Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21, ESV)

Interpretation

The greatest good and the greatest harm are in the power of the tongue. James 3:6-10 expounds on the enormous power that our words have. 

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:6-10)

Expanded Interpretation

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” What a person says can have serious consequences that can amount to life and death. The emphasis is on consequences. The words that come from our mouths are not easily recalled once spoken.

“and those who love it will eat its fruits.” The word “it” refers to the tongue, but what does it mean to love the tongue?

Putting the Proverb in the context of a marriage conflict can mean drowning out the other person with many angry words. James 3:6-10 would back this up, for in serious, volatile conflicts, there is cursing and rage.

Cross Reference

Curse, angry, punishing, and violent words are all careless words. Matthew 12:36-37 says much about them.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37 ESV) 

“Careless” or “idle” words mean words were spoken rashly, carelessly, without thinking about the effect on the listener or whether the words glorify God. 

They may be spoken in exasperation or frustration or anger/wrath with the intent to win the argument, make a point, or simply punish the other person with your words. God is not a consideration.

The word “justified” in the passage does not mean to be declared righteous. (See Gal. 2:16)

By your words, you will be justified means people’s words will be outward evidence of their inward character-shown to be righteous. We are known by the words we speak—the attitudes we convey through speech.

Applying the Passage

Professing Christians often give little thought to their words, especially in a conflict. They treat one another as enemies waging a war of words upon their spouses. Their careless words have the full potential of hell’s evil, according to James 3:6.

They do not realize or care that their evil tongue offends our holy God, so it is not a little thing.

The truth is their words have revealed their heart.

“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.44 “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.45 “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 6:43-45)

Heart Change

Have you ever taken the time to examine your speech? Have you ever considered the power of life and death in your words? Are you so intent on winning the argument that you do not care you are offending God and waging war on a fellow image bearer?

You need a change of heart. You need to change from the inside out. You need to repent of your evil treasure and put on Jesus Christ, your true treasure and learn to deal with conflict in a way that seeks to glorify God and solve the problem.


Pastor Bruce Roeder

Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor

Bruce is an Elder/Pastor at the Vine Community Church in South Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2). He is married to his wife, Elizabeth, of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great-grandkids. If this article has been a blessing to you and you would like to help Reigning Grace Counseling Center reach others with the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling, please give any amount at https://rgcconline.org/donation-page/