Proverbs 18:21 - “the power of life and death is in the tongue...”
power – having power over, having the power of, to help or hand over
life – life-giving, life-worth-living
death – deadly, death-causing
tongue – language, words
The Power of the Tongue
There's no doubt about it – God's Word has said it and we ourselves know how true it is: there's power in the tongue. Your words carry a tremendous power that you have yet to fully appreciate and realize. We see the power of the spoken word in the very beginning of time, “Then God said, “Let here be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3)”. And so it goes through the entire creation laid out in the first chapter of Genesis, “God said... and it was so... (Genesis 1:3-26)”. From that time till now God is always, “calling things that were not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)”. You might well say, “but that's God talking. We don't have that kind of power.” While it's true that nothing is likely to immediately pop into existence just because we say so, that doesn't mean that our words don't have tremendous power and influence. Again, Scripture says, “the power of life and death is in the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21)”. When it says power here, it means real power. The word “power' used here is not used by accident. God originally gave us the power of life in our words, but with the fall of humanity our words, like everything else, have become corrupt.
The Corruption of the Tongue
The first one to corrupt the power of the tongue was Satan who, in blinded pride, uttered his boastful words, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13-14)”. And in his rebellion against God he took one third of the angels with him in his great fall. He used his tongue to speak sinful boastful words and lies, but the first person he ever lied to was himself. Truly he is “the father of lies (John 8:44)” - the first one to speak a lie and the first one to believe that lie... such is the nature of pride. Why did God give him speech? To sing His praises like everything else! But he corrupted his purpose and he taught humanity to do the same. Even before Eve took that first bite of the “forbidden fruit” she misused her tongue by adding to what God had said. When Satan asked, “Did God really say that you must not eat fruit from any tree in the garden?" The woman answered the snake, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden.3 But God told us, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden. You must not even touch it, or you will die.' (Genesis 3:1-3)”. And then Satan gave her a bald faced lie (Genesis 3:4) that corrupted the nature of mankind from then on. After they had sinned, what was one of the first things they did when God confronted them about it? They blamed someone else! Adam said, “she made me! (Genesis 3:12)”. Eve said, “the serpent made me! (Genesis 3:13)”. and the blame game has gone on ever since. If you still doubt that the tongue is corrupt just listen to what James says, “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:5-10)”. Or Scripture says elsewhere, “the poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness... (Romans 3:13-14)”. Consider all the negative things that Pharisees said about Jesus “here is glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19)”.
You will be Judged for Your Words
Our words have power and our words have consequences, in this life and the next. Scripture says, “The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. (Proverbs 18:7)” and, “you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. (Proverbs 6:2)”. Jesus said, “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37)”. Who wants to have to stand before God and explain why we shamed and condemned, why we destroyed confidence and shattered dreams, why we wounded and tore down instead of building up? Why we spoke death and handed them over the the enemy instead of giving help and speaking life? Why we spoke the words of the devil and not of God? While God does convict and correct, He does not condemn us for, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)”.
Life and Death
Our words can be life-giving or deadly. Scripture says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)”, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11)”, “From the mouth of the righteous comes the fruit of wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be silenced. (Proverbs 10:31)”, “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:23)”, and “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:2-4)”. It very clear from these passages that our words have the power to “pierce like swords” and “crush the spirit”. God says that such tongues “gush folly” and “will be silenced”. But our words are to “bring healing”, be “a fountain of life”, produce “the fruit of wisdom” and “promote instruction”. Too often, however, our words wound instead of heal.
Your Heart and Your Words
The root of the problem is not our tongue itself, but rather the corruption of our hearts. Scripture says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7) and “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34)”. Jesus said, “It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth defiles him...what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:11&20)”. Our words will never be right until our hearts are right – this is the whole point of the gospel. The good news is not merely forgiveness, as good as that is. But what is the point of forgiveness without real transformation in this life? Who wants to be merely “a sinner saved by grace” without becoming a triumphant saint by that same grace and God's Holy Spirit? If you are in Christ, God has, “give(n) you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19)” you are, “a new creation (1 Corinthians 5:17)”. Your words won't line up automatically, unfortunately, but there are steps you can take to bring everything you think, say, and do into line with the truth of God's Word.
Holding Your tongue
The first thing we could all probably stand to do better in is learning to hold our tongue. Scripture says that it is always a wise move to hold your tongue – listen to these, “Whoever derides their neighbor
(or spouse, friend, family member, ect.) has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. (Proverbs 11:12)” and, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)”. Scripture also says that we should be, “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)”. We should say with the psalmist, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. (Psalm 39:1)” and, “You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong. I am determined not to sin in what I say. (Psalm 17:3)” For Scripture also says, “Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil (of any kind!) and your lips from telling lies! (Psalm 34:11-13)”.
Guarding Your Tongue
So how do we keep our tongues from speaking evil? We need to learn to not only hold our tongue but also guard it. Scripture says, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23 )”. Do we all not know just how much trouble our tongues can get us into? Not only does our mouth get us into trouble but it can ruin the testimony of our lives before men and God. Scripture says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:26)”. That's a very strong and serious statement, one that should not be taken lightly. We need to pray again with the psalmist, “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)” so that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart (may) be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)”.
Words of life
Scripture is clear on the proper use of our tongue – our words. It says, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)”. We are to “build one another up in love (Ephesians 4:16)”, “encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)”, and speaking so that, “it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29)”. Just like Jesus we are to speak words of life. He said, “the words I speak to you are Spirit and life (John 6:63)”. Just as, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)”. So we should also speak these things into the lives of those around us. And even when something must be addressed or confronted, we must always remember to, “speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)'. Remember that love, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)”and that, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1)”. we are to be, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)”.
Of course, the best use for our mouth is praising God and talking about Him and His goodness to others. We must decide, “I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. (Psalm 89:1)”, “My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:21)”. If we will do this then we can be sure that God will, “put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. (Psalm 40:3)”. If our mouths are constantly praising God, it will make it that much harder for negative, hurtful, and critical words to come out of them.
Point to Ponder
Have you been careless with the use of your tongue? Have you torn down when you should have built up? Have you wounded when you should have brought healing? Have you spoken death when you should have spoken life? If you can say yes to these (and who can't?) then the first issue to be addressed is this – have you received a new nature and a new heart from God? Without it, your words will not permanently change for they are only manifesting what is inside you. Second, determine and ask God to help you to learn to hold your tongue, to guard your tongue, and to begin to speak words of life. If you're unsure on what to say, become familiar with all of the “great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4)” contained in Scripture and begin to speak them into the lives of the people around you (just watch how your life and theirs change for the better!).
Let's pray, “Father, we know that apart from you our hearts are corrupt and hard as stone. Thank You that you have removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. You have put Your Holy Spirit in us and so we desire to obey You and live in a way that pleases You (Ezekiel 36:26-27). We confess that we have at times said things that we shouldn't have, things that can't be taken back. We have hurt those we love, and more importantly, we have hurt people whom You love. Forgive us, Lord, for every hurtful and careless word we have spoken. No matter if we were wounded first, we know that it is never alright to tear others down with anything we do or say. Right now, God, we commit our hearts, our hands, and our words to you. From now on may we only speak words of life. May we build up others up in love (Ephesians 4:16), may we encourage others (Hebrews 10:25), and may we always be a blessing to everyone who hears us (Ephesians 4:29). Help us to tame our tongue so that we will not let our testimony be ruined but may it shine with the light of Your Glory. In the Name of Jesus and for the very sake of His glory revealed in us we pray. Amen.”