“A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (KJV).
“A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire” (The Message).
Have you ever thought about how powerful your words are? Solomon tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). Think about that for a minute. Every word you speak to someone can bring life or death to them. In the above passage of Scripture, we learn that our words can diffuse the most difficult fights or arguments. If we speak gentle words, we can turn away wrath. But if we respond with harsh words, we will only stir up that other person’s anger. We also learn here that gentle words can bring life and health to someone, and negative words can crush someone’s spirit.
James gives us a great word picture to help us see the power in our words when he writes: “The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:5-6).
I think it’s interesting that James uses fire to represent the power of the tongue. Fire is a tool, and it can be used for either good or evil purposes. The same fire that can be used to cook your food or warm your house can also be used to burn down a building. Likewise, our words can be used to bring encouragement or comfort, or to bring death and destruction.
In his book, The Power of Your Words, Robert Morris gives three suggestions for how we can begin the process of taming our tongue.
- Pause: Hold on there just a minute. Before you open your mouth, pause for a minute. James exhorts us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19). God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk!
- Ponder: Let’s give that some thought. The Bible says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Eph. 4:29). If your words don’t fit into that category, then don’t say them!
- Pray: Appeal to a higher power. If words are so powerful, then we should pray that God would give us the ability to tame our tongues. Let’s pray that God would set a guard over our mouths.