There weren’t many people on the transit bus that afternoon, so there wasn’t the usual buzz of conversation that often filled the ears of a silent passenger. In the relative stillness, I became aware of an interchange between the driver and a middle-aged woman sitting in the cross seat that was just behind the front door. As he drove, the driver alternately glanced over his right shoulder, or addressed the woman’s image in the rear-view mirror. As my mind tuned in to the conversation, I became aware that the woman was unburdening her heart to the older driver. The conversation centered around the woman’s teen-aged daughter who was “fifteen years old – going on twenty-five”.
“Well, you know what the Bible says,” the driver offered, as my brain snapped to attention, “if you train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
“But that’s what I’ve tried to do,” wailed the distraught mother, “but it’s so hard when you’re the only one...” My spirit leaped in praise as I heard the driver further explaining the scriptural principle which he had so recently cited. Silently, I prayed for God’s wisdom for the driver, and a willing, attentive spirit for the distressed woman.
Within a few minutes I arrived at my destination and left the bus to stroll through one of the city’s larger shopping malls. It wasn’t long before my attention was drawn to another drama being enacted in the corridor just outside the toy store. This scenario was marked by a father harshly correcting his son for some misdemeanor committed inside the store.
“You’re so stupid!” the man hissed at his son, before launching into an extended tirade regarding the lad’s actions.
“I’m not stupid,” the boy wailed as he tried to defend himself in the face of his father’s anger.
“Yes you are!” his father reaffirmed as another stream of venomous retribution was poured upon his son.
I cringed at the sound of the interchange, considering the long-term effects that such a conversation would have on the tender spirit of the youngster. “Father, forgive him,” were the words that welled up within me, “he doesn’t know what he is doing. He doesn’t understand the scars he is inflicting on the one he claims to love...”. Over the next few days I found myself reflecting on the contrast between the two conversations, as the Holy Spirit revealed to me the truth of the scripture that declares “life and death are in the power of the tongue”. “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life”, I read in Proverbs 18, “but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” What we say has the ability to produce life within the spirit of the hearer or it can crush the spirit – resulting in spiritual death.
What we say, Jesus taught His disciples, can bring death and final judgement. In the end times, people will say to the mountains “Fall on us!” and to the hills “cover us!”. When all hope is gone, and the patience of a loving God has been expended, unrepentant people will cry out for their own destruction rather than face the judgement of God. The same people could have said to the mountains “be removed, and be cast into the sea”, if they had been obedient to the call of God on their lives. Now, the same creative power that was originally ordained becomes a devastating force that pleads for release from their calamities.
What we say, James teaches, defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature. The most devastating forest fire on record started with a single spark. Similarly, much of the destruction within the Kingdom of God often begins with one simple comment. The tongue is a world of iniquity, James goes on to declare, and is set on fire by hell. If any man thinks himself to be religious, and does not bridle his tongue, his religion is in vain. In the light of such truths, we would do well to pray with the psalmist, “let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord”.
What we say prolongs and enhances life, Peter says. “Let him who means to love life, and see good days, refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking guile”. If we want to reap God’s blessings in our lives, then we must speak the way God speaks. The one who’s first recorded words were “Let there be light!” teaches us that we need to speak that life into the lives of others. Our words must not be the words of the evil one, bringing death and temptation to those around us, and setting stumbling blocks in the paths of our brothers and sisters.
What we say either confirms our Christian testimony, or invalidates it entirely. Speaking further to these principles, James writes If any man thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. If we can’t keep a bridle on our tongue, our witness to the world is in vain. Oddly enough, those that make no claim to the ways of the Spirit are often the most sensitive to our digressions from a Christ-centered life. To be sure, such people are often the tools in the hand of the Accuser of the Brethren, but it is healthy at times to allow ourselves to listen to the reproof of the Holy Spirit in their words. We need to understand that God does use the unregenerate, at times, to accomplish His purposes.
No fountain can produce fresh and bitter water from the same opening, James admonishes. Similarly, blessing and cursing must not be allowed to emanate from the same mouth. Our daily prayer needs to echo the words of the Psalmist as he cried – Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord! Then, whether we speak in the languages of men or of angels, we will not sound like a clanging gong or a tinkling cymbal to those who are listening for the words of life. Our message of love will be neither overpowering, nor indistinct to the world around us.
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I hear you! There is so, so much power on the tip of one's tongue. I believe it would amaze people if they really knew. Your article speaks volumes! I recall this series of statements: "You don't care about ANYBODY! You're worthless and different! There's something wrong with you!" Let me tell you, Brother, the tongue brings spiritual death, but I know a God who STILL raises the dead. Hallelujah! And that's something I'll "say again..." and again, and again. POWERFUL ARTICLE! I pray the Lord will spread it around like a wildfire. IT NEEDS TO BE HEEDED!