The tongue is a small part of the body, but it holds great power. As Christians, we must be mindful of how we use our words. The Bible has a lot to say about the power of the tongue and how we should seek to use it for good. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore key Bible verses about the tongue and extract lessons we can apply to our lives.
The tongue is a powerful tool that can be used to bless others or to inflict harm. Though it is a small member of the body, the Bible compares the tongue’s power to that of a raging fire that consumes everything in its path (James 3:5-6). As Christians, God calls us to use our words in a way that builds others up and brings glory to Him.
The Bible is filled with verses that instruct us how to tame the tongue. From Proverbs to James, we are given clear principles for how to speak life and truth into the world around us. Minding our tongue is a crucial part of living out our faith. After all, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our words reveal what is truly in our hearts.
In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through key Bible passages about the power of the tongue. We will look at specific principles, pitfalls to avoid, and positive uses of the tongue that God calls us to. My hope is that this deep dive into Scriptural wisdom will equip you to tame your tongue and use it in a way that honors the Lord.
- The tongue holds the power of life and death; we must use it wisely.
- We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
- Gossip, slander, and lies should have no place in the Christian’s speech.
- With our tongue, we have the power to speak healing, truth, and blessings over others.
- By the Holy Spirit, we can tame the tongue and use it to proclaim the Gospel.
- Our words flow out of the condition of our hearts; a transformed heart leads to wise speech.
- God takes the things we say seriously; we are accountable for every careless word.
The Tongue’s Power for Good or Evil
One of the clearest passages about the power of the tongue is James 3:1-12. James warns that though the tongue is small, it boasts great authority: “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (James 3:5). Though it is a small part of the body, the tongue’s capacity to direct the course of our life and relationships is profound.
James goes on to give examples of how the tongue is like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship. Though small, the bit and the rudder have an outsized influence on the direction of the horse or ship. So too with the tongue – it is a “little fire” that holds sway over the trajectory of our lives (James 3:5).
James issues a solemn warning about the danger of an unchecked tongue: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
Here James compares the tongue to a raging fire, capable of defiling our whole being and setting the course of our lives ablaze. Like a small spark that burns up an entire forest, the tongue has the power to ignite great destruction through unwise or cruel words.
Yet while the tongue holds this potential for evil, James also affirms it can be used for tremendous good. He writes, “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).
The tongue’s power can be channeled for good through praise and blessing. But we must be vigilant, as our tongues also have great potential for evil through curses, gossip, lies, and other vain talk. Part of living faithfully as Christians is being mindful of when and how we use our words.
The Importance of Listening
If we wish to tame the tongue, we must first cultivate the discipline of listening. The Bible warns against being quick to speak and highlights the importance of hearing others.
James exhorts us to be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). The book of Proverbs repeatedly warns against those who speak rashly: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
As Christians, we should be cautious not to dominate conversations, but rather approach them with humility and self-control. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Listening well honors others, builds trust, and grants us understanding.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 puts it this way: “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God.” As we listen, we should seek to understand others and refrain from knee-jerk responses. Patience and thoughtfulness should temper our speech.
Proverbs 18:13 warns, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.” Responding hastily or speaking without understanding a matter clearly is unwise. As the old saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
As Christians, we are called to thoughtfulness in conversation. By being quick to listen, slow to speak, we can gain wisdom and understanding that should guide our words.
Avoiding Gossip, Slander, and Lies
A right view of the tongue requires that we abstain from gossip, slander, and lies. The Bible consistently condemns these as sins to avoid.
Gossip is sharing information about others, often confidential in nature, that can harm their reputation. The book of Proverbs warns against those who gossip or spread slander. “A perverse person spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Slander is making false, defamatory statements about someone. Proverbs says, “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5). The Lord detests smearing others with falsehoods.
Lying also has no place in the Christian walk. The Ten Commandments forbid bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16), and Jesus affirmed this by teaching “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
As Christians, we are called to speak truthfully and avoid distorting the truth through gossip, slander, lies, or exaggerations. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Rather than misrepresent others through gossip, we can build them up with encouragement. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Speaking Words of Blessing
While Scripture warns against the evils of the tongue, it also provides beautiful pictures of how words can bless others. Christians are called to speak words that build up, encourage, and impart grace.
In the epistles, we see many examples of Scripture’s emphasis on blessing others with our words. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
We bless others through words of encouragement, truthful admonishment, worship, and gratitude. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Words that convey empathy and understanding in times of grief also minister grace. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). There is power in comforting others with Biblical truth.
We bless our enemies when we speak kindly, pray for them, and refrain from curses or insults in return. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). This reflects the love of Christ.
In these examples, we see how words rightfully spoken can encourage, strengthen, comfort, and bless those around us. This glorifies God by conveying His grace.
Proclaiming the Gospel with Boldness
While Christian speech is marked by gentleness and humility, there are also times for bold proclamation of the Gospel. The Bible encourages us to speak truth fearlessly as we witness and testify to God’s work in the world.
Jesus told His disciples He would give them the very words to speak in difficult situations: “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:14-15).
Peter and John embodied this boldness when they fearlessly proclaimed Christ before opposing religious leaders, saying “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
The Holy Spirit equips Christians to speak with conviction and authority. Jesus said, “But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you should speak. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).
We never have to shrink back in fear from sharing the Gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). As Christians, we have a duty to proclaim the Word courageously and call others to repentance and faith by the power of God.
The Heart Determines Our Words
As Christians seeking to tame the tongue, we must also examine our hearts. Jesus emphasized that our words flow from our hearts: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
Our tongues are like mirrors, reflecting the true contents of our hearts. Hateful, angry speech signals pride, fear, and distrust of God in our hearts. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
Therefore, the key to taming the tongue is having a transformed heart. When our hearts are filled with the love and grace of God, our speech will match. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:16-17).
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, abide in the Word, and allow God to change us from the inside out, our tongues will begin to reflect His light. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Be Accountable for Every Word
Though the tongue is small, Christians will give an account for every word spoken. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
There are no “throw away” words without significance. God remembers every oath, promise, denial, and curse. Nothing we say escapes His notice. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
Knowing we will answer for every word should instill diligence in how we speak. We are stewards of our tongues. “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). May we guard our lips and find life and blessing in wise speech.
In all our conversations, we can ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and lean on Scripture for wisdom. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Our words hold great power; may we use this gift to glorify God.
As Christians, it is imperative that we use wisdom and self-control when wielding the incredible power of the tongue. Scripture gives clear guidance on avoiding gossip, slander, lies, and other harmful speech. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can instead use our words to bless others, proclaim the Gospel, and give grace to those who hear.
Taming the tongue requires attentiveness, obedience to God’s Word, and a transformed heart. While it is a challenging task, the Bible promises it is possible with God’s help. Let us meditate on these key verses about the tongue and, by God’s strength, put them into practice for the glory of Christ. Our speech flows from our hearts; therefore, we must diligently guard our hearts before the Lord. May our words be pleasing in His sight.