Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Tongue
“No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8 (NIV)
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t like recess. In fact, I dreaded recess because of a certain little boy.
I would be playing peacefully with other girls and out of nowhere, the brown-eyed-boy with the big mouth would appear. “China girl! China girl!” he yelled, chasing me around.
I’d quickly retreat to the girls’ bathroom to escape the embarrassment. There weren’t many Chinese girls in my elementary school. I didn’t want to be different; I wanted to fit in.
Recess reminded me I didn’t fit in. I used to think dyeing my hair brown would solve all my problems. I never tried it, but I thought about it a lot.
Because of those two words spoken to me — “China girl! China girl!” — I became insecure about my God-given race. I didn’t eat Chinese food; I ate pizza and hamburgers. At a young age, I was experiencing the power of other’s words to influence my thoughts and behavior.
The words we speak hold great potential, both to harm and to heal. Our key verse reminds us of the enormous power yielded by the tiny muscle, the tongue. The Bible tells us the tongue is untamable, restlessly evil, and full of deadly poison. My big thigh muscle hasn’t injured too many, but my tiny tongue? That’s another story.
In James chapter 3, James contrasts sizes in his three analogies about the tongue: a horse’s bit turns its whole body; small rudders direct large ships; and a little flame can ignite a great forest fire.
The recurring theme? Don’t be deceived. Although very small, the tongue is powerful and should not be underestimated in its ability to do harm.
If I am singing God’s praises Sunday morning at church but spreading juicy gossip on Monday morning, something is wrong with my heart, and it shows through the words that pass by my tongue. I don’t become saved by the words I speak (salvation is through Christ alone). But because I am saved, my words are supposed to reflect the presence of Jesus in my life.
The same mouth should not produce praise and cursing. For example, an apple tree produces apples. It doesn’t produce apples and oranges. Following Jesus is an “all-in” endeavor. You can’t produce apples and oranges, blessing and cursing when you’ve been made into a new creation.
Does that mean we’ll always speak righteous words at the right time, never lashing out in anger or impatience? No, James tells us in our key verse that “no human being can tame the tongue.” Verse 3:2 says “we all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect” (NIV).
What’s the use in trying if no one can be perfect or tame the tongue? The emphasis shouldn’t be placed on how far we fall short. Instead, we can focus on how far forward we can progress. When we obey God’s Word to become more like Jesus, we are being perfected. We are getting closer and closer to what Christ is like. We are not expecting perfection from ourselves. But by the grace of God, we are striving toward perfection.
One little, wise word at a time.
A few weeks ago at bedtime, my 6-year-old daughter Lucy looked at me with her big chocolate chip eyes. “Mommy, I appreciate how you say nice things to me. I appreciate that you help me love God and to do the right thing.”
She spoke slowly in that little 6-year-old cadence, and I savored every syllable. It was like a big hug to my soul and in that moment, I felt fully appreciated and applauded. I pressed in tightly for a hug and thought in amazement, “My little girl understands the value of words of affirmation!”
Lucy used her tongue for good. When I was around her age, words spoken to me sent me running to hide. But now, my child’s words empowered me to mother strong another day.
How have you been using your words lately? Your words carry great potential to harm or heal. Have you been building your loved ones up or pointing out their faults? Your tongue is a powerful weapon for good or evil; wield it wisely today.
Lord, I recognize my tongue is inherently evil and can easily be used to harm others. I give You my heart and ask You to refine my words. Help me speak life to those I see today. Give me specific words of encouragement to share with my family and friends. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Psalm 34:13, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.” (NIV)
Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue can bring death or life…” (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Since you have become a Christian, how have your words changed?
Think of a person who could use some encouragement today. Pick up the phone, talk in person or send an email with positive words to bless him or her.
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