Does it Really Matter What You Say?
Not that long ago in Washington, D.C. an associate pastor at a prominent evangelical church was briefed beforehand on what his role would be at an upcoming missionary banquet.
He was told to be sensitive to the fact that there would be guests attending from numerous foreign countries who were not accustomed to American culture.
During the banquet, the young pastor found himself seated next to an African man who was hungrily devouring his portion of chicken.
Trying to think of some way to communicate with the man, the pastor leaned over and said, “Chomp, chomp, good, huh?” The man, gazing back at the pastor, simply replied, “Mmm, good!”
A few minutes later, as the African man savored a delicious cup of coffee, the pastor leaned over and commented, “Glug, glug, glug, good, huh?” The man, a little uncertain, replied, “Mmm, good!”
To the pastor’s embarrassment, when the keynote speaker for the evening was introduced, it happened to be the African man next to him. The man got up and delivered a tremendous message in Oxford-accented English.
Upon concluding, the speaker headed toward the pastor, whose face was aglow with red. The speaker simply said, “Blab, blab, blab, good, huh?”
Ever been hung by your tongue? Does that true story remind you of the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever said? Isn’t it staggering the kind of trouble our tongues can create for us?
James 3:2-6 (NLT) We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the captain wants it to go, even though the winds are strong. So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can set the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
The Power of Speech
Our words always matter. The tongue is an instrument that carries the power of life or death! The tongue was meant to uplift and edify not to tear down, or to speak death over things in our lives or those around us.
Countless people have been wiped out by words. Whether it’s a sharp word spoken to your spouse, a sarcastic comment to a boss, or even a stupid social media rant, our words can be containers of death.
Our words can trap us. They can get us into situations we never should have gotten into. They can bind us in commitments we never should have made.
Proverbs 6:2 (HCSB) You have been trapped by the words of your lips – ensnared by the words of your mouth.
Far too many of us use our tongues flippantly to voice how we feel or what we think or to strike back at someone. The Bible tells us the tongue can heal, or it can harm (Proverbs 15:4).
Incalculable damage can be produced by the tongue! Your own mouth has the ability to quickly destroy your life more than anyone or anything else.
Proverbs 13:3 (NLT) Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.
Most of us fail to realize how significant our daily speech really is. And so, repeatedly, again and again, we foolishly indulge in speaking negative and destructive words that cause anxiety and angst – or words that can bring distress, division, discouragement, dread or defeat.
And then amazingly, we wonder why bad things happen to good people?
Watch Your Mouth
Think about it: there’s something very significant about the way the Lord designed the human head. Each of us has seven openings in our head, the number in Scripture which often denotes completeness or perfection.
We have three pairs of openings: two eyes, two ears, and two nostrils. But God intentionally limited the seventh opening to one, the mouth.
My Bible-teaching ministry has taken me several times around the world to many nations, but I have never yet met anyone who wished they had more than one mouth… Why? Because this one opening causes us more headaches than all of the other six combined!
Grab a Bible concordance and look up all the words related to that one opening… such as “mouth,” “tongue,” “lips,” “speech,” “words,” and so on, you will be astounded by just how much the Bible has to say about the topic of the tongue!
The tongue is a major Bible theme, and for very good reason – there is no area in our personality more directly related to our total well-being than the mouth and tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
The tongue is the decisive member. Death and life are in the power of the tongue!
What Does God Say About the Tongue?
The tongue is a powerful force – for good or evil. The Bible says that words can carry enormous power: the power to heal or to wound; to encourage or to dishearten; to speak truth or to deceive; to praise or to criticize.
Is it possible to learn how to tame the tongue and manage our mouths?
In Romans 3:13-15, when Paul lists the five different parts of the human body that are the most common vehicles of sin (throat, tongue, lips, mouth, and feet), astonishingly four of them relate to speech!
The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the tongue and the tremendous impact of our words. Consider the practical wisdom in these dozen verses in Proverbs, which I’ve selected from the Message Bible…
Proverbs 19:11 (MSG) Smart people know how to hold their tongue.
Proverbs 18:21 (MSG) Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.
Proverbs 6:17 (MSG) God hates a tongue that lies.
Proverbs 10:31 (MSG) A good person’s mouth is a clear fountain of wisdom; a foul mouth is a stagnant swamp.
Proverbs 16:27 (MSG) Mean people spread mean gossip; their words smart and burn.
Proverbs 15:1 (MSG) A sharp tongue kindles a temper‐fire.
Proverbs 4:24 (MSG) Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip.
Proverbs 15:4 (MSG) Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Proverbs 19:9 (MSG) The person who tells lies gets caught; the person who spreads rumors is ruined.
Proverbs 16:28 (MSG) Troublemakers start fights; gossips break up friendships.
Proverbs 18:7 (MSG) Fools are undone by their big mouths; their souls are crushed by their words.
Proverbs 13:3 (MSG) Careful words make for a careful life; careless talk may ruin everything.
These are just a sample of the many references to the tongue in the book of Proverbs. Your words are like seeds sown for the future. What kind of future do you want to have?
Saying the wrong things can ruin a good relationship, and saying the right things can mend a bad relationship.
Many people are divorced today simply because of wrong words spoken or right words not spoken. Our problem is not just saying the wrong thing – it is often not saying the right thing that causes problems in relationships.
Six Reminders: Talk Is Never Cheap
The old saying: “talk is cheap” is a lie, it’s a myth. Why? Because talk can be very expensive! What a person says, and the words he speaks is ultimately what he gets and what he pays for in life.
The real truth is that the words of your own mouth can bring you hope or despair; strength or weakness; a happy home life or misery; faith or fear; provision or hardship; courage or discouragement; freedom or bondage.
Proverbs 18:21 (HCSB) Life and death are in the power of the tongue.
God’s Word has a great deal to say about the power of the tongue and why talk is not cheap. Here are six basic reminders about the power of your words…
1: The Bible says with your mouth confession is made unto salvation: the word “salvation” includes eternal life, deliverance, forgiveness, right standing with God, freedom, and peace (Romans 10:8-10).
2: The Bible says you will be held accountable for every idle word you speak. Jesus said by your own mouth and words you are justified or condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).
3: The Bible says that your tongue is like a “steering wheel” and it can steer the direction and course of your whole life (James 3:3-5).
4: The Bible says the tongue is humanly “untamable” and only the Holy Spirit can supply the grace to help control the tongue and the words you speak (James 3:8; Psalm 141:3; Luke 12:12).
5: The Bible says the words of our mouth can have serious consequences: loose lips and a careless mouth often get us into all kinds of trouble (Proverbs 6:2; Proverbs 18:7; Proverbs 21:23).
6: The Bible says the tongue can be a liability or an asset. It can be a blessing or a curse. It can help or hinder you. It can work for you or against you (Proverbs 18:20-21).
Don’t Get Hung By Your Tongue
Gossip has been dubbed the favorite indoor sport of many who call themselves Christians. Only we don’t call it gossip; we say we are “sharing prayer requests.”
Luke 6:37 (MSG) Jesus said, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.”
Consider the human propensity to gossip and its far-reaching impact in the following lines penned by an unknown author…
“My name is gossip…
I am a direct descendant of the father of lies.
I have no respect for justice.
I maim without killing.
I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and I gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.
My victims are helpless.
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible.
The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody’s friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
I topple governments and wreck marriages.
I destroy careers and cause sleepless nights, stress and suffering.
I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
I make headlines and heartaches.
Even my name hisses… I am called gossip!!”
Proverbs 26:20-21 (NIV) Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
The very word “gossip” just hisses. Gosssssssip! Remember, Satan is the Father of lies.
Going around spreading slander – idle, untrue, unkind, exaggerated, malicious talk – is gossip. The very title of Satan in the New Testament, the word rendered “devil,” means “a slanderer” in Greek. That is its root meaning and the main description of Satan in the Bible.
If you gossip or tell tales, you are actually doing the devil’s work for him. You are an agent of Satan. Not only must we be careful not to spread gossip, we have a responsibility not to listen gossip.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 (MSG) Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think.
Since gossip is the opposite of love, ask the Lord to give you His divine love for others so you can be someone who protects reputations, covers faults, and encourages others with your words.
Do you make a habit of negative self-talk? Did you know that what you consistently say about yourself has greater impact on your life than anything anybody else says about you?
Proverbs 10:19 (TLB) Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow!
Very often people can become their own worst enemy. They “badmouth” themselves and make damaging self-critical statements… Do you recognize any of these?
- “If only I was younger.”
- “If only I had a better education.”
- “If only I had more money.”
- “If only I could meet the right people.”
- “If only I could make the right contacts.”
- “I’m stupid! I can’t seem to do anything right.”
- “I’ll never lose weight. I just know I’ll never get back into shape.”
- “I guess I’ll never get married. I can never meet the right one.”
- “Nothing good ever comes my way. I guess I’m just not lucky enough.”
- “I never get any good breaks.”
- “I’ll never get out of debt. I’ve always had money problems.”
- “I’ve tried and tried, but I know I’ll never be able to quit smoking.”
- “I’ll never get that job I want… I’ll never get promotion.”
- “If only I had more time.”
- “If only I had done things differently.”
Proverbs 6:2 (NKJV) You are snared by the words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth.
When people constantly talk in this negative way – they may or may not realize it, but they end up “hung by the tongue” and sabotage their true potential to succeed in life.
By engaging in negative “self-talk” and a poor choice of words to describe their situation, it can register deeply into their minds and set them up to fail.
Before long, they have renewed their mind negatively and limp through life with diminished confidence and a defeatist mentality. Worse yet, those negative mindsets can impede God’s master plan for their lives.
Proverbs 11:12 (NIV) A man of understanding holds his tongue.
Proverbs 21:23 (MSG) Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
The tongue can be an instrument of division and destruction; but when bridled and controlled by the Holy Spirit it can become an instrument of grace and good.
It’s time we yielded our tongues to the Lord and prayed this daily, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
At one time or another, we’ve all regretted something we’ve said. What about your words? What are you saying when you speak to your spouse, to your children, to others, to yourself?
“Everyone must choose one of two pains: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret!” – Jim Rohn
So significant are our words that the psalmist declares…
- “I have determined that my mouth will not sin” (Psalm 17:3 HCSB).
- “Help me, Lord, to keep my mouth shut and my lips sealed” (Psalm 141:3 TLB)
- “I will keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth” (Psalm 39:1 NIV).
Are you willing today to surrender your tongue to the control of the Holy Spirit?
T-H-I-N-K Before You Speak
Have you ever had anyone tell a lie about you? How did that make you feel? How about someone gossiping about you? How many times have rumors been spread that are based on information that is simply not factual because a person did not take the time to look into it?
Dr. J. Vernon McGee used to say that the only exercise some Christians get is running down others and jumping to conclusions! So when we hear gossip or slander, what should we do?
Here is a little acronym that we need to remember: T-H-I-N-K. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it True? If it is not accurate, then don’t repeat it.
- Is it Helpful? Will sharing this information really help?
- Is it Inspiring? That is clear enough!
- Is it Necessary? Do you really need to spread this information?
- Is it Kind? Are you prepared to damage and hurt others?
Wow!! You might be thinking… If I acted this way all the time, there would be a lot of things I just wouldn’t say. Great! Then don’t say them.
Zip your lip! You will be far better for it, and so will many other people. And you’ll never get hung by the tongue!