2.16 “By your words…”: Controlling Our Words
2-16-1 Controlling Our Words
I write this time about something I cannot but flinch at addressing.
Something in which I cannot but feel more deeply than usual my own sense
of serious inadequacy. It is the matter of the tongue, of our words, of
what we say and don’t say, and how we say them. It may be that we all
have a similar feeling of awkwardness about this matter, knowing our failings.
But this doesn’t help me feel any better at all about this matter. The
fact is, by our words we will be condemned and by our use of words we
will be counted as righteous. The importance of our words cannot be overstressed.
Judah were condemned “because their tongue and their words are against
the Lord” (Is. 3:8). All their idolatry, perversion etc. was summarized
in their words. Again and again, Isaiah and the prophets say that the
reason for Israel’s condemnation was their words, even those they said
under their breath- “your tongue hath muttered perverseness” (Is. 5:24).
“Their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue” (Hos.
7:16). “The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is
deceitful in their mouth. Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting
thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins” (Mic. 6:12,13). Truly
“death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love
it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21).
The Hebrew word usually translated “tongue” is also put by metonymy for
the person- because a man’s words reflect who he really and essentially
is. And this means we shouldn’t justify our bad speaking by feeling that
underneath, we aren’t really like that. We can’t shout and scream
hard words at our partner or children or brethren and think that really,
we love them underneath. Let’s not think that the way words come out is
something involuntary. Job and his friends (Job 4:2) all justified their
inappropriate words by reasoning that a man just couldn’t but speak out
what he felt given the situation. But they all learnt in the end how far
better it would have been not to have spoken as they did. They laid their
hands upon their mouths. Words can be controlled. We are
culpable for them. Because a man’s words are counted as who he is:
“Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler
[same word translated ‘tongue’] is no better” (Ecc. 10:11)
“Ye are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongue]” (Is.
“Let not an evil speaker [s.w. tongue] be established” (Ps.
“Ye are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongues]” (Ez.