Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21, NKJV)
The tongue is very powerful. With it we can bless God and curse men – almost at the same time (although it ought not be so, Jas. 3:9-10). Solomon assures us we will reap what we sow concerning the words we speak. Since this is true of the spoken word, it is also true of the words we speak online. Posting on websites and social media gives us no license to be rude, crude, unkind, profane and hurtful to others. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are too frequently launching pads for hateful assaults, bitter criticisms, and malicious attacks. Words can cut deeper than a knife, often maiming or killing a person’s good reputation, a friendship, a marriage, or even a life. So, be careful what you post on social media. Our words reveals our hearts, and God is the great heart-knower to whom we all are accountable (Matt. 12:34-35; Acts 1:24; Heb. 4:13). Monitor your words online – what you post will be there for a very long time. Will your words bear the fruit of death or life?
He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil. (Proverbs 17:20, NKJV)
The heart and the tongue are connected. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). In today’s verse, the deceitful heart (“crooked heart,” ESV) finds nothing good in others. Truly, “to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15). Comparisons, complaints and disputes pour out of the mouth of the person whose heart is crooked and deceitful. As God’s children we are to “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). One way to see good in others instead of falling into contentiousness is to adorn our hearts with honesty, truth and love (Ephesians 4:25, 15). Unrestrained hearts unleash verbal grenades that maim and kill relationships and souls. We must constantly remember that tongue control begins with heart control (James 3:2, 8).
8 Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath. 9 If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace. (Proverbs 29:8–9, NKJV)
We know it is possible to “win the battle but lose the war.” That is the predictable outcome when we are driven by pride to “get in the last word” of a dispute. Instead of calmly choosing words that edify and seek a godly solution to the matter, yielding to the temptation to rip into the person who has hurt us only fans the flames of wrath and malice (Ephesians 4:29-32). Tongue control results from heart control, and the wise person discerns when contending becomes fodder for the fool (Proverbs 26:4). “A man of understanding will hold his peace” at such times (Proverbs 11:12). When tempted by the passion of anger to remove restraint and “burn down the house” (so to speak), be wise and turn away from wrath. Rule over the impulse of wrath (Genesis 4:6-7). “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). The victory of faith lasts into eternity, but there is no peace in the fleeting satisfaction of the fool’s rage.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. (James 1:26, NKJV)
This warning from the inspiration’s pen is penetrating, straightforward and universal in application. It strikes at the very heart of self-righteousness and the hypocrisy it so readily breeds. No one is so greatly deceived as he who thinks he is something when he is nothing (Galatians 6:3). James is telling us that what we think about our personal piety does not make it so. Being actively religious does not insure one’s usefulness and acceptability to God. The heart is deceived that thinks the fruit of its lips have no bearing on its virtue. The tongue that wags with backbiting gossip, profane innuendos or contentious murmurings exposes a heart that is not devoted to God. Such language reveals a heart that is devoted to itself. The heart from which such language spews shows it is willing to hurt others (while justifying itself). We must bring our tongues under control by bringing our hearts under control. We do that by looking into the perfect law of liberty and being doers of the word (James 1:22-25).
He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends. (Proverbs 17:9, NKJV)
The tongue is powerful. It can comfort the grieving with kindness and concern, and it can destroy a person’s credibility and good reputation through malicious gossip. It can build up brethren and it can destroy churches. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:5). Let us learn to restrain the tongue by controlling the heart. Jesus said what comes out of the mouth defiles the person, because it comes from the heart (Matthew 15:11, 18). Gossip is one such defilement. It tears down others to justify self. It is ugly and void of kindness. Gossip is prevented by keeping the meditations and issues of the heart pure (Philippians 4:8). Today’s proverb reminds us that love promotes forgiveness, not the separation caused by talebearing and gossip.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. (James 3:5–6, NKJV)
There is amazing power in your tongue. Of course, that is to say, there is great power in the words we choose to speak. Like a small match that sets an entire forest ablaze, the small tongue can do enormous damage. With it, one can engulf the whole body with the defilement of sin. Sinful habits are reinforced and perpetuated by sinful words that are put into action. Words have meaning, and the words we choose can hurt many souls, or conversely, our words can speak truth and build up the brokenhearted. Jesus said that our words either justify or condemn us before God on the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Just as we are careful when using a campfire in the forest, let us be careful not to use our tongues as daggers flung at an opponent, to disrupt, damage and destroy. Let us speak kindly, with gracious words that impart kindness and respect to others (Eph. 4:29).
1 I said, “I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me.” 2 I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good; And my sorrow was stirred up. 3 My heart was hot within me; While I was musing, the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue:” (Psalm 39:1–3, NKJV)
David took special care when wicked people were before him. He knew the ungodly, if given a chance, would unjustly turn their evil against him. They did so frequently throughout his life, without justification. When confronted by evil people, David chose to carefully guard his conduct and his words, lest he should fall into sin himself, and become “the reproach of the foolish” (Psa. 39:8). We may feel the impulse to lash out against the wicked, instead of speaking with the restrain of wisdom and truth. David knew the former would produce no good, and would fail to express the hope he had in the Lord and His deliverance from evil (Psa. 39:7-8). Like David, we should be “slow to speak” and “slow to wrath” when the wicked are before us. Even as he sighed with sorrow and grief of heart over the wickedness before him, David did not speak until he could do so as an expression of faith (Psa. 39:3-8). His momentary silence gave him the opportunity to guard his ways, gather his thoughts to avoid sin, and then to speak fearlessly with faith in the Lord. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to remain calm, composed and faithful when evil is before us.