Guarding Your Mouth (Philippians 2:14-18)

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Guarding Your Mouth

Walking worthy, part 3–Philippians 2:14-18

Have you seen the sign around town? “Lost dog–three legs, blind in left eye, right ear missing, tail broken, recently neutered, answers to the name ‘Lucky’.” Regardless of his name, one thing we all love about dogs is their willingness to endure anything to be with you. Whereas cats act as if they’re the queen, dogs act as if you’re the king. Dogs can actually wear you out with their positive, encouraging, loving affection.

I think that’s part of the reason why people today would rather be with their dogs than people–people can wear you out, especially as they talk. But not just any kind of talk–negative talk. The Bible describes negative talk in these terms. Have you read these words in the Scripture?

Murmuring—“Why doesn’t he just mind his own business?”

Backbiting—“That guy is a real jerk.”

Complaining—“He constantly wants things done his way.”

Tale-bearing—“Did you know Chris used to wear skinny jeans?”

Judging—“He said those things ‘cause he’s insecure!”

Quarreling—“I’ve talked to him, and he doesn’t care about anyone.”

Disputing—“A critical spirit is just being discerning.”

Condemning—“Buford is too self-centered to help this group.”

Dissension—“Did you know Bubba was at Joe’s Bar last night?”

All of you say horrible things with your words–me too. Every one of you would love to take back words you’ve said. A true indicator of maturity is your tongue. James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.”

Open your Bible to the book of Philippians chapter 2–as we’ve arrived at verse 14, God through the Apostle Paul commands the Christians in Philippi and each of you today to live a worthy walk. You must guard your mouth. Look at verse 14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” When do you hear grumbling and disputing? All the time! Where do you hear it? Where? Everywhere.

What do people complain about? Traffic jams, slow drivers in front of you, freeway cutters, talkative people, long lines, any lines, having one person in front of you, crying babies, misplaced keys, phone calls at wrong times, non-housebroken puppies, stuck zippers, cold food, interrupting your conversation, noisy neighbors, tight clothes, late airplanes, unsuccessful diets, peeling onions, squeaking doors, flat tires, balancing the budget, doing the dishes, mothers-in-law, weeds, high prices, bills, debt, old age. What are the favorite complaints in your home?

What is wrong with complaining? Paul tells you before he writes verse 14 and Paul tells you after he writes verse 14. Complaining is evil! And in doing so, God reminds each of you, you desperately need to guard your mouths, watch your lips, be slow to speak over what you say. The psalmist paints that picture exactly, Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Set a guard over my mouth.” Pray it with me, “Set a guard over my mouth.” You say, “That’s just one verse, Chris.” No, Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” And Psalm 39:1 says, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue, I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.” But why should you guard your mouth? Why should you be concerned about the words you say? There are many reasons, and by way of introduction, the Word of God speaks truth.

First  Your words are a THERMOMETER of your heart

Your words accurately indicate your spiritual condition and display your spiritual maturity. Your conversations tell you and me what you really are. Just as a thermometer gives a good reading of your temperature, God says in His Word, your speech gives an excellent reading of the condition of your heart spiritually.

Read what Jesus says in Matthew 12:34b, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” You can see your heart spiritually by what your mouth says. There’s a small circle of so-called believers who think profanity is cool and some sort of freedom under God’s grace. But Jesus says those words are merely a reflection of your swear word spiritual condition. The words you use are merely describing your internal sinfulness. All that filth coming out of your mouths is because that filth is you. Those words are displaying your sick, filthy heart.

Don’t lean on church attendance, saying grace at meals, loyalty to solid Bible teachers, or being on lay staff to measure maturity–Jesus says measure by your words. Recall your last argument between husband and wife, what you say to your children when they make you mad, the phone conversation with an annoying sales guy–then you’ll know your heart and your maturity level.

Students, think back to when your friends were in a circle of conversation–did you share rumors, make gossip, rip someone to shreds or begin a full-fledged complaint campaign? Your words reveal who you are and where you’re at spiritually. Your words are the thermometer of your heart. That’s why you must ask each day, “Lord, set a guard over my mouth.”

Second  Your words are DANGEROUS to you and to others

Listen to James 3:6–he is not exaggerating, “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” One of the greatest lies I ever told while growing up was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is a lie right out of the pit of Hell, for bones can be broken and heal even stronger than before. But some names and comments can fester and destroy a person.

Just think for a moment what words can do–they can start wars or hold nations together. They can end friendships or destroy neighborhoods. They can split families, bring joy, exasperate children, change lives. They can disqualify leaders, end bitterness, heal wounds, express love. They can anger parents, get spouses to fight, cure ailments. And they allow us to pray to the living God and begin marriages.

Our words are powerful and our speech is dangerous. Think about it–two of the Ten Commandments refer to the tongue, and the book of Proverbs is packed with over 100 warnings against unguarded talk. But Jesus Himself said it best in Luke 12:3, “Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” You must take the slips of the tongue and your normal conversations more seriously.

Proverbs affirms the same, “The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, but the perverted tongue will be cut out” (Proverbs 10:31). The Bible even tells you in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”–death and life! Is there anything worse than death and life? Yes there is–your eternity. Heaven and Hell are measured by your words. Matthew 12:36 and 37, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Your words reveal whether your heart is regenerate or not.

What you talk about is serious–God wants us to be convinced complaining, negativity, grumbling, and criticism are serious. In fact, a critical spirit is always sin. Ephesians 4 was written to encourage you to practice your position in Christ, which includes your speech. In verse 29 to 32, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Just look at the obvious–he says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” An unwholesome word is literally anything that is foul, putrid, rotten, or merely just worthless. God commands us to literally act upon ourselves in such a way as to not to let those words out. Only let out the words which will build up and benefit the hearer.

Then God says anything spoken out of bitterness grieves God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a person–He is equally God and is pained, grieved, and sinned against whenever we speak unwholesome, bitter, angry, or slanderous words. What a thought–sorrow can come to God and limit His ability to work in your life or in our corporate life when we speak wrongly. It is sin. Words are dangerous to you and to others, encouraging you to “set a guard over your mouth.”

Third  Your words are INFECTIOUS

Words spread sin. Words spread unbelief. Words infect others with doubt and mistrust. Look at the nation of Israel who grumbled during their exodus. The Israelites were delivered by ten supernatural plagues–but how did they respond? They complained. Exodus 14:10 and 11, “As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?’”

Next they sent twelve spies into the land and ten came back full of fear and full of doubt, and only two came back full of faith. But their heart of sin, expressed in words, infected the people of Israel, leading to a 40-year discipline and delay. Your words are contagious. How you talk affects others, damages others, causes others to think less of others, causes some to not listen, to doubt God’s Word, to doubt God’s leaders, to doubt God’s goodness and mercy and wisdom and power. Words lead to division, like in Philippi–and personally sap your strength.

In 1 Corinthians 10:10 Paul refers to those who died in the wilderness wanderings because they were infected with a complaining heart, when he says, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Your words will be caught by others. Just say something in front of a four-year-old once and you’ll hear it for months.

When you catch a cold, most of you thoughtfully don’t touch others and you carefully cover your mouth when you sneeze or talk. God says we need to have the same care with our words. Begin every day with a plea to “set a guard over my mouth, Lord.”

Fourth  Your words are SUBTLE in hiding sin and rebellion

Few sins are as subtle as a critical spirit. In our culture, a critical spirit is not only acceptable, but essential to talk radio. Every sitcom, news program and blog is saturated with criticism. Beware–even though critical speech is acceptable in our society, it is not pleasing to God. Proverbs 26:20 to 25 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body. Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross, are burning lips and a wicked heart. He who hates disguises it with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart. When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart.”

Did you catch that? A critical spirit is hidden–it’s disguised. It is covered with silver, which tells us it looks good, but it’s rotten at the core. It’s disguised, even appears gracious–but it’s actually an abomination. The subtlety of a critical spirit covers a heart of pure rebellion and sin. And we all fall into it. “Well, Fred–he sure is a nice guy, but did you hear…?” Or, “That lesson was great, but did you see his shoes?” And, “Well our group is great, except for Edna!” In disguise, “Pray for Mary, she was hurt by her demanding husband Tom.”

The #1 hindrance to the health of any congregation is the toleration of known sin. Among the sins most tolerated are the sins of the mouth. The most tolerated, yet most destructive, are the wrong words of believers. Words destroy relationships. Words undermine trust. Words prevent love. Words create division–like Philippi. Be careful of words–they’re a subtle way to continue in sin, moving us to ask the Lord, “set a guard over my mouth.”

Paul now gets to words in verse 14 of Philippians 2. Paul continues His description of a worthy walk. Back in chapter 1 Paul said in verse 27, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Paul went on to command the Philippians to live in unity, then motivating them to live in unity through the humble example of Christ in verses 1 to 11. Then Paul describes the responsibility of believers to step out in obedience in verse 12 and depend on God’s sovereign help in verse 13. And now Paul says a worthy walk focuses on . . .


In this book on unity, Paul appeals to the Philippians to live without two damning traits. Verse 14 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” The word “all” in the Greek language means what? All–everything, all of life, every relationship, every circumstance, every day, every moment, 24/7. When life is great and when death is preferable–ALL.

The command here is the verb “do”—“do all things.” Present tense all the time, I actively command you to do all, every moment, as you work out your salvation, as you live under the sovereign hand of God, live without grumbling or disputing. Negatively, Philippians tells us to not be known for grumbling. And positively, Philippians tells us we are to be known for rejoicing always.

Paul says live all of life without grumbling. This grumbling refers to the emotional murmurings and dissatisfactions of the heart. Grumbling is from the Greek gongusmos—it’s an onomatopoetic word, telling us it sounds like it means and means like it sounds. You can hear it in the midst of a crowd, can’t you? The muttering sounds people make when they’re disgruntled—“gongusmos gongusmos gongusmos gongusmos gongusmos.”

Grumbling is a negative response to something unpleasant, inconvenient, or disappointing, arising from the self-centered notion that it is undeserved. The verb used to describe the Pharisees in Luke 5:30, “who began grumbling at [Jesus’] disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’”

Paul also says, live all of life without disputing–that’s intellectual debating and arguing. With this word, Paul makes certain he also addresses the believer who is not emotional, but is in fact very intellectual. This is the person who has a list of reasons to justify his complaining. But this man is also sinning with his words. How do we know?

The Greek word for disputing is dialogismos, which is where we get our English word dialog, and has the basic meaning of inner reasoning. But the word soon developed into the notion of questioning, doubting, or disputing the truth of a matter. In Romans 14:1, the word is used of passing judgment on another believer’s opinions. In 1 Timothy 2:8, the word is used to describe dissension. Grumbling is essentially emotional, disputing is essentially intellectual–but both are describing believers who are sinning with their mouths.

Listen, how many want to say the Christian life is easy? It is not. Behind the sins of grumbling or disputing is the reality that even though you are citizens of Heaven, you also live in a fallen world in unredeemed bodies. The Lord often leads you through seasons of trial and testing and God warns you to expect persecution. It is inevitable–circumstances will not always be favorable or pleasant.

As Paul writes this letter to the Philippians, he is under house arrest in Rome, waiting to hear whether he will die for his faith. He rejoices that his circumstances have resulted in greater progress for the Gospel as he’s been able to proclaim the Gospel to the future leadership of Rome and with members of Caesar’s own household.

Even though he rejoices in the honor of suffering for Christ’s sake, Paul also knows he could die soon. It would be easy to give into grumbling or disputing, but Paul models and commands, “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice.” Every circumstance is to be accepted willingly and joyfully, without murmuring, complaint, or disappointment.

There is no exception. We must avoid emotional grumbling or intellectual disputing. It is always sinful for believers to complain about anything the Lord calls them to do or about any circumstance which He sovereignly allows. We need to ask God to “set a guard over my mouth.” Whether the task is difficult or easy, whether the situation involves a blessing or a trial, negative attitudes are forbidden. But why? I am so glad you asked.


Why is grumbling or disputing so wrong? Paul has already told us, and is about to tell us more in the verses before and after verse 14.

First  Complaining maligns the CHARACTER of God  Verse 13

To grumble or dispute, to murmur or complain is a failure to trust God and to submit to His sovereign will. Context holds the answers. Paul just said in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God is sovereign. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases.

So every time you complain, grumble, or criticize, you’re actually attacking the character of God. You’re challenging His sovereign rule. You are questioning His wisdom in allowing the events of life to go the way He has chosen. You’re blasting His love for you as His child in working all things out for your good. You’re slandering His name.

That is why God said in Lamentations 3:39, “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in light of his sins?” Verse 40 adds, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.” God is getting personal now. Christian, how can you complain about anything in light of the fact you deserve to be punished forever with eternal torment in Hell because of your sins–and yet in Christ, because of Jesus, as His child, you have received mercy and grace? How dare you complain!

Can you see why God hates a critical spirit so much? Any day you are not in Hell is a pretty good day. Your worst day here on Earth would be Heaven to anyone in Hell. When you complain, grumble, dispute and manifest a critical spirit, you’re in reality slandering the character of God. All complaining, no matter what form it takes, is directed at the God who orders your circumstances.

God is sovereign. Psalm 115:3 says, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” When you complain, you are saying, “God, you do not know what you are doing.” When you grumble, you are saying to God, “I know better than you.” When you dispute, you say, “Lord your plans for my life stink!” Complaining maligns the character of God–we need to ask the Lord to “set a guard over my mouth.”

Second  Complaining maligns our WITNESS in the world  Verse 15

Why is grumbling or disputing so wrong? Paul continues his answer in verse 15, “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Paul says the reason you live all of life without emotionally grumbling or intellectually disputing is so you can be a testimony.

When you live without a critical spirit, you literally prove to be unique and unmixed. We know it by experience–as you live a life without complaint, you’re going to stand out as those who uniquely belong to God in a distorted and fallen world. When you live without a critical heart, you will shine like the sun during the day and the moon at night. Paul says if you put away your critical heart, then you will be a witness at your work and at your school.

Paul warns if you want to extinguish your witness as a Christian and as a church in this world, just allow grumbling and disputing to continue. But when you continue to complain and not guard your mouth, you become a person who not only has nothing to offer others–but worse, you are so unattractive you literally portray God as someone they should ignore since He could not possibly be the sovereign God everyone must answer to. We need to ask the Lord to “set a guard over your mouth.” So you’ve had the requirement and the reasons, and now . . .


The first response is to REPENT of your words. A complaining, negative heart is sin–God is serious about it. You must recognize it as serious as physically playing with fire. You’re going to get burned and it may leave permanent scars if you do not change to correct it. Listen beloved, if your spiritual house is falling apart and God gives you the tools to fix it up, but you do not use them, you are a fool.

The first tool to restore your heart from a critical spirit is REPENTANCE. Don’t cover your sin–admit it and deal with it. It does not take weeks of remorse, but it does take a serious choice before God. You need to make a 180 degree turn. In Psalm 32:5, God tells us what real repentance will say and do. “I acknowledged my sin to Thee and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’” Don’t cover your sins like David did for an entire year. The results were he was sick, guilty, and broken. The result will be the same for you unless you repent of this sin. Don’t cover it with pious excuses. Don’t find others who are just as guilty or just as hard-hearted to reassure you. Get right with God now and repent.

How do you know if you have repented? God’s Word has the answer. Look at 2 Corinthians 7:10 to 11, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret. For behold, what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong. In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”

Repentance will show in a change of behavior and a zeal to make things right. You may also need to make things right with the people you’ve abused or spoken against. Private sins are dealt with privately, personal sins are dealt with personally and public sins are dealt with publicly. Do not allow your heart to grow hard–confess your sins to God and to others. Ask forgiveness in humility. Turn from your sins of the mouth. Ask the Lord to “set a guard over my mouth.”

The second response is use your words to EDIFY. Start aggressively using your words to build, edify and bless the lives of others. Again, the best way to stop a negative habit is to replace it with a positive one. Instead of tearing someone down, build them up. Instead of pointing out all their faults, encourage their strengths. Instead of correcting their wrongs, point out what they did right.

I try to preach every sermon as if it’ll be my last–to preach like a dying man to dying men. We need to view every relationship the same way–to live with no regrets, to say what must be said, to love, appreciate, build and encourage others. Remember, what you say to others may be for the last time until Heaven.

Christians need to be much more encouraging then we are. Don’t worry about puffing them up, you are called to encourage one another. First Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” Words are powerful and they can be powerful tools for good and God’s glory. Proverbs 25:11, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 15:23, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!”

Use your words to edify. Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ask the Lord to “set a guard over your mouth.”

The third response is to use your words to EVANGELIZE the lost. Romans 10:14 and 15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’”

Use your words to share the good news. God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life, then offered Himself to take the punishment you deserve for your sins before God. God poured out His wrath for your sin on Christ on the cross. To prove it was all true, Christ rose from the dead and now lives as the only way anyone can ever be right with God.

John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” You must turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Jesus Christ alone by faith. When salvation is genuine, you will be transformed by Christ internally. You will want to follow Christ in obedience to His Word. You will love God’s Word, God’s people, and trust God’s plan. You will love Christ above spouse, children or treasure. A believer’s heart pursues Christ–is that you? If not, then . . .

The fourth response is to use your words to CONFESS Christ. Let’s read Romans 10:9 and 10, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Let’s pray.


About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.


  1. Dishon Morris on April 8, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Wow, I didn’t realize how I was hurting God and showing disobedience by continuing to choose to do the sinful things. It hurt me to read these things as I self reflected what I was doing. I am grateful for such a raw explanation to keep me on path. God bless you

  2. frittzY on June 15, 2021 at 1:43 am

    Thank you for this post. I took a late walk with my dogs tonight and felt fear trying to consume me… I pressed on saying to myself that the Lord is my light… On my walk I finally spoke to the Lord in a way I haven’t in a long time. The last turn to my house there’s a sign that has a scripture on it… Saying “Guard your thoughts when you are alone and guard you mouth when around others.” And here I am finally reading his word. I hope I stay on the right path. God bless all of you.

  3. Tywanna on August 3, 2021 at 4:56 am

    Great word, thank you! I woke this morning hearing the Holy Spirit say, put a guard on your mouth. Then went online and this teaching was where he lead me. Thank you Holy spirit for your convicting power and how to overcome! What a loving and merciful God we serve. I’m sharing this sermon with others I love.
    God Blessings.

  4. Cherie on August 4, 2021 at 7:28 am

    This was a good read, we need to build people up, thanks for sharing.

  5. Karine Smith on August 20, 2023 at 4:21 am

    Thank you for this word, God lead me to this sermon this morning and this message was right on time. God’s love is so great that he want let us continue to walk in darkness but shine a light on our short comings and always provide a way of escape. My soul is so blessed and weeping and rejoicing over God’s great love for me.
    God bless you 🙏🙌

  6. Karine Smith on August 20, 2023 at 4:23 am

    Thank you for this word, God lead me to this sermon this morning and this message was right on time. God’s love is so great that he wont let us continue to walk in darkness but shine a light on our short comings and always provide a way of escape. My soul is so blessed and weeping and rejoicing over God’s great love for me.
    God bless you 🙏🙌

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