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Life and Death are in the Tongue
We Can Destroy or Encourage People With Our Words
Nitroglycerin is an oily colorless liquid explosive that has been used for many things. It has been utilized by the military. And it also has been put into service for peaceful purposes such as quarrying. However, nitroglycerin has one major disadvantage. Though it looks harmless enough, it is, nevertheless, extremely unstable. The slightest jolt, impact or friction can cause it to spontaneously detonate. And many people have lost their lives trying to use it.
We all have a nitroglycerin-like tool that is part of the God-given equipment in our bodies. Under control, it is quite useful for communication, as well as helping to manipulate food for chewing and swallowing. However, used in the wrong way, it can be a weapon of mass destruction. If allowed to get out of control, it can harm all that are in the path of the venomous words that it unleashes. I'm talking about the tongue. And in the book of Proverbs, we have a stern warning about what can take place when we don't use this gift from God correctly. It tells us:
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits" (Proverbs 18:21).
Just like we can destroy people with our words, we can also encourage them and give them the motivation to go on in life. Words have been known to save a person from the brink of suicide. And our words can help people grow and achieve, and become all that they were meant to be. It is all up to us how we use them, for good or for ill.
I. The Tongue is Small but Powerful
The book of James talks about the tongue. He gives several life illustrations to show us how we need to use this instrument with caution. For instance, the horse, though a large animal, can be manipulated by the use of a small bit in his mouth. And a giant ship is turned by a very small rudder (James 3:1-3). Even so, the tongue, though a very small part of the body, has the power to do great things. When you think about it, the tongue is only about four inches long physically, on the average. But with it an Adolf Hitler manipulated thousands to bend to his will and to follow the Nazi party. And with that same instrument, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a Dream" speech and rallied a whole generation for civil rights.
II. The Tongue Can Be Destructive
James also sees the tongue as extremely destructive. We all know that a fire under control can be used to warm us, give light and cook our food. But out of control, it can destroy all in its path. James talks about how a little fire can kindle a large forest fire (3:5-6). The tongue, like the fire, can be very useful and helpful, or it can destroy people's lives.
III. The Tongue is Untameable
But beyond its destructive nature, the tongue is quite untameable as well. It's amazing how man has tamed various animals. l have seen trained lions and elephants for instance. Lion trainers sometimes stick their heads between the teeth of the lions that they work with. And people have tamed and trained elephants for thousands of years. The logging industry, in some Asian countries, has used them to pull heavy loads. And at circuses, trained elephants stand on their heads, lie down, roll over, dance and perform various other tricks.
That doesn't seem to be true of the tongue, however. According to James, "it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" We use it to bless our God and curse our fellow human beings, created in God's image. (3:7-9). The untameable tongue can be quite hypocritical.
IV. The Tongue is Hypocritical
I used to live near someone who had a spring. You could always count on it, when you went there, to get fresh spring water. It never went dry. The owners used it to provide water for their home. But that wouldn't happen if someone were to put salt into the water. It would begin to produce salt water, at least until the salt had washed away. Likewise, if an apple tree is grown, it will not produce lemons. It will only produce apples. However, out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing (3:10-12). This should never happen, but it does more than any of us would care to admit.
Ultimately, God's people should be a source of grace, truth and love to everyone with whom we come in contact. This, however, will never fully happen unless we can get our tongues under control. With the help of the Holy Spirit living in us, it is possible for the words of our mouths to become a force for good in this world. But we can never underestimate what could happen if we don't manage our tongues. Life and death are truly in the power of the tongue. It is up to us to see that this instrument produces life.