You hear the question every time someone passes the century mark. What is the secret to your old age? Some have said that it was a glass of wine or a cigar a day. Others attribute it to clean living. Still others attribute their longevity to unclean living. Nobody seems to have the real secret to old age. Nobody except the Bible.
Before looking at the secret, though, it must be understood that there are no guarantees. Whatever the secret of long life, there are other factors involved. You may follow the secret, but get killed by a drunk driver, or cancer. Any number of factors may shorten your life, no matter how closely you follow the secret. Some believe that God sets the day of your death before your birth, and nothing can change that.
So what is the secret to long life? Keeping your mouth shut, when appropriate.
Does any of you want to live a life that is long and good? Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies! (Ps 34:12-13, NLT)
Some have jokingly said that if you talk back to your mother, you won’t live to see twenty. That is a more specific variation on the negative side of this secret. Many a person has said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and suffered for it. In some of the old western genre movies, a man could get killed for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. (Or even the right thing at the wrong time or to the wrong person.) The psalmist here is being very practical. Watch out how and to whom you speak.
He continues by saying that lying shortens lives. Again that may be a factor of whom you lie to. There may be another consideration, though. It has often been said that the liar has to have the best memory in the world. If you tell a lie, and don’t want to get caught in it, you have to remember every lie you tell, and to whom. Then you have to maintain the lie, often by compounding it. One lie leads to another, just to cover it. How will this shorten your life? Worry. The chronic liar must always be worried about being found out. The stress of lying can sometimes be enough to shorten one’s life.
Solomon had a similar admonition to that of his father. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth life, but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Prov 13:3) This is sometimes paraphrased: “Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.”
James continues the thought. He describes the destructiveness, to others and perhaps oneself, of careless or improper speech.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. (Jas 3:5-6)
The secret to long life sounds simple. It is not. “But the tongue can no man tame.” (Jas 3:8) It is easily said, but difficult to do. Perhaps the easiest acrobatic feat is to “put your foot in your mouth.” Every time we begin to speak we come in danger of not watching our mouths. Even when one tries to “engage the brain before putting the tongue in gear,” things don’t always come out the way we intend.
The secret to long life is to watch the mouth. Maybe that is because if you are careful about that, being careful about the rest is easy.