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The first lesson is the hardest to learn

The early church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, told the story of a man, named Pambo, who asked him one day to teach him a Psalm or some part of Scripture.

Socrates told Pambo to read the 39th Psalm and so he started to read: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.”

As soon as he had read the first verse, Pambo shut the book and took his leave saying that he would go learn that point first. His instructor waited and waited for him, but he did not come back. One day, Socrates met Pambo accidentally and asked where he had been. Pambo said he was still learning that first lesson about the tongue.

Forty-nine years later, when someone else asked him why he did not learn anything else from the Scriptures, he replied, “I’m still learning that first lesson.”

We could all learn something from Pambo.

The Bible teaches in James 1:26: “If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, that man’s religion is vain.” In other words, whether you are a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker — if you can’t control your tongue, your religion is doing you no good!

There’s no doubt that slander hurts. In fact, there’s only a single letter’s difference between “words” and “swords.”

Sir Francis Bacon expressed a profound truth when he said, “The worthiest persons are frequently attacked by slanders, as we generally find it to be the best fruit which the birds will peck at.”

Jesus even taught the importance of watching what we say.

He said in Matthew 12:34, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you truly want to know if someone is a good person — listen to what comes out of their mouth.

If bad things are coming out, then Jesus said they’ve got a spiritual heart problem!

Years ago, there was a peasant with a troubled conscience who went to a monk for advice.

He said that he had circulated a vile story about a friend, only to find out the story was true.

“If you want to make peace with your conscience,” said the monk, “You must fill a bag with chicken feathers, go to every door in the village, and drop at each of them one feather.”

The peasant did as he was told. Then he returned to the monk and announced he had done penance for his folly.

“Not yet,” replied the monk, “Take your bag, make the rounds again and gather up every feather that you have dropped.”

“But the wind must have blown them all away,” said the peasant.

“That is correct. Words are easily dropped, but no matter how hard you try, you can never get them back again.”

There is an old proverb that states, “Three things once released will not return again: an opportunity neglected, an arrow released from its bow, and a word spoken in haste.”

Words spoken in haste are all those words we speak without weighing how each could be understood by the hearer, all those words we utter in jest, and everything we say without thinking.

Perhaps the preacher was right when he quipped, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. That ought to tell us something: let’s do twice as much listening as talking.”

Rev. Doug Johnson, Senior Pastor of Raven Assembly of God in Raven, Virginia.