Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 1, 2012


Loose tongues can kill people without drawing blood


            Words are powerful. Words can destroy; words can give life. Words can be vicious. They can be gracious. Words can kill. Words can heal. Words can pierce the heart with pain or fill the heart with joy. Words have remarkable power.

Someone has said “The tongue is like a sharp knife: it kills without drawing blood.” Most of us know what it is like to be “cut to pieces” by a verbal assault. Harsh words can suck the life out of you. A Jewish proverb says “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

            Some years ago Grace Ketterman wrote a helpful book titled Verbal Abuse: Healing the Hidden Wound. Ketterman shattered the myth that verbal abuse “isn’t so bad.” It is bad – so bad that it devastates millions of people. Ketterman’s insights can help wounded people find hope and healing. You can still buy the book for a dollar from

            There are other books that offer us advice about how to deal with words – our own as well as those spoken by others. Such books speak to an abiding human need. All of us have been brought to our knees by our own misspoken words or by the hurtful, angry words others have spoken to us. None of us is perfect. Even devout believers are guilty, as James says in the Bible, of making “many mistakes” in speaking.

            The Letter of James can help us wrestle with a loose tongue. James speaks bluntly about the unruly tongue. It is “a fire” that is uncontrollable and able to corrupt the whole body. The tongue’s fire has its origin in hell and thus is a tool of Satan. The devil uses the fire of the tongue to separate us from one another and from God. This divisiveness soon gives way to anger and hatred. Wrongly used, words can destroy people, ruining reputations and relationships.

James says that the tongue is so powerful that no human being can tame or control it. The bewildering truth is that one day the tongue will praise God and the next day curse someone. So James laments, “Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so”!

            Is there no remedy for this problem? Yes, James says, there is a solution. The answer is wisdom – God’s wisdom. We can obtain it by admitting our need and calling upon God. Earthly wisdom is insufficient. Reading a hundred “self-help” books may be insightful and informative but we will remain defeated by the tongue. Only God can give us the strength to tame the tongue.

            At the risk of sounding simplistic the key to taming the tongue is to invite the Holy Spirit to take over. The Spirit can tame our tongue; we cannot. But the Spirit must first be given control of our mind and heart.

When the Spirit is in control he guides us to know when to be silent and when to speak. He gives us the power to resist gossiping or to speak cruelly to others and the power to speak words of love and peace. Words of loving encouragement can bring healing to wounded souls. Words of affirmation can help restore those whose self-esteem has been crushed by destructive words.

John Wesley tells of crossing a narrow bridge on horseback and finding his path blocked by another man on horseback, a man who had no use for Wesley. The man refused to back up or allow Wesley to pass, and said, “I shall not give way to a fool.” Wesley replied, “Then I shall,” and pulled his horse aside so the man could pass.

Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was often a wise steward of words. The Spirit helped him discern when to “yield to others” and when to speak the truth in love so that his words could produce “a harvest of righteousness.” By surrendering our tongues to the Spirit’s control we can do that also.

Though we will never become perfect in speaking, we can improve. We can call upon the Spirit to inject our minds with God’s wisdom so that our words become less hurtful to others and more pleasing to the Lord. We can become more skilled in planting seeds of peace with our words.

We can make it our heart’s desire that the words of our mouth be words of blessing and not cursing. We can join with the Psalmist in praying, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Let it be, Lord, let it be. + + +