The anatomy of the human tongue is one of the most fascinating things about our bodies. It is actually not one muscle, but a conglomeration of eight total muscles, working together to create a muscular hydrostat. Like an elephant’s trunk, or the tentacle of an octopus, our tongues don’t need skeletal support of fluid to develop around. The muscles all come together to create a tongue that can twist and contort into endless positions, constantly working to help us with every swallow of food or utterance of word. It can bend, but never break. It never gets fatigued. Although it is not the strongest muscle in your body, it’s wildly unique for its dexterity, agility, endurance, and endless possibilities.
But certainly God didn’t have to create our tongues to operate in this way. He surely could have made them grow weary and need their rest. He could’ve given them only a handful of functions to handle at a time. He could have limited the variety of the positions the tongue can take. But He created it to be a malleable, supple, flexible, hydraulic phenomenon. And it was certainly created in this way with extreme intentionality on His part.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs tells us. The literary device used in this passage is called a “merism.” A merism is when two words are combined to signify an entirety. We find these in multiple places in Scripture (East and West, Alpha and Omega, etc.). The exposition of this verse, and the biological design of the tongue, both lead to one message our Father wants to get across to us: The tongue is capable of anything. Could there be a more relevant time to talk about the muscular hydrostat that occupies space in our mouths?
If the events of Ferguson have proved anything, it is this Biblical proverb. You can spend your time and energy deliberating about the grand jury’s ruling, or Darren Wilson’s actions, or Michael Brown’s innocence, but I want to talk about things you actually can control instead. Like it or not, there is little to nothing that we can do about this situation as a whole. We cannot control protestors, or law enforcement, or grand juries, or government. We cannot control the extremists that crop up from each side of such debates. We cannot control the media and various biases it may take. If progress is the goal of all of us, it starts with the individual. Not a movement of a mass of people, but a mass of people who have been individually moved towards loving other individuals. Even Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest rallying voices of our nation’s history, would agree that progress starts at the individual level. “Human progress,” King says, “is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern ofdedicated individuals.”
My point in all this is to encourage you with one thing; The best way to achieve progress is to start with your tongue. No army commander would send a troop into a bunker if he had absolutely no training or control over his weapon. The troop could shoot an ally, or miss a golden opportunity to defeat the enemy, or even shoot his own foot. Controlling our greatest weapon, the tongue, is essential to our growth as people individually, and in turn, as a society. “Greatest weapon?” you may scoff. My Bible seems to be very insistent on this.
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless”
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell”
Do I need to go on? Are you beginning to see how great of a weapon your tongue can be?
Don’t take my word for it; take His Word for it. It is socially unacceptable to use cross words in the way we have with each other.
Over Ferguson, over homosexuality, over abortion, over atheism, over any and every matter. The problem with social media is that in the interest of progress as a society, we simply choose to regress by ignoring the pervasive power of the words we speak to each other, especially in the realm of social media. I don’t have to elaborate and spell it out for you too much.We are all well aware of how degenerate our words with each other have become in the online world. Retweets were once our way of endorsing something we approve of, but now are our way of making a statement to the people we disagree with. Facebook comments were once our way of identifying with someone, but now are our way of disagreeing and debating with anyone who is willing to keep the discussion going. For goodness sake, there are people who get on YouTube to have arguments about videos in the YouTube comments section (of all places) with people they’ve never met. You get the picture, because you see it every day.
Social media has become such an easy way of stirring dissension, but we people are only partially to blame. The sites themselves invite such behavior. When you can’t log onto a social media site without seeing dozens and dozens of other opinions, we are forced into making a decision on how we will respond. Even the status bar itself tantalizes us; “What’s on your mind?” We have to make a choice. Will we argue and debate with someone? How do we feel about it? Or are we so over everyone talking about it that we choose to make that known to the whole world (the ultimate irony)? Somewhere in this decision-making process, we forget the power of our words; we forget that death and life are riding on the words we choose to use.
I have spent a lot of time writing this post, for good reason. I do not want to write this to prove a point, or to gain anyone’s negative or positive attention. I definitely don’t want to hastily say anything online without thinking it through (I’ve made that mistake far too often). I don’t want to scold anyone, even you. I just want us to wake up. I want to help call us to handle our powerful words with Biblical wisdom. We would make such great strides as a society if we would only take heed of the words we speak and write.
I want to leave this post with a few exhortations, for all of us. We have to handle our words better Biblically, and I want you to join alongside me as I struggle to cling to these truths. It is only together that we will ever improve this grave problem. These truths may not be necessarily right in every circumstance, but they are a great place to start, considering the Biblical basis for them. I encourage you, before you enter that next conversation, or post that intentionally-hurtful tweet, take a moment to reflect on these truths.
Silence is golden.
The world has shifted our thinking to believe that we must be anything besides silent, that “knowledge is power” and silence is weakness. Silence has become an enemy, not a friend. But Scripture says something much different. Proverbs tells us that, “A prudent man conceals knowledge” (12:23) and, “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise” (17:28). Do you see what he is saying? Man’s strength is in his silence, not his knowledge. Isn’t it ironic how the people with the greatest perspectives on most issues are the ones not on the front lines sharing their thoughts? I felt extremely compelled to share my thoughts with you through a post, but even as I type this I hesitate, for knowing that silence is a great advantage in most cases. Friends, let us be more eager not to get the upper hand in thought and knowledge, but in silence. This is not a rally cry for us to be quiet, but to be wiser before we speak. Sometimes that means saying nothing altogether, sometimes it means taking some time to think before we speak.
One hundred positive praises do not burden a man as heavily as one negative word.
I have heard several stories of pastors talk about how they can preach a sermon, go to the back of the church, hear dozens and dozens of people affirm their message and get their thanks, only to be hurt and struggle with the one person that had something negative to say. Or, think about the boyfriend who spends 10 minutes telling his girlfriend how many things are good about her, only to finish the conversation by telling her she isn’t right for him and they’re breaking up. Almost every girl in such a situation is devastated, no matter what he said beforehand. Our words should be “gentle” (Prov. 15:4), “fitly spoken” (25:11), and “always be gracious” (Col. 4:6). There is a way to disagree with someone without tearing them down. There is a way to handle debates and arguments without being cross with one another. We still need to work on this.
Your words will always be fruitful if they are founded in Scripture and prayer.
The only way to change the way we talk to one another is to get in the Word and follow the exhortations of God’s people, who left us plenty of instruction on how to handle our words and speech. When we commit to this, and strive to communicate in a Gospel-centered way, we will see the fruits of it. I did not say we would always see results, but fruits. Even if the person you’re speaking to is harsh and abrasive and unforgiving, to handle your words with grace and humility will free you from doing any harm to your brother, and give you confidence to know you’ve handled things God’s way. And as a further note, for example, if you’re not praying for people around issues like Ferguson, why are you talking about them in the first place? Your first priority should be keeping silent and praying in the meantime. Let God reveal His words to you, and out of fervent prayer and Biblical wisdom you can respond truly in Jesus’ name.
Stop using “cross words”
and start using “Cross words.”
I again use Ferguson as an example of just how great of an opportunity we have as Christians to minister to lost people, but we are missing that opportunity. It seems everyone wants to talk about the gun and the bullets and Michael Brown’s raised hands and race’s role in all of this, and so forth. Do not misunderstand me; racial reconciliation is important to fight for. Justice is important to fight for. However, I fear we are not fighting for these things in the name of Jesus. We’ve spent so long discussing the Ferguson message, we’ve practically missed our chance at sharing the Gospel message. Is there a better time in our nation to offer the ultimate hope to those who cannot see it? When I see people flocking to the streets in protest, there are certainly some of them who are there because they have no concept of forgiveness and grace, and they cannot see the eternal hope that awaits us. But it’s not just protestors that struggle to see Jesus in this. I see so many folks online who are missing an opportunity to build one another up in the name of Jesus, who’d rather argue in circles than point each other to the Gospel. Stop using cross words with each other and start using “Cross words” that point to Jesus.
I end with a verse from Matthew 12:36. I had never really grasped the weight of this verse until I came across it in writing this. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”Do you feel that? When we go to be with the Lord, we will stand accountable for every single cross word we have used. Would you talk differently about things with others on social media if you had this firmly in mind? I know I would. My tongue is capable of so many things. It can bend each and every way, it can take any position it wants, it never grows tired. My tongue has the power to administer life or death, and everything in between.