The Tongue (caution! hazardous when in use)

Beware of the backhanded complement.  Yes, I mean you… and me… and all of us.  This is a caution to anyone with a tongue.
Pastor Joe was right on Sunday! Boy, do I need to hear that sermon everyday!  Note to self; Speak Sweeter!  I’m not saying that I’m a foul mouth, though I could have said that about my old self would.  And I’m not saying that I’m prone to insult others either.  I’m sure I have been insulting, but it’s not a regular practice.  All things considered, I think I hold my tongue rather well.  But, on the contrary, I am only deceiving myself because James 3:8 say that “No man can tame the tongue.” It’s hard It’s impossible for all of us.
My mom always told me; “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all!”  She was right!  And I’m ashamed of the times when I didn’t heed that wisdom.  I’ve become more skilled at holding my tongue.  You know; keeping it on a leash.  But keeping the tongue on a leash is not the same thing as “taming” the tongue.  I need to graduate from those wise words and use my tongue to encourage and build up others.
A tame animal does not need a leash to keep it from attacking others.  Leashes are for animals that can not be trusted to behave. (The tongue is one such animal!) If the leash breaks, then LOOK OUT!  And if no man can tame the tongue as James claims then it will take more than a man.  It will require the intervention of the God Man, Jesus.  Only Jesus can tame our tongues.  He is the only one who can be trusted with such a powerful weapon.
Let me explain what I mean when I say I hope to graduate from the “don’t say anything at all” set of guidelines.  I want to be good at the art of the compliment.  If my tongue is under Jesus control, then he will use it to build others up and to encourage them.  When I try to do this on my own, my natural gift of sarcasm tends to take over.
  • Me to self:  I want to compliment this person.  They’ve really been doing a great job!
  • Sarcastic self says to me: Great idea, I’ll take it from here
  • Me:  Thanks for wiping down those tables.  It make such a nice impression on people and shows that we care.
  • Sarcastic self:  You’re really good at that, ever consider a career as a bus boy?
WHY does this happen?  Because “no one can tame the tongue.”
2 Reasons we fail to give genuine encouragement.
  1. Sarcasm – We really want to say something nice, but our pride talks us out of it. Somehow we think that building others up will lower our worth in their eyes.  Our desire to “build others up” gets polluted by our “tear others down so we look smarter” strategy.  So Pride sends Sarcasm to the front line and allows us to safely give a compliment (sort of) and at the same time protect our “I’m better than you” falsely inflated ego that we can’t seem to live without.
  2. The Backhanded Compliment. Another detour from a real heartfelt compliment is the “backhanded compliment.” It’s a loophole in the “if you can’t say anything nice” strategy.  It goes something like this; If you must say something rude at least disguise it as a compliment.  Here are a few examples; “You really sound good when you just sing” “You look so pretty today, I almost didn’t recognize you.” “You clean up nice.” “You know, you’re pretty smart for a liberal arts major.”
whywhywhy(shakes head) – Okay, James we get it. NO ONE can tame the tongue.  We try and try, but we just come up with sarcastic, backhanded, what’s in it for me?, half-hearted efforts that fall far short of our goal, which is to offer real encouragement.
Lord, save us from our tongues.  Save others from our tongues!  Have mercy on us when we try and fail to tame our tongues.  May our words be Sweeter.  Give us Your words to speak, to build, and to encourage others.
Have you ever been the victim of a backhanded compliment?  Can you share it with us?  What is your favorite backhanded compliment?  Perhaps it would help if we laugh at ourselves and our stupid tongues.  Leave a comment below.  This could be interesting.
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4 responses to “The Tongue (caution! hazardous when in use)

  • mooshie

    I don't know. I've never thought of my sarcasm as a bad thing. I guess I'll have to rethink it though.PS I appreciate you reminding us when you have written a new blog. I tend to forget its there.

  • Alden Schoeneberg

    In fact, I enjoy sarcasm very much and am well versed in it. Not all sarcasm is ill placed, but for me it can detour my best attempts at encouragement and lead me down it's familiar road and away from my mission of real encouragement. Thanks for the comment, mooshie.

  • Quint

    This was a surprisingly good blog … wait … OK obviously I need to read it again. Isn't it sad though when someone gives a heartfelt honest compliment that we wonder if it was truthful or not or even think that they might be playing an angle. I was challenged even more along these same lines by a Watchman Nee quote " If we only try to do the right thing surely we are poor Christians. We should try to do more than what is right."

  • Alden Schoeneberg

    I like that Watchman Nee quote. That's really what I was getting at. Adding qualifiers to a compliment doesn't always mean it is backhanded. As we learn to speak sweeter we will be able to tell the truth to one another in love.Surprisingly good… nice.Thanks, Quint. You actually had something profound to say. 🙂

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