The Power of the Tongue

We must make no mistake about it: our tongue, though one of the smaller parts of our body, is one of the most powerful forces for good or evil in our marriage. Indeed, the book of Proverbs teaches us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a). Consider that carefully: our tongue has the power to destroy or to give life; to curse or to bless; to tear down or to build up. And chances are the person that will feel that power most keenly – whether for evil or for good – is our spouse!


The Deadly Use of the Tongue

Just as one small spark may ignite an entire forest on fire, in the book of James we are taught that our tongue, which is one small part of our body, is similarly capable of wreaking much destruction: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire ... It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire” (James 3:5b-6). The destructive power of the tongue is confirmed by the book of Proverbs, which states that “reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18a). What this means in our marriages is that we are capable of using our tongue as a weapon of destruction, piercing our spouse with our words and cutting him or her down to the ground.


The Life-giving Use of the Tongue

But the tongue also has tremendous potential for good. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Or again: “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4a). A tree of life! Few things are more encouraging to us than words of affirmation, especially from those closest to us like our spouse.


When my wife and I were first married, we had the privilege of spending time with a couple named Greg and Kimberley. One thing that really stuck out to us about Greg and Kimberley was that they never missed an opportunity to praise the other in public. This was not done for show: you could tell that they were genuinely thankful for one another and that they were sincere in the things that they said about each other. It was a wonderful model to us of using your tongues in marriage in the way that God intended: to build up, not to tear down; to bless, not to curse; to give life, not to destroy.


Having a Tongue of Life

At some point or another we have all said these words: “I wish I wouldn’t have said that.” No one wants a tongue of death, especially towards the person that we have pledged our lives to in marriage. So how do we have tongues of life and blessing instead of tongues of death and destruction? Here are some practical steps to consider.

1. Take time to really listen to your spouse.

Let everyone be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19). The simple fact is that many of our most cutting words are spoken either because we have misunderstood our spouse and are responding in anger, or simply because we do not listen at all and respond in anger. The problem is that we have been quick to speak and slow to listen. This is a fail-proof recipe for a tongue of death. It calls for repentance and sincere prayer for the Lord’s help to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.

2. Be thankful for your spouse.