A few days ago I wrote, “Words Matter Take Responsibility For The Things You Say”. In it I wrote that we should not speak evil words and words that slander others . Our words must be a blessing to others . Our words must be truthful and humble . Our words must be free from bitterness and anger.
James 3:3-12 (NLT) 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
There’s no other area that is easier for me to mess up with, and that has caused more trouble afterward, than talking too much. I’ve shot my mouth off and regretted it many, many times. I often measure how well Bible Study or sermon went not by the content was covered but by whether it ended without me having said something I want to take back.
You know that feeling when you walk away from a conversation and the perfect insult comes to your mind just a minute too late? (“Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you!”) The French have a term for it: esprit de escalier, or the witty comeback you think of after you’ve left the situation. There is science behind why that happens: when you’re in a confrontation, the limbic portion of your brain kicks into fight-or-flight mode, allocating all available resources into keeping you alive; unfortunately, both cleverness and people skills suffer. Once the moment passes, the blood that was being diverted to your muscles and to your vision with a shot of adrenaline returns to the rational part of your brain, so you are able to think of what you couldn’t in the moment. I wish I had that feeling more often. Tragically once words are out there’s no putting them back in.
The Power of the Tongue
The book of Proverbs says that the tongue contains the power of both life and death.
Proverbs 18:21 NLT The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
The tongue is, like a tiny nuclear reactor capable of being both an energy plant that lights up a town and a bomb that can destroy a city.
Bricks can be used to build hospitals or be thrown through windows. Water can quench a thirst or flood a city. Likewise, words are neutral in and of themselves; it’s how you use them that determines whether they are good or bad.
That is the argument James makes in the scripture that I included above.
James explained that one tiny spark can lead to an inferno that burns down a whole forest. In the same way, a single sentence can alter your life:
“I love you.”
“Will you marry me?”
“It’s a boy.”
“I want a divorce.”
“I forgive you.”
A sentence can devastate:
“We’re going to have to let you go.”
“There’s nothing more we can do.”
But it can just as easily cause you to celebrate:
“You’re being promoted!”
“You have the golden ticket!”
“Your long-lost aunt left you an enormous inheritance!”
Words can cost you your job; many people have lost successful careers by uttering a single racial slur, one sexist remark. Words can cost you your life; mouth off to the wrong person and get yourself killed.
Just as heredity controls what kind of tongue you have — whether you can roll it up or how long it is — heredity is also the reason our tongues are so destructive. We read in Romans 5:12 that it’s our sin nature that makes our words so dangerous:
Romans 5:12 (NLT2)12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
Fortunately, whatever can be used for evil can be reclaimed and used for good.
The tongue can be set on fire by hell, but it can also be set on fire by Heaven. While under control of the Holy Spirit, Peter — who had cursed Christ and denied knowing Him — preached the gospel to the saving of two thousand souls on the day of Pentecost.
John 18:15-17, 25-27 NLT Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?” “No,” he said, “I am not.” Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.” But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
Acts of the Apostles 2:37-41 NLT Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away —all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
Proverbs 25:11 NKJV A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.
Colossians 4:6 NLT Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
If your speech is filled with grace, your words will have the same impact salt (or Tabasco sauce) does on food — they will make things better! Then your words can build people up, share the gospel, pray for the sick. Your words can encourage, comfort, reassure, and make people laugh.
Proverbs 27:17 NLT As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
Sometimes you need to speak difficult words that are necessary to help people become who God wants them to be.
Romans 8:29 NLT For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
When the tongue is working properly, it is both a spring that refreshes and a fruit tree that nourishes. A runaway horse is dangerous, and a boating accident can end in disaster; but when the bit is firmly in place, and the rudder steers correctly, you can enjoy scenery that is both beautiful and pleasurable.
When you have trouble because of what you say in haste think about this instruction that the Apostle Paul gave the Christians in Ephesus.
Ephesians 4:29 MSG Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
If Jesus is the Lord of your life, He must be the Lord of your lips too.