Several years ago, a cousin of mine was tragically killed in an automobile accident. “Laura” was a recent college graduate, and was engaged to be married, and her death was a crushing blow to her many friends, family, and her fiancée. She had always been adored by her parents, certainly more than her younger brother had been.
At the funeral, her distraught and devastated father stated to his own son, Laura’s brother, that the “wrong child died.” At that instant, the already-strained relationship between the father and the son was permanently, irreparably destroyed, and to this day, almost no relationship exists between the two. No apology would suffice, or make up for the venom in that remark. A young man was forced to deal not only with the emotional devastation of losing his sister to such a tragic accident, but of knowing that his own parents would have actually preferred him being dead over his sister’s death.
The words we use do matter, whether it be in a private, one-on-one discussion we may have with another, or in a discussion between multiple people. Likewise, the words we use in public forums, such as Facebook, where literally hundreds of people may see what we say, do matter. Our “tongue” and the words that we use exert massive effect on those around us, for both good and bad results… We can encourage, uplift, and express Christ-like love to those near us through appropriate usage of words and speech. Likewise, relationships which have existed for years, and in some cases, even decades, can be destroyed in an instant by careless, hateful, acid-tongued speech.
Does your speech reflect Biblical principles and Jesus Christ? Or does your speech align with societal norms which surround us today (i.e. cursing, tasteless jokes, mockery, etc.)? Is winning an argument or debate via insulting verbiage worth the cost, if it serves merely to sour our opponent so horribly, so permanently, that he/she walks away and wants no part of the church, or the Bible, because of you? All of us, without exception, have both used words with others we later would regret, and have likewise suffered verbal attacks ourselves… the insults, accusations, and humiliations, whether they be from a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a partner can often affect us for the duration of our lives.
The Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, has much to say about the dangers of the “tongue”, and the speech we use…
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 after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Matthew 15:11, 18…
Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man….But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out 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: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.
Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
As noted by William Barclay, “Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with impatient irritability at his own family. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on Sunday and to curse a squad of workmen on Monday. It has not been unknown for a man to utter the most pious sentiments one day and to repeat the most questionable stories the next. It has not been unknown for a woman to speak with sweet graciousness at a religious meeting and then to go outside to murder someone’s reputation with a malicious tongue.” 1 Matthew Henry wrote “Men’s language discovers what country they are of, likewise what manner of spirit they are of. The heart is the fountain, words are the streams. A troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring, must send forth muddy and unpleasant streams. Nothing but the salt of grace, cast into the spring, will heal the waters, season the speech, and purify the corrupt communication. An evil man has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it brings forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions, dwelling and reigning in the heart, are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to dishonour God, and hurt others. Let us keep constant watch over ourselves, that we may speak words agreeable to the Christian character.” 2 And as noted in more contemporary times by Phil Ware, “Our Father will remember those “little careless” words we utter and hold us accountable for them. (Matthew 12:36) After all, the words that come from our mouths actually reveal the kind of heart we have. (Matthew 15:18) Foul words cannot come from a clean heart anymore than foul water can come from a clean spring. (James 3:1-12) To use our words to harm, grieves the Spirit of God within us. (Ephesians 4:29-32) Even our little words are to be chosen to bless, encourage, and build up others. (Ephesians 4:29).” 3
The tongue can likewise be used for great good, specifically our ultimate responsibility as Christians, in teaching the Gospel to others (see Matthew 28:19, 2 Timothy 4:2, Hebrews 5:12, Titus 2:1-4). Praising God in song and praise is obviously an appropriate and beneficial use of the tongue (Hebrews 13:15, Colossians 3:16). Obviously, prayer is an appropriate use of our tongues and our speech (1 Timothy 2:1, Philemon 4:6). Encouraging those who stumble in their Christian walk is absolutely an appropriate use of our tongue (1 Thessalonians 5:14). And perhaps the greatest use one will ever make of their own speech is to confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (see Romans 10:8-10 and Acts 8:37-38).
Some “preachers” today view evangelism as nothing more than who can humiliate, who can bully, who can threaten, who can mock, and who can ridicule others the most…..for some preachers, the “bully pulpit” is their ONLY pulpit, and it has become a de facto “badge of honor” to see who can inflict the most demeaning and destructive language on anyone who opposes or disagrees with them, at any level. Their “tongues” become a menace to their individual congregations, and to Christianity as a whole.
Proper and appropriate speech is addressed in Judaism, as well, and not just within Christianity. The Jewish term “Loshon Hara” (or “evil tongue”) is defined as the “negative speech about another person”, as per www.aish.org 4, which adds “The Talmud (Archin 15b) says that Loshon Hara “kills” three people: the one who is spoken about, because his reputation is ruined… the one who speaks Loshon Hara, because he transgresses and lowers himself spiritually… the one who listens to the Loshon Hara, because he is providing the speaker with the opportunity to transgress, and also his opinion of the one who was spoken about is ruined.” Loshon Hara is also deemed an “offense… serious enough to destroy the world”, wherein “…the offender speaks evil of others.” 5
Does controlling one’s tongue mean that we cannot take bold and firm doctrinal stances? Absolutely not. Does this mean that we must preach the Gospel with timidity? Again, absolutely not. We are to preach boldly (Acts 28:31), and we are to take the Gospel to every corner of the globe (Mark 16:15). We can do this, however, without mocking others with vicious insults and derision.
Regardless of our particular faith, I hope that each and every one of us, myself certainly included, will step back and truthfully and honestly examine the words that we use with others, whether it be from the pulpit, on Facebook, in our discussions with people one-on-one, or any other avenue. Our words, the words we use and how we use them, will, quite literally, have an eternal affect….and each time we unload a torrent of insults and disparaging attack on another, and feel satisfied that we have thoroughly demolished and humiliated someone who might differ from us on a topic, just remember the unseen dozens who likewise may read your words and never again in their lifetimes set foot in a church building or synagogue as a direct result.
- William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, page 104.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew 12.
- “The Little Things” by Phil Ware, heartlight.org.
- “The Power of Speech” by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, aish.org.
- “Legislating Morality: The Prohibition of Lashon Hara”, by Asher Benzion Buchman, page 121.