The Power of the Tongue

The tongue comprises 8 muscles, with about 10 000 taste buds when you’re young and about 5000 when you get older. And about 300 if you are Indian and old. The average tongue is 10cm long. The tongue helps you speak, eat, and fight off germs. The tongue never rests and even when you sleep your tongue works to keep your throat lubricated with saliva. Sticking out your tongue at someone may be considered rude. A farmer from Fabriano, Italy was convicted and fined by the country’s heighest court for sticking his tongue out at a neighbor with whom he had been arguing. Proof of the affront had been captured with a cell phone camera. In popular culture the tongue is associated to many different figures of speech. Tongue in cheek, bite your tongue, slip of the tongue, tongue-tied, tip of my tongue, are a few to mention.

However, despite society’s fascination with the tongue, we fail to consider its greatest intrigue. Our society does not go far enough with their study of the tongue. But the Bible does, it puts it this way:

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit”. (Prov 18:21)

The writers of the Proverbs have much to say about the tongue. A persons tongue reveals their past and future, it tells us of their character, it determines the quality of their relationships and the nature of their community, and ultimately it reveals their destiny.

The tongue and the heart

Now Jesus said in Matt 12:34 “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. That means that there is an intrinsic link between what we say and the center and seat for human emotion, will and spirit; the heart. When we gossip, complain or speak truth we do so from the heart. So, instead of merely telling us not to gossip and quarrel the Bible addresses the heart of these actions. Let’s look at these in turn. I’m going to look at the whispering tongue, the quarrelsome tongue and the truthful tongue.

1. The Whispering Tongue

Gossip in the proverbs has been defined by some as ‘whispering’ because of the translation of the Hebrew word. But why do we gossip?

1. Boredom

Besides, they (young widows) get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. (1Tim 5:13)

Do you know this kind person? The person who is idle and bored? The person who doesn’t work enough so they try and speak to you all the time? The person who just pitches up? You go online to check your Facebook and instantly a little chat box appears with a barrage of questions and news. You are about to leave for home and this person turns the corner, to walk you home. The party has ended and this person lingers. Man, I don’t like lingerers. You’re in the library trying to work and this person wants a dmss with you (deep & meaningful skinner session).

Paul says they got into a habit of being idle and going about from house to house, person to person, they are busybodies who talk nonsense. This is the first cause for gossip. Plain and simple boredom.

Now, if this is you. If you can finish a solitaire game in under a minute then that’s a bad sign. That’s a sign that you have too much time on your hands. If this is you, then stop annoying people, by being a busybody and a gossip. You need to have a picnic with God this week. Ask him to clarify his purpose for you and get to it. Your gossip comes from an innocent heart but it’s not productive for you, for your friends, or for the kingdom and can be easily remedied through listening to God, getting a proper job, working hard at it and asking God what he wants to use you for. The second cause is not as innocent.

2. Perversity

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. (Prov 16:28)

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. (it takes two to gossip) (Prov 18:8)

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, (Rom 1:29)

In churches it is taboo to speak or to struggle with sexuality. The guy or girl that struggles with their sexuality is branded as perverted. But we hardly view gossip as ‘perversion’ and the object of God’s wrath. And don’t we see this kind of gossip in our churches?

Let me define gossip at this point:

“Gossip is the passing on of information which may be confidential or a harmful misrepresentation of one person to another.”

Firstly, gossip is harmful information. If the information that you are passing on is in any way hurtful, critical, or discouraging of someone then you are probably gossiping. And it is amazing how people invent ways of justifying their gossip. I think we should pray for so and so. Sure!

Secondly, if the information you are passing on has not been verified and is in anyway dubious or un-factual then you are probably gossiping. So, secondhand information is almost always a no no. So and so, told so and so, who told me that they slept together. Probably not true. Even if you perceive it to be a certain way and you are not sure, then keep quiet about it. Find out the facts first hand and then speak lest you misrepresent the person.

Lastly, it takes two… to gossip. The Proverbs say that words spoken in gossip taste really nice; like a choice morsel. It is pleasurable to entertain a gossip. But if you entertain a gossip conversation even if you do not contribute you are gossiping. Most times a few penetrating questions are enough to deter the gossiper: have you spoken to so and so about what you feel? Speak to them before you speak to me. Are you certain about the facts? Find out the facts before you speak to me. And sometimes a flat out rebuke in love is appropriate. We shouldn’t be speaking about this; I really don’t want to hear. Don’t take in the poisonous gossip!

3. Demonic Gossip

So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. (1 Tim 5:14)

I know that we certainly don’t view inappropriate speech as demonic but this is exactly what Paul says. This is most often how it works: Most women and some men will strive for relational control through knowing peoples business. These kinds of people know everything about everyone. They pride themselves on being the person that everyone confides in. And they do this under the pretense of concern. Are you this kind of person? Do you have an insatiable desire for peoples business? Does it make you feel really good just knowing stuff? Why do you need to be omniscient; all knowing? That’s God’s job are you demonic?

Repenting from gossip?

1.     Get active about seeking God and establishing his kingdom.

2.     Seek purification through obedience to the Holy Spirit.

3.     Get outside help if you can’t do the above.

2. The Quarrelsome Tongue

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction. (Proverbs 17:19)

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)

Some people love moaning, they’re what I call ‘Monalisa’s’. Behind that friendly smile is a deeply negative heart. What’s the difference between a battery and a Monalisa? They are critical all the time. A battery has a positive side. Monalisa’s constantly find things to complain about. They are deeply unhappy and no one likes spending time with them. Some of you have critical parents or friends, or a critical spouse. Moody and miserable, always pointing out things that you have done wrong and hardly ever congratulating you on things you are doing right. Churches are flooded with these kinds of people, looking to take up the Pastor’s time with their lists of complaints. If you live with a person like this you will understand proverb 17:1:

“Better a quiet morsel than a house filled with feasting and strife”

That puts things into perspective. It’s better to be poor, to struggle, than to have lots of wealth and feasting with strife, because you live with a critical, quarrelsome Monalisa. Let me say that there are many wealthy people in Cape Town, who have fancy cars and nice houses, they are even beautiful like Monalisa, but behind the facade of wealth they are filled with anxiety and strife, and many poor people in Cape Town who live with joy and love. Are you a quarrelsome person? Let me help you understand this behavior.

Why do we quarrel?

1. Negativeness – A bad attitude and a negative view of life. A person may have unconfused sin in their life (Rom. 2:1), or may harbor un-forgiveness or bitterness toward someone who may have offended them (Heb. 12:15). Most people who struggle with being critical have grown up without positive affirmation, without grace, without being heard and cared for. What was sown into them is a lot of criticism. As a result they sow criticism into others. If this is you, you need to believe the Gospel of grace deeper today. He loves you, he loves you, he loves you.

2. Insecurity – Criticism is often a subconscious means to “elevate one’s own self image.” By putting others down, you are inwardly trying to elevate yourself. Looking down on others, criticizing others is the only way to affirm you. If you are constantly disappointed with everyone else, it’s because you are insecure. This leads to jealousy in friendships or no friends at all. And you need to hear on a heart level that Jesus formed you in your mother’s womb, before the foundations of the world. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Jesus does not make junk you need to reject any other words spoken over you.

3. An Unrenewed Mind – Some people are just ignorant, they have not been taught how they should relate to others. Put-downs, making-fun-of, criticism, sarcasm are the world’s ways of reacting to the faults of people. However, as Christians we don’t behave this way. Our thinking and attitude should be renewed by the Word of God, which teaches us to bear the infirmities of the weak, to love, and show compassion and encouragement (Rom. 12:2).

4. The Devil & his demons – As we may realize, the Devil specializes in influencing obsessive behavior. He may use any or all of the above channels, or other techniques, to influence a complaining or critical attitude to stir up turmoil and strife within the body of Christ (Eph. 6:12). We must be on guard that none of us would be used as a tool of the Devil to bring harassment or discouragement upon our brothers or sisters through continual criticism, as the Bible warns us not to “give place” to the Devil (Eph. 4:27). Remember that Satan is specifically called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Are you an accuser of the brethren?

Prescription For a Healthy Mind

Being quarrelsome is not healthy for you or for those around you. A number of years ago, Dr. David H. Fink, a psychiatrist wrote an article entitled, “Release from Nervous Tension.” In his article, he outlined his research into the causes of mental and emotional disturbances.

From over 10,000 case studies, he discovered that there was a common trait with all his patients who suffered from severe tension. They were habitual faultfinders, constant critics of people and things around them. Those who were free from tension were the least critical. His conclusions were that the habit of faultfinding is a prelude or mark of the nervous, or the mentally unbalanced. Those who wish to retain good emotional and mental health should learn to free themselves from a negative and critical attitude. Being quarrelsome will literally drive you crazy. The Bible doesn’t promise peace to those who dwell on the faults of others! It says that the “Lord will keep them in perfect peace, whose minds are stayed on Him!” (Isaiah 26:3).

3. The Truthful tongue

Some of us do not gossip, lie or complain but that does not mean that we are open to God and others. While it is good to not use our tongues for evil, we need to go the extra mile and use our tongues for good. This means two things: (1) speaking truth and (2) being open to truth.

Speaking Truth

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life (15:4)

The lips of the wise spread knowledge (15:7)

The prayer of the upright please God (15:8)

Speaking truth means that we confront the lies of the devil. John 8 tells us that the Devil is a liar, that when he lies he speaks his native language, and he has been lying from the begging. So, Christian community becomes a community of truth. Every group of people has a power of some kind. A mob has a destructive power with the potential for rational of its lowest common denominator. A gang has a violent power. A church, if its individuals walk in truth, has the power to speak transformational, life giving, words healing to each other.

Practically what this means is that single people should move into digs together, so that you can do life together. At my previous church, the non-married people lived together or found out where each other where living, not so that they could party together, but pray together. There was group of girls; they decided to move in together. They would have regular morning and evening prayer times together. They would organize small worship events at their place together. They would invite people who needed a place of healing to come and stay with them. We used to call their place ‘the holy house’. But these girls were speaking truth to each other and they grew so much.

One of them was a real nerdy one, she was studying Engineering, and need I say anymore. And when she moved in with these other girls, she just blossomed as these girls challenged her to be bolder for Christ. As a result of her growth in Christ she started growing in boldness and wearing prettier clothes and the guys at church started noticing her. The power of the tongue is to give life and healing. That’s a reversal of the fall. If you use your tongue to speak truth to each other you will set hearts ablaze. James says the tongue is like a little spark that starts massive field fires. He says that the tongue is the little rudder that steers the massive ship. Don’t underestimate the power of reminding each other of God’s word. Of sending out a text when you feel God give you a word of encouragement. Of sharing a prophetic word with a stranger. You may alter the bearing of their life, that’s the power of the tongue. But speaking truth requires openness.


You may not be a gossip, you may not be quarrelsome, you may even be speaking truth, but are you open? Are you real with people? Do you share the deep feelings and thoughts? Are you authentic with God and people? The prayer of the upright pleases God because it is honest and open. If you are guarded then truth community cannot happen. In prayer meetings are you asking for prayer for work and that the Bulls would win then you’re guarded and supporting the wrong team. You’re not being open. You’re not being real. Now, we should have boundaries, and we don’t have to trust everybody and anybody but someone must know you.

The Christian’s tongue should not be used for anything but good. “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word, nor unwholesome or worthless talk (ever) come out of your mouth; but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (Eph. 4:29 The Amplified Bible).