Good News for the Untamed Tongue


Editors’ note: This article has been excerpted from Steadfast: An 8-week Devotional Bible Study on the Book of James by Courtney Doctor for the TGCW20 Women’s Conference. Used by permission of The Gospel Coalition. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

When someone’s arrested, a rule called the “Miranda rights” requires the first words spoken to the accused to be, “You have the right to remain silent.” This right is given in order to protect the accused from bringing further incrimination upon herself. Oh, that the Holy Spirit would whisper those words to me before I speak! Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Words. We speak them, think them, and write them. We use them to persuade, deter, build up, tear down, instruct, make someone laugh, and make someone cry. Our words shape us, shape others, and reveal what’s truly in us.

Words can bring healing . . . and they can bring deep hurt. Proverbs 18:21a says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” As people created in God’s image, our words, although not omnipotent like his, are still potent. Our words have power, not to be life-creating, but to be life-giving. Sadly, because we’re broken, sinful, and rebellious, our words also have power to destroy and be life-taking.

Do your words breathe life into others—or do they suck the life out of those around you? Do they bless and not curse, strengthen and not weaken, build up and not tear down? James says that, even though we can tame every kind of animal, no person can tame the tongue. So where do we turn? How can we become women who use our words to offer life, and healing, and hope, and help?

Because our words simply expose the reality of what’s happening in our hearts, the only hope we have is to be changed from the inside out. We need to be women who are transformed by the Word of God.

God’s Word Creates Life

Our God is a God who speaks. Speaking is the first thing we see him do in Genesis 1—and his words bring life! He spoke everything into existence: the heavens, the earth, the sun and moon, the land, the sea, the birds, and the animals. His Word brought forth life.

Once God spoke life into existence, life continued to be found in obedience to his Word. Adam and Eve were told to obey God’s good Word. Their obedience didn’t earn them all of God’s good provisions; God had freely given them everything they needed. Obedience to his Word simply meant they would continue to experience everything he had graciously given.

The Rejection of God’s Word Brings Death

Tragically, the serpent came and tempted Adam and Eve to doubt and disobey God’s Word. The serpent, the father of lies, spoke words of deceit and deception. When Adam and Eve believed the words of the serpent over the Word of God, death entered in and Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence. The rejection of God’s Word brought death.

God’s Word Still Gives Life

As the story progresses, we see that life is still to be found in God and his Word. It’s why both Moses and Jesus said, “[we] shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). Moses, at the end of his life and ministry, pleaded with Israel saying, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live…” (Deut. 32:47). Likewise, the psalmist, centuries later, cried out, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Ps. 119:25). God’s Word still gives life.

God’s Word Gives Eternal Life

Ultimately, we’re brought from death to life by the incarnate Word of God—Jesus—who took on flesh and dwelt among us. John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1–4, emphasis mine)

Jesus told his disciples, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). James tells us that we have been “brought forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). It is the incarnate Word that saves us and gives us eternal life.

Our Words

We’re people created by the Word of God, saved by the Word of God, nourished and strengthened by the Word of God. His Word is powerful and mighty to save. As those created in his image, our words matter, too.

If you’re like me, you long for your words to bring healing and life to those around you. But it’s hard! James tells us that “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). The only hope we have is for our hearts to be changed by the Word. And, as they are, may our words become evidence of the fact that we have been saved by the Word himself.

About the Author:

Courtney Doctor

Courtney Doctor is an author, Bible teacher, frequent conference and retreat speaker, and periodic blogger. She received an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary and is the author of From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story (2016) and Steadfast: A Devotional Bible Study on the Book of James (2019).  She currently serves as the Coordinator of Women’s Training and Content for The Gospel Coalition and as a Visiting Instructor of Communication at Covenant Theological Seminary. Courtney also has a love for education and serves on the advisory board for Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA. God has blessed Courtney and her husband, Craig, with four wonderful children, as well as two amazing daughters-in-law, and four “practically-perfect” grandsons.