Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 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 1:5,6)
It is said for every word in Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, 125 people died in World War II. Solomon was right: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pr. 18:21). And “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). The Bible warns of the types of tongues that are a danger to the spiritual health of those who possess it. As a doctor has the patient stick out their tongue because it can reveal their state of health, so the way we use our tongues reveals the health of our heart and soul.
A Flattering Tongue
The English word “flatter” comes from a French word that means “to stroke or caress with the flat of the hand.” It is used as a tool to obtain something from someone else by appealing to their sense of pride. What makes the flattering tongue so dangerous is that the motive of the speaker is self-centered and deceitful. “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (28:33). To put it simply, flattery is a form of lying.
All of us love to hear something good about ourselves coming from the month of someone else. However, out of the mouth of a flatterer, compliments bring ruin and do not help build us up. A true friend will give criticism as well a compliments.
A Fault-Finding Tongue
After Job lost everything, his friends came to help him make sense of it all. However, all they could do is search for Job’s faults (Job 32:10-18). With friends like that, who needs enemies. The truth was Job was innocent. His so-called friends did not even want to allow that as a possibility.
Finding fault is easy. Fixing problems can be very difficult. Dealing with fault finders is even more difficult. The following story demonstrates how one man dealt with a fault-finding tongue.
Two Christian men “fell out.” One heard the other was talking against him, and he went to him and said: “will you be kind enough to tell my faults to my face, that I may profit by your Christian candor and try to get rid of them?” “Yes,” replied the other, “I will.” They went aside, and the former said: “Before you commence telling what you think wrong in me, will you kneel with me and pray, that my eyes may be opened to see my faults as you cite them? You lead in prayer?” It was done, and when the prayer was over, the man who had sought the interview said: “now please proceed with your complaints of me.” “After praying over it, it looks so little that it is not worth talking about,” the other replied, “The truth is I have been serving the devil myself, and have need that you pray for me, and forgive me the wrong I have done you.”
On the other hand, consider the poem “When to find Fault”, which tells of a man who struggles with a fault finding tongue.
Don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along life’s road,
Unless you have worn the shoes he wears,
Or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in the shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from our view.
The burden he bears, if placed on your back
Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t be too hard on the man who errs,
or pelt him with wood or stone,
Unless you are sure-yea, double sure,
that you have no fault of your own.
A Factional Tongue
“The Lord hates . . . one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16,19). Why is this type of tongue listed among seven things which God hates and considers an abomination. First, arguments and striving tear down relationships between men. Some even argue out of habit. The tongue has the power to separate marriages, children from their parents, nations from nation, friends from friends, etc. In contrast, the tongue can be used to heal instead of hurt. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
The Foolish Chattering Tongue
Gossip is one of the greatest problems some folks have in taming the tongue. Oh, how they “love to tell the story”. I read once about a church in Red Cloud, Nebraska, which listed the sermon topic as “Gossip.” Right after that, on the program was the song, “I Love To Tell The Story.”
“Talebearer” is the translation of the Hebrew word that means “to go about,” and is probably derived from a word meaning “merchant.” Thus, the gossip goes about like a merchant with his wares trying to find an eager ear to hear his tales. However, the consequences can be grave “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Prov. 16:27,28).
Remember, to gossip does not mean to lie. Just because it is true, doesn’t mean it has to be said. Just because it is true, doesn’t lessen the seriousness of the sin of gossip. In a small town, there was an obnoxious busybody who made life miserable for her neighbors by constantly prying into their affairs. She was the cause of much ill will and grief in the one church in the town most of the people attended. What a problem it was to the preacher. He finally tried to show her the harm she was doing. Defensively she said, “What I do isn’t half of the bad as Mrs. _____ does. She gets high at cocktail parties.” After expressing his disapproval of cocktail parties, the preacher courageously said, “God’s Word classes one who constantly meddles with murderers, thieves and evildoers” (1 Peter 4:15).
So, live that you won’t be afraid to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.
The False Tongue
Nothing is more destructive and hurtful to others than lying. “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. …Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight (Prov. 12:19;22). This type of tongue can be found on false teachers, salesman, “lovers”, etc.
The problem with those little white lies is that they tend to grow into big black ones.
A Faithful Tongue
Finally the type of tongue we have all been longing for, the faithful tongue. It is easily identified by its wise counsel and sound advice (Prov. 15:7); its reproof, rebuke, and spiritual exhortation (Prov. 15:31,32; 27:6); its words of encouragement (Prov. 16:24) and even a good sense of humor (Prov. 15:13,14). When we speak, our words are to be chosen well in order to build one another up. Just as a man builds a house of cards. His careful choices and moves determine how high the paper edifice will rise.
Have you heard the fable of the king and the menu? A king once asked his cook to prepare for him the best dish in the world, and he was served a dish of tongue. The King then asked for the worst dish in the world, and again was served tongue. “Why do you serve me the same food as both the best and the worst?” the perplexed monarch asked. “Because, your majesty,” the cook replied, “the tongue is the best of things when used wisely and lovingly, but it is the worst of things when used carelessly and unkindly.”
Remember the child’s song:
Be careful little tongue what you tell,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little tongue what you tell.