue. As a child of God, it is my responsibility, a command that I must obey. And even thinking about this now makes me mindful of how often the enemy will distort the Word of God in our minds, tricking us into believing that we are being obedient, when we have exchanged His truth for a lie.

My prayer is that you seriously and soberly consider your walk with the Lord and your obedience to His Word. If you see yourself trying to make some wiggle room in obedience, I pray that you are convicted and that you repent. If you are given to the same sin I was given to, being passive aggressive and not bridling and training your tongue, I pray that you take this as some hardcore encouragement to not slack off or disregard commands in scripture that seem hard or impossible to do. With God, all things are possible.