The Power of the Tongue

The following message is based on Proverbs 14:3, and expounds on the ability of speech, either for harm or for good.  The tongue has the power to destroy life, or enhance it.  It was delivered on April 28, 2013

Have you ever gotten sleepy at work?  I’m sure that all of us recall a time when we would have enjoyed a nap on the job.  Companies are now investigating the need of naps for their employees.  If you work for Google or Nike, there are nap rooms available for those who need a refreshing few minutes of shut-eye right after lunch.  Central Schwenkfelder does not have such a room.  In order to prepare me, someone once gave me a copy of choice words, should I be caught napping on the job.  These are a few suggestions of things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk.

  • “They told me at the blood bank that this might happen.”
  • “This is just a 15-minute power-nap like they raved about in that time management course you sent me to.”
  • “I wasn’t sleeping! I was meditating on the mission statement.”
  • “I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance.”
  • “Someone must’ve put decaff in the wrong pot!”
  • “In Jesus name, Amen.”

Much can be said for knowing what to say at the right time.  Although we can chuckle about these responses, words are like a tool which needs to be handled with care.  The things which come from your tongue can either come back to harm you or be used to bless you.  The title of our message this morning is “The Power of the Tongue, for that is just what this small organ has: the power to harm and the power to heal.  Let us understand of the tongue’s potential by first learning that…

YOUR TONGUE HAS THE ABILITY TO CURSE YOU.

Proverbs 14:3 states: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back…, The NIV states: “A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back…”  The idea here is that a person’s mouth can get them into much trouble.  If one fails to tame his tongue, he can destroy himself and others.  The rod is used here as an example of discipline or punishment.  The rod is a symbol of justice in such verses as Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.  Or 22:15: Foolishness is bout up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.”

Just like the rod is used as a means of discipline, a person’s words can come back to strike them if they are not careful. In the New Testament, we see a confirmation of this in James 3.  Verse six states: “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.”  Yes, people will go to hell for the sins committed by the tongue. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Charles Bridges wrote: “The rod of the mouth is often sharper than the rod in the hand.”[1]

With this in mind, let us consider some of the sins that involve the tongue or one’s speech.  First of all, it is the bed of hypocrisy.  For instance, James 3:9 tells us that: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Certainly this is the broader sense of the third commandment which tells us;” You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”  This involves anything from lashing out at Him to bearing his name in hypocrisy; professing to be a Christian, when our actions show otherwise.  Robert Beasely states: “Seen in a wider context, (this commandment) condemns hypocrisy in any form.  God’s “name” is not merely a word.  It is symbolic and revelatory of His whole being, His holy character and divine attributes.  To take the name “Christian,” and then to defile that name by professing to know Him when we do not, or to show disrespect in any way to our Creator, is to violate His name and stand guilty before Him.”[2]

This is actually the foundation of our testimony.  You are constantly telling others to whom you belong by your lifestyle.  If you profess Christian, and yet live contrary to His commandments, you are taking His name in vain.  If you claim church membership, and yet live immorally, your membership means little.  If you hate another and say you love God, your words of devotion are merely lies.  Christians bear the name of their God in all that they do.  Look at your life for a moment.  Are you professing one thing and living another?  Make sure hypocrisy infects no part of your testimony.

Secondly, we sin with our tongue when we curse others and tear them down.  Listen to Ephesians 4:31: “…let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  Or Colossians 3:8: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy filthy language out of your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds….”  Our words tell what is going on in our hearts.  Many times it is what you say; other times it is how you say it that reveals the depth of your faith.

For instance, within us there is the temptation to slander.  Webster defines this as “any false or insulting statement.”  Oh how easy it is to degrade a person when they are not present to defend themselves!  Do you recall times in your life when you’ve drug a person’s name through the mud behind their back?  Or maybe you’ve heard someone do this?  But God tells us in the 9th commandment found in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Slander is another application of this commandment, as that which we must avoid.

As a pastor, I observe how easily a conversation can slip into slander.  Someone’s name is mentioned and then a story ensues that many times puts them in a negative light.  Hearsay can be hurtful.  There is something about the sinful nature that hungers after “the scoop” because the facts are too boring.  Guard yourself against the desire to be “in the know.”  What is termed scuttlebutt is often times lies and hurtful to others.  How embarrassing it is when your words are discovered by the person in question.  You wish you could take them back, but it is too late!  The damage is done.  Your tongue has the ability to curse you.  Secondly…

YOUR TONGUE CAN ALSO BLESS YOU AND BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS.

Once again, our Scripture states: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.”  The verb in the Hebrew is “sha-mar,’ which means “to take care of or to guard.”[3]  It is translated “to keep” in Exodus 21:29, where one was responsible if his ox were to wander from his holding area, and were to injure someone. Our words should be used with great care.  If we guard them, they will guard us.  Publius, the Greek sage, said, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”

There are great blessings which come from keeping your tongue or using it for the glory of God.  With it we can give praise and thanksgiving to God.  Psalm 92:1:“It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, 2 to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,”  With our lips, we confess sin and faith (1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9-10).  With it, we pray and pour out our hearts to Him.  Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  Philippians 4:6 tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

With it we also build up and encourage one another.  One of the reasons why we gather on Sunday morning is to spur one another on to good works (Hebrews 10:25).  Ephesians 4:29 states: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  A nationally syndicated Christian radio station has as their byword: “Positive and Encouraging.”  And in days like these, there are many times when one could use an encouraging word.  The world that we live in today tends to be negative.  As Christians, we don’t try to sugar-coat reality, but we point people to a Savior who can as the world’s answer to sin and despair.  Notice the following interesting statistics surrounding depression[4]:

  • Approximately 18.8 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a depressive disorder.
  • Depression affects all people regardless of age, geographic location, demographic or social position.
  • Depressive disorders are appearing earlier in life with the average age of onset 50 years ago being 29 whereas recent statistics indicate it at just 14.5yrs in today’s society.

Herbert Wagemaker, who wrote The Surprising Truth about Depression, reports that that number is actually higher, that ten to twenty percent of people will become depressed at some point in their lives.[5]

Another way that we use our speech is to speak to others about Christ. Will and Kelly have brought Rachel to dedicate her to the Lord and ask for our help as a church in the process.  Notice that they have made the promise to surround Rachel child with the best possible Christian atmosphere and influence in their home; to teach Rachel a knowledge of the Bible, obedient reverence for God, and for his Son Jesus Christ.  But isn’t that what we all should be doing?  If we are not intentional about this, before you know it, our kids are gone and out of the house, and we’ve missed our chance!  If our children and grandchildren won’t hear about our faith from us, who will share it with them!? We can only do this by rededicating themselves to Christ and then taking advantage of every opportunity that’s before us.

You can tell a lot about a person, by their speech.  I recently did the memorial service for someone.  It was said about her that she was always willing to reconcile.  She was always the first to say that she was sorry.  Today, pride keeps us from confessing our faults.  We feel like we are giving in, if we were to confess a wrong decision or action.  But I say that it takes a bigger person to admit that they were wrong.

It is never too late to apologize.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Washington and spoke to a joint session of Congress on July 17, 2003. Early in his speech he commented, “On our way down here, Sen. Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where in 1814 the British had burned the Congressional Library. I know this is kind of late, but: Sorry.”  That may stand as one of the all-time most memorable apologies!

Knowing what to say is not just about getting out of a jam; it is about managing a resource for good, or a resource for evil.  “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.”  But without Christ, our most valiant efforts to curb our tongue, are done in vain.  Christ must reign upon the throne of our hearts, in order for the tongue to be tamed.


[1] Bridges, Charles. Proverbs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 209.

[2] Beasley, Robert C., The Commandments of Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), 15.

[3]R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,Vol. II, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 939

[5] Herbert Wagemaker, The Surprising Truth About Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 11.

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