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The power of the tongue
- Jacob Ninan
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Pr.18:21). What kind of power does the tongue have? Our tongue which is just a small part of our body can change the course of our life like the rudder on a ship, and we can use it like a bridle on a horse to choose our direction (Jas.3:3-5). All these passages speak about the responsibility we have, to be careful with what we speak. We can speak in such a way as to encourage and build up others so that they can get to experience godly life. On the other hand, if we let out hurting or demeaning words the consequences can be very bad. In such cases, the damage can last long even if we apologise or 'take back' those words. Actually, we can't take back words once we have spoken. They can remain in someone's memory and trouble them as long as they live. Words spoken in a fit of anger can divide families or even nations.
We have to learn to be more and more careful not to speak damaging words. The way to do this is not just by being careful and asking God to help us (Ps.141:3), but also by seeking to say words that will be gracious and serve to bless the others (Ep.4:29). Since words come out of the abundance of the heart (Mt.12:34), we have to watch over the intentions of the heart. When provocation comes, we feel like letting someone 'have it.' But when we realise that such words can hurt and possibly damage relationships permanently, we will learn to be more careful. When we love the others we will also seek to bless them through all that we say.
The control of the tongue is so important that if we are not even trying to keep it in control we may be fooling ourselves in our understanding of spirituality (Jas.1:26).
Unfortunately a modern teaching has also come about that implies as if our tongue has some power in itself. It follows that the words we speak have the power to make things happen. This seems to come from a literal rather than contextual interpretation of words like Pr.18:21 and Jas.3:3-5. The truth is that our words have consequences to the hearers, just as our actions also. We can initiate reactions in our hearers, and in turn to us, that can lead to 'life or death.' But we cannot extrapolate and assume that we have a power to make things happen through our words.
Power belongs to God (Ps.62:11). Jesus as Son of God is God. But even as children of God we are just created beings. We have no supernatural powers. Even when God gives gifts through which we can exercise supernatural power, the power itself is of God. What we say does not necessarily happen. David said once that he would die by the hand of Saul (1Sa.27:1), just to give one example. We don't have to be scared if we inadvertently say such things. Neither should we imagine that by speaking what we want to happen we make it happen. Confessing with our mouth what God says is different, because it is an expression of our faith in God (Ro.10:9,10), and a recognition that it is God who exercises power.