Jan 09

Taming the Digital Tongue

Social culture has changed over the last twenty years – much of our social interaction with others has changed from physical speech to digital. Instead of letters, we send emails. Instead of conversations, we use instant messaging. We use a number of forms of digital communication – email, Skype, Facebook, Facebook chat, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, SMS / text messaging, WhatsApp and other forms of instant messaging. Now, I’m not saying that these things are evil and should be cast out like demons – rather, I believe that as much as we need to watch what we say (physically), we also need to watch what we say and type (digitally) as the use of such things could result in impure actions and speech. We have often been taught to ‘watch what we say’ but how often have we applied that not only our physical speech, but our digital speech?

James 3:3-12 (NIV) 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being 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 human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

 James teaches us that the tongue, though being a small part of the body, makes great boasts and can set fire to large forests with its small sparks. It is very easy for proud boasts or poisonous and inconsiderate words to come out of our digital tongues. Too often have I seen comments claiming expert opinion while in its content being wholly uneducated. Such boasts come from a desire to be an ‘expert’ and to prove our pride in self-intelligence. Too often have I seen comments without any consideration for the situation or consequences. Such poisonous and inconsiderate words come from a desire to prove our own situation, circumstances and self-esteem to be of greater significance than what it truly is. Just as a word could mend a relationship, it could just as easily set fire to one. James warns us of the potential evil the tongue can cause, especially to the proud.

James also teaches us that the fire of the tongue can corrupt the whole body. The heavy integration of forms of social interaction and social media in our modern lives can affect how we act, speak and live in the world – the world which Christ called us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:13-16; 1 John 2:15-17). All of our actions and speech inherently form a pattern of behaviour and become habitual practice, and digital actions and speech are not excepted. I believe there is a dangerous disassociation from digital happenings and their consequences, which flow in to our real, 3-D lives, and we often ignore the effects. Because of any lack of physicality to digital conversations or comments, we tend to believe that there are little or no consequences to doing so and so don’t associate the actions/speech with possible consequences whether immediate or distant. As we distance ourselves from such perceived lack of consequences we continue these actions and speech, forming that behaviour pattern which then becomes apparent in our very lives. Friends, this should not be.

James warns us that both cannot co-exist. An apple tree cannot bear oranges. We, as a rising generation of Christians, must be careful not to practice such acts and speech in the digital world as they will flow out in to our real, 3-D lives.

Trolling your friends? Speak the truth.
Prove you know the answer? Be humble in speech.
Bring down your friend for what you see as weakness? Encourage them.
Inappropriate flirting or hinting at harboured lustful or sexual feelings? Set definite boundaries.
Talk about someone behind their back or pick on someone? Build them up in the eyes of others.

I encourage you to think and pray about this message and ask God to help you take steps to extinguish the burnished fire that is our tongue.


-Michael Fong