In the collection of Jewish writings called the Midrash Rabbah an interesting story is told. Rabbi Simeon Gamaliel said to his servant, Tabbai: “Go and buy me good food in the market.” He went and bought him tongue. Then he said to his servant: “Go and buy me bad food in the market.” He went and once again bought him tongue. The Rabbi said to him: “What is this? When I told you to get good food you bought me tongue, and when I told you to get bad food you also bought me tongue!” The servant replied: “Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse.”
Beware of the untamed tongue!
Proverbs 18 assesses the damage done by an uncontrolled tongue….
Part 1: Damage to Others
“the tongue has the power of life and death….” (Proverbs 18: 21)
As a child I learned the chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I don’t believe that anymore.
The great Jewish writer Jesus Ben Sirach said, “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword; but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.”
The book of James says, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)
The tongue shoots poisonous venom in many forms. One is slander. Slander is saying false things about people to harm their character or reputation. We’d never dream of intentionally running down other people with our car. Yet some of us do it regularly with our tongues.
Have you ever been a victim of slander? Maybe someone accused you of being a liar, a thief, or an adulterer. But you know you’re none of those those things. You may still be stinging from slander’s effects.
A four year old boy once tried to recite a prayer he had heard at church. “And forgive us our trashbaskets,” he asked, “as we forgive those who trashbasket against us”. I’ve seen the harm trashbasketing can do to people. I’ve seen servants of the Lord, fruitful ministries destroyed because of what people have said. And often what was said was absolutely false.
James 4:1 warns, “Brothers, do not slander one another.”
Gossip is telling something true about others to the wrong people. It’s spread not to help, but to harm.
Proverbs 18:8 says: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts….” Gossip is like eating a delicacy. Few things are more satisfying to the old ego than having others stare wide‑eyed, drop open the jaw, and say, “My, I didn’t know that!” or “Why, that’s hard to believe!” or “How in the world did you find that out?”
“I understand David and Sarah are getting a divorce…They say she was running around with quite a few men.” Miriam’s getting married. Someone said, it was either that or get an abortion.” Gossip — that art of confessing other people’s sins, is a fatal fire. James 3:5 says: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”
A person can repeat a story about someone he doesn’t even know living hundreds of kilometers away and burn him alive.
Maybe you’ve never been slandered or gossiped about. You’re a rare breed. But you’ve likely been harshly criticized. It can be damaging too. Unjust and unloving criticism of one another has been called the “peculiar sin of the saints.”
The Messiah said: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)
Let’s be careful how we use the tongue. It’s a license to kill. James 3:5,6 says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” In the dry heat of the Middle East a fire can start with just a tiny spark, yet it can cause untold devastation. Like a fire, the tongue can kill and destroy.
And if it’s someone else who starts the fire, don’t add any fuel. Blow out the flame while it can still be extinguished.
In my next post I’ll talk about the ways a tongue on the loose can come back and bite the one doing the talking.
Have you been a victim of the tongue? How did you respond? Do you have any tips on how to control the tongue or how to deal with the damage the tongue can cause? Please reply below.