If you know a little about World War II, you might be familiar with the Little Boy and the Fat Man. These were code names for the two atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the first time in history that bombs of such destructive power were used. Interestingly, the source of their power came from something so tiny that our naked human eye cannot see it. The atomic bomb was created from the energy released from the splitting of an atom. Just an atom!
Small things can be powerful despite their size. Can you think of something else that is small but powerful? It lives right in the centre of your mouth — the tongue!
THE POWER OF THE TONGUE
In James 3, James likens the tongue to the bit that is placed in a horse’s mouth that allows a rider to control the animal, or to the rudder that is fixed on a ship that allows a pilot to manoeuvre it (Jas 3:3–5a). He goes on to compare the tongue to “a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body (Jas 3:5b–6a)” and asserts that “it corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas 3:6b).
Harsh words. James certainly does not water down the truth. He says it for what it is — our tongue is a “world of evil.” As fallen human beings, sin continues to dwell in our hearts, and it shows in our speech.
I’m sure that none of us have to think too far back to remember a moment when we used our words to hurt someone, or when someone used them to hurt us. Either way, we all have our experiences with angry words, gossip, and slander, knowing all too well that the tongue can be used to destroy. The late Sulli, former member of the Korean girl group f(x), shared openly about the verbal and online abuse she had experienced. This abuse contributed to her deep distress and depression, and she died by suicide in 2019. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.
USING WORDS TO GIVE LIFE
While the tongue has the power to destroy, the same power can be used to build others up. Proverbs 15:4 tells us that “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” Imagine your words forming a tree that gives shade, nourishment, and beauty to many!
The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control (Gal 5:23), which means that the Holy Spirit can and will help us to control our tongues when we choose to follow Him. Words have great power to build others up, and this has been an enduring truth from ancient days.
WHAT ABOUT US?
From the moment we wake up till the moment we sleep, we need to use words. So, we are constantly using something of great power. Have you paused recently to think about how you have been using your words? And hey, if you think that online speech is excused, think again. Your online activity should be something you seriously think about too. From the birth of social media, words online, whether shared through a tweet, comment, or a post, have generated great distrust and anger among friends, communities, and nations.
IN ORDER FOR THE WAY WE SPEAK TO CHANGE, WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IS THE SOURCE OF OUR SPEECH — OUR HEART.
Consider the things you have said or posted online in the past few days. Did your words serve to build up, or tear others down? And don’t think that being anonymous online shields you from blame — God sees everything that exists (Job 28:24).
Sometime ago, a friend shared with me that he was actually quite hurt by a few sarcastic comments I made. I didn’t expect that my words had such a big impact on him! Sometimes, we don’t really mean what we say, but the words we speak can leave a lasting impression on others.
In order for the way we speak to change, what needs to change is the source of our speech — our heart.
OUT OF THE HEART THE MOUTH SPEAKS
The Bible addresses how our words are an expression of what’s in our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt 12:34). Often, the words we say show us the condition of our hearts. As complex human beings, all of us have some form of brokenness in our hearts — insecurity, fear, bitterness … the list goes on. This brokenness is a key reason why our words may be careless and even hurtful.
So, for our words to change, our hearts need to change. As fallen creatures, we’re unable to change ourselves. The good news for us is that God never leaves us alone in our brokenness. Thankfully, God is an expert at transforming hearts. Paul encouraged the Roman church to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). This tells us that transformation is possible! God heals and changes us, by filling our hearts and minds with love, hope, and faith. As the source of our speech — our hearts — is transformed, our words will change too, to form a “tree of life”.
While we are powerless to change on our own, God is more than able. And not only is he more than able, He is also more than willing to help us grow. When we surrender our lives to God, trust in His promises, and obey his words, God actively works His miracle of transformation in our hearts.
This week, ask God to fill your heart with love, and resolve to speak life-giving words. Practise doing one of the following:
– Affirm a parent, friend, or leader
– Thank a teacher (especially one that you may not be so fond of!)
– Apologise to someone you’ve hurt
– Say a kind word to a helper or cleaner
This list is not exhaustive. There are many ways to build someone up! If you catch yourself sharing words that can tear others down, run quickly to God and ask Him to change your heart. As you pay attention to your words, may your friends, family, and even teachers know you by the way your speech glows with a Christ-like love.
May we wield our words well, such that every time we speak, the love and tenderness of Christ will bring life to even the hardest of hearts.