Psalm 39 TALK: Sin’s of the Tongue

(All bible quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version)


                               (A CALL FOR FORGIVENESS FOR THE SIN OF NOT

                                SPEAKING WHEN I SHOULD AND SPEAKING WHEN

                                I SHOULD’NT)


 Towards the end of my paid working life I worked for two private profits based organizations that had contracts with the Government to assist unemployed people to gain jobs. I was employed mainly as a trainer and at times the tactics the organization wanted me to use ran aground with my Christian belief’s and for a long time I kept quiet and tried to implement these tactics in a loving way. One day in the middle of a staff meeting in front of all my fellow employers at an inappropriate time I blurted out my frustrations and said. “I cannot do this any longer because of my Christian beliefs”. The result was confusion and even amusement as what I said as the timing of my words and what I said was simply inappropriate.

Our tongues or the muse use of it can get us into lots of problems and can even cause us to fall to all kinds of sins. James says in James 3: 5 – 6, (New International Version)

“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”.

 David I believe is speaking about problems he had with his tongue in Psalm 39. This Psalm has the heading, “For the director of music. For Jeduthum, A Psalm of David” and it seems that Jedutham had two more Psalms given to him, one more by David, Psalm 62 and one by Asaph (another known author of Psalms) Psalm 77. From the brief references of this man Jedutham we can learn three things about him. One was he had a unique position in the role of music in the Tabernacle in David day, (1 Chronicles 16: 37) and Temple in Solomon’s day, (2 Chronicles 5: 12 – 14), he was one of the chosen Levites to lead the singing and playing of music. Secondly he used his musical gifts to prophesy or proclaim the word of the Lord, 1 Chronicles 25: 1. Finally Jedutham years into the future was called, “The kings seer” or prophet a kind of special adviser of King David, (2 Chronicles 35: 15). So David gives this man who had a unique position in the worship of Israel this Psalm for wider use in the worship of God.

Many of the commentaries I read on Psalm 39 did not see this Psalm as I see it and it was the inspired work of H.C Leupold that pointed me towards the line of understanding that I have taken.

I hope from this study we will learn the danger of not speaking when we should, speaking when we shouldn’t, speaking in the way God wants us to and finally finding God’s forgiveness for failing in the way we use or don’t use our tongues.

With this in mind I have divided this Psalm into 3 parts:

1.     SINS OF THE TONGUE  (1 – 6)


3.     A FIANL PRAYER FOR HELP  (12 – 13)


1.     SINS OF THE TONGUE (1 – 6)

 I found the fact that this Psalm has many similarities to the previous two Psalms, 38 and 37 very helpful. In the first section David speaks of seeking to keep silent before his enemies. In the previous Psalm, 38: 13, 14 we read,

“I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth: I have become like a man who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply”.

 In Psalm 37 David speaks of coming to God and being quiet and still before him when we are attacked by non-believers, verse 7,

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes”.

 At the start of this Psalm David indicates clearly he is seeking to put this kind of thing into action, verse 1,

“I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence”.

 David does not want his enemies to have a chance to further dishonor God as he has already dishonored God by his sins. If this Psalm like Psalm 38 before it is in the context of his sins of Adultery and Murder then David’s enemies had loads of ammunition to fire at David. Like Psalm 38 David believes God is disciplining him as we see in Psalm 39 verses 10 and 11,

“Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth – each man is but breath”.

 However this first section reveals three sins of the tongue from David,

1.     Not speaking when he should have spoken (verse 2)

2.     Speaking when he shouldn’t have (verse 3)

3.     Speaking sinfully when he spoke (verses 4 – 6)


1.     Not speaking when he should have spoken (verse 2)

 David had something he wanted to say to his enemies but willfully chose to not speak it at this point. We will see what he wanted to say in the third point of this section. David chose not to speak because he feared the consequences of what had had to say. He indicates that he now believed this was wrong and even sinful by the words, “not even saying anything good”.

 There is a time for us to keep our mouths shut and to say nothing and this is better than to speak and sin. When our emotion rise and we even become angry Paul says in Ephesians 4: 26,

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”.

David indicates clearly here that at the beginning he did have something good he could have said but he chose not to say it. The end of verse 2 and all of verse 3 teach us the consequences of doing this,

“My anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned”.

The consequences of not speaking when we should speak is we bottle up lots emotions and leave ourselves open to causing more harm by not speaking then speaking. This is what happened to me in the work meeting I referred to in the introduction. I should have privately spoken to my boss before the meeting about the problem of her tactics and my Christian beliefs but I chose to be quiet and not speak over a number of weeks. Then as my emotions got the better of me I spoke foolishly.

2.     Speaking when he shouldn’t have (verse 3)

 At the end of verse 3 we read the words,

“Then I spoke with my tongue”

 Leading up to this speaking David describes what was going on inside him. He describes the emotional build up inside of him in three ways,

“My anguish increased”

“My heart grew hot within me”

“As I meditated, the fire burned”

 All these expressions describe a man becoming emotional unstable as a result of the forced closure of his mouth. Psychologist tells us it is not advisable to “Bottle up our emotions”. I found this interesting quote on the net from a Psychologist named Dr. Jim Manganiello,

“Medical psychology research has shown that people who cannot or will not allow themselves to experience and express their emotional pain tend to be at increased risk for serious illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.

One reason we have trouble feeling our pain and expressing it to others is that we feel a loss of self-esteem in doing so. This is because many of us have bought into false notions about what it means to be a healthy or strong person. The myth of the hero is a predominant one in our society. Its basic premise is that negative feelings and pain is a sign of weakness. And that keeping a “stiff upper lip” and “toughing it out” are signs of maturity, character and strength”.

 Manganiello hits on a very real point that not expressing our true feelings and emotions is not necessarily a sign of strength and character. However as we will learn from the next section as Christians we need to express our emotions in a godly way. This is helped by not keeping our feelings bottled up but expressing them at the right time in a way that does not lead us to sin as Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4: 26. My foolish outburst at my work staff meeting taught me a lesson that I need to find a more Godly way of expressing my Christian convictions.

3.     Speaking sinfully when he spoke (4 – 6)

This leads us to my controversial interpretation in this Psalm, as most of the commentators I came across believe this section of the Psalm is simply a prayer David privately prays to God in which he speaks about the brevity of life. For instance Brent Kercheville writes,

“David contemplates the insignificants of our lives in the greater scheme of this world”

 But why does David move to a prayer about this in the context of what he has just said about not speaking to his enemies and then speaking at the end of verse 3?

What clears this up is coming to terms with what David wanted to say and didn’t say and then said once his emotions bottled up inside him. Michael Wilcock believes that what is agitating David is the same thing that Psalms 37 talked about which I think is best described best by Psalm 37: 1,

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong”

 And in Psalm 37: 12, 13,

“The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming”

David knew that the wicked will get their just deserts in the end but he seems to have a problem in his mind about the fact that the wicked for a time get away with what they do wrong but the righteous suffer because of their sins.

Leopold argues that the words we read in verses 4 – 6 take on a different slant when we consider the tone of voice they where spoken by David. He argues that if these words are spoken in the tone of impatience he is actually saying,

“How soon am I going to die? The sooner the better”

 David’s frustration is that he is now suffering God’s discipline for his sins as he says in verse 11,

“You rebuke and discipline men for their sin”

 However often the wicked seem to prosper even when they sin and even though God will judge them in the context of this life both face a relative short time in this life. This is the same idea expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes 2: 15 – 16,

Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die”!

Lets go through these verses with this tone of frustration in mind.

Verses 4,

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life”

In his built up frustration he is declaring to God that he wants to die.

Did David speak these words to God in a prayer privately or were they uttered in the presence of some of his enemies?

We simply cannot tell but David certainly broke his vow of silence with these words because verse 3 ends with the words,

“Then I spoke with my tongue”

Verse 5,

“You have made my days a mere hand breath; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath”.

Even if we live to be 80 or 90 this life compared to the eternal days of God is nothing but the wicked live the same life span as those who trust in God and they are disciplined in this life for there sins.

The next verse states even more clearly David’s frustration with the reality of this life.

Verse 6,

“Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it”.

The old expression, “you cannot take it with you” applies here. I remember with laughter a news story I saw on T.V years ago of a man who was buried in his beloved Cadillac car, literally seeking to defy the saying, “you cannot take it with you”. Of course such a man will simply rot away in his car as it goes to rust and then dust.

So were these words of David the words of a man of faith?

The simple answer is, no.

Where is his hope for eternal life with God?

David did have the hope of eternal life as we can see from Psalm 23: 6,

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”

 But David is not speaking in these verses from the perspective of faith but from the emotions of frustration built up by his bottle ling up of his thoughts and feelings about his enemies and tormentors and how they often prosper while believers suffer the Lords discipline for their sins.

We must learn from this that we too will sometimes let our frustrations and emotions get the better of us just as I did at the staff meeting I referred to in the opening section of this talk.

If we fall to this problem as David expresses in verse 8 we will open ourselves up to becoming,

“The scorn of fools”.


 David’s lack of faith and his sinful response to his situation quickly comes to an end in the next section of this Psalm. In this section we see David speaking of three things,






This section is certainly a prayer David prayed to God just as the last section is. David starts this prayer with a statement of faith,

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you”

What David should have declared to his enemies was that even though he had sinned he still had a sure hope in his God. David was not a perfect person by a long shot. He failed God on many occasions as we have seen from many of the Psalms leading up to this one. However what makes David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13: 22 and Acts 13: 22) is that even when David sinned he always came back to him in repentance and faith.

David lived his whole life not as a sinless man but a man who put his hope and faith in God even when he did fall to all kinds of sins.

So David’s words in verse 7 represent David coming to a right perspective of life and how he should react in a faithful way to the difficulties he faced in his life.


In verses 8 and 9 we see the perfect illustration of David’s hope and faith in action as we hear him asking God for forgiveness.

“”Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools”.

David shows us again his faith in a loving merciful God when he calls to God for forgiveness for his many sins or transgressions including the sins of the tongue. Sins of not speaking when he should have, speaking when he shouldn’t and speaking in a way he should not have spoken even in prayer to God.

David makes it clear from verse 9 that his initial reasons for keeping quiet were honorable,

“I was silent: I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this”

But David did not keep his silence and broke out in either private or public prayer with words of frustration and unbelief.

When James spoke of the problem of the tongue he had these words to say, James 3: 2,

“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man able keep his whole body in check”.

Of course it is impossible for any of us to perfectly control the tongue and we all fall to sins of the tongue. But as John declares in 1 John 1: 8 – 9,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

What can we do about the fall out from the sins of the tongue?

David aptly points out when we sin like this we may face, “the scorn of fools”.

My suggestion is to not hide the fact of our sins from the ungodly but claim the forgiveness of God showing our faith is not bound up in our own righteousness (that does not exist) but in the loving forgiveness of God.

I remember a true story I heard at a Billy Graham counselors training course I attended many years ago in preparation for his last mission in Sydney Australia in 1979. We heard of how a teenage girl witnessed to a fellow teenager and she eventually responded at a Billy Graham Crusade. The Christian girl asked her friend how she helped her friend come to Christ. The newly converted girl said it was not that she was perfect but rather when she saw that she did fall to sin she still had faith in God because she discovered that her faith did not depend on her but on the Lord who loved and forgave her.


Even though God forgave David for his many sins he still faced both the fall out from them and what he calls, God’s Scourge verse 10 or discipline verse 11.

Some might be tempted to sin when we realize that God will forgive all our sins. However sin still has its consequences in our lives. God will forgive a convicted criminal facing the death penalty for his crimes but he still will die for his crimes or sins. David’s sins of adultery and murder led to the death of the child from his initial union with Bathsheba and later the problems within his own family, which included the rebellion and eventual death of his beloved son Absalom. As we have seen also from Psalms 37 and 38 David faced the taunts of his enemies and some kind of physical or psychological sickness.

All this David saw as God’s hand of loving discipline.

From all this David asks God in verses 10 and 11 for some kind of relief,

“Remove your scourge from me: I am overcome by the blow of your hand. You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like moth – each man is but breath”.

We all would do well to consider what willful sin can do in our lives and seek God’s help daily to avoid falling to sin particularly sins of the tongue. James gives us good advice about speaking in our daily lives in James 1: 19- 21,

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you”.

So often we find that we experience problems and difficulties in our lives because of poor and even sinful use of our tongues. The fall out from saying a wrong and hurtful thing to another person can last a life -time. Many conflicts in all kinds of relationships started from a slip of the tongue. When we say something to somebody we know we should not have said we cannot take it back it was said and is now planted in our hearer’s minds and only love and forgiveness can overcome that.

4.     A FIANL PRAYER FOR HELP  (12 – 13)

In the final two verses of this Psalm David continues in prayer to God asking for further help from God. He is still suffering from the loving discipline hand of God and he asks God for three things:

1.     That God hear his prayer  (vs. 12a)

2.     That God consider him a alien and stranger in this life (vs. 12b

3.     That God stop his hand of discipline (vs. 13)


1.     That God hear his prayer (vs. 12a)

Even David knew that God always heard the prayers of the true believer as David writes in Psalm 17: 6,

“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me”

Even though David knows this he does not take God’s answer to prayers for granted for the second half of this verse reads,

“Give ear to me and hear my prayer”

So David prays in a similar way in verse 12a,

“Hear my prayers, O Lord, listen to my cry for help, be not deaf to my weeping”

We to should have confidence in the power and value of prayer as many New Testament passages including words the Lord himself and they all exhort us to pray with confidence. I offer just one of many passages I could quote here, 1 John 5 : 14 – 15,

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him”.

David was suffering the fall out from his many sins but even in this he asks God to hear his prayers for help,

“be not deaf to my weeping

2.     That God consider him a alien and stranger in this life (vs. 12b)

This request on the surface seems to be a strange request as David asks God to consider him as an alien and stranger.

“For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger”

This is not a strange request when we consider two biblical facts,

  1. The Old Testament Law told the Israelites to care for aliens and strangers as we see in Deut. 10: 19,

“And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt”

2.  Many of the past greats of the Old Testament where aliens and strangers as David points out at the end of verse 12,

“As all my fathers were”

Abraham wandered around what became the Promised Land and only owned his family burial plot. Abraham’s sons did the same and eventually as the Deut. 10: 19 said the whole nation of Israel were alien slaves in Egypt. Yet God looked after them and heard their cry for help with the Exodus.

Maybe David had something of the New Testament application of this in mind. Peter in 1 Peter 2: 11 -1 2 says,

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”.

As the old song says, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through”.

We belong in heaven but while we live in this world we must not live as if this world is all there is but live as though we are heading to a far greater place than this. As the writer to the Hebrews put it when speaking about the fathers of old in Hebrews 11: 9 – 10,

“By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”.

3.     That God stop his hand of discipline (vs. 13)

The final verse seems to come as a complete anti climax as David does not push on to finish with a hope for a better life to come but rather has another plea for his present suffering to end before he dies.

“Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more”.

I conclude this part of the Psalm study with the wise and instructive words of the great C.H. Spurgeon,

“”May the short interval which divides us from it (heaven) be gilded with the sunlight of our heavenly Fathers love. It is sad to be an invalid from the cradle to the grave, far worse to be under the Lord’s chastisement by the month together, but what are these compared with the endurance of the endless punishment threatened to those who die in their sins”.

Read the poem based on Psalm 39


Forgive me Lord for not speaking for you

When I chose to keep silent today.

For had a chance to declare your love

But I feared what others might say.

For the tongue can be used to praise you Lord

Or curse and defy your name

For out of my mouth can come praise Oh Lord

And out of it words of shame.


Forgive my foolish words Oh Lord

When I spoke in haste and pain.

Spoken in the heat of my difficult day

I dishonored your righteous name.

For my tongue is a small but raging fire

That corrupts my body and soul

So I look to you forgiveness Oh Lord

I long to be made whole.


Forgive me Lord for how I spoke today

When my emotions got the better of me

I said things that I know I shouldn’t have

And I long for your forgiveness so free.

For the tongue should be used to praise you Lord
To tell others about your great love

And my words only served to confuse and harm

Not point others to you above.


But now Oh Lord my hope is in you

My Savior God’s only dear son

Who died on the cross to forgive my sin

Where he suffered the abuse of the tongue.

His pain and his suffering paid sins price

And now I can speak of his love

Use my tongue to declare his word

And point others to the Lord above.


By : Jim Wenman



In Psalm 39 we saw David spoke about three types of sins of the tongue, not speaking when we should, speaking when we shouldn’t and speaking in a way God would not want us to speak.

In this section we will look at the following three New Testament applications:

1.     Speaking when we should  (John 18: 15 – 18, 25 – 27, 21: 15 – 19)

2.     Speaking when we shouldn’t  (Matthew 16: 13 – 27)

3.     Speaking the way God wants us to  (James 1: 19 – 21, 3: 9 – 11 and  1 Peter 3: 15)

I would like to explore three New Testament passages that relate to each of these and emphasize the forgiveness of God for the sins of the tongue.

1.     Speaking when we should:  (John 18: 15 – 18, 25 – 27, 21: 15 – 19)

My favorite story in the New Testament about someone not speaking when he should have is the story of Peter’s famous denial of his allegiance to the Lord Jesus on the night Jesus was betrayed and falsely tried. This story always challenges me, as I know I to have failed to identify with Christ from time to time when I was in the presence of people who indicated hostile attitudes to Christianity.

The story does not just challenge me but also offers me hope and the assurance of Jesus forgiveness when I have been like Peter and failed to speak when I should have.

I will look at the three passages from John’s Gospel by the way of the following three points:

1.     Peter was told he would deny his Lord and still did it

2.     Peter succumbed to the heat of unbelief

3.     Peter denied the Lord three times Jesus forgave him three times


1.     Peter was told he would deny his Lord and still did it (John 18: 15 – 18)

In John 18: 15 we read of Peter and another unmanned disciple (probably John himself) following Jesus to the High priest Annas place. Only a few hours before this at last supper in John 13 : 37 Peter declares,

“Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you”

Jesus straight away replies to Peter in verse 38,

“Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times”.

Soon after arriving at the home of the Chief priest Peter is asked by a young girl, verse 17,

“You are not one of his disciples, are you?”  Peter replies,

“I am not”

So Peter fails to speak or identify with his Lord and Savior only hours after Jesus predicted he would. This should not be something we should be quick to condemn because I’m sure we have all faced situations like Peter and failed to use our tongues when we should have.

Jesus takes this sin of not speaking or identifying with him seriously as we see from his words in Matthew 10: 33,

“”But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven”.

2.     Peter succumbed to the heat of unbelief (John 18: 25 – 27)

The story gets even worse in the next passage in Johns Gospel, John 18: 25 – 27. Here Peter is standing with a small group of others warming themselves over a small fire. In the heat of this moment when not far away the High priest is cruelly interrogating Jesus Peter is asked again, verse 25,

“You are not one of his disciples, are you?  Peter replies,

“I am not”

Then we read of Peters third predicted denial of his Lord and its tragic consequences in verses 26 and 27,

“One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow”.

In Marks Gospel we read the tragic reaction of Peter in Mark 14: 72,

“Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept”.

Peter seems to be a broken and shattered man as he realized he had failed to speak up for his Lord and instead he denied him just as Jesus had predicted.

3.     Peter denied the Lord three times Jesus forgave him three times (John 21: 15 – 19)

The story of Peter failing to speak when he should have does not end with him simply being a broken failure in the service of our Lord because we read of an amazing encounter Peter had with Jesus soon after his resurrection. We read of this encounter in John 21: 15 – 19.

Here Peter is again face to face with the Lord he loved but who he had denied before men only a few days before.

In this passage Jesus asks Peter three times,

“Simon son of John, do you truly love me”

Three times Peter answers,

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”

And three times Jesus declares,

“Feed my lambs (or sheep)”

Three time Peter denied Jesus and three times Jesus asks him does he love him and I believe three times Jesus forgives Peter and re-commissions him for his future ministry for him. Predicting that he would one day die in service to him.

Only a few days later Peter gets up in front of thousands and declares the Gospel of our Lord bravely and with great power after the Holy Spirit is given to him and to all who believe in Jesus from that day on.

We can learn from these passages that we need to pray always for God’s Holy Spirit to empower us to speak for him in the way he wants us to instead of denying our Lord in the heat of this life’s trials and temptations and if we do we can confidently go to Jesus for forgiveness and he will forgive us.

2.     Speaking when we shouldn’t  (Matthew 16: 13 – 27)

The next story features Peter again. I heard someone once say that Peter had the problem of “putting his foot in his mouth” which is an English expression which means saying something embarrassing or wrong or speaking without often first thinking through what we should say which some call, “foot in mouth disease”.

I have chosen a much longer version of this story to show Peter speaking as he should as well as he shouldn’t. I will again make 3 observations from this passage as well.

1.     Peter Speaking as he should have spoken

2.     Peter Speaking as he shouldn’t have spoken

3.     The consequences of speaking of what we shouldn’t say


1.     Peter Speaking as he should have spoken (Matthew 16: 13 – 20)

At the start of this passage in Matthew’s gospel Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi and in 16: 13, Jesus asks his disciples this question,

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They reply with things people have been saying about Jesus up to this point of Jesus ministry on earth,

“Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.

Jesus then gets right to the point in verse 15,

“But what about you? He asked, “Who do you say I am”.

Peter without hesitation replies, verse 16,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”

 This was an amazing and wonderful response by Peter who has cottoned on early to the truth about who Jesus really was. This response gets a equally amazing response from Jesus as we read in Matthew 16: 17 – 19,

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus is basically saying four things here:

  1. This understanding of who Jesus is was given to Peter by a revelation from God in heaven.
  2. On this revelation or statement of Peter will Jesus build his church.  (Note it is on the statement, which represents a key element of the Gospel that Jesus will build his church not on Peter himself).
  3. Peter building on the Gospel foundation will establish Christ church on earth.
  4. And this provides the keys to heaven and the basis of the authority of God on earth.

Roman Catholics see Jesus speaking of Peter as the first Bishop of Rome as being the basis of the church and so this authority is passed down by Peter descendants namely the on going Bishops of Rome called Popes.

This is a miss- interpretation of Jesus words here and even if Peter was martyred in Rome we have little proof he was ever the first Bishop of the Church in Rome. He was the first disciple of Christ to proclaim the Gospel message, which was on the day of Pentecost.

So the in the first part of this passage we have Peter speaking as he should have.

2.     Peter Speaking as he shouldn’t have spoken (Matthew 16: 21 – 22)

Interestingly Matthew now moves on to another time Peter speaks up and this time he is speaking way out of line in a way he should not have spoken. Matthew tells us in verse 21 that Jesus from this time on,

“Explains to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”.

Peter feels he must speak up against these disturbing words of Jesus and in verse 22 we read,

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Jesus) “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you”.

Peter is now totally out of line and seems to have forgotten the inspired words of the previous section. In fact it probably reveals that he at this point did not really understand the mission of the Christ the Son of the Living God on earth.

What he thought Jesus mission was at this time we are not certain but the idea of Jesus being the Suffering Messiah as presented in many parts of the Old Testament and particularly in Isaiah 52 13 – 15 and 53 was foreign to Peter and probably all of the disciples.

We must learn from this that we must be careful in what we speak and preach that it is truly the word of God and nothing else or we will be speaking what we shouldn’t.

3.     The consequences of speaking what we shouldn’t say (Matthew 16: 23 – 27)

The reaction of Jesus is very definite and I think unnerving and we read this in verse 23,

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Jesus is saying Peter when you speak like this you are like the mouth- piece of the devil. If you look at the passages of the Temptations of Jesus in the wilderness you will see that the Devil sought to talk Jesus out of going the way of suffering for sin and turn instead and worship him. Jesus used scripture to counter the temptations and now Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the way of suffering for our sins. This is why Jesus is so strong in saying that what Peter has said is not “The things of God”.

When we say or worse teach what is not true to the word of God we to are vehicles of Satan and are not speaking the mind of God but are actually becoming a stumbling block to faith in Christ.

Even Peter had to learn this great lesson of speaking the way God wants him to and it is not unto he sees Jesus crucified, raised from the dead and then given the gift of the Holy Spirit that he fully understands the true plan of God for this world which he proclaims as the Gospel message on the day of Pentecost.

Jesus closes this section with words that express how hard it will be to be men and women who speak what God wants and I close with the final words of Jesus in this section, verses 24 – 27,

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done”.

3.  Speaking the way God wants us to  (James 1: 19 – 21, 3: 9 – 11 and 1 Peter 3: 15)

We have seen already that the way God wants us to speak is the way of the word of God and particularly the Gospel. Any other message is not from God but Satan and the way or things of man.

In my final two passages I want us to look at two key issues from words of James about the right and wrong use of the tongue and one last issue from 1 Peter 3: 15.

1.     Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to becoming angry

(James 1: 19 -12)

2.     We should use our tongues to praise God (James 3: 9 – 11)

3.     We should always be ready to give an answer for the hope we have (1 Peter 3: 15)


1.     Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to becoming angry   (James 1: 19 -12)

Letter of James contains some of the most practical advice for Christian living the whole bible. In our verses today James gives us very practical advice on how we should use our tongues.

He says three things:

1.     Be quick to listen

2.     Slow to speak

3.     Slow to becoming angry


1.     Be quick to listen

For many years as an adult educator one of the subject area’s I taught is what is called “interpersonal communications” and one major topic in this is listening skills. I personally suffer from poor listening skills. Some of us are extraverts and are quick to speak while others are introverts and are better listeners. I fall in the category of an extravert and I need to work very hard on listening rather than speaking.

I always told my students, God gave us two ears and only one mouth so he too wants us to listen more than speak. Some people do not say a lot in conversations but this does not necessarily mean they are listening in fact they could simply be just switched off. People who are good talkers often do not listen to the other person because they are thinking of the next thing they want to say.

Real communications is a two way process we need to be both actively listening as well as actively speaking.

James advice is really practical he says “be quick to listen” or really work at listening to the other person before you use your tongue. Active listening means we show the other person we are listening to them by showing with our body movements and our questions of clarification that we are listening. This will mean we will speak more effectively to the other person.

I once had to deal with a verbally aggressive angry client who intimidated every one of my fellow workers. In my first meeting with him I chose to write down in point form every complaint he had for me. My only words to him were to clarify what he was actually complaining about.

I remember the list had twenty-four points. Once he had finished his aggressive rant I then told him that immediately I could fix three of his problems and promised to work on another three after he had gone and the next time I saw him I would work on some of the other points on my list. When he was about to leave me that day he shook my hand and said, “You are the first person who has ever truly listened to him”.

2.     Slow to speak

This point follows closely the first point of being quick to listen because to be quick to listen we must first be slow to speak. It also means that James is encouraging us to think through what we are about to say before we say it.

This is great advice because many people including myself can be found guilty of what some call, “shooting off our mouth”, speaking words without really thinking through the total implications of them.

James wants us to be slow to speak so we can both concentrate on listening to the other person and so we can think through carefully what we can more effectively say to the other person we are seeking to communicate with. This too can help avoid sins of the tongue.

3.     Slow to becoming angry

James final point of practical advise concerning the use of the tongue involves the role of our emotions. We saw in Psalm 39 that when David did not speak he had real problems with controlling his emotions. We see this in verses 2 and 3,

“So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good. But my anguish increased; my heart grew hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue”.

I spoke earlier of Paul’s similar advice in Ephesians 4: 26,

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”.

When we let our emotions get the better of us in a conversation with another person we usually fall to sins of the tongue. We need to take hold of ourselves when we feel anger welling up inside of us and take James advice of becoming slow to anger.

James goes on to say why this is so important in verse 20,

“For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”.


2.     We should use our tongues to praise God (James 3: 9 – 11)

James gives us a clear challenge that says we have only two choices about how we use our tongues in these verses,

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring”?

Note James does not give us any middle ground you are either using your tongue the right way or the wrong way. I must confess again that I have been guilty of using my tongue the wrong way. We do this not simply by literally cursing someone but rather by not speaking up for God or speaking in a way that does not honor God. When we do this we are as good as not praising God and cursing human beings.

I love the old hymn that has a first line that reads,

“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear”

When we declare the word of God with our tongues we will have accordingly two responses as Paul points out in 1 Cor. 1: 18,

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

So Jesus and the message of the cross are sweet in a believer’s ear but bitter in a non- believers ear. This is ultimately why non- believers take the Lords name in vain. Jesus becomes nothing more than a swear word in their mouths. James says something like this in our passage,

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing”

James I think is implying that only a saved and sanctified heart can produce the kind of words God wants to come out of our mouth when he writes,

“Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water”.

People who do not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior will show by their words what they truly believe however we as believers and particularly teachers of God’s word should show by our words that we truly believe in him by giving praise to our Father in heaven.

3.     We should always be ready to give an answer for the hope we have  (1 Peter 3: 15)

Our final New Testament passage comes from Peter’s first letter chapter 3 where Peter has been speaking about suffering because of our faith in Christ. Interestingly in the verses leading up to out verse Peter quoted from Psalm 34 and in that quote is about the use of our tongues.

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech” (verse 10)

Peter continues to speak about suffering for identifying with God and what he stands for and then gives in verse’s 15 and 16 advise on what God wants us to say to others who challenge our faith in Christ,

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”.

I want to highlight again three things from these verses,

1.     Be prepared

2.     Be alert

3.     Be respectful


1.     Be prepared

When I was a young child I joined the boys scouts and only stopped attending when I became a young Christian at 13 because I got more involved in the young peoples groups of my church. The boys scouts motto is, “Be Prepared” which the scouting movements founder Robert Baden-Powell came up with. The following quote by Robert Baden- Powell explains his meaning of the phrase:

The Scout Motto is: BE PREPARED, which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.

Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.

Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it.

This is a great way of describing what Peter wants us to do in his advice on, “Always be prepared”. Note it involves discipline by thinking through beforehand what you might say and do. Baden Powell in his motto explanation speaks of knowing the right thing to say or do.

Most of us get caught of not saying the right thing because we are not prepared. I have become prepared on how to answer certain non- believer questions because I have been caught out and this has led me to research an answer or better answer for the next time someone who might ask me a similar question.

2.     Be alert

Another important aspect of being prepared is being alert to the opportunities that may come to us in our daily lives. I think the best way to be alert is to start the day in prayer asking God to alert us to opportunities to speak for him. Maybe this is what Peter means by the opening words or verse 15,

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord”

Sometimes the opportunities to speak will be obvious as Peter says,

“Give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”.

Sometimes the opportunities will be less obvious and only by being prayerfully alert will we see this opportunity.

3.     Be respectful

Peter makes it clear that when we speak we must do it with,

“Gentleness and respect”

Again when we use our tongues even in witnessing and preaching we must do it in the way God wants it done. Jesus always spoke, even to his enemies in a loving way even when he was pointing out the false ways or views they had about him or the word of God.

Peter tells us his reasons for speaking like this in verse 16,

Keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”.

Peter is saying don’t let what you say to your persecutors be used by them as justification for their persecution as far as this is possible.

This is why I think we should work hard as Christians to research and understand what non-believers really believe and why.

If we have little or no understanding of what our hearers believe or think then we could be speaking words that are of little use to them when we are explaining the Christian Gospel to them. In my Bible College days in the early 1970’s I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from the famous missionary speaker Don Richardson who worked successfully for many years as a missionary among western tribal people in New Guinea.

Don Richardson wrote the famous book, “Peace Child” in which he speaks about “Redemptive Analogies” which he argues, God has placed cultural practices or understandings, which Christians can use to explain or illustrate the Christian Gospel. He made popular the concept of “contextualization of the Biblical incarnation of Jesus”.

Missionary historian Ruth A. Tucker writes:

“As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: “In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at.” Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.

Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardson’s were considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between opposing villages.

One man in particular ran toward his enemy’s camp and literally gave his son to his hated foe. Observing this, Richardson wrote: “if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!” From this rare picture came the analogy of God’s sacrifice of his own Son.

The Sawi began to understand the teaching of the incarnation of Christ in the Gospel after Richardson explained God to them in this way”.

We probably do not have to go as far as Don Richardson in our preparation and respect of other people’s beliefs but the principle is the same. A respect and understanding of the people we are seeking to witness to will assist in us speaking more effectively for him and if God’s Spirit is helping our hearers open up to the message we are speaking then we could be used to bring them to Christ.


We have now looked at New Testament passages on not speaking when we should, speaking when we shouldn’t, not speaking the way God wants us to and speaking the way God wants us to. In all this there are many traps and errors we can fall into which I have called “The Sins of the Tongue” but we must feel encouraged by the fact that men in the bible like King David and the Apostle Peter, to name just two, had great problems with sins of the tongue.

We can be encouraged that God forgives sins of the tongue if we are willing to confess them and find their forgiveness in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I close with David’s words of prayer as my prayer and I hope yours as well.


“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools.

In Jesus Name I pray this, Amen.