The Power of the Tongue
Introduction. (Proverbs 18:21) “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Heb. “power” yad literally “hand.” The LXX and Vulgate both used the same figure of speech. The strength of a man is in his hand. Literally - “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.” We use the expression - “it’s in your hands.” We don’t literally mean that something is in the person’s hands, rather the power over the thing in question rests with them. This text suggests that the tongue holds the power within its “hands” to bring us life or death.
The last part of the verse speaks of “those who love it” eating of its fruit. Wesley understood this “love of the tongue” to refer to the love of much talking. If that is the case, the text suggests to us that we will “eat of” (i.e. receive) the fruit (or the consequences) sown by it.
Whether we realize it or not the tongue (i.e. our power of speech) holds great power. The Bible has much to teach us about this power and the proper use of it. As Christians we have great responsibility with respect to the tongue. Not only can it bring to us spiritual life or spiritual death (if we fail to use it properly), but our use of our tongue can lead others eternal life or eternal death (if we fail to use it properly). This evening I’d like for us to consider what the Bible has to teach us about the “power of the tongue.”
I. We Are Accountible for What We Say. (Matthew 12:33-37)
Context: Discussion of blasphemy of Holy Spirit. This is not our topic tonight. Blasphemy of HS is either claiming NT miracles are not from God. Or speaking against (and thus rejecting) the final voice from heaven to speak to man - the Holy Spirit who worked through the inspired NT prophets.
In this context note:
• (vs. 33) Speech = “fruit” (again).
• (vs. 34) speech is a reflection of the heart.
• (vs. 35) We are “treasuring up” in our hearts those things which will come out of our mouths.
Note: Filthy mouth comes from a filthy heart (and mind). A bitter, hateful mouth comes from a bitter and hateful mind. Someone says, “Oh, don’t mind them, they just say what ever comes to their mind!” – We had better be concerned about such a person! The mouth reflects the mind. If we say things we do not want to be a reflection of our hearts then we had better close our mouths and change our hearts. Adam Clarke at the end ofthe book of Proverbs, cites an Asiatic Proverb which says: “The heart of the fool is in his mouth, and the tongue of the wise man is in his heart.”
• (vs. 36) We will give account for what we say!
Note: Do we really believe this? If so how can we so casually say things we would never say before the Lord? Examples: Sharp words to your mate, Filthy comment to a bad driver, Curse word about your parents when they did something you didn’t like, or just that selfish, uncaring, impatient word you spoke to someone you encountered for only a moment which, rather than influencing them towards heaven, pushed them closer to hell. Someone says, “its only words—no big deal!”
• (vs. 37) Words can condemn! Only false doctrine? Where does it say that? Remember, our words have “power.” Let’s see what kind of power…
II. The Tongue Has Power to Influence Others.
A. It can be helpful or hurtful. Proverbs 12:18 Have you ever been “pierced” by what someone said? Perhaps words which pointed to a flaw you know you have but can’t do anything about — “how are you chrome-dome!” Or perhaps it is some thing that makes you feel self-conscious — “what garbage can did you get that shirt out of?” Or, “That’s a nice house - I suppose.” Or when someone has put in effort and work - “Well that meal wasn’t too bad (this time)” or, “I guess if that’s the best you can do!”
Words “pierce”! They hurt us. They discourage us. Whether we are young or old we are never at an age where we can’t be “pierced” by words. But words can also bring “health.” Examples.
B. It can be valuable. (Proverbs 10:20). Correction. (Proverbs 28:23). Building up. (Ephesians 4:29). Proverbs 10:20 - “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; The heart of the wicked is worth little.” Most speech is worthless. A Christians should be valuable.
C. It Can Lead to Salvation. (Proverbs 15:4) Tree of life - in garden (Genesis 2:9) — man cut off from tree of life after sin (Genesis 3:22,24). In heaven tree of life again (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 14). Our words can lead people to the salvation of their soul. We can look for those times when a word spoken can make a difference — when they will listen to the gospel — when they could be saved. Note: Proverbs 15:4 - “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” How well can we convert the sinner we work with, the student we go to school with, if we speak like they do? Proverbs 17:20 says - “he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil” — Such a person won’t influence for good, they instead will fall into evil themselves.
III. The Tongue Is A Power That Must Be Controlled.
A. It must be “guarded.” (Proverbs 21:23; 13:3).
B. It must be “refrained.” (I Peter 3:10).
C. It must be “bridled.” (James 1:26). Gr. “bridle” chalinagogeo “to lead by a bridle, to guide; …hold in check, restrain” (Thayer). By implication we see the tongue characterized like a wild horse that must be controlled. This doesn't just mean staying silent. It also means using our tongue in a way that is beneficial.
1. A Soft Answer. (Proverbs 15:1). Not saying there is no time for a stern firm voice - Titus 1:13 speaks of a time for sharp rebuke.
2. Gentleness. (Proverbs 25:15; II Timothy 2:22-24).
3. Kindness. (Proverbs 31:26). Commenting on this text Adam Clarke observes: “It has often been remarked that God has, given us two EYES, that we may SEE much; two EARS, that we may HEAR much; but has given us but ONE tongue, and that fenced in with teeth, to indicate that though we hear and see much, we should speak but little.”
Conclusion. (Proverbs 16:1) This is a difficult text in many ways. It is not saying that God makes us speak. We choose to speak with grace or perverseness. What it is teaching us is that our task is to prepare the heart with the training which comes from God. When we do so, we will answer as God would have us to.