Hung by the Tongue

They say you need a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but the truth is everyone is packing a loaded tongue! Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” You have the ability to release death and life. That’s a lot of power! You have the power to build others up or cut others down. That little tongue has the capability of setting on fire the course of nature (James 3:6). And yet, most people don’t consider how they use it.

The Bible speaks of the tongue more than 200 times, which means it’s something we should carefully consider. Yet few people consider their words. They allow their weapon to go off wildly and randomly at the slightest provocation. You have to learn how to use a gun. You can’t just fire it off carelessly. With practice, you can better control where the bullet is going to go. In the same way, the tongue should be governed by careful thought and control. So much damage is done to people through destructive words, and sadly the church is guilty of much of it. The church is quick to beat up on their own whenever there is disagreement or failure.

Someone says, “Aw what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that we are created in the image of God, and one of the most distinguishing factors of His image is the ability to speak and communicate. It distinguishes us from the animals. The big deal is that words change things. God spoke, and there was light. God reveals Himself through the Word. He even sent Jesus as the Word, the express communication from God that changed the course of history. We are created in the image of God, and we also have the same power to change the course of history. No, you can’t just speak the word and have a new Buick appear in your driveway. But your words are nonetheless a spiritual force that has the ability to bring life or destruction.

Words Have Impact

A good illustration of this comes from an essay I graded for an English Composition class I taught in China. My Chinese students submitted lots of odd writing, but one student wrote something profound that illustrates the power of words. Her essay said that when her father overheard her speaking harshly to a friend, he later brought her outside and had her hammer some nails into a tree. He then told her to take the nails out. She had a difficult time, but she got them out. He then told her, “It’s hard to take back your words, and even then, you have left holes in the tree that can’t be fixed.” This was such a good essay, until I read a little further, “If this email has touched your life, please send it along to 10 other friends.” So much for the A grade I was about to give her! Nonetheless, the point is that words can leave lasting damage.

Your words don’t just affect others, however. They also affect you. “They that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Words can actually carve out the path before you. If you are always speaking worry, you feed worry, and you will worry. If you are always complaining, you feed frustration, and you will be frustrated. As people get older, they can start to routinely speak of their aches and pains. They then adapt to the mindset that this is the way it is, and this is the way it’s going to be. If a medical crisis comes, often the words will be centered on all that the doctor said is wrong. More attention will be given to the threat or problem than to the promises of God.

“Well we’re just speaking what’s true!” It’s fine to speak what’s true, but what’s true is not always the full truth. The full truth is that you have life and hope in Jesus Christ, who is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Don’t give equal weight to that which is leading to death. Speak life and carve out a different path before you!

In 2006, we learned that our daughter would need heart surgery as soon as she was born. We are grateful for the doctor who spoke nothing but words of encouragement. As we sat before him, wondering if we would have to make major changes ahead, he smiled and kept saying, “It’s all going to be fine. We can work with this!” Everything did turn out fine, and we praise God for the atmosphere of hope he created. Many doctors do just the opposite. They present the worst case scenarios so that you won’t be disappointed. In doing so, fear and gloom can come in and set the path. There are always exceptions, but why not create an atmosphere of life and hope to begin with?

Corruption or Edification

What’s coming out of your mouth? What kind of atmosphere are your words creating? “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). Every believer is ministering something through their words. Is it grace or corruption? “Bless her heart…” How many times does gossip flow in Christian conversation? The goal of all talk should be life and not death, yet death is so much easier to spew. The world constantly spews it and conditions us to do the same. It’s vital that we make sure our tongues are in check.

It’s vital because there’s a link between the power of the Holy Spirit and our words. Along with the instruction to have no corrupt communication, Paul adds, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (vs.30). If you want a life filled with more power from the Spirit, watch your words! He is grieved when we release the power of death from our tongues.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (vs.31). Not only does this imply controlling what you speak, but also put away any of it that comes from another. Don’t put up with talk that cuts down or fails to edify. Don’t subject yourself to continual profanity in the media. Put away any hatred that comes from another. How do you do that? By forgiving as Christ: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (vs.32).

Peter spoke about it this way: “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1Peter 3:9). How quickly the passions flare, and the tongue is let loose to put someone back in their place! Instead, the Christian tongue should bless those who curse them. In that way, God comes into the picture and restores life. He will vindicate. He will undo the damage that the other has caused by their death words. But when you play by their rules and fire back, you miss the blessing.

Just as Paul linked the tongue to power in the Spirit, Peter links the tongue to life and seeing good days: “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1Pet.3:10). Having bad days? Check and see what’s generally been coming out of your mouth. Jesus said, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11).

Love is Necessary

Paul spoke of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph.4:15). Has someone ever said to you, “I love you but…” and then proceeded to knock you into the ground with criticisms? Even if the truth is being spoken, the one who is not speaking in love is wrong! Someone could be quoting the very book of life and yet be speaking death because of pride and self-righteousness. I’ve heard preachers saying good things and scowling at the same time. There’s a place for righteous anger, but sometimes it comes off more in a spirit of hatred than of love.

“That’s right. I hate sin!” the scowlers will say. Well I do to, but I don’t know anyone who repented by being bible thumped. Stand for righteousness, yes, but let the Holy Spirit convict the sinner. I know a certain website that does nothing but blast all unrighteousness, in our culture and in the church. I would probably agree with most of the stands taken. Yet it’s all communicated in an alarmist and “you’re of the devil” tone. It's angry, angry, angry, and my guess is that few people take it seriously. I myself used to laugh at the street preachers who ranted and raved and pointed the finger at those passing by. It wasn’t until someone showed concern for me, and was bold enough to tell me the truth in love, that I started listening.

God’s Agenda, not Ours

Even speaking good things in a good tone can be dangerously wrong, if we’re not speaking in line with God’s will. Notice how Peter got in trouble when Jesus told him about his coming trials. Peter said, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee” (Matthew 16:22). There was the loyalty of a friend! There was the possible sound of relief in Jesus’ ear. It could’ve been tempting. Jesus could’ve enjoyed the thought of not having to go through with it. Peter would back Him up! Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men” (vs.23). Satan showed himself through Peter’s kind words! It goes to show that we ought to think before we speak. Are we speaking words of faith? Are we speaking in line with God’s agenda?

Many husbands know what it’s like to think they are speaking something good, only to find that their wives have taken offense! Lots of problems could be avoided by simply holding the tongue and thinking about the outcome your words might have. “Whoso keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).

In fact, if you want to improve your relationships, any relationships, I recommend what I call the Eggshell Method of Communication. Just walk on eggshells! We do that with strangers, don’t we? We want to give our best impression, so we speak very carefully. We care so much what a stranger might think, and then we get home and let all cares to the wind. We just say whatever we feel like because we’re family. This is wrong. We should be more concerned about how we treat our family members than how we treat strangers.

A man will walk on eggshells, holding his tongue in order to win the heart of a lady. He doesn’t want to say anything that might put her off. He looks for all the right things to say, hoping to win her heart. She does the same. But then when they get married, that goes out the door! Do you want to restore your marriage? Start walking on eggshells again. Not in nervousness and fear, but in the same effort you made when you first met. Make your agenda to win the other’s heart again. Speak only that which edifies. Do not render evil for evil or railing for railing (1Peter 3:9).

Be Wise

It’s possible to speak death by simply speaking too much. Remember that “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov.10:19; NKJV). While we’re at it, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Prov.29:11). No one likes to be cornered by a talker. All they do is talk and never let you get a word in edgewise! Healthy communication involves a give and take. Healthy wisdom involves being slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). What part will you play? The fool or the wise?

When Isaiah was confronted with a vision of the Lord in all of His holiness, he responded by saying, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Why did he reference his lips? Why didn't he just say, “I am unclean”? Because in the light of God’s holiness, the lips reveal just how far short we fall. We use our lips to make us look good when we’re not. We use our lips and speak as if we’re gods. We use our lips to accomplish our purposes and not God’s. We use our lips to speak ill of others or to cut down. In the light of God’s holiness, even the good that we speak falls short of His glory.

Isaiah realized this and considered himself doomed. If we would stop and consider what our lips were producing, we might also begin to feel convicted. But something wonderful happened to Isaiah: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (vs.6-7). The mercy of God came through and redeemed him. It started on his lips, but it purged away all sin!

It also begins on our lips. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9). Redemption brings a different sound from your mouth. Therefore, when you speak, speak that which is in line with who you are in Christ. Speak as one whose sin has been taken away, and speak life.

Praise God that there’s grace, and when we fail there’s no condemnation. We just turn and get back on track. Just remember that you carry awesome power. Use it for good and not evil. And I say this in all love,

Watch your mouth!