Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Danger of the Tongue

The picture used in the header is a collage of photographs that Norman Rockwell would utilize as a reference to create his painting "The Gossips."  While the piece is meant to be whimsical, it also serves to demonstrate the how gossip can spread across and entangle a community and reminds us to avoid the practice.

We'll return to the topic of gossip later, but for now, let's talk about words.

We're familiar with the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Unfortunately, we know all too well that this is not always true.  We know that words can actually be quite devastating...

The Powerful Tongue

Proverbs 18:21 says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue…" 

How is it possible that the tongue, something so small, could hold so much power?

James 3:5-12 explains "…So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."

We must understand that we are not only responsible for the actions that we make in this life, but also the words that we speak.

The tongue is capable of good or evil and even though we just read that we cannot fully tame it, we need to do our best to try.

A saying that we are all familiar with:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Unfortunately, this is not always true!

Words have meaning.  Words are powerful.  We forget sometimes just how powerful our words, for good or evil, can be!

Offensive Language

One of the most obvious ways that our tongue can lead to sin is through the use of offensive language.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “They’re just words!”  Words have meaning and overuse doesn’t diminish the meaning.  Just because someone has personally become desensitized to using racial slurs, curse words, and other forms of offensive language doesn’t mean that others have.

For those that think that “they’re just words” and it doesn’t matter what kind of language they use, Ephesians 5:3-5 states:  But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

In this verse we see offensive language as being equal with fornication, uncleanness, covetousness and idolatry and is apparently serious enough that those who use it should not inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.

I think that one of the major reasons that offensive language is such a problem is that people can become callous to it, not only using it in moments of wrath but integrating it into our everyday speech.  Thanks to our music, movies, TV, and the internet, we are ever-increasingly exposed to this filthiness (dirty language), foolish talking, and coarse jesting (dirty jokes).  We must be extremely careful to not conform to the world and become callous to the use of offensive language.

I was listening to a song the other day that mentioned offensive language:  “Ever since I learned how to curse, I’ve been using those sorry old words. But, I’m talkin’ to these children, and I’m keeping it clean. I don’t need those words to say what I mean. No, I don’t need those words to say what I mean...”

Curse words don’t enhance our language in any way and, as the song pointed out, we don’t need them to say what we mean.

Just as we read earlier in Ephesians, instead of engaging in unrighteous ways, we should seek what is fitting for saints and live worthy of our calling.

Angry Words

One of the easiest ways for the tongue to cause trouble is when we exhibit anger.  In the heat of an argument, we say many things which are hurtful.  We can never take these words back once they’ve escaped our mouths.  In an instance, a relationship can be damaged forever.

We sometimes sing a song from our hymn book called “Angry Words”.  Let us examine the lyrics:

Angry words! O let them never,
From the tongue unbridled slip,
May the heart's best impulse ever,
Check them ere they soil the lip.

Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment's reckless folly,
Thus to desolate and mar.

Angry words are lightly spoken,
Bitterest thoughts are rashly stirred,
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

Love one another thus saith the Savior,
Children obey the Father's blest command,
Love each other, love each other,
'Tis the Father's blest command.

In the latter part of Matthew 12:34, Jesus says that "...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  

What is in our heart?  Hopefully, like our Savior, its love.

1 Corinthians 13:5-8 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth...

A Christian’s speech should reflect the love and truth that is in his/her heart.

When anger strikes, which it does when we sometimes least expect it, we need to remember these words:  Psalm 4:4 Be angry, and do not sin.  Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Just as it says in the Psalms, it’s OK to be angry, but not to sin.  When we get angry, instead of responding with words that we’ll only regret saying later, we need to take a deep breath and take a moment to gain perspective and calm down.


When I was in elementary school we would sometimes play the “telephone game”, in which someone in the class would make up a message and whisper it to another classmate who would whisper it to another and so on and so forth until finally the last student in the class would repeat the message that was whispered to them.  Often times, the final message would bear little resemblance to the original.

The results of the telephone game were comical, but the game reveals a very real and scary truth about gossip.  Someone sees or hears something and tells somebody else and before long, everyone has heard the news.

Ecclesiastes 10:14 Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness— and fools multiply words.

Gossip can be devastating.  We all know of marriages, jobs, and even churches that have been torn apart by gossip.  The tragic part is that sometimes the tales being told in gossip aren’t even true to begin with!  A life can be destroyed through false testimony!

Proverbs 25:18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. 

Long story short:  At the workplace, among friends, wherever:  A Christian should make every effort to not participate in gossip!

Additionally, we must be extra careful with our opinions because sometimes we can become unwilling participants in gossip.

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

Therefore, we must always be careful in our words, because sometimes they can become gossip when our conversations are overheard.


We might think that making a promise would be a good thing, a sign of trustworthiness.  However, another way our tongue could land us in trouble is when we make promises and oaths.

Proverbs 6:2 You have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth.

When we make an oath, we are obligated to perform what we have promised.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5:33-37: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  

Jesus states that under the Old Law that it was forbidden to make false oaths or to go against your word.  But Jesus takes this to the next level and states that we shouldn’t even make oaths at all, but instead let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No”!

Our simple statement of “Yes” or “No” should be our oath.

I know people that can’t even be trusted unless they make an oath of some kind.  They can’t let their “Yes” be “Yes” and their “No” be “No”.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, half the time you can’t even trust their promises.  They have become so callous to lying that it is like second nature to them.

The Deceitful Tongue

In writing about the wicked man, Psalm 10:7 says: His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.

Proverbs 17:20 He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, And he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil.

This one is a bit of a "no-brainer":  A lying tongue produces evil.  False witness is a sinful practice.  Jesus Himself was crucified over false witness.

Empty Words

The devil can be very subtle in his workings.  Sometimes things that appear to be harmless and the farthest thing in the world from sin can become so.  I would argue that the phrase “just kidding” can become problematic.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36-37 "But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

The phrase “empty words” could be interpreted in any number of ways.  To me, it seems that “empty words” are words that have we intentionally or unintentionally put no meaning behind.  Empty words are words that we are not taking seriously.  As we read earlier, our “Yes” should be “Yes” and our “No” should be “No” and to me it seems that all of our words should be taken as it is.

If we say something untrue or hurtful, we’ve already said it and we can’t take it back and we can’t just turn around and then say “just kidding”, and just expect it to go away.

Speak Wisely

Proverbs 10:19 says, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise"

Reading this verse, I can’t help but be reminded of the quote by Mark Twain:  “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Proverbs 12:18 There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health. 

Let us be wise in our words.  Let us use our words to build others up rather than tear them down.  Let us speak positively and seek to encourage and edify.

Some practical advice when it comes to our use of words: Think first, speak second...  And remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth; Perhaps that means that we should listen more than we should speak!

Let our pledge be that of the Psalmist in Psalm 39:1: "I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle."

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