Karen Carpenter was an amazing vocalist who made up one-half of the popular singing duo, The Carpenters, along with her brother Richard. Sadly, Karen’s life was cut short as she died of heart failure at the age of thirty-two. Her death was later attributed to the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. Karen Carpenter literally starved herself to death. According to a documentary about her life, Karen’s “fatal obsession with weight” began after a music critic referred to her as “Richard’s chubby sister.” That little, seemingly harmless, comment made a profound impact on her life. While I seriously doubt the critic intended for his words to lead to Karen’s death, the fact remains that she internalized them and allowed them to shape her negative self-image.
I’ve often heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” Does anyone actually believe that garbage? Proverbs 18:21 states: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The tongue is a very interesting organ. We use it to taste our food and to aid in digestion. We use it to show our disdain for something or someone as we stick it out. We can use it to lick stamps or an envelope. We use it to tell our friends how much we love them, and then use it to gossip about them behind their backs. We use it to sing songs of praise to God on Sunday and to utter curse words with our buddies on Monday. We use it to uplift a person and to tear them down. We use it to pray to God and to slander fellow Christians. A word can accomplish nearly anything and everything. Some have been told that they are worthless and would never amount to anything, and they believed it. Some were told they were ugly and have lived as an ugly person ever since. Some have been gossiped about or lied to, and now they don’t trust anyone. But then there are those who have risen to incredible heights because someone believed in them when no one else did. Words of encouragement gave them the confidence they so desperately needed. There are individuals who have great security and confidence because someone always made a point to say, “I love you.” Some of us have heard the words, “I forgive you,” and it has made all the difference.
Words can create us or they can destroy us. The tongue is vital, but it’s also volatile. Peter confidently told the Lord, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you” (Matt. 26:35). And with the very same tongue He denied Jesus with oaths and cursing (Matt. 26:69-75). James says that the “tongue is a fire.” Fire can be used to bring warmth and to cook food. Fire can be used for some good things, but used in the wrong way it can cause immeasurable pain, even death.
We need to get control of our tongues. We need to be fully aware of the power our tongue has—both for good and for evil. We need to recognize the devastation that is caused when we lie, gossip, slander, are overly critical, rude, mean-spirited, condescending, insulting, etc. We also need to throw away our little disclaimers that we think justifies our sin. Things like: “Bless their heart” (It’s a rule in the south that if you say, “Bless their heart,” you can say anything about a person). Sometimes we say, “I don’t mean this the way it sounds.” Then how do you mean it? Some will say, “I know I shouldn’t say this but…” If you know you shouldn’t say it, then don’t say it. Or, we sometimes say, “I’m just honest. I can’t help it. I just tell it like it is.” That’s a bunch of nonsense. You can help it. You’re not being overly honest. You’re being rude. Some pull out the first amendment argument and use their freedom of speech as a license to say whatever they choose. Just because you can say it, doesn’t mean that you should. God has given us a cage for our tongue. Taming the tongue involves keeping the cage locked when our tongue wants to roar.
Our Lord said this: “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt. 12:34-37).” Your speech is an advertisement. Every time you open your mouth you let people look into your heart. Every word gives insight into your spiritual condition. As Christians, our words should substantiate our claim. Our tongue should affirm our Christian character. Let your tongue be a productive instrument for the Lord rather than a destructive tool for Satan.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).