Power of the Tongue
“O, Lord: Help my words be gracious and tender today,
For tomorrow I may have to eat them!”
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never harm me.” I can still hear that childish chant echo down through the years. Trouble is, nothing could be further from the truth. Words have the power to inflict pain. Once spoken, our words don’t vanish in the mist because we’ve had a change of heart. A word carelessly spoken in a moment may have ramifications in the form of broken relationships for years to come.
There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered if people really listen to me. On the other hand, it’s a virtual guarantee that when I’m flapping my tongue in a destructive way, someone is bound to not only hear me, but to actually be paying close attention! Whether others are or not, there is One who is always listening, and who hears every careless or idle word that passes my lips (Mt. 12:36). Ouch!
I never had to wonder why David asked the Lord to “Set a guard over my mouth…keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3), because I’ve often lived with the consequences of shooting off my own mouth. David, the one described as “a man after God’s own heart” appreciated the dangers of the tongue which James later described for us:
“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 person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…but no human being can tame the tongue…” (James 3:5-6, 8)
That almost sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? If no one can tame their tongue, what’s the answer?
We can’t do it, but God can. The same God who parted the Red Sea, who brought down the walls of Jericho, and who raised Christ from the dead. Remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church? We have been called to an eternal hope, a glorious inheritance, and to experience his great power—the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph.1:18-20). The same God who reminds us in Zechariah 4:6, “…‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
And when we yield to the Holy Spirit’s control, instead of being used for destruction, our words can bring life. The Bible tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death…” (Prov. 18:21). We can speak words of praise and thanksgiving to God. We can speak the truth in love. And we can speak words of kindness and encouragement.
Wise King Solomon observed, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23). But James reminded us we don’t have the ability, on our own, to do so. No wonder that Paul includes self-control as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). True self-control (including for the tongue) is the direct result of our walk with the Lord, the manifestation of the constant and continuous filling of the Holy Spirit. This is the only source of power sufficient to truly guard our tongues.
Don’t despair—control of the tongue is not impossible . . . just supernatural!