Proverbs 18:21 talks about how the tongue has the power of life and death, or the power to build up or destroy. Which is why we’re going to close out our Communicating God’s Way series by talking about the importance of taming the tongue.
After all, if we could all somehow learn just to control what comes out of our mouths, being sure that every word was pleasing to God, I feel certain we’d see dramatic improvement in our communication both within our marriages and everywhere else! But alas, as we’re going to see from the Bible, the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We shoot its arrows with little regard for the damage that will be done.
So how can we stop it? How can we learn to be careful with our words and surrender them to God? Or even just learn to keep our mouths shut? That’s what we’re going to try to figure out today, but first, let’s recap what we’ve already covered in this series:
Week One – What Does the Bible Say About Communication in Relationships?
Week Two – Practice Humility – How to Get Rid of the Log in Your Eye
Week Three – Learn to Listen: Essential Communication Skills
Week Four – The Negative Effects of Assumptions and Presumptions
Week Five – Manipulation in Communication: 5 Common Manipulation Tactics to Avoid
Week Six – Gaslighting Tactics: 7 Examples of Manipulation in Relationships to Take Seriously
Week Seven – Telling the Truth is Important! Speak Truth in Love
Week Eight – The Importance of Forgiveness and Humility in Marriage
James 3 and Taming the Tongue
I don’t usually include this large of a chunk of Scripture at once, but I think we need to get this concept in the full context of the passage. The Bible does not mince words when it comes to the power of the tongue. So let’s look together at all of James 3.
Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
The Tongue Has the Power of Life and Death
I appreciate the examples James uses in our focus passage. There are so many tiny things that seem insignificant, but have great power. It’s hard to imagine a tiny bit in the mouth of a horse can determine where that powerful creature will go, but it does. We don’t even see the comparatively tiny rudder when looking at a massive ship, but it is there, and it’s controlling the whole thing!
In the same way, our tongues have far more power than we tend to realize. How often do we find ourselves standing in the ashes of the great “forest fires” of our lives, looking back and realizing it was the seemingly tiny spark from our lips that set the blaze in the first place?
Proverbs 18:21 (NLT) – The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) – The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Of course, there are countless passages that talk about the danger in an untamed tongue. Proverbs 16:27, 2 Timothy 2:16-17, Proverbs 18:7, Proverbs 13:3 to name only a few, but when it comes to our marriages, I like the way this Proverb states it:
Proverbs 18:19 – An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.
Taming the tongue is not an easy task, the Bible makes that clear. I mean, James 3 said that no one can tame the tongue! But of course, we know that with God all things are possible. So when it comes to our marriages, it’s SO important we turn to God for help and take this issue SO seriously!
Our unchecked words have the power to separate us. They can destroy the friendship we share. Each word can become a brick in the wall of resentment and hurt feelings being built between us. We have to learn a better way.
Be Careful with Your Words & Keep Your Mouth Shut
Matthew 12:36-37 – And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgement day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.
This passage is so convicting to me. Honestly, this entire topic hits me pretty hard. I’m pretty front-lobed. In other words, what comes into my head tends to come straight out of my mouth before I’ve given it even a second of thought.
But this is what God has to say to people like me:
Proverbs 21:23 – Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.
Proverbs 10:19 – Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
Proverbs 29:20 – There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.
There’s no doubt, learning to be careful with your words is an important Biblical concept, but when I look at our focus passage, as well as a lot of other passages in the Bible, I can’t help but think there’s more to it than that.
If all you had to do was keep your mouth shut, then naturally quiet people would escape the need to tame their tongue, yet I think the Bible is clear that we ALL need to learn this discipline. So what’s the deal? What’s really at the heart of taming the tongue?
Taming the Tongue – Understand the Heart of the Matter
Matthew 15:16-20 – “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.
Matthew 12:34 – You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.
And there it is. What’s at the heart of taming the tongue? The heart!
You can keep your mouth shut all day, but if what is in your heart is bitterness and envy and selfish ambition, then when you finally do say something, that’s what’s going to spill out. By the same token, if what’s in your heart is pure and righteous and holy, you won’t really have to be careful with your words. What will naturally come out of your mouth will be an overflow of those good things.
It can seem a little discouraging right? I mean, it feels like it would be a lot easier to work really hard at controlling my words than to somehow just BE good all the time. I think we all know, deep down, if that’s what we need to do, then we’re all without hope. Praise God, He has not left us to accomplish this impossible task on our own or in our own strength!
The Fruit of Wisdom
Our passage from James calls the answer to taming the tongue, “the wisdom from above.” As in so many other areas of life, when we’re willing to recognize the futility of our own efforts, and submit to the power of God within us, we’ll finally find victory.
Let’s start today by confessing to God what is true about what’s in our own wicked hearts. Let’s acknowledge the bitter poison that lurks there. Let’s surrender our selfishness, our pride, our unforgiveness, and whatever other evil from the fires of hell tends to fill our hearts and corrupt our whole lives.
Let’s ask our great God to replace these with His righteousness. Let’s ask Him to make us pure, so that what comes from our mouths will reflect His presence in our hearts. And as we work hard to communicate according to His standards, may He fill us with the fruit of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Psalms 141: 3-4 – Take control of what I say, oh Lord, and guard my lips. Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness. Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do wrong.
Psalms 19:12-14 – How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep Your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
**If you’d like more verses about taming the tongue, here are several to get you started: Titus 3:2, Proverbs 27:2, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 18:6, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 12:13, Proverbs 10:32, Ephesians 5:4.