Extinguishing the Fire of Destructive Speech

The tongue, though small, can be a mighty weapon.

In the Bible, the tongue can be used for wisdom or for folly. Many of the Proverbs contrast a wise tongue and a destructive tongue. The question is, how does one gain wisdom and use the tongue for good? How do we use our words for healing and to bring life rather than death to our relationships?

 

It’s amazing how a small thing can become a big thing.

A small spark can cause a huge fire. An invisible virus can make thousands sick. A slight turn of the rudder can take a ship off course. A dash of the wrong spice can ruin a recipe. And the tongue, though small, can destroy with just a word.

That’s what James teaches in James 3, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 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” (vv.5- 6).

The Power of the Tongue

The tongue, though small, can be a mighty weapon. It can weaken, wound, and break a relationship. Unlike a real weapon, it lies hidden and strikes just when the victim least expects it. After repeated jabs over the course of time, a person is left defenseless and weak.

Much of the book of Proverbs talks about the power of the tongue (over a hundred times!). “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).

What are some of the ways the tongue harms and pierces another person? If you were to read through the book of Proverbs, you’d find references to ways the tongue wounds, including:

  • Put downs, name calling, harsh talk
  • Lies
  • Flattery
  • Words spoken in anger
  • Sarcasm
  • Profanity
  • Course and inappropriate joking
  • Gossip and slander
  • Boasting about oneself
  • Rash speech

A Wise Tongue

In the Bible, the tongue can be used for wisdom or for folly. Many of the Proverbs contrast a wise tongue and a destructive tongue. The question is, how does one gain wisdom and use the tongue for good? How do we use our words for healing and to bring life rather than death to our relationships?

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