The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
I was an eyewitness to a murder at Wal-Mart. Not just one. Many. In the baby section. Among the girls’ clothes. Along the aisles of frozen foods. Standing in line. Two of them in the parking lot.
And not just at Wal-Mart. Wherever I went on Friday, I witnessed the battering of husbands to wives, wives to husbands and parents to their children.
It was murder by words.
Sure, I lose it with my kids sometimes. My tongue sharpens when we’re in a hurry and I’ve asked for shoes to be on feet four, now five times, and still my children play with their toys in their socks.
Sometimes I lose it when I can’t find something I need. I fly through the house frantically shuffling papers, opening and shutting doors, shoving things aside and my kids tag behind me wanting to chat.
And then there’s pestering. The guilt-inducing nag, nag, nagging attempts to wear me down. Why haven’t I sewn a rag doll for her yet? It’s been a long time since she asked me. She clearly sees me sitting down (for the first time in 12 hours) and shouldn’t I now be able to whip out just one more project for her, because clearly I am not doing enough?
But at Wal-Mart that day I didn’t see a slightly tired and exasperated mom juggling shopping list, coupons, and three kids who touched everything, talked about everything and argued about everything.
No, it was a mom screaming at her preteen daughter about outfits. It was a father mocking his son in the parking lot, bringing the boy to the point of humiliated tears.
I didn’t see a husband and wife disagreeing about detergent or the dinner menu for the week. It was a wife snidely joking about her husband to a crowd and a husband screaming in anger into a cell phone.
And I was sick over it all. The kind of sick you feel when you witness violence and you just want to intervene and rescue and make the world better.
Jesus came to bring abundant and overwhelming grace through His sacrificial death on the cross. But, He did something else, too. He reset standards. He told people that good isn’t good enough. Do more than avoid adultery, He said, don’t even throw lustful glances at a woman who is not your wife.
Do more than just avoid murder, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (fool) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).
John echoed this again later, writing: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1 John 3:15).
Still, we do it. We call each other names. We gossip. We slander. We quibble and argue in a public show of disunity and disrespect. We talk about our husbands behind their backs.
We make jokes that humiliate. Proverbs 26:18-19 says, “Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”
Isn’t that what people find funny now? We put others down and then say, “Just kidding!” As if that makes it better. As if that erases the damage already done by our words.
Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you don’t do that.
But, do you ever find yourself “sharing opinions” about others, perhaps even about your friends, commenting on their parenting decisions, their career choices, their clothes, their money, their ministry? Do you feel it necessary to share your thoughts about everything? To rise to every occasion with a verbal slap of a sword in a duel of opinions? To criticize and judge and judge and criticize?
James wrote: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). How often do we skip right over listening and instead jump right to the speaking part?
God held Ezekiel to the highest standard imaginable when it came to his tongue:
“I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ ” (Ezekiel 3:26-27).
God essentially glued Ezekiel’s tongue to the roof of his mouth. The only time Ezekiel could talk was when he was saying what God wanted him to say.
What if that became the standard we used to decide when to talk and when to keep our opinions quietly tucked away in our brains rather than spewing out of our mouths? What if we asked, is this something God Himself wants me to say? Maybe we could give ourselves a little grace and just ask, “Is this something God would approve of me saying?”
Either way, I know I don’t meet that standard 100%. I wonder if any of us do.
My mom had all of us kids memorize Ephesians 4:29 when we were little. We’d bicker or start name-calling and she’d intervene and ask us to quote this verse: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
No unwholesome talk. Nothing hurtful. Nothing weighted down with criticism and oozing with judgment.
Instead, we ask, “Is what I am saying right now helpful? Will it encourage someone else and build them up? Will it be of benefit to anyone listening?”
If not, then they are words best left unsaid. Because words are powerful. They are life and death weaponry in our arsenal. We speak words of hope and people remember them for years, thriving on encouragement and being renewed by praise. We speak words of criticism and people remember them for years, dying a slow death from the poison of language.
How can your words bring life and not death to others today?
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2011 Heather King