THE DESTRUCTIVE NATURE OF THE TONGUE
This morning we are going to be talking about one of the smallest members of our body, which is also the strongest and the most powerful member of our body. Of course, I am talking about our tongue and the words that it forms.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
It is amazing that such a small member of the body can have such power, but it is true that the tongue can make the difference between death and life and between joy and sorrow. It can be used to grow the church, or can be used to tear it down. Of course the tongue cannot do all these things by itself because it is simply the tool used to express the thoughts of the heart.
Jesus explains it this way:
Mark 7:14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand:† 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.† 16 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"† 17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.† 18 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him,† 19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?"† 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.† 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,† 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.† 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."
So, the condition of our heart determines the outcome of whether our tongue will be used for good or for evil. As Christians, we should be very concerned about the condition of our heart and the words that we use.
Proverbs 13:3 He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
Proverbs 21:23 Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles.
We must keep our guard up at all times because if we donít, we will end up saying things that we should not and things that we will regret later. The best way for us to make sure that we donít allow our tongue to be destructive is by training our tongues to speak righteous things and to abstain from evil vile words as,
Proverbs 16:23 The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds learning to his lips.† 24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.†
We need to understand that the words that we speak define who we are, and if we ever hope to be good examples to others, we must learn to purify our thoughts. As Paul said,
2 Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,† 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,†
The reason it is so important for us to do this is because we are representatives of Christ.
Our lives and our speech are supposed to reflect that of Christ. When people see how we behave at our work place or anywhere outside the church, they should see Christ in us.
I want you to think about your past week right now. When you got around your friends, did you participate in using foul language? Did you one-up them by telling a dirtier joke? Did you lie to someone this past week? Did you speak rudely or angrily to anyone this past week?
Only you can honestly answer these questions. If you did any of these things, can you honestly say that you were representing Christ at that time? Of course not! We need realize that the only way those outside of the church are going to be able to see what Christ is all about is by the example that we give.
If you leave worship and put on your worldly hat and act like everyone else, you are misrepresenting Christ and His church. When people know that you are a Christian and they see and hear you doing things that a Christian should not be doing, you are giving the Lordís church a bad name. What can we possibly offer to the world, if we look and act just like them? Absolutely nothing!
We need to remind ourselves on a daily basis that when we died with Christ in baptism, we made a commitment to live our life for Him.
Colossians 3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Also, Paul says:
2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;† 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
We must stop living our lives for ourselves and start living them for Jesus.
When we live our life for Christ and use our tongue for righteousness, we can make a difference in peopleís lives and we can help the church grow. As,
Proverbs 10:20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; The heart of the wicked is worth little.
Every morning when we wake up, we have to make the decision that we are going to guard our tongue and focus on being the best example we can be, so that we can be that shining example of Christ. Besides, we are commanded by Scripture to watch what we say:
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.†
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.†
ESV 1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Clearly, we are to do our best to keep our words pure no matter what the situation. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just keep our mouths shut.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few.
Proverbs 17:28 Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we would be wise to listen twice as much as we speak. This is the advice James gives us. He says:
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;† 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Many of our outbursts and sinful words could be stopped if we would simply listen more and speak less. Since we are representing someone as holy and pure as Jesus, it should cause us to think hard about the words that we use and the example we are being. Every time we slip up, we give the devil an advantage in our life and in the lives of those that we interact with. We must never underestimate the influence we have on those around us.
I wish I could tell you that you could become perfect at taming your tongue and being the perfect example for Christ, but the truth of the matter is that we are all going to mess up from time to time. Even the apostle Peter could not be perfect in this area. We learn about his struggle in:
Galatians 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;† 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.† 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.† 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
Peter was with Jesus from the beginning, and he was one the original 12 apostles. He was ambassador for Christ, and he did many great things to grow Godís kingdom. God even chose Peter to be the first Jewish man to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, yet we find him sinning here, and because of his actions, he was influencing other faithful Christians to follow in his footsteps. Thankfully, Paul corrected Peter.†
This example shows that we are going to mess up sometimes, but what is important is that we do our best not to mess up, and if we do, we need to take action and try to remedy the damage we have done with our tongue and our bad example. †However, sometimes our words cause so much destruction that the damage may never be undone, which is why it so important that we guard our tongue.
A great example of this comes from the story of how a father found a unique way to open the eyes of his son. His son was always being mean to his younger sister and saying rude and mean things. So, he gave his son a beautiful piece of wood that had been polished and you could almost see your face in it. He told him wanted him to drive a nail into it every time he said something mean or rude to his sister. At first, he thought this was fun so he was extra mean to his sister so he could drive some nails into that piece of wood. It wasnít long until he had filled the wood up with nails, and then his father told him to pull all the nails out and said son remember how beautiful that piece of wood was before and now look at it, it scared by all those nails and it will never be the same again. Then he said, this is the same thing you are doing to your sister when speak means things to her. Yes you can be forgiven for what you have done, but like those nails once they have pulled out the scars are left behind and your sister will not be the same after your cruel words. At that moment the young man begin to cry because realized what he had been doing to his sister and he promised his dad that he would do his best to treat his sister better from that day forward.
James gives us some great insight of how destructive the tongue can be and how important it is that we do our best to control it.
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.† 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.† 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.† 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.† 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
James is teaching us that we are not perfect, and we will stumble from time to time, but, if we can get to point in our life to where we can control our tongue, we will be perfect that is fully mature because once you can control your tongue, you can control all your actions, because again your heart, that is your thoughts, are the driving force behind your tongue.
James illustrates how we could control our entire body and our actions if we could control our tongue by pointing out how a massive horse that has more strength than the strongest man can be controlled by putting a small bit in its mouth. When you pull to right, it causes the horse to the right. When you pull back on the reigns, it causes the horse to stop, and if you keep pulling back, the horse will start moving backwards.
The same thing is true for a huge ship that could hold many horses, men, and cargo because if you want to move the boat, you simply move the small rudder to the left or to the right, and it will control the ship. When we can learn to control our tongue, we can control our entire body, but if we do not keep it under control, it can cause massive damage.
James 3:5 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.
We have all seen how destructive one little spark can be. When a spark happens in the right place it can catch an entire field on fire, burning down trees, houses, and killing animals, and sometimes people. We take great caution when it comes to fire especially in the wintertime, which is why we have burn bans because our government officials know what one stray spark can cause.
In the same way, we should take great caution with how we use our tongue because James says that our tongue is just as destructive as an out of control fire. When we lose control of our tongue, and the words we spew out happen at the right time, lives can be destroyed and people can be driven away from God. When it unleashed in the church, it can do great damage to the body of Christ.
James says when this destructive fire is unleashed from our unbridled tongues that it gets its fuel from hell itself, because an uncontrolled tongue is full of iniquity. It is important that we remind ourselves every day about how powerful our tongues can be and how much destruction they can cause if we do not keep our tongue under guard. The last thing we should want as Christians is to be a bad example to those in the world because if we love God, we certainly do not want to tarnish His church or what Christianity is all about. Many times we only have one shot at winning souls to Christ, so let us do our best to be the best examples that we can be, so that we can glorify God in our short stay here on this earth.
We have a choice on how we use our tongue. We can either use its power to destroy the lives of others and to bring reproach on the Lordís church, or we can use it for good.
Proverbs 25:11 †A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.
When we choose our words carefully, they can change lives for the better, and we can say with confidence that we are representing Christ, and we are building His church up when we guard our tongue and use its power for good.
One of the best ways for us to learn to do this is by changing ourselves from the inside out, which means we must begin with our heart. The writer of Psalm 119 tells us the best place to begin.
Psalm 119:11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!† 12 Blessed are You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes!† 13 With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth.† 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches.† 15 I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways.† 16 I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
The more we put Godís Word into our heart, the more our lives will be changed and conformed to His ways. As Isaiah said:
Isaiah 50:4 " The Lord GOD has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear To hear as the learned.
So, donít neglect the Word of God, instead use it daily to train your tongue so that you will speak as the oracles of God. Another thing that will help us in our daily challenge of controlling our tongue and that will help us to be a good example is by praying to God for wisdom and guidance in this area.
While we may never be able to be the perfect example and say the right thing every time, we can make great strides at improving ourselves in this area by putting Godís Word into our heart and praying for strength and guidance every single day. When we make the effort to listen more than we speak and we really think about how destructive our unguarded tongue can be to the Lordís church, it will help us to be the best examples that we can be.
I hope this lesson has reminded you how important it is that we keep our tongues in check, and that we do our best to be great examples to those in the church and outside the church because we represent Christ and His church by the way that we conduct ourselves.
I want to close with a poem titled ďOne Word.Ē
One Word by C. Denise Sutton 2008
If I could leave behind some wisdom and instill some hope in you,
I would remind everyone I know exactly what one word can do.
One word can lift a sorrow; it can mend a broken heart.
One word can instill determination and encourage a brand new start.
One word can offer peace where once there was only despair.
For one word can convince a lonely heart that there is someone who will share.
One word can offer a new perception where there was once no hope.
One word can build up the esteem of another in order that they might cope.
One word can move millions; one word can help win a race.
One word can instill in you a peace offered by Godís abiding grace.
One word can lift the guilt you feel even if youíve done wrong.
And one word can lead to a line, a verse, and eventually a song!