The tongue… so tiny and deadly

Has your tongue ever got you into trouble? Mine has – countless times. It has uttered things I later regretted. And hurt people closest to me, particularly my wife.

Thank God, my tongue has also served me well – to teach, win friends, get on in life, and share the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The tongue is used to uphold truth, and to lie. I remember one friend’s aunt: she had loudly professed her undying love for her late father, at the public reading of his will. Then, minutes later, cursed him foully – for leaving her so little of his wealth. “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)

Psychologist Jerald Jellison of the University of Southern California wrote in his 1977 book that the average person lies 200 times a day. Fortunately, we are not like that. Eh?

The human tongue is so potent despite its small size. It can heal or kill, even someone a continent away.

Like the little rudder that turns giant ocean liners, the tiny tongue can turn world events. Remember Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill? Remember Adolf Hitler?

James 3:4-10 says: “Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder…

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts… Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

Unwise use of our tongue breaks relationships, friendships, families, God’s faith communities (witness the harm caused by gossip among church members), and even nations; recall the countless cross-Straits disputes between Singapore and Malaysia sparked by what one politician in one country had unwisely said of the other country.

Instead of being quick to listen, and slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19), we are often short of ear, and long of tongue!

Our tongue mirrors what we feel and think. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Matthew 12:35)

Our tongue also gives away family secrets! Ever listened to what our kids say? If you have, you will know how some loose-tongued parents talk at home – and what they say about other people.

Diseases of the tongue
Derek Prince, in his book Does Your Tongue Need Healing?, lists a number of diseases of the tongue:

* Excessive Talking
“…many words mark the speech of a fool.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3)

* Idle or Careless Words

Have we not said things and then claimed we did not mean it or never said it?

* Gossip
We know we should not spread idle, untrue, exaggerated, or malicious talk. Satan, the devil, is a slanderer. Gossipers do his work. Jesus says “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken”. (Matthew 12:36)

* Lying
People lie to gain an advantage or get out of trouble. God hates “a lying tongue… and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

* Flattery
If we heed flattery or use it, the end is ruin. “Those who flatter their neighbours are spreading nets for their feet.” (Proverbs 29:5)

* Hastiness of Speech
We speak and act rashly when angry. “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”
(Proverbs 29:20)

How do we bridle our tongue?

First, watch our hearts. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

(Proverbs 4:23) You will know a tree by its fruit, the tongue.

Yield your tongue and heart daily to the Lord. Follow David’s prayer to put a gate over your mouth, especially at home.

Assume personal responsibility for every word you utter.

Think before you speak. “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.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Read one chapter of Proverbs a day.

If we cannot control our tongue, we cannot serve God. We have no choice.

Picture by kiankhoon/

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Peter Yeo Toon-Joo is a regular MM reader, PR consultant and ex-journalist with the Straits Times and the New Nation. He is a member of the Evangelical Chinese Church in Seattle, USA.