Why, Shut My Mouth!
Maybe you’ve heard this old southern expression before. I can remember hearing it as a kid. I grew up in a part of northeast Missouri known as Little Dixie. Someone tells you something that is amazing, and you are speechless as a result, all you can say is, “Why, shut my mouth!” Or you’re tempted to say something that is out of bounds, so you state, “I’m going to shut my mouth before I say something I shouldn’t,” or when confronted with a temptation to speak ill, you simply say, “Why, shut my mouth!” I hear the phrase occasionally at work where we have an older lady who is from Mississippi, and she uses such southern verbiage regularly. “I couldn’t help but stare at the new employee with the ring in her nose and tattoos covering her face! I simply thought to myself, ‘Well, shut my mouth!’”
Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth” (Matt. 15:11). Jesus’ half-brother James writes, “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well…so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great is the forest set ablaze by such a small fire; and the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness…With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:3-9). Our control of the tongue, of our mouth, is a big deal.
When we examine scripture, we find numerous words of guidance about when to keep our mouth shut.
In the heat of anger. “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (Proverbs 14.17). If you return evil for good because you don’t take the time to get all the facts. “If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house” (Proverbs 18:13). If your words will offend or cause a weaker brother to sin. “Sinning against your brother and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (I Cor. 8:12). When you are tempted to make light of holy things. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth, therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). When it’s time to listen. “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1). When tempted to flatter the wicked person for gain. “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples” (Proverbs 24:24). When you should be working instead of talking. “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends toward poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).
Nothing splits a congregation of Christians faster than ill spoken words that have not been weighed and thought-out before leaving the mouth. I remember a friend telling me about a church where he was an elder, and two other elders got in a fight over a property line they didn’t agree about. It was only a matter of inches, making little difference in anything of value, but they said things they should have regretted, and then were never willing to back down from. There was no forgiveness, nor was the relationship ever patched up, and they both remained elders fighting against each other at every opportunity, not allowing the church to move forward. Were either of them displaying Christ-like behavior? No. And everyone around them suffered as a result, as they did also. Few would want to become a member of such a church. I bet you have examples of this too, we all do. If honest, some of the examples might be personal. Better to have said, “Why, shut my mouth!” And then done so.
Cross Point: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21).