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What Power Does the Tongue Have over Life and Death?

  • Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
  • 2021 26 Feb
words have power, life and death are in the power of the tongue

Words are one of the greatest gifts that God has given to mankind. Every parent looks forward to the day their child utters their first words. Many people rejoice and even shed tears over this moment. There is also the beauty of words that allow people to exchange thoughts and ideas and express how they feel. Is there anything more powerful than listening to a gifted orator or a brilliant singer manipulate words to create an emotional response in the hearer. Truly there is an unlimited amount of ways that words can be used. In short words are powerful. It is with this backdrop that we consider this proverb penned by King Solomon.

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit." – Proverbs 18:21 (NKJV)

Solomon just took the power of words and your tongue to a whole new level. Attributing to them the potential of life and death. What does Proverbs 18:21 mean? How are life and death in the power of the tongue? If there is something that has this level of capacity, it makes sense to understand it better and that is what we will do.

What does Proverbs 18:21 Mean by ‘Life and Death Are in the Power of the Tongue’?

What this Proverb is literally saying is that the words you speak have the ability to give life to a person or a situation. However, they can also kill or destroy a person or a situation. This proverb is a simple reminder of how much your words matter. This is the proverbial double-edged sword. Out of your mouth you have the ability to build up or tear down. To motivate or discourage. To lift people higher or to drag them lower. To inspire to greatness or to push them to mediocrity all because of the words that come out of your mouth. This is the life and death that are in the power of your tongue.

What Does the Bible Say about Speaking Life?

So often the temptation is to gloss over the words you say as if they don’t matter that much but they do. More importantly, you are responsible for them. Look at what Jesus said,

"But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken." – Matthew 12:36

I want you to understand something about your tongue and the life and death that are in it. There are no empty words. All words that come out of your mouth you are accountable for. This means the words spoken in public, in private, the ones everyone hears, and the ones you think no one hears. You are responsible and have to give account for all of these words. Not only do you have the power of life and death in your tongue you now have the responsibility for how you use it. My point is this is serious business. When it comes to your words there is no hiding place. Notice what Jesus said in the next verse,

"For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words, you will be condemned." – Matthew 12:37

Not only is the life and death in your tongue impacting others they are also impacting you. Your words will either set you free or lock you up and condemn you so be careful what you say.

3 Ways to harness the power in your tongue

Like it or not your words matter so how then do you harness this great power you have? I want to give you three things to consider.

1. Speak Slowly

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry," – James 1:19

James is giving us a simple yet powerful principle that acknowledges the reality that life and death are in the power of the tongue. When you have such a powerful weapon you must exercise it with great caution. This is why he warns or encourages you to be slow to speak. And to be careful with the way you use your words. The thing about words is that once they come out they cannot be taken back. It is like the toothpaste once it is out of the tube you can’t put it back in. Have you ever had a quickly spoken, careless word fly out of your mouth? Have you ever crushed someone simply with the words you spoke? How many of those words did you wish you could get back? I know this flies in the face of our culture which is always looking for a quick response, but many times there is no wisdom in that. The more you understand the power of your words and the life or death they can bring, the more careful you will be to use them. You must be mindful that sometimes the wisdom comes not from what you say but from choosing not to say anything at all.

2. Speak Truthfully

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” – Ephesians 4:25

Since it is true that life and death are in the power of your tongue, then part of that life or death can be determined by whether we speak truth or not. It is imperative that we always speak the truth to others. This does not mean it will always be well received but there is life and freedom in the truth. No one can be set free with lying words. What is just as important as the truth you speak is the attitude with which you speak it. Earlier in Ephesians Paul encouraged this,

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 (NIV, emphasis added)

While we are required to speak the truth let it come with love. It may not make the message any easier to hear but at least the person may know you have their best interest at heart.

3. Speak Graciously

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6

The final way you should use your tongue and conversation is to use it graciously. You might wonder what it means to speak with grace. One of the meanings of this word is kindness. Look at the verse again and replace the word kindness for grace. Here is how it reads, Let your conversation always be full of kindness. Imagine for a moment the difference it would make if all we did was add kindness to our conversations. Sometimes death comes not just from the words you say but also in the manner in which you say them. When kindness is present in your conversation then chances are there will be life in your tongue instead of death. In fact, kindness may open the door and give you the opportunity to speak life into someone else.

Think of all the people who have gotten strength and encouragement because of the words spoken to them. In the same vein remember all those people who have had their dreams, hopes, and lives crushed all by the power of the words spoken. This is the life and death Solomon referred to. The only question that remains is do you want to give life or promote death? How you decide to use your tongue will determine which side you land on. This small part of your body carries so much weight and influence so I hope that you would choose life. Let it be from this point forward we start using our tongues to produce life and stop killing others with the words that come from our mouths. After all life and death are in the power of your tongue.

Further Reading

What Does “Life and Death Are in the Power of the Tongue” Mean in the Bible?

What Does it Mean That ‘Life and Death Are in the Power of the Tongue’?

How to Wisely Wield the Life and Death Power of the Tongue

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Nora Carol Photography


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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