Our words have the power of life or death (Proverbs 18:21); the ability to destroy or create; to harm or heal; to oppress or liberate; to deceive or illuminate; to change our world and our lives for better or for worse. The following quote is taken from an article titled, “The Power of Words”:
A 21st century Jewish Rabbi shared this striking statement about the power of words: “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively use words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” (Quote source here.)
Whether we are the recipient of words or the giver of words, we all are well aware of the power our words have on others and on ourselves. Our facial expressions, gestures, posture, tone of voice and body language are also powerful communication tools that come into play, too, and can clue us in on the sincerity of the words we receive from others or give to others. James Chapter 3 specifically speaks to the power of our words in verses 1-12 (TPT):
My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be so eager to become a teacher in the church since you know that we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgment. We all fail in many areas, but especially with our words. Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. Horses have bits and bridles in their mouths so that we can control and guide their large body. And the same with mighty ships, though they are massive and driven by fierce winds, yet they are steered by a tiny rudder at the direction of the person at the helm.
And so the tongue is a small part of the body yet it carries great power! Just think of how a small flame can set a huge forest ablaze. And the tongue is a fire! It can be compared to the sum total of wickedness and is the most dangerous part of our human body. It corrupts the entire body and is a hellish flame! It releases a fire that can burn throughout the course of human existence.
For every wild animal on earth including birds, creeping reptiles, and creatures of the sea and land have all been overpowered and tamed by humans, but the tongue is not able to be tamed. It’s a fickle, unrestrained evil that spews out words full of toxic poison! We use our tongue to praise God our Father and then turn around and curse a person who was made in his very image! Out of the same mouth we pour out words of praise one minute and curses the next. My brothers and sisters, this should never be!
Would you look for olives hanging on a fig tree or go to pick figs from a grapevine? Is it possible that fresh and bitter water can flow out of the same spring? So neither can a bitter spring produce fresh water. (Source: James 3:1-12 TPT.)
We are all guilty of this far more times then we can even enumerate especially when we let our emotions get out of control, or we get bent out of shape over any number of things that come our way. If we think we are not like that, just think about every election cycle that can end up making enemies out of friends. Think of cancel culture and what it can do, has done, and continues to do to people. How about workplace bullying? Think about gossip (and who doesn’t gossip?)–which is not just an innocent pastime but can be a destroyer of reputations and people. That list can go on and on and on.
In answer to the question, “Is it true that life and death are in the power of the tongue?” on GotQuestions.org, their answer is as follows:
“The tongue” is used throughout Scripture in both literal and metaphorical ways, especially in Psalms, Proverbs, and James. The tongue is a “small part of the body” (James 3:5), yet Proverbs 18:21 says it “has the power of life and death.” This holds true whether we’re speaking of spiritual, physical, or emotional “life and death.”
First, we should keep in mind that the word “tongue” is often a reference to the spoken word. This is a special kind of figure of speech called “metonymy,” in which one word stands in for another, closely related word. A common example of metonymy is seen in this sentence: “The White House issued a statement.” Of course, the White House, as a building, cannot issue statements; however, in this instance, “White House” refers to the President, who lives there. In the same way, when Proverbs 15:4 states, “A deceitful tongue crushes the spirit,” “tongue” is a metonymy. Obviously, a literal, fleshly tongue cannot crush the human spirit, but the words the tongue produces can.
What our tongue produces has eternal implications, for it reveals what is in our heart. Jesus said that “the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35). Isaiah places words on par with actions for displaying a sinful heart (Isaiah 59:2-3). “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). In and of ourselves, we are utterly unable to “tame the tongue” because “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). A tongue under control is a mark of the Spirit’s power. Apart from accepting Jesus’ atonement on the cross, we will be judged according to our words: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
In order to take Proverbs 18:21 literally–that the tongue can cause physical life and death–we do not need to tax our imagination. Words create actions, good and bad. A judge or jury, by simply saying a word, can cause a person to be killed or to live. Words often save lives: a doctor advises surgery, a weatherman issues a tornado warning, a counselor gives hope to a suicidal person. Conversely, words can also kill: murders are often initiated because of arguments or verbalized hatred. In the sense of causing action, then, the tongue does indeed have the power of life and death.
Emotions are powerfully affecting, yet they are vulnerable to injury. James describes the tongue as “a fire” (James 3:6)–and who has not been burned by it? Proverbs 15:4 describes a “healing” tongue as “a tree of life.” As much as love is an action, what would romance be without words? Encouragement often comes through spoken words. So does discouragement. “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18). The wound is emotional, and it is deep. What we say can have a profound effect on others.
God made us expressive beings, so we are nearly lost without communication. That is why we have audio recordings and Braille for the blind, sign language for the deaf, and writing for anyone who has something to say from afar. Indeed, speech has enormous implications, especially as a vehicle for sharing the gospel (Romans 10:14). Therefore, we are commanded to control the tongue, to “keep [it] from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13). A Christian’s speech should consistently honor the Lord: with the tongue “we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10). (Quote source here.)
So is it even possible to tame the tongue? GotQuestions.org gives us this answer:
The concept of taming the tongue is found in James 3 where God declares, through the apostle James, that “no one can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). The lengthy discussion about the tongue in this chapter is both convicting and illuminating. Among the things this chapter reveals about the tongue: it is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts (verse 5); it is a fire and a world of evil that defiles the whole person (verse 6); it is set on fire by hell (verse 6); and it is an unrestrainable evil and full of deadly poison (verse 7). Is it any wonder, then, that God declares that taming the tongue is impossible?
When Adam sinned, God imputed that sin to mankind, so, whether or not we want to believe it, every human being is born with a wicked heart and an evil sin nature (Romans 3:10–18). Lurking within each of us are varying degrees of hatred, bitterness, jealousy, and pride, and the tongue takes hold of these and other destructive tendencies and strikes out, often with a push from Satan. We see this every day among strangers, friends, siblings, and, worst of all, among husbands and wives, the very people who, next to their love for the Lord Jesus, should have the most love for each other (Ephesians 5:22–33).
What is to be done, then, to tame the tongue? If God has declared that “no one” can tame the tongue, how can we even begin to do so? While many people have quit smoking or drinking by the power of the human will, the problem of the heart and tongue cannot be solved by human will power. It takes the power of the resurrected Christ within us to control the tongue, and that power is available only to those who turn their lives over to Him (Romans 8:10–14). As with so many things in life, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
There is only One who can control the tongue. Only by God’s Spirit living within us can we hope to gain control over our tongues. He convicts us when we sin with our lips, and that conviction drives us to repent and pray for more filling of the Spirit so we can avoid further sin. As we cling to Him and yield to Him in obedience, He controls us more and more, including our tongues. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with several verses from Romans 12 (TPT) starting off with verse 2 which states, “Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.” The following verses are taken from Romans 12:9-21 (TPT):
Let the inner movement of your heart always be to love one another, and never play the role of an actor wearing a mask. Despise evil and embrace everything that is good and virtuous.
Be devoted to tenderly loving your fellow believers as members of one family. Try to outdo yourselves in respect and honor of one another.
Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord, keeping your passion toward him boiling hot! Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and let him fill you with excitement as you serve him.
Let this hope burst forth within you, releasing a continual joy. Don’t give up in a time of trouble, but commune with God at all times.
Take a constant interest in the needs of God’s beloved people and respond by helping them. And eagerly welcome people as guests into your home.
Speak blessing, not cursing, over those who reject and persecute you.
Celebrate with those who celebrate, and weep with those who grieve. Live happily together in a spirit of harmony, and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own. Don’t live with a lofty mind-set, thinking you are too important to serve others, but be willing to do menial tasks and identify with those who are humble minded. Don’t be smug or even think for a moment that you know it all.
Never hold a grudge or try to get even, but plan your life around the noblest way to benefit others. Do your best to live as everybody’s friend.
Beloved, don’t be obsessed with taking revenge, but leave that to God’s righteous justice. For the Scriptures say:
“Vengeance is mine, and I will repay,” says the Lord. And:
If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch!
Win him over with kindness.
For your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience,
and God will reward you with favor…
Never let evil defeat you . . .
But defeat evil . . .
With good . . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac: