“DEATH AND LIFE ARE IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE”
Reading: Psalm 34
There are some words contained in the Psalm which we have read together which touch upon one of the greatest of human frailties, and therefore can always provide a profitable, necessary and indeed heart-searching basis of exhortation for us all. Thcy are to be found from verse II of Psalm 34: “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”
“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.” This reminds us of the words of the Master: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” When we come to think about those words, they certainly present some very sobering thoughts. When we appear before the judgment seat of Chdst, as each of us must, we shall have to give an account of every idle (or unprofitable or evil) word which we have spoken (that is, of course, if unrepented of and unforgiving).
When we fully realise the import of that grave fact, we can fully appreciate the importance of other exhortations in the Scriptures concerning this aspect of our walk in the Truth. The apostle Peter, for example, in his 1st epistle quotes this very passage from the Psalms, in chapter 3:10. Paul when writing to the Ephesians (4:29) says: “Let no corrupt communication proceed our of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.”
In his epistle to the Colossians Paul writes: “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (ch. 3:8). And in the following chapter (4:6): “Let your speech be aiway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” And then we remember the words of the Wise Man in the Proverbs: “Death and life are in the power of the tongrie.” (ch. 18:21).
We see then that when we appear before Christ, the basis of judgment will be the things which we have spoken. That will not be all we shall have to answerfor, of course; the things we have done, or not done, the state of our minds, the doctrines we hold, will all be taken into account, but we can be justified or condemned entirely by those things which proceed from our lips.
This becomes an even more sobering thought when we consider the gmve danger with which we are all faced in this respect, and this is forced home to us by the apostle James, when he wrote in the 3rd chapter of his epistle: “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. . . Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”
Yes, how easy it is to offend with our lips. Lions, tigers, jackals, bears, wolves, eagles, deadly serpents, all have at times been tamed by man, but the tongue, says James, can no man tame, it is an unruly evil, full of deadlypoison. The tongue is like a fire, it reacts so quickly; from a small flame or even a spark it does untold damage before we know where we are, and furthermore, though it is small, it can defile the whole body. Yes, we may be very hard workers, very enthusiastic, very self-sacrificing, very generous or kind in some ways, but if we cannot control the tongue, then we defile the whole body; but if we can control the tongue then we can control our whole body and master our other evil propensities, as James says: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
Now why is the tongue such a deadly evil? Why is it so difficult to control? Why are its activities so important? Jesus answered that question when speaking to the Pharisees when he said: “0 generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”
To this agree the words of the Wise Man Solomon when he wrote in Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinketh in this heart, so is he.” Or again, the words of Jeremiah: “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Or again, Jesus: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. . . . Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, .blesphemies: these are the things which defile a man.” (Mt. 15:71; 17-20).
We notice that Jesus heads that list of the ugly propensities of the flesh by “evil thoughts,” because it is there where we get to the root of the whole matter. Every word which we utter is an expression of our thoughts, of the intents of our hearts. Every word exists, first of all, as a thought. What is in our heart, therefore, affects our speech. If in our hearts we are envious and malicious, then we shall speak evil of our brethren and sisters. If in our hearts we are covetous, then our conversations will always be about our business, our profession, our possessions, or the things we intend to possess, or bemoaning the fact of the things we are unable to possess. If we are worldly, then we shall only talk about the things of the world, our speech will resemble that of men and women of the world, it will not be “with grace, seasoned with salt.”
If we are pleasure-seekers, then we shall talk of little else but our pastimes and hobbies, or even it maybe, of the pleasures of the world, matters which a true servant of God is so ignorant of that he is quite unable to converse about them. If we love the wisdom of this world, and are - attracted by and espouse its reasoning and ideas, then eventually we shall preach false doctrine.
But if, on the other hand, our thoughts and affections are on the things of the Truth, thoroughly steeped in the Word of God, then our speech will reflect it, we shall be ever ready to discuss it. If we are fully engaged, thoroughly wrapped up in the work of the Truth, then we will always be talking about it.
If we can thoroughly conquer the evil propensities of theflesh, then no evil communications will proceed out of our mouths. We cannot, of course, owing to the weakness of the flesh, gain perfection in this matter, but to the extent that we overcome, so far will it be reflected in our speech. Nevertheless, in spite of all our efforts to overcome, the tongue can never be tamed, it is an unruly evil. A man (or woman) governed only by the carnal mind can never control the tongue, but we have undertaken and are under an obligation to bring the carnal mind into subjection to the mind of the Spirit and we must bridle the tongue. We cannot tame it, but if we bridle it we shall bring it under control, and that is what we must do. But we must keep a tight hold on the bridle. If we relax our grip, if only for a moment, then we will slip.
We must all confess, I am sure, that we have at times made what is known as a slip of the tongue. Something slips out which we did not mean to, and for which we are afterwards sorry. This was where Moses failed. The great Moses, one of th greatest men who ever lived, the man with whom God spoke face to face, that stalwart defender of the ways and commandments of God, who in the face of intense opposition, grave danger, and every discouragement, remained loyal to Yahweh, yet he was not permitted to enter the promised land. And why? Because he spake inadvisedly with his lips. We all know the incident when that occurred. We know that he was labouring under the severest provocation, he was off his guard just for a moment, he let something slip, for which he had to pay a severe penalty.
Does that not show just how quickly the tongue reacts to the mind and the impulses of the heart. Something happens which causes us, just momentarily maybe, to slip back from the spiritual mind to the carnal mind, and before we know where we are we have said something which we ought not.
There are so many ways in which we can offend by the tongue. There is that matter of evil speaking. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” says the apostle. How easy it is to fall into this sin, we must all confess it. It is one of the most pronounced streaks in human nature to delight in speaking evil of another. The world is full of it. Why is it? Well, because evil speaking is prompted by various evil motives: which brings us back to the fact that our speech is governed by the state of our hearts and minds.
For example, revenge can be the motive for evil speaking. Someone speaks evil of us, something quite untrue perhaps, or does us an injury in some way or other, and our first reaction is at once to retaliate, and the easiest way of doing that is to speak evil of our antagonist. But that is only adding sin to sin; we all know how wrong it is to take revenge. To speak evil isjust as wrong. If anyone has done us a wrong, the Scriptures tell us what to do about it—to go and tell the offender between you and him alone. If we are not prepared to do that, then at least let us keep quiet about it. This is much easier said than done, we know, but that is the Divine standard. Let us keep it ever before us, and strive to attain to it.
Another motive which prompts evil speaking is envy. If we are envious of another’s possessions, or abilities, or position, or perhaps his reputation amongst his fellows, and are jealous because we do not enjoy such a position, then our first reaction is to speak evil, to denigrate and belittle the other’s accomplishments in the hope that we shall detract from his reputation, and out of this arises another motive which can cause evil speaking, that of pride. If we are envious of another it usually means that we desire his apparently exalted position, and that is nothing else but pride, and the impulse is to belittle the other in the hope that it will further our own selfish interests, although it is doubtful whether it will do so, but one given over to pride and envy will not understand that.
Malice is another motive which can cause evil speaking. Where malice is present, how inevitable it is that evil speaking will follow, imputing impure motives for anything that is done, or raking up any weakness or indiscretion that the victim may or may not at some time have been guilty.
Or again, it may be self-justification which we are seeking. But whatever the motive, how wicked it all is. Little wonder then that the Psalmist declares: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaking the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour.”
Let us remember that in the Scriptures whisperers and backbiters are bracketed with thieves and covetous and drunkards and those other sins, the doers of which, we are told, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now let us consider another aspect of our speech which is governed by the Divine command. We have already quoted the words of the apostle when he wrote: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.” He also said: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” -
How necessary such an exhortation is in this present evil generation when there is so much unwholesome, blasphemous and salacious speech about. It is distressing, nevertheless it is a fact that in spite of the progress in enlightenment and the increase in education there is a lamentable lack of refinement in the conversation of the majority of people. Never was there so much loose and flippant talk, never were there so many stupid and empty expressions and axioms used, which only reflects the aimless and irresponsible attitude of the present generation.
And not only that, never was there so much bad language, swearing and oath-taking as today; words which at one time would not be used in polite company are now used openly and frequently, and even among women too. So frequently does it now assail our ears that no doubt it has ceased to shock us, nevertheless it should never cease to vex us; and never, never let us become so accustomed to it that we unconsciously begin to use it ourselves.
What is it that causes people to use such foul language and engage in such unsavoury talk? One of the causes is anger. When something happens to arouse an evil man’s anger it often finds expression in a blasphemous oath. If men and women therefore would only suppress their anger, how much it would reduce the cursing and swearing we hear. Ifitis not anger, then itis pride. Men and women, and especially men, feel it is big and manly to swear and indulge in filthy talk, and they do it to gain popularity amongst their fellows, which brings us back to the same principle: out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Let us now consider for a few moments some of the good things the tongue can do. It is Solomon who has much to say on this aspect of the matter in the Book of Proverbs. In chapter 25:11 he says: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Or again in chapter 15:23: “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth; and a word spoken in due season, how good it is.” Or again: “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright.” Or again: “The lips of the wise dispense knowledge.”
Yes, the proclamation of the gospel, whether in public or private, is still most effectively done by word of mouth. So is also the word of exhortation. How helpful, how edifying is a word of encouragement, a word of comfort, a word of advice, sound instruction, a timely warning, or even a word of brotherly reproof, for again Solomon says: “As an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”
And in these matters sisters can also play a most effective part, for it is one of the characteristics of the virtuous woman portrayed in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs that “she openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Prayer and praise are also other worthy activities in which we can and should employ the tongue,as the Psalmist declares in the opening verse of that Psalm we have read this morning: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
So we see that although we have to bridle the tongue there is also much good work for it to do. How true is it then, that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
In this, as in all things, we have the perfect example in Jesus. Of him it is written: “And all bare him witness, and wondered atthe gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” And the apostle Peter, when in his 2nd epistle he says that Jesus has left us an example that we should follow in his steps, continues: “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”
Does this not impress upon us the care we should exercise in what we say and how we say it? We understand that it is a scientific fact that sound waves are never lost. If that is so, how solemn is the fact when applied to us. Nothing we have said can ever be withdrawn. Like the voice on a tape recorder, one day they will be reproduced, and it will be an exact reproduction. It may be that we shall be astonished at what we shall hear, perhaps ashamed, but it will be no use denying that we have spoken the words, they will be infallibly recorded.
We see then how it is that in more ways then one, every idle word we speak, we shall have to give an account thereof in the day of judgment. For by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned.
Let us, therefore, ponder and heed the words, again written by Solomon in Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.” For—”He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life. “