James 3:5–10, Matthew 12:34

But no man can tame the tongue …it is full of deadly poison.

James 3:8

You may recall at least one of these events from the fall of 2009 that occurred under the white-hot lights of politics and entertainment. A Caucasian congressman shouted at our African American president, “You lie!” A female African American tennis star berated a female Asian American line judge at the US Open. An African American male musician told a young Caucasian female star that she did not deserve to win a music award. Anger knows no age, gender, or racial boundaries.

The latest example of unbridled emotion at the national level occurred last Sunday night. Richard Sherman, the outstanding third-year Seattle cornerback, saved the game for the Seahawks with a break-up of a pass intended for Michael Crabtree. Then Sherman exploded during his post-game interview with Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews. If you didn’t see it, Sherman essentially went on a 30-second rant.  The ugly scene shifted the focus from the tremendously exciting contest and Seattle’s second trip to the Super Bowl to the collective wonderment across the nation of what could possibly be going on in Sherman’s head.

Most of us knew little about Sherman before the incident. After doing some research, I found out the two-time All-Pro is a brash but articulate, Stanford-educated, highly intelligent young man. On Sunday night many viewers formed an initial opinion of his reputation.  No doubt close attention will be paid to Sherman in upcoming interviews as his teammates prepare to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Sherman posted this statement the following morning: To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

Now you and I messed up this week. But our events played out in the obscurity and privacy of our homes, schools, workplaces, and churches. The tongue weighs a few ounces, but the damage it does cannot be measured. Here is the lesson to be learned. Whether you are in the public eye or in the eyes of others at school, at work, or at church, it only takes an instant, one slip of the tongue, to cancel years of trust and goodwill. Your reputation can be ruined.

Isn’t it interesting that you can wiggle your tongue like a snake sliding on its belly? Snake as in the serpent in the garden of Eden. We cannot control the slippery tongue no matter how hard we try, but the good news is that there is forgiveness from God awaiting us immediately after we confess our sin to him.

When your heart is right with God, you will be able to catch yourself much more often before you say something you never thought you would say. You would instantly give anything to have those words back. You desperately want to erase the slip that makes people say, “He said that? And he’s supposed to be a Christian!” Train your mind daily, and guard your heart with the Word of God so that the overflow of your heart is kindness, compassion, love, and peace.

Prayer: Father God, I know that only one person has ever failed to shout out in unrighteous anger, and that is Jesus. Help me live so that I minimize those times that I sully my reputation as a Christian and bring dishonor to the name of Christ. Help me guard my mind with your holy Word and prayer so that I can be in right living with you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Blog opp: Think about a time that you crossed the line and wish  you had held your tongue. How can you keep from making the same mistake again? Did you ask God and the person you hurt for forgiveness?

Sherman’s statement implies that it’s acceptable to act one way on the football field and another way off the field. What is your opinion? How consistent is that approach with the example of Christ?