What can we say about the tongue and its power beyond what we can find through observation of the physical? If we are to answer this question as best we can, we must first observe what God Himself says about this organ of our body and its proper usage.
Then we can explore the views of the Dutch philosopher and Christian scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, who has plenty to say about the matter. Next, we will explore what wicked tongues are like, and finally what wise and good tongues are like.
As you can imagine, in Scripture we find much that is said about tongues and their uses, even about God’s words and attitudes to it. We all know, of course, that God gave the Law to Moses, which He dictated to him verbally before the Law was inscribed on stone. His tongue is described as being “like a consuming fire”. (Isaiah 30:27).
A lying tongue is repulsive to Him (Proverbs 6:17).
Erasmus of Rotterdam, who wrote his famous work ‘Lingua’ (The Tongue) in 1525, as I mentioned above, has plenty to say about tongues and their proper usage. He noted that pagans tended to glorify the tongue; his work, however, overflows with its condemnation. Erasmus in ‘The Tongue’ suggests the tongue can both poison and heal.
It’s its destructive power that receives most of his attention. He considered an unbridled tongue to be the worst disease of the mind.
He had plenty to say against the unrestrained bickering of theologians and against the false modesty of monks. He writes, “Their belly rumbles from hunger, but their tongue is tipsy. They abstain from consuming flesh, but at the same time do not hesitate to gnaw the flesh of their neighbour.
They restrain their teeth from biting on animals, but they plunge a serpent’s fang into their neighbour. They spare cows and sheep, and do not spare their brother for whom Christ died.”
Erasmus longed for a more classical approach to rhetoric.’” Pleasant speech, shrewd and serious, flowing when the occasion demands it but brief and concise, when necessary, can win a man great distinction if it is adapted to the subject, circumstances and persons involved.’
God gave birth to the Word through speech and created the world through the Word, and God spoke through the prophets and the Son. That is a lot of speaking, but does not speak in an unseemly manner.’
Scripture, as mentioned, says much about wicked tongues and their owners.
It explains how and why wicked tongues are the way they are. There are many examples in Proverbs and Psalms, such as: “You give your mouth to evil and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.” (Psalm 50: 19 & 20), “A lying tongue hates those it wounds and crushes. And a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28), “…The sons of men whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.” (Psalms 57:4), “Who have sharpened their tongues like a sword.
They aim venomous words as arrows…” (Psalm 64:3), “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.” (Psalm 10:7), and “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things; who have said, ‘With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord and master over us?’” (Psalm 12:3&4).
In speaking about his enemies King David said “For there is nothing trustworthy or reliable or truthful in what they say…Their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.” (Psalm 5:9).
Paul, in quoting Scripture, has this to say about humanity’s use of their tongues: ‘“Their throat is an open grave, they deceive with their tongues” “The venom of asps is beneath their lips.” “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:13-14).
What Scripture says about good and wise tongues is in complete contrast to what it says about wicked tongues. The owner of a wise tongue: “Doesn’t slander…keeps his word.” (Psalm 15:3-4), “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 34:13), “…
I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will muzzle my mouth while the wicked are in my presence.” (Psalm 39:1), “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21)”, “The tongue of the righteous is like precious silver…The lips of the righteous feed and guide many…The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom.” (Proverbs 10: 20,21,31), “The tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips will be established forever…” (Proverbs 12: 18, 19), “The tongue of the wise speaks knowledge that is pleasing and acceptable…A soothing tongue is a tree of life…” (Proverbs 15: 2,4), “…a soft and gentle tongue breaks the bone [of resistance]” (Proverbs 25:15,23).
There are many more verses which make mention of the tongue and its power, not least of all is what’s found in the book of James. It becomes clear by reading these verses that God expects us, especially those of us who are believers, to hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we hold ourselves to.
Let’s all try and raise the bar when it comes to our speech and remember that one day, we will all have to give an account for every word spoken from our mouths.
Katelin Staples is from Gladstone, Queensland. By day Katelin is employed as a proofreader. Katelin has a passion for discovering the deep things of God and how they affect the world around us.