I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
While contemplating the topic of my blog post each week, I begin to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. This week, I heard that the focus should be on the power of the tongue. God definitely has a sense of humor because He knows that I may benefit from this post more than anyone else. This muscle/organ, although small, has the power to bring life or bring about death. In the Bible, it’s often referred to as a “two-edged sword”.
For the lips of an immortal women drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end, she is bitter as wormwood(fn), sharp as a two-edged sword. Proverbs 5:3-4, NKJV
Throughout history, you will encounter stories, quotes, idioms and quips regarding the tongue’s potential to hurt or to help someone.
I found a story online about a 16th-century Italian priest that once heard the confession of a woman who engaged endlessly in gossip. For her penance, he told her: "Go to the market, buy a chicken, and pluck it on your way back here, scattering the feathers as you walk. When you give me the plucked chicken, I'll tell you the rest of your penance."
The baffled woman did as she was told. When she handed the plucked chicken to the priest, he said, "Now go back and pick up all those feathers."
"But, father, that's impossible," she said. "I have no idea where they've all gone!"
"Just like the words of your gossip," he replied.
The Bible provides many warnings of what happens when someone does not carefully watch what leaves their lips:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21, ESV
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18, ESV
But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Proverbs 15:28, ESV
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Proverbs 15:4, ESV
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
James 3:6, ESV
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Growing up in an Italian family, I recall many idioms that were thrown around in everyday conversation. One of them that comes to mind as I write about the power of what we say:
In bocca chiusa non entrano le mosche.
I always found this to be clever advice…….” if you keep your mouth closed, no flies can enter it”. This Italian proverb, although very funny and true, warns to refrain from speaking unwisely or without cause; if the words don’t leave your mouth to begin with, then the damage is mediated before it’s even created.
Here’s another one:
Acqua In Bocca!
This literately means, to have “water in (your) mouth”. The Italians often use this to indicate that something should be kept to yourself. Therefore, if you have a mouth full of water, then it’s impossible to talk.
This idiom might have its origin again to a story of yet another woman going to confession and asking the priest for help regarding gossiping. Keep in mind, just because I use two women in my stories for examples, this does not mean that men don’t gossip; I have known many that do. In fact, I think I’ll change the story to reflect that:
A devout man who was particularly gossipy asked his priest for help in confession. “What do I have to do to quit talking behind peoples’ backs and stop committing this sin?” he asked.
The wise priest suggested that he drink a miraculous elixir that, when he spoke, would stop his desire to gossip and reveal other peoples’ secrets. “Take a few drops and hold them in your mouth, and you’ll see how miraculous it is,” the priest said.
Proverbs 10:19, highlights the offense one can make when we continually talk and spread gossip and warns that when our lips are restrained, it is a wise choice:
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
Great restraint in what we say is difficult, I admit, but not impossible. I remember, a few years ago, my aunt was very upset at something my father did. She was so furious, that she called me from California, distraught and crying. She started to dwell over all his faults and things about his past and yet, when I asked her what she specifically meant or was referring to, she told me never mind. Despite my suggestion that she might be paranoid and instructing her to take some anxiety medication to calm down, she never once explained what the root of her allegation was based on. Months later, I discovered the truth of what she refrained from telling me. (Something I will share in future blogs when I’m mentally ready) My aunt, therefore, took the accusations that flew from my mouth and literally chose to stay silent because she knew that once revealing her knowledge, there would be no way of taking it back. She knew the implications of her words and realized the pain that would follow. So, despite the flinging arrows out of my mouth, she restrained her tongue and gave up the overwhelming need to prove herself right. This story of self-sacrifice is what the Holy Spirit wanted me to share with you within this blog.
Please do not underestimate the power of words. Keep in mind that hurtful things can leave your mouth, but they can never return. In the below Proverbs passage, you can totally understand God’s sadness, when one of His children does not heed His Word:
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.(fn) Proverbs 6:16-19
As you can see, “a lying tongue” made the list! God knows that our tongues will lead us astray. He knows that bitterness can come from our mouths and understands the destruction of words that come from evil motives. Below are a few passages that can provide us with some guidance:
For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
1 Peter 3:10, ESV
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!
Proverbs 15:23, NIV
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29, ESV
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Colossians 4:5-6, NIV
As I can attest and admit, I struggle with this daily. I recall getting one of those circulating chain emails (you know, before the days of Facebook), that made me laugh:
Dear Lord, So far I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, have not lost my temper, have not been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed. And from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help.
You can add the below Bible verses to your new morning prayer!
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Psalm 141:3
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Through God’s Grace, Blessings, Love and Prayers,
1) Wormwood is a bitter plant; this is referring to words spoken that express bitterness.
2) Proverbs 6:16-19 – I believe that the seventh in the list “one who sows discord among brothers” is the end-result of not following the first six. Execution of the first six behaviors will ultimately contribute to discord in general.