The Power of the Tongue

“The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth.” —Proverbs 10:20

“A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” —Proverbs 15:4

“In many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [Gehenna]. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and bath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” —James 3:2-10

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” —Proverbs 18:21

THESE TEXTS AND others emphasize that the tongue has tremendous power. One cannot overestimate the power of words, either for good or for ill. Practically all the activities of the human race are initiated and brought to fruition through words. Also through words which have been written in the Bible, God has revealed to us the divine plan of the ages.

Through words, Satan has deceived men concerning the character of God. And through words those who have learned to know something of the length, breadth, height, and depth of God’s character have endeavored to demonstrate their devotion to and their admiration of him. Through words Satan has taught error concerning the great fundamental truths of God’s Word. And through words, those of us who have dedicated ourselves to the knowing and doing of God’s will have endeavored to enlighten others concerning the glories of the coming kingdom, when God’s will shall be done as fully in earth as it is in heaven.

Our words influence others. They can influence them for good or for evil. That is why we, as children of God, should constantly pray and daily determine to make our words unctuous and blessed to all. “Our Morning Resolve” is employed to this end.

According to the pages of history, the tongue has sent many persons to their death. The tongue has stirred in men the most wrathful passions to which humanity is subject. But the tongue has also moved men to achieve the highest and loftiest sentiments and ideals of which they are capable. Words have been used to encourage others to consecrate themselves to God, in order to serve him, desiring ever to know and to do his will.

The apostle says that man will always make mistakes with his tongue, unless he is a perfect man. So if one has never made a mistake with his tongue he would be a perfect man—or she, a perfect woman. On that basis it should be easy for each of us to realize our own limitations.

The apostle also says we can put a rudder on a ship and steer it, or put a bit in a horse’s mouth and control that strong animal. Or, having a steering wheel on an automobile, direct it to the meetings, and to conventions. When it comes to steering a ship and controlling a horse and driving an automobile, man encounters scarcely any trouble at all. But when it comes to controlling the tongue, that is very different. James said the tongue no man can tame.

What does this mean? Does it mean that since we cannot control the tongue there is no use in trying? No. That is not what it means. James’ argument is that the tongue is a wonderful servant. The tongue only gives utterance to the thoughts of its master. So at least we can say that we are the masters of our tongues even though we cannot tame them.

The Bible says that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45) That does not mean in every instance, because there are slips of the tongue which certainly do not come out of the depths of our hearts. Nevertheless, for the most part, we talk about the things with which our hearts are filled, the things that are uppermost in our thoughts. Therefore, it is proper to say that our words indicate what is in our minds. As Christians, our words indicate what is in our hearts. Our words, over a period of time, indicate the heart condition of the Christian.

As children, the doctor would say to us, “Let me see your tongue.” It seemed he could tell the condition of our stomach, whether it was sweet or sour, by looking at our tongue. This applies very well along spiritual lines. Our tongues give an indication as to whether our hearts are sweet or sour. As children of the Lord we want our hearts to be sweet. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prow 4:23) Here is an admonition in the Word showing that we have to do something about keeping our tongues under control by keeping our hearts with all diligence.

According to Isaiah 55:11, the Lord sends forth his Word to accomplish in us that which will prosper if we permit it to regulate our thoughts and lives. The Word which he has given is the blessed Word of God. “All scripture given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and it will prosper in the thing whereunto he hath sent it. (II Tim. 3:16) And he has sent it to accomplish in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. But it can prosper and it can accomplish this in us only if we keep our hearts with all diligence. Because as we keep our hearts with all diligence, we will be able to use this servant that the Lord has given us—which can be such a wonderful and versatile member—in serving the Lord.

The Word of God that will prosper in us if we permit it to control us, has both a letter and a spirit. It is true that some know the letter of the Word, and let us thank the Lord that we know some of the letter of the Word. But it is far more important that we know both the spirit and the letter of the Word.

“Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) That is a good text! It tells us how to let God’s thoughts fill our hearts so that we can keep them with all diligence, because if we do this the fountain from whence come our words will be sweet. “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”—James 3:11-13

That is how we keep our hearts with all diligence. On the other hand, if we do not do this, our hearts might become corrupt, might become selfish. If they are not filled with the Spirit they will be filled with something else. They might even be filled with those things which are not lovely. And if the heart is filled with these other things, then, of course, the tongue will give evidence of such thoughts.

On the other hand, if our hearts are filled with the Spirit—if they are overflowing with the love of God, with an appreciation of the fact that the Lord has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light—if they are filled with an appreciation of the heavenly calling—if they are filled with an appreciation of the Lord’s tender love and care as manifested in the providences of our lives—then we will give utterance to such thoughts, because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3) Set a watch before my mouth. This suggests a watchfulness before one speaks. If we set the watch before the words reach our lips, certainly it will help us in our endeavor to use the tongue as a proper servant.

The tongue is a servant. The question is, whom is it serving? It is possible that at times, if we permit it, and if we are slack, and if we do not keep our heart with all diligence, it might serve the world; it might serve the flesh; it might serve the Devil. Or it can serve the New Creature. And the New Creature serves God. And the New Creature desires to know the will of God so that it can more properly serve him. So, remember that the tongue is a servant, and in our lives it should be a servant of the New Creature.

The tongue will demonstrate that we are imperfect, but even so, it is a wonderful member of the body. We often hear it said that the mind is a battleground. This is a proper expression. It is possible to lose battles in the mind. John 13:2 mentions one of these—“The Devil … put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him [Jesus].” That battle was lost. Satan put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus, and Judas lost. He lost one of the greatest privileges that had ever been extended to any of the human race. But the important thing for us to keep in mind is that if he could put it into the heart of Judas to do something, he can also put it into our hearts. That is why we must fight, and that is why we must win.

Satan has various methods. The Bible says we are not ignorant of his devices. The Devil can put it into the hearts of the brethren to desire to judge their brethren. That seems strange. We all know the world does not like us. We all know the Devil does not like us. We all know our brethren are those who have been called out of darkness into the light. We all know our brethren have the same desire to serve the Lord. They may not serve in just our way. They may not be of the same temperament as we. Nevertheless, they are devoted to a desire to serve the Lord, and the most blessed hours we have ever spent have been in fellowship with those who enjoy “like precious faith.” (II Pet. 1:1) But the Devil likes to put it in our minds to criticize our brethren!

We know that Satan tried to win the battle with our Lord Jesus Christ on the Mount of Temptation, and we know that the victory on the part of the Lord was gained simply by saying, “It is written”—quickly, tersely, to the point. So when these thoughts come into our minds, let us remember, “It is written”: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”; “With what judgment ye judge … it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt. 7:2) Much instruction is given in the Word to assist us in fighting this battle against the thoughts the Devil has the ability to put into our minds if we let him.

It is interesting to think of some of the things that man finds it very difficult to do. Look through a magnifying glass at a lead pencil that has just been sharpened. Under the strong glass it looks blunt. We have the expression, “as sharp as a needle.” But look at a needle through a magnifying glass and it, too, is blunt and shaggy. Now look at the thorns of a rose bush. It is remarkable how sharp and how detailed they are in their sharpness. The difference is in the Maker. This illustrates how few things we can do perfectly. We cannot even put a perfect point on a needle.

The Bible says, “He that hath a froward heart findeth no good.” (Prov. 17:20) Someone else said, “You can never find the straight if you are looking for the crooked.” We will lose the battle if we have put into our heart, or if we have permitted the Devil to put into our heart, that which we should not permit there. One who is hindered from seeing the good and pure and the beautiful in the heart desires of his consecrated brethren, is constantly vulnerable to the evil suggestions of the Adversary.

This does not mean that we cannot discuss various thoughts which are expressed from the platform. Sometimes we are inclined to go to the other extreme and feel it is never right to discuss a difference of opinion. But proving all things is proper. Whether the opinion is expressed by one brother or another, we, as children of the Lord, in the spirit of the truth, should feel that we do have a right to discuss and compare scripture with scripture, so that we become rooted and grounded in the faith. The Jews of Berea were quite noble, and the reason they were noble was because they searched the Scriptures to see whether or not the things that were told to them were supported by the Word of God.—Acts 17:10,11

A wholesome part of our Christian life is the realization that the path of the just is as a shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (Prov. 4:18), and we should rejoice in the privilege we have of discussing and, by discussion, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. In connection with the battle in our minds on the matter of judging, we should look at the New Creature. If we look at the New Creature we will not see the warped, imperfect human body with which each one of us is born. If the only test that we would ever have to undergo was whether or not we would steal from our brother, our Christian lives would not be difficult.

If Satan put it into our minds to steal from our brother and we succumbed, it would not seriously harm him, because no matter what we stole, it could be replaced. If the Devil should induce us to burn down someone’s home, the home could be repaired. However, when it comes to hearsay, rumors, hints, suggestions, gossip—which are all words—evil results from these are very difficult to rectify, or erase from the mind. If we do these things it is an indication that we are losing the battle which takes place in the mind. The Bible says that the Lord hates those who sow “discord among brethren.”—Prov. 6:16,19

It might appear that more damage could be done by evil deeds than by evil words, but that is not so. A blow might break or bruise the flesh, while a word might break or bruise the heart. The way we are constituted, flesh wounds heal easily, while heart wounds sometimes bleed a long time, and often leave a scar.

We all can talk. We all are glad that we can talk. The Lord tells us about what we should not talk, and also about what we can talk: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I am the Lord.”—Lev. 19:16

“A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.”—Prov. 16:28

“Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.”—Ps. 105:2

“My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long: for they are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt.”—Ps. 71:24

“All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.”—Ps. 145:10-13

This is the use to which our tongues are to be employed. This is to what they have been dedicated, and this is the way in which we have the privilege of exercising them. The Lord has endowed us with the faculty of speech. It is a wonderful privilege to use that faculty in harmony with his will.

The Lord has saved us by grace through faith. He has given us of his Holy Spirit. He has kept us from falling, and he has asked us to love one another and manifest that love in our attitudes toward one another. Therefore, let us keep in mind what James was endeavoring to tell us—the consecrated of God—that the only sure way of controlling the tongue is by keeping our hearts pure and filled with the desire to talk about the mighty acts of God.

Our conversation will thus be good to the use of edifying. Our words will minister grace to the hearers. Let us keep our hearts with all diligence, for out of them are the issues of life or death, and life is in the power of the tongue.

May the Lord give us the tongue of a consecrated person, that we may know how to speak a word in season for the encouragement of those that are weary and heavy laden, and he will give us all rest in return.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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