The Power of the Tongue
by Dale Anderson
Artists and Authors
I have a big problem! I’ve been diagnosed with an incurable disease. It’s a hopeless case—there’s no cure! It is a common enough disease; I would have thought by now that the power of modern science would have found a remedy. But, alas, there is no hope for me. Or is there?
My disease? It’s called foot-in-mouth disease. I often say things I shouldn’t, causing much distress for those around me. My incurable problem is that I struggle (like many others) with managing my tongue. We are told in Scripture that “no man can tame the tongue” and that “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit”(Proverbs 18:21; James 3:8).
You may have heard the playground jingle “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, believe me, it’s not entirely true. We all can testify to the negative effects of someone’s words on our soul, and worse yet, we’ve seen the hurt in the eyes of others whom we’ve wronged with our own words. We are all guilty; we are all diseased!
Our culture is obsessed with words. Don’t get me wrong. Words themselves aren’t bad—it’s just that we have so many of them. The English language alone has about 500,000 words. This doesn’t count the daily slang of our street talk. And it is with these words that we bless, curse, preach, seduce, exaggerate, scorn, mock, gossip, sing, lie, prophesy, pray, wheel and deal—endless possibilities.
I remember that my mother really helped me with my tongue when I was a little kid. Often prone to a few cuss words and a tone that was disrespectful, she helped me understand that this was inappropriate and harmful to my character. She was right! Her favorite method of training was holding a bar of soap in my mouth for five minutes! And for those wanting to know, I preferred Irish Spring for the taste, hating Ivory because it lathered so quickly. I learned fast the damage my tongue could cause.
The book of James teaches that we can control horses with bits in their mouths and steer great ships with a small rudder, but taming the tongue is practically impossible (James 3:3–6
). In James’ letter, out of the five chapters, he dedicates one entire chapter—his third—to his warning about the tongue.
In this chapter he talks about the tongue having an impact on our whole body (vs. 1–2). He talks about the nature of the tongue and the two types of wisdom we express—one earthly and demonic, the other heavenly and spiritual (vs. 13–18). In fact, James’ warning is so strong many have interpreted his words in a negative light and ignored the hidden invitation in his message.
Yes, there is an invitation for us! James talks about a bit, rudder, and fire; and yes, it seems negative. However, when we consider the whole counsel of Scripture, we see God preparing His messengers (preachers, teachers, singers, musicians) by first changing their hearts in order to affect their tongues. We have the Bible and countless other historical records of God using the tongues of men and women to give direction in times of confusion, to release power when human hearts are powerless, and to kindle fire in the human soul. Like Peter on the day of Pentecost, like Paul on a ship in the middle of a horrible storm, and like Elijah who lit a fire on an altar in Israel, there is a positive to the power of the tongue.
How can a man tame the tongue? If it’s impossible, then how can we take up the call to join this great project? You see, as Jesus told us, what seems impossible for man is not impossible for God. He wants to help us in taming our tongue. So what shall we do?
I think, first of all, we become aware of our need to bridle our tongue. Just simple awareness helps bring a measure of restraint. Second, we make our tongue a matter of prayer. Our speech needs to become part of our regular routine before the throne of God. He encourages us to guard our tongue many times in Scripture—it’s clear He must have a plan for us; we only have to ask. Third, we need to take up practical assignments initiated by Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit has whispered in my heart three practical ways I can engage with in order to partner with Him to tame my tongue:
- reducing, even eliminating, complaining;
- not speaking evil of my brother/sister; and
- disengaging from arguing on social media (Facebook for me).
That’s my assignment, and Holy Spirit has promised to give me daily grace for it. What’s your assignment? How will you take up the call to prepare yourself as a messenger of the Lord when He needs a mouthpiece to speak through?
There are some who have taken up crazy assignments when challenged by God about their tongue. David, in one of the most intense seasons of his life, being hunted like an animal by King Saul, said he would guard his tongue from complaining (Psalm 34). Only God can give grace to do that! David said he would worship instead of complaining. Wow!
Or how about Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, who was placed on a silent fast by Gabriel the angel of God for nine months (Luke 1). Notice that when his mouth was opened, the prophecy he released over his newborn son set the course of his son’s life for the rest of his days. Or how about Abba Agathon, one of the early Desert Fathers who held a rock in his mouth for three years to learn silence and tame his tongue.¹ Double wow!
Friends, the message is clear. It is time to guard our tongues. It is time to take responsibility for our words. It is time to use our tongues for good, forsaking evil-speaking and coarse joking (Ephesians 5:4
). What would Holy Spirit have you do? Have you asked Him? If you have, take courage—He gives grace. If you haven’t, perhaps it’s time to face the truth—you may have the same disease as me and need help. Does your tongue need healing? Ask for help today.
What’s one way you can guard your tongue today?
For more on this topic, we recommend Relationships: Communication, Expectations, and Healing Wounds by Mike Bickle, a message on resolving conflicts in relationships. Watch the message here >>
¹Benedicta Ward, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (New York: Penguin, 2003), 20.
Dale Anderson has been a teacher for over thirty years, serving as a public school teacher (BEd, University of Calgary) and a Bible teacher. He was a missionary in Gliwice, Poland, from 1992 to 1999, where he taught English and established a church focused on prayer and intimacy with Jesus. Dale is the author of Mercy Wins: Learning Mercy in a Merciless Age and has a passion to see the global Church established in night-and-day prayer with fasting. Dale and his wife, Cheryl, have two children, Jordan (married to Victoria), and Bethany.