Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
– James 3:4-5
Life and death are in the power of the tongue.
Some time ago, the week’s news was dominated by the revelation of the public verbal slip-up of a well-known politician. A botched speech at a university lit up the talk radio phone lines for days, evoked ridicule from both sides of the aisle in Congress, and sent the senator beating a hasty retreat home in shame.
As his grand ship of ambition crashed against the cruel rocks of media scrutiny, he was left to watch his dreams fill with water and turn belly-up in the foam left by the furor.
The storm of protest he inadvertently created centered around one Freudian slip of the tongue. No matter whether a person cheered or lamented this man’s political demise, the implication is sobering. Most of us don’t have the world’s spotlight on our every word, but we are all one sentence away from destruction at any time.
Words are powerful. Words hold the power of life and death. Words can kill, and words can raise the dead. The world itself was spoken into being (Genesis 1). With a word it will end (Revelation 19:21).
Rarely do we understand the power of our own words.
Our words reveal our hearts:
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
– Luke 6:45
The book of James devotes an entire chapter to the power of the tongue, comparing it to the little rudder of a ship. Just as the course of a huge vessel is directed by a small rudder at the order of the pilot, so we direct the course of our lives by our speech. As the pilot commands the rudder, we command our tongues, either allowing them loose rein or steering our way carefully away from treacherous reefs and toward safe harbor.
Since we all “stumble in many ways,” the safest course is to follow the leading of the apostle Paul in presenting our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, therefore allowing God to be the Captain of our vessel, the Master Pilot of our journey. In that way, we live each hour under His control, weathering the storms safely and finding grace when we veer off course. Then His words become ours; His mercy is poured out through us to others.
If we immerse ourselves in the love of God and His truth, it can’t help but become the storehouse of our hearts to guide our lives and season our speech with grace.
The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver.