The tongue is used both literally and metaphorically in the Bible. James 3:5 reminds us that it is a “small part of the body,” yet Proverbs 18:21 warns that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The death mentioned is trifold, being spiritual, physical, and emotional.
First, spiritual, for it reveals what is in our heart. Luke 6:45 states, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Isaiah 59:2-3 adds even greater emphasis to the spoken word when it says, “Men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
If my words reflect what’s in my heart, then it doesn’t work Biblically to say my problem is another person. The things we say and do are shaped by what’s inside of us. We want to believe that our problems are external; however, the moment we buy into that lie, we stop seeking or needing God’s help.
Second, it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to take Proverbs 18:21 literally. The tongue can cause physical death. Words create actions. A jury may pronounce a murderer “guilty,” thereby sealing his doom. Anger can escalate into a shouting match that ultimately results in violence. Conversely, words can also save lives. Consider a TV station that issues a tornado warning, which causes a family to flee certain death, or the policeman who talks a jumper down from a ledge. In the sense that it causes action, the tongue has the power of life and death.
Last, though powerful, emotions are incredibly vulnerable to injury. James 3:6 describes the tongue as a “fire” set by Hell. Who of us has not been “burned” by a sharp word? What we say cuts deep and has a lasting impact. The old poem so often misquoted applies:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Sticks and stones break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Pain from words has left its scar on mind and heart that’s tender,
Cuts and bruises now have healed; it’s words that I remember.
God made us expressive beings; we are nearly practically lost without communication. Indeed, speech has enormous implications, especially as a vehicle for sharing the gospel (see Romans 10:14).
I have great difficulty being long in the presence of those who discourage, complain, dishearten, agitate, annoy, trouble, weaken, confuse, deject, and dispirit. I love associating with those who uplift, inspire, motivate, spur on, stir, fire up, stimulate, invigorate, vitalize, embolden, and fortify. They speak words that help others grow. What words do you use?
Ed Jones pastors Fellowship At The Ranch at Robson Ranch. This nondenominational church meets at the Robson clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Visit Fellowship’s website www.fellowshipattheranchchurch.org for information.