TALK ISN’T CHEAP WHEN IT COSTS IN YOUR MARRIAGE
I haven’t even been married even a year but long enough to notice some things about how time changes the relationship. I’m sure it changes every relationship in a similar way; I just have never noticed it quite so profoundly until this one. Perhaps because this one means the most. And the one thing that has changed the most quickly and obviously and yet the most subtly and gradually is how I speak to my wife.
All my life and at different ages I have heard people try to minimize how much words matter. From the elementary “sticks and stones” chant to the more adolescent “talk is cheap” to modern day social media memes that I often see communicating that actions are much more important than words. I get where this is coming from. But both the Bible and my reality have proven how I speak matters as much or more than anything else I do every day, especially with my wife.
IT HAPPENED SO QUICKLY YET SO GRADUALLY
When we first got together I was so intentional about how I spoke to her. I would quote Song of Solomon to her. I was never sarcastic with her in a crude way, especially in front of others. I often complimented her and kept my mouth shut, refraining from give a solution to her problems if I thought she needed to vent. But over time, I have let things go in this area. In front of her friends and family I have made unkind sarcastic comments to her. I use the stereotypical tone when I talk to her. I go straight into problem solving mode often when she has an issue at work. I have gone long stretches without telling her she’s beautiful. Losing control of my tongue with my wife is by far the biggest problem I have after just a few months of marriage.
Losing control of my tongue with my wife is by far the biggest problem I have after just a few months of marriage.
What kills me is that you hear this all the time in real life and on TV. Women often complain that men become more likely to take them for granted with time. And I’ve tried to avoid that and (by God’s grace) succeeded in things like making regular date nights and doing the dishes. But this area is one where I am completely and unequivocally not doing as well as eight months ago. And in a lot of ways that affects everything else–even the good that I do.
ONE OF THE EASIEST TO UNDERSTAND CHAPTERS IN THE BIBLE
It’s not just my experience that proves this, though. It’s the Bible. In James 3, he makes three very simple points about the tongue. He says 1) the tongue controls everything else, like the rudder on a ship, 2) it cannot be dominated because it’s too evil and potent, and 3) it’s hypocritical to use the tongue for both blessing and cursing. In typical Bible fashion, it seems impossible to reconcile all of these ideas into practical reality. If I cannot tame the tongue, why is it so important to God that we control it? And why am I so guilty for using it incorrectly?
I think God, through James, is making it clear that it is a battle to use your words for good and that we cannot be complacent. He says the tongue is a world of unrighteousness, is filled with deadly poison and stains the whole body. Think about that for a second. Think about how crucial the tongue is as the body’s controlling part, combined with its nature. It’s like the Joker of the human body: malevolent, bent on chaos, and capable of coercing the weaker to follow its lead. The default flow of human nature is away from God. The tongue is the leader and greatest weapon of our depravity. It trends away from blessing others with our words and towards insulting, false flattery, gossiping, talking instead of listening and countless other ways we misuse our mouth. Like fire it is deadly when not controlled vigilantly. It is that strong, that influential and that destructive. I’m confident that I could wash dishes every day for the rest of my life but if I don’t use conversation for my wife’s edification, then I’m missing what James is teaching. I concede that the memes are right–that if I say “I love you” but do not do practical action to show it then I am also wrong. But James doesn’t say that the hands or the feet control and corrupt everything else. The tongue does.
Think about how crucial the tongue is as the body’s controlling part, combined with its nature. It’s like the Joker of the human body: malevolent, bent on chaos, and capable of coercing the weaker to follow its lead.
TRUTH IS APPLICATION AS WELL AS UNDERSTANDING
The rest of Scripture coincides with the importance of words. The biggest book of the Bible is a group songs, or words, to God. The only book dedicated entirely to marriage, the aforementioned Song of Songs, is primarily words the two lovers speak to each other. Paul says words are essential for both witnessing about and accepting Jesus. And Jesus preached that the mouth is a reflection of the heart and that we will be judged for every word we say.
So if I can offer anything to married men this Valentine’s Day is that by all means be romantic with your wife. Serve her in practical ways. But remember that the Bible can be counter-intuitive. We think actions speak louder than words, but show me a man who uses his tongue well and I know you’ll see a man who does well with the rest of his life. Because if you can control the Joker, you can handle his cronies. How we speak (and don’t speak) to others is the litmus test for human behavior. The tongue is the control center. We talk often in the church about guarding our hearts and our minds. But we desperately need to guard our words as well. Especially to the one we committed to at an altar once up on time – with words no less – to love unconditionally.