Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Proverbs 18:21).
Speech can be misunderstood. Here are a few examples when translation became humorous. These are signs in countries translated into English:
1. In a Denmark airline office: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
2. On the door of a Moscow hotel room: “If this is your first visit to Russia, you are welcome to it.”
3. On a Bucharest hotel elevator: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”
4. On a restaurant menu in Poland: “Salad a firm’s own make; Limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; Roasted duck let loose; Beef rashers beaten up in the country people’s fashion.”
As you can see, someone should have been a little more careful, or should have consulted someone else who understood not just grammar but the vocabulary and nuances of the English language.
So it is in our lives; we should take a little more care in the choice of words that we use both with fellow believers and the world around us. We must understand that words do matter in our relationships with fellow believers and with the community in which we are going to share Christ.
A great deal of good or harm can result from how we use our tongues. The Word of God tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). While a skilled orator can influence vast numbers of people, sometimes it is to their disadvantage. On the other hand, the tongue of a believer, when under the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19), can be used to bring blessing and happiness to many people. What we say and the things we talk about most frequently and naturally reveal what is in our minds and what dominates our thinking: for as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34). The Holy Spirit led and inspired James to write an intensely practical epistle in which he makes several references to the potential consequences of the ways in which we can use our tongues. I have listed the following references for your personal study on this topic: James 1:19,26; James 2:12; James 3:1-12; James 4:11; James 5:12.
In James 3 we are given both warning and guidance regarding the use of the tongue. Believers are told that those who teach others the Word of God must teach prayerfully, carefully, and honestly as they are enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They will come under severe condemnation when what they say and teach is not consistent with their manner of life (James 3:1).
I would like us to consider some Scripture from the book of Proverbs concerning how our speech reveals what is inside our hearts. For a believer this is important, but for a pastor it is imperative to comprehend how words have the ability either to help build or to destroy members.
The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth (Proverbs 10:20).
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words (Proverbs 15:26).
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips (Proverbs 16:23).
We see from the above verses the relationship in the use of the tongue with the heart and thoughts. The tongue that is continually causing strife and contention is evidence of a heart that dwells on the same. The tongue that is vulgar and vile is also evidence that someone is dwelling on impure thoughts. There is a direct correlation between one’s thought life and his speech. You may ask then how an unworthy sinner can tame the tongue. This is why I included the third verse in this grouping. Proverbs 16 tells us that a good man teaches his mouth. He decides to ask for God’s help in guidance with what he says and thinks.
A tongue under control is evidence of spiritual maturity; and if a believer’s tongue is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then every other aspect of his life will be under the Spirit’s control (v. 2). The tongue is a comparatively small part of the human body, but it has great power. James stresses how a horse is controlled by a small bit placed in its mouth, a large ship is manuevered by a small rudder, and a small fire can kindle a large, fierce, uncontrolled blaze (vv. 3-5). Men have tamed and controlled all kinds of animals (v. 7), but no man can tame the tongue (v. 8). However, the tongue can be controlled by the Holy Spirit. When a believer is living close to God in submission and obedience to His will as revealed in the Word of God, then the tongue will be used to speak gracious words of blessing, comfort, and edification.